Life & Culture

Paul Weller’s Guide to Songwriting

The British songwriting great talks to Another Man following the release of his new album True Meanings

Though his ‘Modfather’ nickname might precede him, Paul Weller has long since left those days behind. A musical polymath, no two Weller records are the same: from the punchy punk of The Jam, through the soulful Style Council, and multiple solo albums since, he’s proven himself a master of songwriting over a near half-century-long career.

True Meanings, Weller’s newly-released solo album, is yet more evidence of evolution from the icon. A wistful, placid and thoughtful record from the man who once defined the 70s’ bolshy Britishness, it finds the star taking a more settled approach, linking up with a who’s who of young British musicians throughout, the likes of Lucy Rose and Villagers’ Conor O’Brien only helping to further Weller’s still sky-high creative ambition, at a time when many of his old-school peers are relying on nostalgia.

“I couldn’t do that stuff,” he says of the reunion circuit. “I just want to keep finding new things – new ground. When that stops… who knows if it ever stops! You’ll probably go to your grave thinking you could’ve done more.”

While his humility means he’s loathe to act as a songwriting sage (“Other people’s business is up to them!” he says), he admits that, “at whatever age, there’s always something else to learn”. To coincide with the release of True Meanings, Paul Weller talks us through his songwriting process, touching on collaboration and creative exploration along the way.

1. Have a goal

“I might have an idea, however vague it is at the time, of where I want to try and take the music. Sometimes you get there, sometimes you don’t – and sometimes you end up with something that isn’t what you set out to do, but is something else again, and something that surprises you because you didn’t realise you could go there. But it’s a question of setting yourself a certain amount of challenges, too. Otherwise it’s too easy to get caught in a cycle of doing the same things over and over again.”

2. Be honest

“I wouldn’t know how to write a hit these days, but then I’ve never known that. I’ve only ever written what I felt at the time, and if it’s been successful, that’s great. But equally, other things I’ve really liked haven’t been successful. It’s my life’s work, so I have to satisfy myself first and foremost – there’d be no point doing it otherwise. Obviously, once I’ve done that, I want to play it to other people and get other people into it. But I think first and foremost, I try to satisfy something inside myself, really. If other people get it and they share in it? That’s fantastic.”

3. Keep moving forward

“I’ve made tentative steps on the next record. Normally, by the time an album comes out, because it takes such a long time for it to come out, I’m already onto the next thing. We’ve had [True Meanings] finished since December, January time. So we’ve got four or five new songs for a potential next record. It’s important [moving forward], but it isn’t something that I can really plan for. You just have to sort of follow where the songs are taking you – if I get an idea, I’m just following that tune. That always seems like an ongoing thing.”

“Working with other people, that’s a way to expand your own world” – Paul Weller

4. Be open to collaboration

“There’s not infinite ways of working, but I try to explore as much as possible. Working with other people, that’s a way to expand your own world. [The collaborations on True Meanings] were all with people I really admired, and respected, and thought I could work well with. Lucy Rose, Conor O’Brien from Villagers, Erland Cooper – whoever it may have been, they’re all people that I’m fans of. But it wasn’t as difficult as what it may seem – I’d send them ideas over the phone, and we’d to-and-fro them back and forth, via text. I’m at that age and stage where I feel like I’ve proved my worth as a writer, so now it’s as good a time as any to work with other people. It was nice, on this record, to have the lyrics to three or four of the songs written by other people. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to interpret other people’s words.” 

5. Push the boat out

“I did a film soundtrack last year, for a film called Jawbone. It was more textural, mood music – avant garde might be a bit much, but it was very textured music, largely instrumental. I like the whole spontaneous composition thing I did on that soundtrack. I’d like to do more of that. If it was the right kind of film, anyway – I wouldn’t be any good at a Hollywood blockbuster.”

Paul Weller’s new album True Meanings is out now via Parlophone