Under the blistering heat of the first day of August, The Verve's singer, Richard Ashcroft,
and bassist, Simon Jones, are primping and posing for an ssortment of local photographers.
Crammed into a telephone booth outside Toronto's MuchMusic, Ashcroft and Jones are
mugging for the cameras like the rock stars they are. "Hello, conscience?" Ashcroft speaks
into the receiver. "It's me." Everyone laughs, and the spindly, pale Brits trundle off to do
In town to promote their second batch of recordings, A Northern Soul, The Verve's presence here is cause for celebration. Though the album was, at first, described by the British press as "trad and sensible," further inspection into the four Northern souls (Ashcroft, Jones, guitarist Nick McCabe and drummer Pete Salisbury) uncovers more glorious adjectives than "brilliant" would allow in any thesaurus. So when the soft-faced, thick-accented bassist, Simon Jones, explains - over a bowl of tomato soup at a nearby restaurant - how his band is set to take over the world, you have to believe him. Not because he's selling you a line, but because "trad and sensible" comes nowhere close to describing the brand of lilting, soaring rock melodies that The Verve offer.
Barely into their mid-twenties, the foursome from Wigan (a remote northern town) have undertaken several world tours, withstood a Lollapalooza sidestage experience, made a few videos, and been given a new lease on life. The recording for A Northern Soul set the band straight. Where The Verve's 1993 debut, A Storm in Heaven, ambled down its own path of stoned epics, the new album is a testament that the boys have grown up, if only a little.
"On our first album, we were just taking ounces and ounces of has," explains Jones into his soup. "All I remember about that part of me life is living in a fucking haze. Making this record, we smoked less pot and started living real life. Nick had a kid, I got married, and Richard came out of a six-year relationship.
"Richard went away on a sort of lost weekend when it all kicked off at home, and so we were writing all the music without him, and when he came back he was so blown away, 'cause all the lyrics he'd written fit so well with the music. I think we all grew up. I was 19 when we did the first record, I'm 23 now. We had a serious reality crisis."
Though Ashcroft's lyrics are indicative of a man in search of his self - in "So It Goes," he sings:"So it goes, you come in on your own in this life, you know you're gonna leave on your own" - A Northern Soul seems to rise like a phoenix. (Appropriately, the band would play later that night at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto.) This comes with thanks, in part, to Ashcroft's impassioned vocals. Ringing with sincerity and raw emotion, Ashcroft's voice flies the highest during the band's skin-tight live gigs.
"I take my hat off to him," says Jones, looking across the table at Ashcroft, "'cause I remember being a school boy of 14 years and me asking him, 'What yer gonna do when school is done?,' like you do to your mate, and he's like, 'Oh, I'm gonna be a singer in a band," and I'm going 'Yeah, yeah yeah.' We couldn't even fucking play a note, but he's always thought like that. I've just got a lot of respect for him."
Introspection, however, wasn't the only ingredient that accounted for the artistic success of A Northern Soul. Focus also did. After the spinning, wasted affair that was the Storm in Heaven recording sessions, Jones was dead set against working in that kind of fog. "[For Storm in Heaven] we had all of three songs written and walked in and made the rest of it up," he says. "I mean, we fucking deserve a medal, because it was the hardest thing I've ever done in me life, to go and do a record when you have three songs. So I was like, 'I'm not going through that again. We are writing these songs before we even step through the doors.' As an artist makes better paintings, we're getting better at making songs. We're just gifted. I don't wanna blow me own trumpet, but we're pretty damn gifted people."
Still, Jones finds a little time to ground himself in the reality of what's currently poplular, and how the band is perceived.
"They don't understand, I'm telling yeh. The British press don't understand us. They never have since day one. The British press is so up their own ass with this three-minute pop thing at the moment, it's gonna ruin music. For 14 and 15-year-olds, that's all they know. Their attention span is so short. How the fuck are they gonna get their heads around a band like us? They're scared of rock music. The only reason Oasis has gotten away with it is 'cause they write rock/pop songs."
Finding time to come down from his tirade, Jones does admit (with no surprise) that his dream is for The Verve to be BIG. Very BIG. Already, this North American tour has proven that that goal is not so far away. Sold-out gigs and a core, flower-bearing following push The Verve that much closer to BIGNESS.
"I want it to go up to a level way beyond where it is now," Jones pontificates. "There's no point in doing it if I'm not going to be huge. I want to give it back to the people who listen to us. I've got a responsibility to them. I want to make great fucking music for them as much as I was making it for myself originally. It's exciting. It's not scary anymore. People are scared of British music becoming pompous or something, but I want to be U2. I want to be that big. I don't want to make cheesy music, but I want to be in a ROCK band."
And how would Jones deal with it if The Verve did become THAT HUGE?
"Oh, I'll have a chip on me shoulder about that big," he says, spreading his arms wide, "but I'll be a better man."