During a day off from recording on the Hawaiian island of Maui, Lostprophets frontman Ian Watkins was almost swept out to sea. The singer was calmly wading in the ocean just a few feet from the shore, when the sand suddenly disappeared from beneath his feet. He tried to swim back, but the current was too strong, so he began treading water. Then his legs cramped up.
“I couldn’t get back to shore and I was barely holding myself above water with my arms,” the Welsh singer recalled. “I tried waving to the guys [in the band] and shouting for help, but I wasn’t far from the beach and they thought I was just messing around. They were like, ‘What are you doing? Just stand up and walk back!’ ”
Just as Watkins was losing strength and the surf was washing over his mouth, a strong wave pushed him back to the edge of the sea shelf he had inadvertently stepped off, and he was able to scramble back to safety. “It sounds cliché, but I was just so grateful to be alive,” he said. “When I got back to the shore, I sat back for ages reflecting, ‘Holy f—, I really could have died.’ ”
It’s unclear how much Watkins’ brush with death affected the sound of Lostprophets’ third album, but Liberation Transmission certainly sounds like an affirmation of life after a period of panic. The record, which was produced by Metallica vet Bob Rock (see “Lostprophets Enlist Metallica Producer But Leave ‘Chugga-Chugga’ Metal Behind” ), is simultaneously the band’s most energized and commercial offering, and it’s connecting with audiences across the world. In England, the disc debuted at #1 and in the U.S. it entered the Billboard albums chart at #33.
Instead of subconsciously inserting catchy hooks between bouts of metallic pummeling, as they did on their first two albums, Lostprophets are now drawing the focus straight to the melodies. Songs like “Everyday Combat,” “Can’t Stop, Gotta Date With Hate” and “For All These Times Son, For All These Times” still rock, but they’re more song-based than anything the band has previously recorded. And the rest of the album is even less metallic.
“From our parents, we grew up on pop music, but we were also into Metallica and Megadeth, and when you’re 19 years old all you want to do is play heavy stuff, and that’s easier to do as well,” Watkins explained. “You just grab a guitar and rock out with no real thought about what a song is. It’s all about getting a bit of aggression out, so that’s what we did on the first and second records. But this time we decided to strip some of the stuff down and let the songs really stand out. It’s not all about thrashy riffs anymore, it’s about taking elements from the stuff we listened to growing up and using that to make better songs.”
The most obvious new influence on Lostprophets is the Clash, whose choppy guitar lines and chant-along vocals color Liberation Transmission like the Union Jack. The other main influence, as heard in the sugary choruses, is Duran Duran; there are also touches of the Police and even Depeche Mode.
“People say the Clash were a punk band, but to me they were very pop,” Watkins said. ” ‘Rock the Casbah’ has one of the best choruses ever written. And Duran Duran were the same way. That was back when ‘pop’ wasn’t a dirty word. These were real bands, yet they were very poppy. So we took more of that attitude with this album, but obviously still with a big rock sound.”
The first single from Liberation Transmission, “Rooftops (A Liberation Broadcast)” is currently stirring the waters at rock radio, and a video for the track was recently sent to music outlets. Watkins was inspired to write the song after watching the film “Garden State” on TV. “There’s this moment when they all scream into a quarry, and that had a real effect on me,” he said. “You reach this point where you need a release. You’re either happy or pissed off so you just scream and remind yourself and everyone around you that you’re alive.”
The motivational aspect of “Rooftops (A Liberation Broadcast)” is representative of the rest of Liberation Transmission. Watkins wrote the lyrics after ending a long-term relationship and deciding that the only way to move forward is to purge his poisons and embrace life.
“The title of the album is about taking steps to liberate yourself personally from whatever things in your life are affecting you in a negative way,” he said, “from a relationship with a lover or a parent or your boss to a state of mind you’re just not happy with. When that happens, you just need to make changes so you’re not stuck in a rut. These 12 songs are kind of 12 comments or ideas about changing stuff.”