The Rifles frontman Joel Stoker has spoken to NME about the impending chart success of his debut solo album ‘The Undertow’ – despite no radio support and the record’s deeply personal themes – and the thrill of supporting Liam Gallagher at his recent low-key KOKO gig.
The album – recorded virtually solo in Stoker’s shed, with only drummer Brendan O’Neill, Rifles keyboardist Dean Mumford and ex-Menswear member Stuart Black adding instrumentation – is sitting at Number 10 in the midweek album chart.
The singer, who sets out on a smattering of solo shows in September, October and November, also revealed that The Rifles are back in the studio working on new material, after two decades of self-made success including four Top 40 albums.
NME: Hello Joel. How do you feel about heading for your first Top 10 album after all these years?
“Taken aback really. It didn’t even cross the mind, chart positions or anything like that. So it was a strange one. I just wasn’t even thinking about it. A nice surprise. Obviously we’ve got a solid fan base through The Rifles. Apart from that it must be from people who are on the lookout for new music – it’s not been plastered everywhere. What I think does help is, especially The Rifles fanbase and people into that sort of music seem to be into buying the vinyl again. Hopefully people just caught wind of it, looked into it and liked it.”
With so little press or radio support behind the record, do you feel vindicated?
“It’s a little frustrating. But from a Rifles perspective it’s made our fanbase that much more solid in a funny way, because everyone’s found out about it through word of mouth and we feel like their band, as opposed to something that’s been thrown down their neck, which has given us more longevity than a flash-in-the-pan hyped band. It’s a little bit frustrating but I’m really happy with my album. And I feel people just hear it then they make their own mind up that’s good enough for me.”
What’s happening with The Rifles?
“I’m in the studio again tomorrow, we’re just doing a new album. We wrote a lot of songs about a year and a half ago but it was all a bit fragmented. When I listened to them all I wasn’t feeling it, I didn’t think it was good enough, basically. So we went back to the drawing board, wrote some more and now we’ve done all the drums and bass, I’ve put all the rhythms down and it’s just colouring them in now.”
Is it frustrating to have not got the attention you deserve so far?
“It seems like the fans are more frustrated than I am! There’s so many people out there and a wide scope of music out there, so it’s hard to get a light shone on you. It is frustrating sometimes because you just want people to hear it. You can’t make someone liking music, but at least getting a chance of listening to it would be cool.”
What was the thinking behind doing a solo album?
“During the lockdown I’d done a song on my own in the shed where I record everything at home. It just felt like all that’s possible just to do it all and release it. I had a bunch of five or six songs that I was writing at home all on the same subject, very personal for me. It didn’t seem to fit in the band set-up. These developed a bit more than just ideas and I thought there’s an album there. I just wanted it to all be about the same subject and be one piece of work if you like. It was all a bit too personal for me to collaborate with anyone.”
Was it refreshing to record largely alone?
“I loved it. What was really lovely was not having a discussion about something. It’s necessary a lot of the time and that’s what makes a band often, but I found it a walk in the park just to get down there in the morning, play something, a guitar riff or whatever and just get into it, not have a discussion. It was what I love about making music really.”
What is ‘My Own War’?
“It’s anxiety and I’ve had it since I was young. It gets you down. It seems like everyone’s suffering with mental health at the minute and I didn’t want to be jumping on that bandwagon, but at the same time, I feel like it’s important to talk about it and bring it up because the more you talk about it, the more you realise a lot of other people do have certain things that they struggle with.
“As soon as you speak about it, it makes it easier instantly. It’s not a negative album at all. A lot of stuff in there is pretty dark and it’s a negative subjects. But it’s more about getting through it all. That is really what I’m trying to say – yes, it’s horrible, but tomorrow’s a new day. You’ve just got to keep going, and it’s never as bad as it seems to be. In the order of the album, I tried to make it like that so by the end you’re laughing at it a little bit. Just take it on the chin and what comes will come and you deal with it.”
‘The Valley’ seems to be the turning point – a tortured song that ends with leaving the darker territory behind you.
“That’s exactly the point where I thought ‘there’s a little bit of light coming in now’. From then on the other songs are more like that – ‘Wave Of Hope’ for instance. You struggle every day, some days. Some days are really hard, but I’m not dead, I got through it, and you come out the other side of it.”
So is it about a period of your life that was a real struggle?
“There’s been several really, it goes up and down. Educating yourself about it is very healthy and helpful, and understanding how your brain ticks – what things help and what things don’t help. The older and wiser you get, you think ‘well I probably won’t do that. I won’t have 10 pints because I’m going to feel a bit dodgy in the morning.”
How as it supporting Liam?
“That was completely out of the blue. I had to cancel my holiday, but it was worth it. I’ve met him a few times before and I met him briefly that night. I just caught him on the way to the stage and he said he really liked the new stuff. And then I went out the front and felt like I went back 30 years listening to Oasis songs.”
Stoker’s debut album ‘The Undertow’ is out now. His upcoming tour dates are below. Visit here for tickets and more information.
14 – Birmingham, Dead Wax
21 – Liverpool, Jimmy’s
22 – Stockton-on-Tees, NE Volume Bar
28 – Preston, The Ferret
12 – Atherton, The Snug
2 – Newport, Le Pub
16 – Aldershot, West End Centre