INTERVIEW: Stephen Jones talks to PunkGlobe

BY OZGUR COKYUCE
BABYBIRD His music is like soundtracks for imaginary movies. He’s a national treasure, if you’re British. For everyone else, he’s a diamond waiting to be found. Lyrically, he’s black as night, brilliant and sharp as a razor…. And he is one of the finest experimental artists of his time…. His name is Babybird. Also known as Stephen Jones…. His last album “Ex-Maniac” was perfect and his new album “Pleasures Of Self Destruction” from Unison Music will be out soon. Last month I had to chance to interview this unique artist and we talked about everything from his childhood to his future projects. Here’s what he told us: 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Stephen, first, thank you so much for taking your time and accepting this interview. How are you and how is 2011 going for you so far?
BABYBIRD : A pleasure. I’m moving city from London to Manchester, so I’m getting ready for that. Lived in a flat for years so this will be like growing up, living in a proper house. With a basement studio. Been writing a lot of piano music, on a proper piano. Great meditation and escape from fucked up London Life. Music-wise I’m waiting for things to happen…. If that’s not too cryptic. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Last year, the successful Babybird LP “Ex-Maniac” produced by Bruce Witkin and Ryan Dorn was released on Unison Music. The album included unforgettable songs like Black Flowers, Like Them and Failed Suicide Club. How was the general feedback you got for the album and how was the tour?
BABYBIRD : The press was good and the video for “Unloveable” is still gaining viewers on Youtube. We just need to get those people to buy the album. The tours were small and low-key, but the 4 London gigs we did for “Ex-Maniac” were all pretty good. People still come out to see Babybird. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Let’s go back to the early days. Which names or what type of music were your family members listening to when you were a kid? Which T.V shows or cartoons were your favourites? And in means of influence, how much of those showed their reflections on your songwriting?
BABYBIRD : I travelled to New Zealand on a ship when I was 4 and there my parents played anything from Rolf Harris (“Sun Arise”) to Maori folk songs and stories about bush fires, on an old reel to reel ferrograth tape recorder. Cartoons I remember being Topcat, and shows like Raymond Kerr this Southern Hemisphere Chef. We watched stuff like The Italian Job on the ship. The only influence was having a piano around all the time and recording stuff on the old tape recorder. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Which bands are you listening to nowadays ? Are there any unknown bands that you like and recommend us to check out?
BABYBIRD : Mogwai’s new album, Olafur Arnalds, Epic 45, Clem Snide, M83, Phosphorescent, The Joy Formidible, Modeselektor, EPMD “Run It” (Duke Dumont Remix), Magic Magic, Mystic Chords Of Memory. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Your next album “The Pleasures of Self Destruction” with Unison Music is scheduled for late 2011. For the album “Ex-Maniac” you had mentioned that it was about trying to abandon demons, whilst not losing edge. What would you like to say about the new album? (In one of your recent interviews you said that you tried to make the new album a bit more political and it would have a more filmic feeling with explosive distorted brass and strings.) We would be happy if you can share more.
BABYBIRD : Ex-Maniac had a few reworked songs on it, so for me it wasn’t as coherent as it could be, some were up to 10 years old, but “Pleasures” is all new and written over a shorter period of time. It’s the happiest I’ve been about an album. I think my work has always been political, but political in the sense of things that relate directly to people, not party political rubbish. Music is a great way to stick two fingers up to the constraints of society, to confront the false freedoms we are lead to believe we have. “The Demons” are the things I like to use to mix up my own personal experience with all the things I see first-hand or in the media. Add it to an insanely addictive tune, and then, there you are, you have the essence of Babybird. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Stephen, during the songwriting process do you ever go back and pick some of your previous albums (or your favourite artists’ albums), listen them once again to help you re-imagine some of the moods-spirit you like about those songs or maybe to help you get inspired to also write different songs?
BABYBIRD : I never find inspiration in commercial music similar to mine…. I love hip-hop but that doesn’t find it’s way on to Babybird records. Film scores and films etc do have a huge influence. Mostly when I write, I empty my head and it comes from not thinking too hard about how songs are constructed etc. It should just blurt out. Strangely on this album, I saw Adele, who I don’t like, performing with just a piano at the Brit Awards and it was brilliant. Strangely moving which was weird at a corporate event. But that’s how things should hit you, as total surprises. I always aim at simplicity but working on Babybird studio albums (as opposed to “Death Of The Neighbourhood” etc. – another Stephen Jones project), it does seem to blow up, with, as you say, explosive brass and strings. There’s no art to it. Oh the temptation of things to hit, bash and blow. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : When you were sixteen you used to write short stories, combine them with photo montage from magazines and illustrate them. Failed Suicide Club is one of the most touching songs in your entire discography. I wonder which images you would choose to illustrate it or what kind of video you would imagine for it. As no video was made and a new album is on the way, would you be thinking to turn some ideas into a movie in the future as Failed Suicide Club being a starting point, a part or an ending point of it?
BABYBIRD : Yes definitely. It’s just finding the time to do it. It would probably turn out very weird as that’s my squirmy performance art background coming out. I made a short film called “Ex-Maniac” which leaked out on Youtube etc. You should see that. Johnny Depp said at the time it was the best film he’d seen. It’s mental and he likes dark and mad. In my mind, Failed Suicide Club is flooded with imagery and maybe I should illustrate with film. Thanks for the idea!!
 
