Lost Prophets: in the Land of Milk and Honey and Major Labels
J. Gordon
11/2/2002 7:24:38 PM

"...from this scruffy, crazy, little aggra act, to this big polished commercial boy-band. How can that happen when we haven’t done anything different?"

As the second band on the second stage and performing before most of the crowd even got in the doors, St. Louis was a difficult show for the Lost Prophets. But these guys are determined to have fun, no matter what.

“We had fun this morning,” Jamie says of the Ozzfest 2002 gig. “We were kind of joking, tired, giggling at everything. We took about two minutes in between songs to immerse ourselves in the uncomfortable silence. We were saying, ‘look at all those glum faces!’ People can’t understand what we’re saying anyway, because of our accents. I said, ‘I’m sorry, Stuart’s dog died,’ and Stuart [Richardson, the bass player] said, ‘I haven’t got a dog,’ and everyone’s just staring. We were pissing ourselves laughing-- it was the most uncomfortable silence ever!”

But the Lost Prophets are laughing all the way to the bank. They've been touring hard all year promoting their critically praised, The Fake Sound of Progress [Columbia Records]. Prior to Ozzfest, they did the MTV2 tour, the Deconstruction Festival, and there’s talk of them being on the next Warped Tour. Originally from the little town of Pontyprydd, Wales, this sextet from is currently stealing the main page spreads of many an alternative zine, packing clubs, and selling plenty of records on both sides of the pond.

The Lost Prophets catch a lot of flak for their good looks, and it’s a fact that, even though Jamie’s got an ugly wool cap pulled down over dirty hair, and even though he’s constantly sucking on his lip ring, he’s still damn cute. Frontman Ian looks like the brother-in-prison to Bush’s pretty boy, Gavin, and the rest of the band could be models for Urban Outfitters.

“Unfortunately, the media tagged on to our looks and said, “Oh, they’re like a boy band,” says Jamie. “[We see it in] every interview, every magazine. I don’t consider us to be anything like a boy band. But unless we grow long beards or something…” Pulling at his chin, Jamie takes a moment to evaluate how he might look in ZZ Top regalia.

The Lost Prophets guys, in fact, never started out with rock star intentions.

“I have no idea why it happened! We were the skateboarders, whereas a lot of people in Wales were wearing shirts and trousers and working nine-to-five jobs in order to get money to get drunk on the weekends. We wanted to break out of that. We’ve been in and out of bands, all of us more or less, since we were like 15. The lineup came together in May of 1997. We finished our education, did our degrees, and the actual music grew outside of the spotlight.”

The music. That Faith No More meets Bob Marley meets the Beastie Boys. That’s what their success is really about, isn’t it? Looks aside, it’s a real trick for a band to walk the line of sounding different enough to shine, but not so different that record label marketers don’t know how to categorize you. The Lost Prophets are almost succeeding—almost, because they’re still catching hell in the UK as a sell-out pop band, and they’re still hitting the occasional wall in America, in front of dead audiences like St. Louis’ Ozzfest, where kids just don’t know what to make of them.

“I don’t think we’re a perfect Ozzfest band, but we don’t fit any of the festivals perfectly,” he says. “People have difficulty categorizing our songs. We think that’s a good thing. [We]Just did the Deconstruction Festival with bands like H2O and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And Warped Tour is a real punk festival, and we don’t fit on that, either. We’re one of the few bands that can do both [tours, Ozzfest and Warped] and just about get away with it. But you know, Warped Tour might be good for us. It’s a bit of a risk, though. You can go on and have people shun you. I hear Quarashi had a hard time with it, from what I hear. It’s weird. We’re a little bit upbeat for Ozzfest, but we kind of lend a little bit more.”

Oliver says he and the band listen to everything and anything. “That’s important if you’re gonna be a musician. You’re gonna take your influences from everywhere. We listened to Duran Duran and the Police this morning.” Aware of how uncool that is to say at Ozzfest 2002, amidst a sea of headbangers wearing black, he admits, “In Wales, there was no fashion scene. The fashion police weren’t going about saying, ‘you can’t listen to this!’ We’d have Anthrax on one side, and Police on the other, and we thought nothing of it. We just liked listening to good music. At the end of the day, good music is timeless.”

