Paul Weller has never been one to rest on his laurels. In fact, the prolific 58-year-old colloquially known as "The Modfather"—thanks to his work with pioneering U.K. punk band the Jam and a lengthy solo career that's kept him in the upper echelon of British rock songwriters—postponed a scheduled late-August interview with Scene because he was immersed in the studio working on music.
When reached a day later, Weller clarifies what kept him busy. "I was just finishing off a new song for the next album, which I am hoping will be ready and coming out sometime in March or April next year," he says, adding that he's "just over halfway through" with the LP, which he reckons is "a bit more groovy" in sound.
"I’m just kind of getting up from writing words at the moment, really—[just kind of throwing] in the meter of words. But I don’t know, really," he says with a laugh. "It’s very eclectic. I keep thinking I should write something sort of weighty and lofty with what’s happening in the world, but then I don’t know how to do it. So I’m kind of just writing abstract nonsense. I’m just happy that it’s flowing, moving and going somewhere."
One can't blame Weller for being somewhat uncertain about the path his music is taking–if anything, eclecticism and unexpected detours are the defining characteristics of his career. As the de facto leader of the Jam, he guided the band well beyond its rabble-rousing beginnings. Over the course of five years and six albums, the influential trio dabbled in strident mod-punk, stuttering funk, Beatles-esque pop and horn-peppered soul and Motown. After the Jam dissolved, he started the Style Council, which also incorporated a variety of influences, from synthpop to blue-eyed soul and even jazz.
As a solo artist, Weller has likewise released a steady stream of records that are sonically difficult to pin down. In fact, a new singles compilation cheekily dubbed More Modern Classics—it's a sequel to 1998's Modern Classics: The Greatest Hits—demonstrates impressive diversity. Covering the time period from 2000's Heliocentric to the present, the compilation touches on organ-fried funk (the horn-laden "It's Written In The Stars") '70s soul slow jams ("Wishing On A Star"), psych-tinged heft ("Echoes Around The Sun"), shambling classic rock struts ("Wake Up The Nation") and jittery post-punk ("From The Floorboards Up"). More Modern Classics also features the stellar new song "Brand New Toy," a jaunty, piano-led track in the tradition of playful (and somewhat wacky) British rock.
When comparing the two singles collections, Weller sees some distinct differences between his sound. "Partly my writing process is different now," he says. "I mean, I still do that thing where I can sit down and write a song on a guitar or a piano. So I still write songs like that, but I think I’m also sort of experimenting to try different ways of writing and not always going into the studio equipped with songs and just sort of see what happens. I guess that’s kind of experimental or whatever you want to call it; that’s the main difference, really.
"You know, for me it’s a continuation," he adds. "It’s one person’s journey along the way, and I can’t look at it really beyond that, I suppose. Whether it’s all meant something—or if it’s leading somewhere—I don’t know. Those would be good questions, but I always just hope that it gets better and I get better as a singer, as a musician and as a writer. That’s what I aspire to."
Indeed, More Modern Classics is certainly a progression from Weller's '90s work in the best possible ways. Despite its range, the collection has an internal logic that creates cohesion—and the songwriting has a sophisticated edge that's paradoxically conducive to loose atmospheres. Weller chalks this up to the fact that he's still "constantly learning," among other things. "I learned when you write a song, whatever the process is—a good song is a good song," he says. "I think my melodies are still strong, which is a big part of it for me. I don’t know -- I’m still finding my way."
That restless spirit (and tireless passion for self-improvement) no doubt explains why Weller has become an enduring inspiration to diffuse generations of musicians—whether it's Oasis and their Britpop peers to ramshackle '00s rockers The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys and even the U.K.'s crop of modern soul crooners. Such wide appeal has also helped Weller remain a top festival draw in Europe and the States; in fact, this rare Cleveland date falls between his performances at Riot Fest in Toronto and Chicago.
"You’ve got people who have been there for a long time," he says of the audience at his gigs. "But you’ve also got a lot of young people as well—probably even more so, I guess in Europe and in England; it really is kind of sort of a pan-generational thing, really. But I think the last time I played the States, which was last year, there was a lot of young people there as well, so kind of how they get to it, I don’t know, but it’s brilliant."
And while he doesn't do long spurts of touring anymore in part because he's the father of young twin boys – "I can’t really do, like, a six-week stretch and all that sort of thing, I find it really hard," he admits. "Not physically, but just emotionally, being away from the kids and my family"—when he is on the road, attendees can expect a show that's (appropriately) entirely forward-thinking and nostalgia-free.
"There’s loads of things that I won’t play or can’t play, because I can’t find a connection to them," he says. "And I don’t really do the greatest hits thing. It’s not really my sort of thing, playing just old songs and all of that stuff. Where my head’s at is all of the new stuff, really—so that’s really where my heart is, playing the new stuff. There’s people that haven’t seen me before and they come along thinking it’s going to be a night of all of the old hits and they probably shouldn’t bother, because it won’t be like that."
Paul Weller, the Gramotones, 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $33-$49.50, houseofblues.com.