“I realised how much it’s in me, all the way through. Like a stick of rock”, says Stats frontman Ed Seed when reflecting on heading back to his Welsh roots to record their dazzling new album Powys 1999. “I went on and travelled more eventually, with touring, and you realise that anything that you learn on the road is an extension of a lesson you learned at home and how I do think of it as home – although I haven’t lived there for 15 years or whatever it is.”
Powys 1999, the follow up to 2019’s critically-acclaimed Other People’s Lives, saw Ed and the band decamp from the hustle bustle to a residential recording studio near where he grew up to soak in surroundings and mountainous setting.
“I knew they were going to pick up the atmosphere of the place”, Ed told Daily Star Online. “They’d look out of the window, down to the valley, to the mist and the rain, and that would get into them without me having to tell anybody ‘this is where I’m from’. They just get it.”
A blast of jamming and recording across a week’s stay resulted in a sonically mind-blowing record, free-flowing of influences ranging from straight-up electronic pop and funk to art rock and disco.
Right from the off with huge, jagged album opener Come With Me, Powys 1999 seeps into the veins with tracks like the slick, funk-infused dance floor banger Naturalise Me and the synth wonder Kiss Me Like It’s Over – a euphoric thunderbolt that makes us all yearn for the days of immersing ourselves in live music again, all under one roof.
Its creation saw Stats delve into an eclectic palette of influences as Ed and co threw on the likes of Prince, Bobby Womack, Laurie Anderson, and even Craig Leon’s cult classic Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music, for post-dinner listening sessions.
Ed went into recording Powys 1999 with one mission statement: “It’s got to be fun. It’s got to bang.”
The result is one of 2020’s finest efforts – an electronic tour de force draped across a captivating, personal backdrop.
Ed, who has toured with the likes of La Roux and Dua Lipa, added: “We’re incredibly happy with the record. I hope people get to hear it and like it. It’s where I’m from, it’s where I’m at, it feels like this record is what I’ve always been trying to do. Now I’ve done it, I want people to know about it.”
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown caught up with Ed to talk about Powys 1999’s evolution and influences, his upbringing in Wales, working with La Roux and Dua Lipa, and the importance of saving Covid-hit music venues.
Hi Ed. How has 2020 been for you? How’ve you navigated it as a band?
“I’m really lucky compared to a lot of people because I’ve had work. Me and my fiancée, we have work and we’ve got our son to look after but that’s what you do. A lot of people have it a lot worse.
“It’s been strange, intense, draining in ways that you didn’t think it would be. You don’t really understand the grind that’s building up inside you. It’s difficult when there’s nowhere to go.
“I’m very grateful to have this record to work on because we’d done everything before lockdown. We just had to mix and master it which we could do remotely.
“Because the point of the album was getting all the band in Wales in a room, the physicality and landscape was so important. I realised that if we had done it six months later, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. It made me pine for that physicality and immediacy when you’re in a room together.
“Everything was played all at once and that stuff that only happens when you are all present, when you’re being the thing you can only be in a room, making things you can only do in that situation. Exactly not remotely or distanced, all together.
“In a way it was nice to work on something that had that quality to it. It was heavy, psychical and present. I’m really glad we had that to work on as I would have had trouble doing anything creative or feeling like it was even worth doing during lockdown.”
Did you encounter any challenges?
“I work from home anyway. The main challenges were practical stuff. In terms of the band and the record, it didn’t really have much impact.
“What is a bit eerie is how lots of the songs have lyrics in them that felt like they were about lockdown or about Covid, although they’re really not. There’s lots of stuff about masks. There’s a song where the chorus is ‘Kiss me on the mouth, On the apocalypse, Kiss me like it’s over’. That was the only time I’d written before the sessions in October last year. I don’t know where that came from.
“You find these things if you want to. They’re always there to find. It was just weird. I’d never wanted to sing about masks before. For some reason that’s what we did!”
