True to their unorthodox spirit, the Stone Roses don't choose a typical hotel room or restaurant setting for an interview in Los Angeles. The most acclaimed British rock arrival in a decade opts for the La Brea Tar Pits, where the band spends the first 15 minutes in the museum watching a film about the history of the grounds.
Finally taking seats on a bench next to giant fossil displays, singer Ian Brown, drummer Reni and bassist Mani begin gamely explaining why it took five years to follow-up on the 1989 debut album that caused the Roses to be hailed as the future of British rock.
After several minutes, guitarist John Squire grows tired of all the talk about the past--the heated lawsuit against the band's original label, the time to sort out matters in their personal lives and, above all, the endless recording sessions.
Drawing inspiration from his surroundings, Squire quips: "Really, it wasn't that long. . . . Five years is just the blink of a geological eye."
In rock 'n' roll terms, however, five years can be an eternity. The Beatles went from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "Let It Be" in only six years.
For much of the Roses' time away, there was speculation in the British press that the enormous expectations from the first album had left the group paralyzed with self-doubt. Adding to the mystery was the band members' declining to do interviews.
Interest in the quartet remained high because the group's debut album was a defining moment in British rock--a rallying point reminiscent of the arrivals of the Sex Pistols in the mid-'70s or the Smiths in the mid-'80s.
The Roses' self-titled collection expressed youthful innocence and independence in fresh, exhilarating ways that suggested a new generation awakening--a reaction to the bleakness of life for working-class British youth. The best moments offered a tuneful mix of jangly, Byrds-like guitar and seductive funk grooves.
When the new album, teasingly titled "Second Coming," finally arrived in December in England (last month in the United States), reviews were wildly mixed.
In England, Melody Maker hailed the album, while Q magazine called it a flat disappointment. Here, Rolling Stone awarded "Second Coming" only two of a possible five stars, dismissing it as "tuneless retropsychedelic grooves bloated to six-plus minutes in length." Musician magazine, however, praised the album as "unexpectedly tasteful."
The debate is understandable because "Second Coming" is a head-spinning departure from the mostly airy, disarming pop of the Roses' debut. This time, the group delivers full-throttle rock, highlighted by Squire's captivating guitar work, which recalls the bluesy side of Jimmy Page and Duane Allman.
The critical furor is reminiscent of the stir caused in the early '70s by the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street," another work that required repeated listening before the sprawl turned from chaotic to absorbing. Look for "Second Coming" to eventually stand as one of the most important albums of 1995.
Thanks to extensive airplay on KROQ-FM locally and other alternative rock stations around the country, the Roses are already being hailed as a keystone in the new renaissance in British rock. Sales are nearing the 750,000 mark around the world.
"You never expected the album to take this long, but you've got to remember what the band went through," says Ed Rosenblatt, president of Geffen Records, which released "Second Coming." "They were hailed in the British press in the old 'Clapton is God' style of another era, and they then went through this horrific lawsuit.
"The important thing was to get them to relax in the midst of what was a very difficult and uptight environment, and that took time. My only concern was could they follow up that first album. Were they going to just copy it or take a big step forward? To my mind, they took that step."
Despite their reputation as shy, reticent interview subjects, the Roses prove surprisingly upbeat. When they walk across the Tar Pits grounds with a photographer on this dark, rainy afternoon, they don't just end up standing in front of a picturesque tree, but they start climbing it--as cheerfully as the Monkees in an earlier rock era.
When they sit down to talk, the Roses are so eager to finally tell their story that they frequently speak at once, sometimes drowning each other out.
"I think some people thought we are difficult because we don't try to sell ourselves, but that's not our nature," says singer Brown, 31, the most talkative of the four. "We weren't desperate to have people write about us or talk about us.
"Besides, we didn't want to talk about the lawsuit or what we were eating for dinner. We are musicians. We aren't personalities. We said all along that we'd be glad to talk again once the record is done, and that's what we've done."
The disappearance began in 1991 just as the band seemed poised to launch a concert assault on the United States. Instead, the band went to court in England to win its freedom from tiny Silvertone Records, claiming contract inequities.
