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Paul Weller on How Songwriting Is Keeping Him Sane During Quarantine

The former Jam singer talks through new LP ‘On Sunset’ and the pros and cons of life in lockdown

Paul Weller discusses what inspired his new LP 'On Sunset' and how he's staying busy during quarantine.

Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns/Getty Images

Paul Weller’s new solo album On Sunset is out this Friday, but he’s already hard at work on the next one. Despite the music industry grinding to a halt in the wake of COVID-19 — his 2020 tour dates moved to 2021, and his album was pushed back three weeks — the former Jam singer can’t stop conducting the orchestras in his head.

“First of all, I’ve been unemployed for [the first time] in 43 years,” he says. “The tours were all canceled. But I’m trying to be positive. I’ve spent more time with my kids. I’ve always been writing loads. So I’m trying to just get on with my next record.”

This level of productivity isn’t entirely out of character for Weller. He turned his attention to On Sunset after completing 2018’s True Meanings, daisy-chaining the two together by including B side “Mirrorball” as the opener for his new album. (He says that some songs that didn’t make the cut for On Sunset will appear on his next record.) That song ushers the listeners into the eclectic LP on a cosmic wave as Weller asks, “Mirrorball, when will you spin?/Light up the room and our lives begin.”

But On Sunset isn’t all of a piece — it’s a wide-ranging melange of electronic, soul, pop, and orchestral music that highlights Weller’s hunger for new sounds. “I’m just obsessed with music,” he says, before gushing about Kevin Haynes, an Afro-Cuban jazz artist whose 2008 album Ajo Se Po has been on repeat at his London home.

Weller sees himself as a literal mastermind when it comes to his art. “I often think of a certain sound as we’re cutting the track,” he says. He then goes out and finds the musician who can replicate it. On the bluesy, Beatles-esque “Equanimity,” for example, he conjured a mournful violin solo that was then performed by Slade bassist Jim Lea. R&B groover “Earth Beat” includes vocals from teenage singer Col3trane — a friend of Weller’s daughter — and the percussive “More” includes French verses courtesy of Julie Gros of Le SuperHomard. “When I did my vocal I was thinking it would be great if we could have a few lines of the song in French,” Weller says. “I have no idea why I thought that. I thought it would sound musically good. … There was no other significance.”

At times, the album finds Weller in a reflective zone — specifically on “Old Father Thyme” and “Village.” The later dropped in early June as On Sunset’s first single and features former Style Council bandmate Mick Talbot on keyboards. Weller has said in a statement that the breezy pop track is “a response to being told that we’ve all got to explore the Amazon and climb Everest to make our lives complete. And there’s a guy who says, ‘Fuck all that, I’ve got heaven around me.’”

“I really love where I live in London,” he adds to Rolling Stone. “I was imagining this character who was wholly and entirely happy with their lot — where they lived. Didn’t feel the need to travel anymore. Because they were more happy with themselves inside.”

“Old Father Thyme” is a decidedly funkier song about the passing of, well, time. “I think it’s just me getting old,” Weller says. “I don’t think it’s anything more than that, really. Because whether you like it or not, your perspective on things changes. I don’t mean that in a morbid way; that’s just the cycle. … I’m not particularly sentimental or nostalgic, though.”

Weller doesn’t seem all that bothered that he’s stuck at home, either — much like the protagonist in “Village.” He’s happy making music and hanging with his kids. “There have been some positives about [the pandemic] as well that made me think about quite a lot of things,” he says. “One thing I’ve really noticed is that the environment and nature are really coming back. There’s less pollution in London. You can hear the birds singing, because there’s no airplanes. It shows you how quickly nature can repair itself. I’ve always loved nature.”

As for that new music he mentioned earlier? It’s definitely keeping him sane. “Once we went into the lockdown I thought, ‘I have to use this time,’ you know?” he says, “I couldn’t just not do anything for six months. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to [make music]. Because I would have gone crazy.”