In those early days in Wales, the Lost Prophets didn’t fit the clubs scenes well, either. Clubs were doing the shoegazey thing, and so they booked their own shows, playing alongside acts they brought over themselves, such as Boy Sets Fire. Playing across the UK eight different times, the Lost Prophets built a healthy fan base and were picked up on an independent label. And that’s when success got a little out of control.

“No one knew how to handle working us. Everyone was so eager to have this UK metal act, or rock, or whatever you want to call it, selling records. ‘So, let’s put ‘em on practically everything!’” he says in a radio-smooth voice. “We thought, ‘Cool, this is flattering,’ but we didn’t realize how much damage it could do to us. We got sick and tired of seeing our faces on everything, and the fans were, too. We made a few mistakes in the UK.”

He explains that no one had previously broken through on an independent in the UK, especially in their genre. “When we were doing this two years ago, we were ‘underground.’ Now we’re lumped in with Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit and all that, and we’re considered ‘mainstream.’ Commercial.” He says it as if the word itself tastes bad. “We’re a punk band with our punk ethics, doing it from the back of a van. We recorded the album in a week for a budget of like, 4000 pounds. When it did start catching on, they [the UK music scene] were proud. They thought, ‘Ooooh, this is our chance to market them!’ But they marketed us kind of like a pop act. The fans were like, ‘Oh, I thought this was a reputable band.’ We were doing all these shows and all these teen magazines, with smash hits. We thought it was funny. We’d give the same interview to anybody. We weren’t going to be biased, and prejudiced as to which magazines we’d talk to, but unfortunately, the fans saw it as a sell-out. I find it ridiculous. If I’m in a teen mag, and I’m having kids listen to us and look at our t-shirts and find out about bands like Thrice [he’s wearing a Thrice t-shirt that he points to proudly], I’d rather have them listening to that then some crap! But, the kids got offended by it.”

He believes that the general disdain for what’s popular and mainstream is even worse in the UK than it is in America.

“That’s why you see so few UK acts come to the US,” says Oliver. “As soon as you get any success, they want to herald you as the next best thing, but they put you up there to knock you down. When we do come over it’s like, ‘Lost Prophets are gonna break the States’ and they just wait there saying, ‘Yes, I hope they fail!’. It’s a shame.”

Jamie Oliver says that, despite the ups and downs of success, “the band has been the same since Day One. We’ve got the same songs, the same ways, the same passion. But everyone’s amazed we went from an underground act to a commercial mainstream band. Nothing’s changed with us, but everything around us has changed. The social awareness, and the acceptance of this genre of music has changed. And yet the perception, from this scruffy, crazy, little aggra act, to this big polished commercial boy-band. How can that happen when we haven’t done anything different?”

Oliver says that their US label, Columbia Records, wants to build the Lost Prophets into a career band, progressing from album to album, like System of a Down. And that means they have learned from their mistakes in the UK.

“[Now, in the US], we hold back. We want to let our reputation grow by word-of-mouth, let them tell people, rather than flood the market with images of us, saying, ‘you have to listen to this band.’ Because that’s how we basically started. If we can repeat what we did in the UK, without that sudden blow-up, then maybe we’ll have a bit of longevity.”

“The big thing in the UK, and I imagine in the US, is that a band comes out with a cool idea and the spotlight’s on them. They never have a chance to develop or grow. The hype builds around them, and they can never live up to it. A perfect example would be Taproot on their first album.” Jamie explains that so many new bands burst on to the scene with innovative ideas and promising talent, but without the history and experience of playing shows, and developing their own style. “Nothing really works, although it’s exciting. And then the dogs get at them and tear them to shreds before they can actually do anything.”