PUNK GLOBE : With every new album, Stephen Jones/Babybird proved that there’s more to Stephen Jones than only one or two hits. I’m sure you’re proud of all the songs you have written and all have a different meaning for you but which songs are the ones that you think, you would never get tired singing of? Do you also say “The best is yet to come” and “I haven’t created my masterpiece yet”?
BABYBIRD : The Way You Are, Bad Old Man, Dead Bird Sings…. Pretty much all of them. But definitely the best has to come or there would be no point in carrying on. If I did write a masterpiece I’d still pick at it like a black crow on a dead carcass. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Here is a funny question…. You are in the music scene for more than twenty years now and you are one of the highly respected artists in the music history but if you were to create your all time dream band, who would you choose to be the members of this heroic army? : ) (the dead ones can also be included)
BABYBIRD : It would be my own band who I’ve known, it seems, forever. They’re The Army. To be honest, I’ve never thought about this subject, as I rarely drift off into fantasy when it comes to music. Be good to have Elvis on guitar though, an impersonator of course, from Japan or somewhere similar. Chet Baker on trumpet. Jonsi on piano…. Bjork on xylophone…. But they’d never have heard of me. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Let’s continue with the future plans. After the release of the new album “Pleasures Of Self Destruction”, will you be touring again during 2012, are there any plans to make videos or short films for the singles on the new album too? What other projects can the fans expect from the exciting world of Stephen Jones or Babybird including books, side – projects and collaborations in the near future?
BABYBIRD : Yes we’ll do 5 or so dates in Nov 2011, and then more in 2012. I am completing a third novel. I am still hoping to write more for film, and things are coming along. There will be a second “Death Of The Neighbourhood” album, and I sung on the new Epic 45 album “Weathering”. Videos for Babybird is definitely in the mix too. And finally I am hoping to open an English Teashop as a front for a brothel called “Croque Monsieurs”. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : The most important question for me in this interview. I see Stephen Jones as a unique musician who shares his wonderful imaginary world through his songs and as a true artist with a beautiful spirit and an amazing vision. But we would love to hear from Stephen Jones how he describes himself, and how he would like to be remembered fifty years from now, in his own words?
BABYBIRD : Firstly as a good father. In comparison, music is a very frustrating business. There’s not much to love. I like to write confrontational lyrics and that is not always very welcome in a sanitized world. We are fed brainless entertainment, but it’s hard to stomach such media blandness in a world that overrates it’s huge lack of content. Even now I have to stop myself, as it starts to sound pompous. I think in my life I’ve tried really hard not to grow bitter. Having kids really helps to put musical things into position of importance. I really desperately have to enjoy it more and more. 50 years from now I’d like to be stuffed and sat in my garden at a piano, my stiff little fingers placed on the perfect chord. (read “The Misadventures in life and afterlife of an American Outlaw” by Mark 
Svenvold.) 
 
PUNK GLOBE : The characters in your songs…. First Man On The Sun, Candy Girl, Arthritis Kid… Where are they now? Have they met each other at the end of the road? Tell us about the current story please: ))
BABYBIRD : No they’re all loners, sitting together in song cemetery. On the new album there are some kids who get fucked up on a stag night run by a Jesus Impersonator. There’s one about a stalker. And me…. The Functioning Alcoholic Ha Ha! 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Last question. There was a young student at Nottingham Trent University who later became involved with an experimental theatre company, Dogs in Honey, in Sheffield in the late 1980s, writing songs for productions. If you met or saw that young man today, what would you think of him and what would you like to tell him as the 48 year old artist Stephen Jones?
BABYBIRD : 48? I'm 58. (Babybird Stephen Jones born 16 September 1962) I’d probably laugh at him. Sad deluded idiot, making art for no money. Just like now. Making music for pennies. Back then I was someone I don’t know anymore let alone remember. I was another person. I’d ask “How did you get so thin, blond and so devilishly handsome?”…. 
 
PUNK GLOBE : Thank you very much for your time Stephen. Any last words for Punk Globe Readers?
BABYBIRD : Back then I was a punk. Black mohawk, plastic trousers. Ouch. But the music was so real. No bullshit. Just spat out, with fury…. Long live Punk Globe and all those who surf it!