Stereophonics: how we did the Dakota | Pop and rock


Kelly Jones, singer / songwriter

Lots of early Stereophonics songs were written while I was working in the market in Cwmaman. Some afternoons you stood right there with a bunch of old ladies, waiting for them to buy some cauliflower. A Thousand Trees, Local Boy in the Photograph – it was all written on the backs of brown paper bags. Then you start to travel the world and your experience of life changes from album to album.

I started writing Dakota in a hotel room in Paris in 2004. It’s snowing outside. You sing a lot of gobbledegook when you write songs, whatever comes out of your mouth. But sometimes your subconscious delivers a cool phrase. “You make me feel like that” just came out. I left the song on my dictaphone, but must have been deeply attached to it because I texted David Steele, the director of V2 Records, saying, “I think I just wrote a great song here. “

I thought about who made me feel like “the good one”. It is both biographical and imaginary. You know, teenage relationships, when things were new: the smell of grass and chewing gum, my first car and driving to the next town with a girl you met in college. Dakota’s lyrics are a lot like The Bridges of Madison County, where you have this amazing romance, so you never see each other again. And if you ever did, what would happen?

On the previous album, we had gospel singers. With Dakota, we wanted to get it all back, to have avant-garde guitars, more in your face. I was trying to get away from that soulful sound, to have things like Depeche Mode, and a big chorus that took the back of the wall. Dakota has always had punky potential too. On my new album, Don’t Let the Devil Take Another Day, we did a kind of White Stripes version, just guitar and drums.

We had seven No 1 albums, but Dakota was our first No 1 single and relaunched the band. He came on Stuart’s back [Cable, drummer] when leaving, and there was a lot of weird press, but we responded with this song. The look of the band has also changed. I had cut my hair and put on a black leather jacket and sunglasses on Live 8, so one minute we looked like the Grateful Dead, the next like the fucking Ramones. When we played Dakota that day we had the loudest crowd response of any band on the meter reading.

I remember getting a text from Noel Gallagher. He wrote, “Hey, you had your first number one. Then, underneath, in all caps, he wrote: “But you used a fucking synthesizer …!”

Jim Lowe, producer

I was working in a studio in Shepherd’s Bush, London, when Kelly walked in and strummed Dakota on an unplugged electric guitar. I told him, “This is the best pop song you’ve ever written. I was so confident.

Kelly always wants to push the limits. The previous album – You Gotta Go There to Come Back – was very organic, with acoustic guitars, string sections. Dakota was a tight turn. This song had a different side. It was a very straight rhythm, with an angular guitar, all low blows. Until then, his songs had more swing.

Another 70% demo… the single.

I remember telling him that Dakota looked like the Strokes. We had watched them in Japan, and I think it had a big impression on how he suddenly wrote with those slightly mechanical guitar rhythms. So he said, “OK, make it sound different. That’s where I started programming an arpeggiated synth, which flipped the song over its head.

We wanted to make clean cuts from the nostalgic verses to those euphoric choruses where he tells it. Kelly’s voice has incredible guts. This first session was spontaneous, fascinating. We had the whole song on display in three hours. But when we went to record the album, we felt that we had lost something. So in fact, about 70% of the final song is the demo. Sometimes they just have the magic.

NME described Dakota as “an inefficient U2-style alt-stadium,” but that didn’t matter. I was at Kelly’s house listening to the ranking summary when Dakota came to UK No.1, and the drinks were out. I’ve seen the Stereophonics play Dakota a million times since – and the crowd always goes completely crazy.

• Kelly Jones’ new album, Don’t Let the Devil Take Another Day, is out December 4; an accompanying documentary is released on December 11.


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