You’re about to release your new album Powys 1999. What was its writing and recording process like? You’re quoted as saying there was no plan beyond “Make some dance music”. When did it start?
“I knew I wanted to make a record about where I come from in Wales. Tom, who mixed and produced it with me, he’d been working in this studio and kept telling me about this residential studio in Wales. He said ‘we’ve got to go there’. I said ‘where is it?’, and he said ‘it’s in Newtown’. I was like, ‘are you kidding me? My mum used to work in Newtown’. The fact he was working there and knew his way around. I thought we’ve got to take the band there. This was in the middle of last year.
“Everybody got the train. I wanted to go when it was a bit autumnal, gloomy and rainy. It’s in the mountains and it’s more interesting when the weather’s not good. Because I come from a place that looks exactly like on the side of a hill, I wanted to take them there. I didn’t know what it was going to be but the way we record is just play. You set everybody up so they can just play at the same time. It’s a nightmare for the engineer but he’s great, so he did it.
“Drummer has a click in his ear, giving him a tempo, and we play anywhere between five and 40 minutes. I will go back and find little moments that are in it and write to that.
“I wrote one song before hand, which was Kiss Me Like It’s Over. We did it early. I knew they were going to pick up the atmosphere of the place. They’d look out of the window, down to the valley, to the mist and the rain, and that would get in to them without me having to tell anybody ‘this is where I’m from’. They just get it.
“I was expecting to make a fully dance record, because I’d been listening to lots of Underworld and things like that. Nicole (Robson), who’s one of the singers and plays the synths, brought along a cello and she’s a really great piano player. We ended up using a cello a lot, and a piano. There was some part of it that were more instruments in a room than electronics.
“It’s not until you’ve done it that you realise what it is. Over the months that followed, I was working out what these songs were and thought about what I wanted to write about.
“Being back at that place with the band for a really intense week, it made me reflect on what of it was still in me from when I was a kid, growing up feeling like you don’t really fit in but it’s the only place you know, and the apparent naturalness of it that isn’t really natural. It’s not a natural place. It’s an industrial landscape with trees in it.
“It all came together very quickly because I knew what is was.”
What was it like delving into these memories? Did you think about things I’d forgotten about?
“I did think about things I’d forgotten about but this wasn’t a nostalgic project. It wasn’t looking back and saying ‘life was great when I was a kid’. It was more trying to think about it in a way of what was unusual compared to most people’s experience that I met since. I don’t meet a lot of people from Powys in regular working life. Whenever I do there’s an understanding you have about how things were.
“I realised how much it’s in me, all the way through. Like a stick of rock. I went on and travelled more eventually, with touring, and you realise that anything that you learn on the road is an extension of a lesson you learned at home. And how I do think of it as home, although I haven’t lived there for 15 years or whatever it is.
“It did make me reflect but I didn’t want it to be suffocating in terms of this is the only thing these songs could be about. Songs like Out of Body, Kiss Me Like It’s Over or The Truth Is Naked – if I don’t tell you this is about Wales, you’re not necessarily going to get that, and I don’t think it would be good if it was the only thing it could be. This is the soil that it comes from. You don’t have to know how reservoirs were flooded and villages that got flooded for Liverpool in the 19th century. You don’t need to know that – it’s kind of all there. Maybe that’s the place that memory has in your life. You don’t need to be thinking about it all the time for it to be unconsciously guiding you. The very undertow of the current is what’s moving you around, you’re not realising it, you don’t know the direction it’s taking you, how fast or how far, but it is moving you around.”
How Powys changed much in the years that gone by?
“It has. I don’t go back as much as I used to because my folks don’t live there anymore. I didn’t want to claim any ownership or speaking on it. It’s a very personal thing to my experience of it. It’s not mine, I just grew up there. To be about how Powys is now, it’s not really my place to do it.
“I’ve still got lots of friends there. It’s been nice to rekindle with some people I’ve lost touch with and talking about this record. It’s dedicated to my school drama teacher Buz Thomas. She moved up from London in the 70s in the same way my parents moved from Manchester.
