Risk and Reward: Laurence Jones Talks Musical Evolution and Defying the Blues Police

Simon Ramsay 26 September 2019

Photo: Rob Blackham It’s well known that if certain sharks stop moving they’ll swiftly meet their maker. Laurence Jones’s desire to continually improve and expand his musical game suggests he feels much the same way about his career. Now 27, and with over a decade’s experience under his belt, the calibre of the guitar prodigy’s material has grown stronger, and stylistically more bold, with each record he’s released. His excellent new album hasn’t bucked that particular trend.

Since storming onto the UK blues scene aged 16, Laurence has consistently refused to go through the motions and rest on his, er, laurels. In fact, listening to his back catalogue in chronological order—from debut album ‘Thunder In The Sky’ to 2017s ‘The Truth’, an exceptional crossover effort bursting with razor-sharp pop hooks—is the equivalent of watching someone mature from a rough-around-the-edges kid into a fully rounded adult.

Steadily progressing from being a devoutly blues-based act to one who flavours his music with stylistic spices, Jones has also shown a significant knack for making the right career decisions at the right time. Having dispensed with session musicians and assembled a full time backing band prior to ‘The Truth’, the young gunslinger’s songs have been given a powerful technicolour sheen thanks to their strong, expressive contributions and the undeniable chemistry between the quartet.  

It’s something that’s particularly evident on a new album that, somewhat tellingly, has been christened ‘The Laurence Jones Band’. Channelling their band leader’s love of classic rock ‘n’ roll, delta blues and soulful pop over a selection of ebullient and heartfelt songs, it boasts the kind of confident sound that suggests this band are ready to kick open the door to mainstream recognition. We spoke to Laurence about the album, his musical development and how certain devotees felt about that commercially-minded last effort.

With regards ‘The Truth’, was there any backlash from the notoriously hardcore blues police?

I’d say yeah, in the UK. Which is crazy, on my home turf. That was where people pricked up and said, ‘This is different, this isn’t the blues.’  But ‘The Truth’ has put me on the map in Europe. We got major radio play. I got national TV in Spain and in Holland. We’ve done big tours and got to open up for Glenn Hughes in the UK, which was one of the biggest support slots I’ve done to a rock audience. There are pros and cons with everything but I’m so glad I took the risk to do a major crossover blues album because I’m now in a situation where the fans that love me are gonna stick with me for a long time and they’re not just the ones that say, ‘Hey, can you just play a 12 bar?’  They’re the sort of fans I want.

Just to play devil’s advocate, how did you respond to people who said you’d either sold out or been pressured into adopting a more mainstream sound?

I look at it and I go ‘Well, what did I get out of doing that commercial album?  I got to support Ringo Starr, Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa, Status Quo.’ A lot of people in the industry have pricked up to me as a support act to major artists and it’s because of that album. If anyone criticises it that’s fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but all I know is I did the best album I could at the time and it’s progressed my career more than I could have done in 10 years.  Sometimes things work out and ‘The Truth’ was a step in the right direction. We did the hard work by taking a chance on that and this one is us settling into where we are now.

Tell me about the vision for the new record and also why it’s been credited to ‘The Laurence Jones Band’?

I knew I wanted to record in a vintage way. I feel like there’s not enough bands at the moment that are actually playing live. I’ve been doing loads of big pop festivals in Holland and all over Europe and you’d be surprised at the amount of bands that are miming to backing tracks. I thought ‘Right, what I want to do is an album where, everything I create in the studio, I’m gonna make it sound as class as possible using real instruments.’ We got the feel right in the studio, got the vibe of the stuff, and just played Everything we did we can emulate live.

I also feel like this is the closest to me that I’ve got on record, in terms of going back to my roots and taking a huge influence from Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. That was the direction and I called the album ‘Laurence Jones Band’ because I grew up listening to groups like the Allman Brothers, who had an album called ‘The Allman Brothers Band’. It just puts a stamp on what we’re doing. We’ve also progressed a lot as a band and I felt that calling the album ‘band’ was something I owed to the guys. At the end of the day, it’s always going to be Laurence Jones because I’ve got a strong vision and—to be honest—you need a leader in a band. I’ve got that and know where I want to be, but the fact they support me and bring their knowledge to it, that’s why I’ve given a lot more credit on this record. 

In terms of getting the classic rock ‘n’ roll vibe that informs much of the record, what elements did you add to really nail that feel?

