It makes sense that Lostprophets’ fifth album is called Weapons, because it hits with all the force of an armed attack. It is an album of huge hook-filled anthems and soaring, dominating pop choruses combined with the crunching riffs and powerful metal rhythms for which the Welsh sextet have earned their reputation, not to mention their dozen Top 40 singles and two million album sales worldwide.

Lostprophets have become one of the UK’s biggest rock bands since their inception a decade and a half ago, but if anything, Weapons has “next-level” written all over it. It sees the band following up 2010‘s The Betrayed, though they were hardly resting on their laurels in the interim. 

There were tours across Britain and Europe, playing in front of tens of thousands of fans, triumphant appearances on the main stages at Reading, Leeds, and V Festivals, a show-stealing performance at Belfast's Belsonic Festival, and a prestigious slot as part of the opening ceremony for the Ryder Cup at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. They also won Kerrang! magazine’s highly coveted Classic Songwriters Award, a reminder of their musicianship, melodic prowess and contribution to/influence on 21st century British rock.

And now, with Weapons, this band of schoolfriends from Pontypridd, South Wales, looks set to eclipse the achievements of their previous albums - 2000’s fakesoundofprogress, 2004’s Start Something, 2006’s number 1, Liberation Transmission and 2010‘s The Betrayed - by doing what they’ve always done: refusing to compromise or kowtow to musical trends, sticking with what they believe in and striving to do better, more creatively challenging things.

To make Weapons happen, the band decamped to a private home in Norfolk for an initial round of writing in late 2010. They followed that with additional jam sessions in Los Angeles, where four of the bandmembers live, during which they developed their ideas and came up with even more monstrously tantalising ones. Studio work began in February 2011 at LA’s NRG Studios with Ken Andrews (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, A Perfect Circle), and now, Lostprophets - Ian Watkins (vocals), Jamie Oliver (keyboards, turntables, vocals), Stuart Richardson (bass), Mike Lewis (guitars), Lee Gaze (guitars) and Luke Johnson (drums) - are ready to share their work with the world.

The songs on Weapons include the hard-riffing punk-metal of Better Off Dead, a recent Zane Lowe Hottest Record in the World (it was also chosen as the Players’ Walk Build-Up Track for this year’s Carling Cup Final at Wembley), and the brutal, clean lines of energising single Bring ‘Em Down, which was first aired at the warm-up shows for the 2011 V Festival. Another Shot, the first song recorded for the album, is supremely heavy and absurdly catchy, and nascent festival-favorite If You Bring A Gun, We Bring an Arsenal appears designed to be chanted by huge crowds in stadiums across the world. Elsewhere, there are the naggingly infectious A Little Reminder That I’ll Never Forget and a winsome/windswept ballad called Somedays, which builds to a rousing climax and should keep the Bic lighter company in business for years to come. 

Not surprisingly, the band is immensely pleased with what they’ve achieved on Weapons, as they are of all their accomplishments. There’s a lot to be proud of over the years, such as that Kerrang! Classic Songwriters Award.

[That award] was very humbling, and also kind of weird,” says Ian Watkins, discussing Lostprophets’ contributions on the eve of the Weapons’ release. Taking the opportunity to survey their 15-year career, the frontman adds, “It's hard to see ourselves as anything other than a bunch of friends that grew up together who love writing and playing music. There was honestly no other reason behind us starting the band. We just wanted to hang out together all the time. Over time, that still hasn't really changed, we still think of ourselves as this new band trying to get peoples' attention, so when people talk about how we influenced a generation, I get it to a point, but it's hard to fully get our heads around. It's strange to think that we've been doing this for over 10 years, because some of the shows we played before we got signed still feel like they happened only the other week.”

How does he regard the band’s four previous albums now? 

Whether you like them or not, or only like certain ones, the one thing they all are is honest and genuine snapshots of us at that time in our lives,” he says. “I always think of it is as though the albums are holiday photos from various vacations we took together over the years. Whenever I listen to one, I'm instantly transported back to where it was recorded, what was going on at that time, who we met, experiences we had etc. The same way you would if you looked back at holiday photos. I think that's why I always find it weird when you hear people say we should go back to sounding like whatever album they like the most, because the new one is too pop or too short or too whatever. It's not like they're gonna start wearing clothes from ten years ago. Life is about evolving, not necessarily growing up and losing your fire or spark, but at least learning from everything you do and translating that somehow into the music. Not one of our albums is a facade or just a bunch of songs written to get on the radio. We can't do that. For better or worse, if we don't mean every note and word on an album, then this whole thing loses its meaning and becomes pointless. Why go out and play songs that mean nothing or sing words that are just vessels for melody? Not saying that it's wrong to do that, each to their own, just saying it's something we can't do.”

For Weapons, the band chose to enlist the help of producer Ken Andrews. “Stu had been talking about getting him in for a few years, because he was a massive fan of Ken’s band Failure,” explains Mike Lewis. “We did our second and third records with big name producers [Eric Valentine and Bob Rock], and while they weren’t exactly ‘we’ll do things my way’, they were definitely captains of the ship. Then when it came to The Betrayed, we did the production ourselves. This time we wanted a middle-ground: someone who could steer the ship but was open to collaboration. Sonically, Ken’s previous work is amazing, and he’s also a great songwriter himself. We wanted someone who would bring that ear to things.” 

The combination of Ken and the band has clearly worked, producing some of their most awesomely catchy material to date.

“That’s Ian,” decides Mike. “His goal is to write the catchiest chorus of all time. That’s his mission in life, to write the hookiest, catchiest chorus there has ever been. We’re not just into noise for the sake of noise. We always try and have a big anthemic chorus - that’s become a trademark of the band. Ian’s always trying to outdo himself and come up with something bigger. There are definitely a few choruses on Weapons where he knocked it out of the park.” 

Weapons, Another Shot, If You Bring A Gun, We Bring an Arsenal - there’s a lot of artillery imagery here. Why?

“You should probably ask Ian,” offers Mike, “but so many other things can be weapons. Words are almost like mental weapons. The titles are more open to interpretation than meant as purely literal.” 

Ian concurs, speaking about Another Shot: “It's a metaphor. It could mean another try; it could mean a shot of adrenaline....” 

Adds Mike, “If You Bring A Gun, We Bring an Arsenal is about us as a band, our gang mentality. We’ve always had that, even before we formed Lostprophets. When we were just mates growing up, we had that us vs. them, underdog mentality. That song is about that - whatever you throw at us we’ll come back with more.”

If anything, Weapons will make them seem even more like champions.

“It feels like a clean slate,” says Mike of their newest record. “It’s us doing what we do, what we’ve always done: writing big, catchy fuck-off rock songs. That’s been our MO since day one, and it remains so today.” 

Finally, Mike assesses the impact of Lostprophets. 

“It’s still a massive compliment whenever we talk to people or hang out after a show, to have someone come and, chatting away, tell us that our music has affected them in some way, or got them through hard times. Sometimes they say, ‘Your music saved my life!’ That’s just incredible. Another massive compliment is when young bands say how much we’ve influenced them, and how we paved the way for a lot of British metal/heavy rock bands, because before us, new groups mainly looked to America for inspiration. We proved that you don’t have to come from California or New York, or even London - you can be a bunch of lads from the South Wales valleys or some town in the middle of nowhere and still make it.”

Of course, it helps to be armed with a record as dynamic and powerful as Weapons... 

Paul Lester

March 2012 

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