“She was very inspiring and glamorous at our school. In later life I found myself passing off lessons Buz had taught me in my own wisdom. In terms of working with performers or singers, things she’d taught me. Because I wasn’t a physical kid, I was very small and thin, just a but nervous, I was a words child. She was always trying to get me to express myself physically much more. I realised later everything she’d taught me was stuff I’d pass on later to young singers I was working with. Or just try and use, myself, things she’d passed on.
“She was great. I got back in touch with her and her son. We were in a band at school together. We were the only band in school, they didn’t have bands!”
Sonically, it’s extremely varied. Come With Me is a huge opener, euphoric beats and synths of Kiss Me Like It’s Over, and the electro funk of Naturalise Me. What was it like seeing the album blossom into its final form?
“Come With Me is the one that’s most directly straight cut from a jam. It’s from the same jam as Naturalise Me. It’s straight bits of it cut and spliced together and looped. Nicole overdubbed a cello and I overdubbed a tambourine. That was the first one where I found the loop in the studio and wrote the song to it there and then. The band had gone out for a walk so I could just be in the studio and stomp around and try out words.
“Kiss Me Like It’s Over was fully recorded as a band in a studio. We just did it once.
“There were others where it was just me, Nicole and John. Travel With Me Through This Ghost World and Innocence were put together bit by bit with producer Tom. I did a piano thing that’s like this Prince song and you build on that.
“Out of Body and Naturalise Me were created months later using bits of those songs. I realised in the studio that it was going to work and come together, I didn’t really think about it all has to sound like this. I felt like if the identity of the songs or the words or feeling was strong enough, the songs could pull as far away as each other as they needed to, to be good. The general feeling of it would carry across any of those.
“It is a long way to Out of Body to Old Flames. Because it all comes from that one concentrated burst, it all felt like it was going to come together no matter what.”
You mentioned you were listening to a lot of Underworld. Were you influenced by anything coming into making the record?
“Me and Tom were listening to Weyes Blood a lot. She’s amazing. I was listening to a lot of jazz Joni Mitchell. Lots of Philip Glass, not that any of it sounds like Philip Glass.
“There was a record by a guy called Craig Leon. It was called Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music. There’s a song on it called Nommos. I thought it had just come out. Tom told me it was from 1981. He’s an extraordinary producer who made these big Blondie records and big pop records but made this funny weird ambient record on the side.
“I was listening to lots and lots of Prince. The album Piano and a Microphone 1983, I was obsessed with that. And Homeland by Laurie Anderson, Nicole told me about that record.
“During the sessions in the evening, because I’d come from a touring background and you need to know when you’re going to eat, I made a little rota for everybody to cook. Everybody in the band would cook for everybody else at least once. In the evening we’d properly stop for dinner. Some would cook and we’d sit down and have family dinner together. We ended up listening to lots of soul music – Dr John and Bobby Womack. There was a lot of music.”
You’ve travelled with Dua Lipa and La Roux. What have you learned from these tours and how has it shaped you as the artist you are?
“Touring with La Roux was what inspired me to put together Stats in the first place. I had songs before I started working for her, pop music and high production values was something I thought just happened to major label pop acts in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, and you needed lots of money and gear.
“I saw what Elly (Jackson) and her crew were doing and I was very inspired, they’re super musical people and have such high ambitions for whatever their role was in it – everybody wanted to push it to be as great as it could be. That sounds obvious but to really push the extent of whatever tech you can get, and just presentationally, wanting everything to look right and fit together as an idea and an aesthetic.
“She really changed my life. From working an office job to touring the world, which I never thought I would do. I got hired to do some session playing on her last record, Uptown Downtown. We’d never met before and we’d got on so well that at the end of the day she said ‘do you want to be in my band?’. I was like ‘err, yeah’, so I packed in my job and did that.
“She had an artistic integrity where it’s all about the vision.
