Formed in 1997 in Pontypridd, Wales, Lostprophets hit their stride in 2001 with the boundary-blurring Fakesoundofprogress. Riding the nu-metal wave that characterised the era, the record's blend of heavy guitars and turntable established the band as a home-grown contemporary of Incubus and Linkin Park.
From second album Start Something up to this year's Weapons, Lostprophets have since carved out a reputation as purveyors of big, fist-in-the-air rock anthems. They also helped create Labrinth's 2011 hit 'Earthquake' in between records.
The band's frontman Ian Watkins once said in an interview that people's most common misconception of him is that he's 'a bit of a cock'. However, while as excitable as a teenager on poppers when we speak on the phone, he simply comes off as a thoroughly nice bloke who's happily young at heart. DiS picked his brains about festivals, politics in music and the bassoon as "criminally underrated" in advance of Losprophets' headline slot on the Vans Warped Tour UK.
Hello Ian. Where are you today?
We're in Sheffield. The traffic noise is a little over the acceptable decibel level. But we've brought in some pipers and clarinets, and two bassoon players just to level it out.
Yeah, they're very hard to get in Sheffield, bassoon players.
Do you have much bassoon featuring in Lostprophets songs? I can't remember there being much…
I'd like to. Every album I'm trying to get the bassoon featured. Especially a bassoon solo.
I think it's an underrated instrument.
Yeah, criminally underrated! I'm trying to speed ahead the vanguard of the New Bassoon Movement. I can count you in, yeah?
Count me in? Well, I don't play bassoon myself…
We just need support at the moment.
Well I'll get the word out there for you about this revolution.
Please do. I want my name and then the tagline 'spearheading the vanguard of the New Bassoon Movement'. I'll be upset if that's not the tagline.
Everyone's talking about dubstep, but fuck dubstep. That's over now. It's all about the bassoon.
That's done. Four years ago with Skream that was cool, but this is the new shit now. Bassoon-step. Or Dub-soon.
Ok. Let's talk about the Warped Tour then. Are you looking forward to it?
Yeah, can't wait actually. The first time we ever did Warped was this year in America, and it was something we always wanted to do growing up as kids. It's cool to be asked to headline the comeback of Warped in the UK. A lot of the bands that are on tour this year in America are coming over to do it.
You've said before that you're quite a fan of American college rock - does playing Warped fit into that?
Yeah. Growing up in Pontypridd, we always used to fantasize about what it would be like growing up in America. We saw the American skate videos and all the bands, it fitted into that whole sub-genre. The Warped tour is part of that.
You've always has quite an interactive element to your shows – I remember when I saw you at Reading 2007 you got one of the best crowd responses of the whole weekend…
Totally. Especially when you're at a festival and there are so many bands and so many different styles, ultimately people are there to have a laugh and have fun, and so many bands just go one and play their songs and are very, like, po-faced. You know, they take it all very seriously, and it's not…we enjoy what we do and it's about just having a laugh. People might not know the band, they might only know one or two songs, and it's like, even if you don't know all the band's songs just have a laugh and join in. I remember that year at Reading was fucking bonkers. When we played 'Last Train Home', as far as I could see, back past the speaker towers, the whole place was moving. People jumping en masse in a field – even if you watch the Reading coverage back on YouTube you can see us laughing and smiling at each other, like 'fuck it, I can't believe this!' I remember after the show Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails came up and said 'a very commanding performance'. I was like, (sobs excitedly) 'Ohhh, that's Trent Reznor…'
Any UK festival plans for 2013?
Hopefully. I'm still waiting to headline Reading. That's my childhood dream. Headlining Download was wicked – the Bon Jovi pyros, the laser beams, the The Matrix-esque trench coats, all those things you need for a headline show pretty much. But I think with Reading and Leeds it's got to that point where we've done everything we could…when you see the whole place moving as far as the eye can see, I don't know how it gets better apart from playing in the dark. I'd be like, 'if it's not the best fucking headline set you've ever seen you don't have to pay us'.
Do you think of yourself as a stadium band now?
Nah – I don't know if we ever think of ourselves like that. We're always moving the goalposts. When we first started we were like, 'Ah, it'd be amazing to do a tour'. Then when we did a tour it was like, 'It'd be amazing to headline shows', then 'It'd be amazing to do the Astoria'. And then the main stage at Reading. We never thought of doing anything else, and once you've achieved everything you want to achieve it's almost worrying – where do you go from there?
Turn into Bon Jovi?
Rock music hasn't been selling as well in recent years – why do you think your records still do?
I did try to start thinking about this at the beginning of the year, and then I started scaring myself. I don't know if there is any viable reason for it, you know. Maybe it is the fact that we do genuinely love it, and people can sense that. Maybe that's a bit romantic. We all grew up together, we’re all friends…that's the only thing I can put it down to. When we started there were only two other bands who have been going just as long who are an album ahead of us, that's Muse and Biffy Clyro. I remember working as a graphic designer when I'd just graduated from college, and the first Muse record came out and then the Biffy record. I was thinking, 'Ah, I'd love to be signed like these guys'. But I can't think of any other bands that are still around. They were all friends, they grew up together, it's the same kind of mentality.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact all three of you have quite a bold, distinctive sound…
Yeah, and we've all stuck to doing what we do, stuck by our guns. We'll always be the black sheep. When we came out we didn't sound like anyone else, and people thought that was a bad thing. With Muse it was just like 'Oh, you're ripping off Radiohead but you sound a bit [different]'.