Oliver says that in Wales, the Lost Prophets were far away from that mentality. With three years of writing, recording, and demoing under their belt, they’d been developing without the restrictions of overnight success. “We were finally becoming happy with the songs we were writing.” They decided, in lieu of getting jobs after college, they’d give this band thing a try, full-time.

But the band life isn’t totally without restrictions, as one might think. A couple years back, Oliver injured his ankle badly skateboarding in Europe. Because he was performing on it every night, it never had the chance to heal. Now that the label is in charge, and funding the tours, they’re not allowed to do dangerous things such as skateboarding. “The management would go through the roof if they found out. On the very first day of the MTV tour they came out and actually confiscated our skateboards. It was understandable, you know what I mean? Like, if our guitarist falls over and hurt his wrist?” He sighs. “We’ve got BMXs now, anyway.” [puts on an innocent voice] “’Oh, we just ride around on them, to see the places!’ --and in two days we’re bashing our shins!”

At his young age of 24, Jamie Oliver actually had already established a successful career as an artist in Wales, doing a number of shows and getting his Masters degree when the band took off. “I said, ‘Dad, um, you know, I’m um, I’m putting my Masters on hold for a bit, because we have to go on tour.’” He says his parents have supported him through all of it, understanding it’s the chance of a lifetime, and he won’t lose his artistic skills just because he’s a musician now.

“My parents are star-struck. My mum is like, ‘This is my boy here, he’s in the band! You’ve got to buy this!’ She stands by the rack and says, ‘You’ve got to buy this, you’ve got to check this out. This is my boy’s band!’ We sent a gold disk to them that we got in the UK. My mum was crying, she was so proud. They’re very cool.

“That’s the beauty when you believe in something. I believed in the band. In the rest of us. I don’t think just anybody would really have made the decisions that I made. But I worked for myself and so I was able to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll try that for two or three months. A lot of people are not able to take the risks, but it’s in my nature to do things like that. I’m at the peak of an artistic career, I’ve got an exhibition coming up, and I decide to blow it all and go on tour with the band!”

Jamie says he doesn’t have any pictures of his work fans can easily find on the Internet, or elsewhere. “Anything I do I do for the promotion of the band as a whole,” he says. “I’m not on a little journey, going, ‘and I’m a painter too!’ That would offend the rest of them. I keep the two separate to an extent, even though they are similar.”

And listening to The Fake Sound of Progress, the Lost Prophets’ music really is art. It’s a synesthesia; what color would sound like, an audio collage.

“I was painting what I wanted to see, as we are writing the songs that we want to hear,” he says. “Because I’m a regular guy at the end of the day, and there is a good chance there are a lot of people out there like me who want to see the same sort of things. That’s really the main reason why we’ve had so much luck with the band. There’s a lot of kids like us, who didn’t want to hear, ‘Grrrrrrrrrr! Miserable! Miserable! Miserable!’ --they wanted to hear upbeat songs. We haven’t had bad childhoods. We’re proud of where we’re from. We just wanted to write good songs. There’s a lot of people like us. More than we’ve imagined.”

“On our next album, it’s gonna be weird because we haven’t had that 18-month turnaround most bands have. We’ve been doing this for 2 ½ years, so the songs are like 4 years old. There are no in-betweens, and no one is going to see the matter of progression from one album from the next. There’s no way we are going to try and anticipate what people will want to hear, and writing an album that’s going to have this hit song for this reason, and that song for that reason--that’s not us. That’s not what we’re gonna do. I’d much prefer to go down knowing I’ve written twelve songs which I like listening to. What if nobody likes it? Fuck it, I don’t care! I’ll listen to it in my car! That’s what we want: to be sitting in the car, listening and thinking, ‘this is the best album!’

“The first album, we were beginning. We weren’t as good of musicians. We did it all very quick. And there was a certain urgency and beauty to that. But this time around we’re gonna do it better, and we know that. So, as soon as we finish writing, our job is done. However people receive it doesn’t matter. I just want to get in my car and listen to it.”

And something tells me that about two or three million others across the globe will be doing the same thing.


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