“Dua was always the same but working with Dua is so different. She was right at the start of her career. She’s just an extraordinary person. Even when she was 19, she had an amazing confidence. She wants the best people and let them get on with their thing. She has that selflessness of being really confident in knowing what you want to do.
“It’s been three years since playing with her because I came off the road when my son was born. She was the first person to visit, pretty much. She was eight or nine days old and aunty Dua came over with loads of gifts. She’s just an incredibly warm, generous and good person. The spirit she treats everyone in, it was a pleasure to be in her band. It wasn’t just a job.
“I just want everybody to be having a nice time in the band. When they come to Wales on a trip, they’re taking time out of their lives because they have jobs and families. I just want Stats to be a time of joy. The feeling we created on Dua’s tours, it’s all set by the artist. It was a really special group of people. I’m incredibly lucky.”
You released your acclaimed album Other People’s Lives in 2019 – what did you take from that experience to your new record?
“We made it in almost the same way but I definitely learned the process of writing songs in this jam in the studio and make them later – you plan this spontaneity, you plan to not plan things.
“Other People’s Lives felt like a vindication of working in a more spontaneous way. When we did sessions, we had two days off from the Dua tour, then I was back out on the road. I knew that I was taking out a hard drive full of jams, I would have time on planes, buses, hotels or where ever.
“This record was different because Memphis Industries were backing us. They put Other People’s Lives out, they’re a wonderful label . That’s the first time I’d ever made a record knowing it’s going to come out, knowing someone is going to put it out.
“The completely open ended process that resulted in Other People’s Lives needed to be tweaked a bit. It needed to be more efficient because I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have months on end to sit on end and tinker with jams. We needed to come out of the sessions with the guts of a record there.
“Working with the label has been great because they give very strong and honest feedback. I like working with people who are committed enough to give you their real opinions. They really care about their artists.
“What they did with Other People’s Lives, not being a particularly commercial band – it looked cool and it was on the Record Store Day chart, we had some good in-stores and festivals. They didn’t have any qualms about ‘should they do another one’. It was like ‘when’s the next one?’. Having that sense of belief and confidence behind it made this one even more of a pleasure than the last one.”
What’s next for Stats? Are you already thinking about new material?
“I’m still extremely in Powys 1999. I’ve never been so completely fulfilled with something I’ve done. There’s always been something wrong with it before. I’d be thinking ‘I wish I’d done this or that’. This one feels like exactly like it’s exactly what I hoped it would be but nothing what I would I’d be. In terms of how it looks, Bob Foster who took all the photos, it’s exactly what I dreamed I would be. It looks too good to be true, it looks fake, but it’s real. It’s a genuine fake.
“That goes for the whole record. How it sounds. What Tom’s done with the record, it fulfils me. I love it. It’s what we’ve been going towards for such a long time. Because it’s very personal, I’m not ready to leave it yet. I wish we could do some shows. Even the Rough Trade in-store we did to launch Other People’s Lives was such an exciting thing. Until it’s lived live, I’m not ready to let it go yet.”
You must be itching to get back out there?
“I really am. I hope there are some venues. These great smaller venues that put on bands like us. For the first time with Dua we did lots of smaller venues. They were in places like the Railway Inn in Winchester and Red Room in Nottingham, all these little digs. The places where you get good. She got good because she started there. She did it again and again.
“They’re vital. They’re completely vital for incubating talent at any level, whether it’s going to stay at level and get better or get massive. That’s what those places do.
“The thought that so many of those places aren’t going to survive or going to be helped out when they contribute to the life of the nation so much more than more luxury flats, it’s enraging. I hope there is still a circuit to tour when we’re able to do it again.
“But we’re incredibly happy with the record. I hope people get to hear it and like it. It’s where i’m from, it’s where I’m at, it feels like this record is what I’ve always been trying to do. Now I’ve done it, I want people to know about it.”
Stats’ Powys 1999 is out now via Memphis Industries