We recorded in exactly the same place [Miami], with exactly the same people [producer Gregory Elias], and exactly the same band [as ‘The Truth’] but it sounds so different. We went in there [after] doing a lot of pre-production, so knew exactly what we were doing in the studio. It was just about getting the perfect feel. The mic placement for the drums, we only put three mics on the drums, like how John Bonham would do it for Led Zep. We were very prepared and it was a nice way to record. It just felt really natural and hopefully you can hear that.

How did you approach your guitar playing on this record?

I knew this was gonna be a guitar album before I’d even done it because, for me, I wanted more guitar on ‘The Truth.’ It was quite reined back and very radio friendly, which I love, but I think the guitar sounds on this album are a lot more raw because I’ve got my 1964 Fender Strat. That adds a different dimension to the sound.  

So, I would think about what chorus I’m going to play over, or if it’s gonna be a verse and whatever those chords are, so it would amplify my guitar solos and I could play something simple over it, something nice and melodic and it wouldn’t feel boring. But then I could still let rip, so it was mainly about having a good foundation, keeping a groove behind it with a band. Which is why I said to them ‘Be yourselves and just groove as much as you can’, because by the time I come into the solo I don’t want it to feel like a start and an end. I want it to feel like the solo isn’t coming up now, it’s just gonna flow into it.  

You’ve previously spoken about pushing your boundaries in the same way Clapton’s always done. That said, he did go a bit far in the mid-’80s with the whole Armani suit thing and super-slick Phil Collins production. Is there anything you’d consider too far?

That’s such an interesting question because a lot of people are like that and there’s a lot of ‘80s Clapton, who’s my biggest influence, where I’m like ‘That’s a little outside the box’ and I wouldn’t necessarily put that on as Clapton.  Some people said that wrecked Clapton’s career but that actually brought him back, which was amazing. The only thing I probably won’t do is go too heavy, like metal style. I’m open to going more rock and pop if I’m going to drift away from the blues.

With regards your musical progression, it seems to have been a gradual thing over the course of each record without any sudden jarring shifts.

My label are old school and understand you don’t just get a hit overnight, you don’t just make another incredible album overnight. It takes time and as long as I can keep making a progression I’m happy, particularly with the way my career’s going in terms of the shows that we’re doing and the response we’ve had from the album. The quicker you go up the quicker you come down, so we’re doing it the old school way

With you broadening your musical scope, have you had to approach the art of songwriting differently?

You just feel like you can hear where the music’s gonna go now, you’re more open, you know more ‘musical language’. I try and write the best song I can and then bring them to the band and producer. It’s a nice set up and seems to work because the songs, they’re always different from when I first wrote them to how they end up. I used to be a bit too attached to my songs and I’d butt heads with producers, but you’ve got to learn to have trust in other people.  If you’re open to that you’re open to actually giving it a chance. If it flops, at least you’ve given it your best go and you believe in it.  

But I’m always true to myself. I’ll never steer off too far because I’m not a sell out pop artist. I’m open to all kinds of music and putting different influences on different songs, but I wanna try and carry the blues torch. From an early age I was described as the next up and coming blues guy. That was a lot of pressure, so to steer away from the blues was a big risk, but I feel this album has got the perfect balance I’ve been searching for, I’d say, for about four years. Now we’ve blended the sound I think people can latch onto it and go ‘That sounds like Laurence Jones’, rather than me trying to sound like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix.  

‘Laurence Jones Band’ is out on September 27 through Top Stop Music via Sony.

Laurence Jones Band Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri November 22 2019 - NORWICH Waterfront Studios
Sat November 23 2019 - LONDON Oslo
Sun November 24 2019 - SOUTHAMPTON Southampton 1865
Tue November 26 2019 - SHOREHAM BY SEA Ropetackle Centre
Sat November 30 2019 - NEWCASTLE Cluny 2
Sun December 01 2019 - GLASGOW Oran Mor
Tue December 03 2019 - SHEFFIELD Greystones
Wed December 04 2019 - CHESTER Chester Live Rooms
Thu December 05 2019 - BIRMINGHAM Actress and Bishop
Sat December 07 2019 - LEEK Foxlowe Arts Centre
Sun December 08 2019 - NOTTINGHAM Bodega Social
Thu December 12 2019 - LEEDS Lending Rooms
Fri December 13 2019 - MANCHESTER Night and Day

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