Victorious after a yearlong struggle, the Roses then signed with Geffen Records for a reported $3-million advance. After the grueling battle, the group took some time off.
"There were rumors that we were fighting each other over money and splitting up--that we were drug addicts--but none of that was true," Brown says. "It just took awhile for us to get back in the studio. We had all this money and we went on holidays, bought houses and we gave some of it to our families."
The Roses began work on the new album early in 1993, rehearsing in a Wales studio with producer John Leckie, who had worked with them on the first album. After a few months, that relationship ended as a result of reported differences over material and musical direction. The Roses then began working with Paul Schroeder, who had engineered the first album, and Simon Dawson.
Believing that the first album was too pop-ish, the Roses aimed for a harder sound this time. One reason they plan to record a live album this year is to showcase harder versions of some songs from the first album.
Tom Zutaut, the A&R; executive who worked with the Roses for 18 months before leaving Geffen Records recently, is bullish on the group's chances to revive interest in this country in British acts.
"To me, the Roses defined the last British invasion, and I think they'll define this one," he says. "I think they'll be the first in this 1995 wave to have a gold or platinum album. I think they are going to take us all on an amazing journey in for the rest of the '90s."
Because he writes most of the Roses' songs, Squire, no doubt, had the most pressure on him the last few years--and he acknowledges that it got to him at times.
"I certainly felt it," the most soft-spoken of the Roses says, leaning forward on his bench. "But we weren't sitting in the studio asking ourselves what the critics are thinking or even what the fans are thinking.
"I wasn't caught up in thinking of us as the saviors of U.K. rock 'n' roll or worried about too much time going by. I've always thought that if a record is good, it stands up on its own. The pressure was more the result of you wondering if you could live up to your own standards. I think that every time you sit down and write, you worry that the last song was the last one."
Squire, 32, said that drugs were a problem early in the sessions but that they had always been a big part of the late-'80s Manchester rock scene--dramatized by the rise of the designer drug Ecstasy during the rave era. But eventually, Squire says, everyone pulled back.
"I made the mistake of using cocaine for a while, thinking it would make me more productive, but it just made me more unsure, more paranoid. I was trying to fool myself into thinking it would make me more productive.
"For one thing, it gives you endurance. A lot of what I do comes from spending time on the guitar . . . just getting locked into a private world and turning things around and some thing will grow from that."
Along with the harder sound, the most distinctive thing about "Second Coming" is the maturity of Squire's themes. Instead of the youthful bravado of the first collection, the songs range from a lullaby to Squire's 3-year-old daughter ("Your Star Will Shine") and a lashing out at governments that send young men to battle ("How Do You Sleep"). Other songs, such as "Driving South," are about questions of morality and greed.
Squire cites John Lennon as his songwriting hero.
"The thing I liked about his songs is they sounded preordained, like you had heard them before even though you were hearing them for the first time. The music seemed so true and natural."
The music of "Second Coming" is the result of a healthy range of influences. Brown loves reggae, citing Bob Marley as a primary influence, along with American soul singers such as Marvin Gaye. Bassist Mani (real name: Gary Mounfield) also cites soul music as a personal love. Reni (Alan Wren) says it was the late Keith Moon who made him want to play the drums, though he later admired Mott the Hoople's Dale Griffin and Sly & the Family Stone's Gregg Errico. Squire points to Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones as guitar influences.
With the album in the stores, the Roses are eager to get on the road.
They've hired a new manager, Doug Goldstein, who also manages Guns N' Roses and was so excited about the album that he flew to Manchester and waited in a hotel room five days for the band to arrange a meeting. Goldstein, whose office is in Los Angeles, says the group will begin touring in England next month, followed by Europe and then the United States in early summer.
The band decided against touring the States after the first album because its members didn't feel comfortable with their support team, the 32-year-old Mani suggests. "We didn't want to try to crack the world until we were surrounded with people we had confidence in," he says.
Typical of the band's confidence now, Reni, 30, looks forward to the first U.S. shows. Smiling, he says, "We want to kick the stuffing out of this place."
Hear Stone Roses
* To hear a sample of the Stone Roses' new album, "Second Coming," call TimesLine at 808-8463 and press * 5720.
In 805 area code, call (818) 808-8463.