Let's talk a bit about your last record, Weapons. You've always had a genre blending approach to your sound, and you've mentioned you wrote 'Bring 'Em Down' as a dubstep-y song originally. Would you ever do a Korn and completely reinvent your sound along those lines?
No, I don't think so – we've always from the first record on liked the Mo'Wax, James Lavelle interludes and outros. It's always something we've been into. But we're still strong in our own identity; we don't need to jump ship onto whatever's 'cool' at the moment. We love loads of different types of shit, but we are who we are – people like us because we're Lostprophets. As soon as you start to become something else or copy something else people say 'I liked you for you'.
One of the songs that really grabbed me on Weapons was 'Better Off Dead'. It struck me as chiming with Occupy and the protests of recent years. Is there a political side to LostProphets people don't always see?
Yeah, there definitely is. But a lot of the time it's like Alice in the rabbit hole or opening Pandora's box – where do you stop? You can get so frustrated with the government and laws in general, the hypocrisy, the bureaucracy. I don't think 12 three-minute songs on an album are going to justify it – you have to do four CDs of spoken word to even start to explain the frustrations with what's wrong with, for example, the health service.
So spoken word and bassoon for the next album then?
Yeah. Or spoken word over bassoon – incidental music.
Spoken word through a bassoon?
Like a didgeridoo type-thing.
But going back to that song, you sing about picket lines and closed down schools…
Stu's (Stuart Richardson, bassist) dad was in the miners' strike back in the Thatcher years. We all witnessed the pickets – Pontypridd was a massive mining town. That was its main income, so when they shut down all the mines that affected everyone's families massively. We saw all of that stuff first-hand. It's about bringing some of that frustration to the forefront without turning completely into Rage (Against The Machine). If it becomes too steadfast you start contradicting yourself somewhere along the line.
That's interesting. I can't think of too many bands that have really pulled that off – Rage, Fugazi, maybe a few others. But how many bands have managed political sloganeering and still been listenable?
Even with Rage you get people saying 'Oh, I saw Zach (De La Rocha) driving around in his fucking Mercedes Benz', or Tom (Morello) doing whatever in some reality show. It's alright to do that, but if you become too power-to-the-people communist and then you buy into the whole fascist, capitalist money-making thing...it's a weird thing to be super communist on a very capitalist label. At least with Fugazi they did things very independently, even though they're all millionaires. I'm not having a go or anything…but there's that paradox.
It doesn't really exist so much any more. A lot of bands have been responding to Occupy and the London riots and things like that, but it's rare you get a band that you can say 'they're a political band'.
Or a band that is actually saying something relevant or has an intelligent standpoint on something. I remember when 'American Idiot' came out everyone was saying 'Ah, it's amazing', and it's like, it's not saying anything that's revolutionary. 'Bush sucks!' Yeah dude, we know.
But no one was saying it that overtly?
Well NOFX and Fat Mike had been saying it for fucking years. But, yeah, perhaps no-one had said it from that level or that loudly."
Your record sleeve for Weapons includes the quote Deus Velox Nex - 'God Is Swift Death'. What's that about?
That's the literal translation, but it also means 'god killer'. It's more like, again, railing against the government and organised religion in general."
Where did you get the idea from?
Funnily…[laughs] it's from the bullets from the gun in this really cheesy B-movie, Drive Angry [widely panned Nicolas Cage flick from 2011]. It's inscribed on the bullets. I liked the sentiment of it – believe in yourself. You don't have to believe in some fictional deity to give you strength. Find the courage in yourself.
The album's called Weapons and a lot of the titles reference attacking or shooting, does that theme come from any particular place?
I think, of all the records, this is the one that has the least aesthetic mindset behind it. It was only after the fact that we saw the songs together and decided to call it Weapons – it was more like all of those thoughts came independent of each other. But altogether there is an armament theme. I guess also it's tied into my obsession with anything action movie-related or military, or sci-fi.
Do you get a lot of inspiration from that?
Yeah, totally. If I was left to my own devices, I think everything would just be sci-fi, war, military, action-related. Everything. All the album covers…there would be some time travel shit on there. Wormholes, warp gates. I do all the album artwork myself, and a lot of the covers that didn't get used are pretty much Star Trek movie covers.
If you could write a soundtrack to one film or series what would it be then?
The new Star Wars, sponsored by Disney?
Maybe Stargate. I'd like them to remake Stargate. Not that there's anything wrong with the orginal, but it would definitely be worth revisiting. I'd like to do the soundtrack.
Are you quite a big gamer too?
Oh yeah. I've got an Xbox 360 and a PS3. The last game I really got into, apart from Call of Duty online, was Fallout 3. It got to the point where I'd play it day and nights on end without any sleep. I believed I was a character in the actual game.
I got so into Fallout 3. I loved that game.
Dude - I thought I was the guy. It got to the point where after playing I'd walk into a room and expect to find zombies. I'd go to sleep and dream I was in it. Wake up in the night and start to play. Way, way too into it.
Did it ever get in the way of the music?
[In a funny voice] No-ooo….I'd like to think not. Maybe inspired it.
So, to wrap up, what are the future plans of Lostprophets?
We've got this tour, then Japan, Russia. Then mainly we're focusing on starting to write the new record now.
Have you got a few things on the boil already?
Yeah, definitely. Hopefully we'll have it out by next summer, just in time for the headline sets for Reading and Leeds. That's what I'd love - I hold out hope. They'll read that and either think, 'oh, that's a brilliant idea', or 'you cheeky bastards!'