Ex–Stone Roses Singer Uses Jail Time To Fuel Latest LP

Ian Brown, convicted of threatening a flight attendant, turned incarceration into inspiration.

NEW YORKIan Brown, former Stone Roses singer and veteran of the "Madchester" acid-house scene of 1980s Britain, is back with a solo album documenting the changes he's gone through during the past few years.

After the Stone Roses broke up in 1996, Brown set out on a solo career that included Unfinished Monkey Business (1998), as well as a tour that dropped in at the 1998 Glastonbury and V98 outdoor festivals. But as soon as his solo career was flying high, Brown was arrested and charged with threatening a flight attendant on a British Airways Paris-to-Manchester trip.

"I deny all allegations. They put words in me mouth," said Brown, dressed in camouflage, relaxing in a New York hotel room. "The captain was a part-time judge. The police were liars. The stewardess was a liar. It was me against four liars. And the three judges decided to believe the liars.

"They needed somebody to be a ... not a scapegoat, but they needed some kind of publicity for their air-rage laws, and I fit the bill, you know, because I was known, so they put me in jail."

Brown, 37, was convicted and sentenced to four months in prison. He served two months in the notorious maximum-security lockup at Strangeways in Manchester.

Product Of Jail Time Is 'Golden'

When he got out, he wrote a brooding song about the experience called "Babasonicos" (RealAudio excerpt), in which he sings to the judge, "You weren't there that night/ You didn't get it right," and "The lady got no soul/ She got no soul."

So is he bitter?

"I went into jail with absolutely no respect whatsoever for authority and I came out with even less," he said. While in the big house, though, he wrote almost half of his new solo album, Golden Greats, due April 25.

"While I was in there, my girl wrote me a letter, and she wrote me 'how I need to set my baby free.' So I made a song out of that one, too ['Set My Baby Free']," he said.

For "Free My Way" (RealAudio excerpt), Brown said he added strings to remind him of the times he was forced by his jailers to listen to classical music.

"In the 1920s and '30s, they used to have these Victorian ensembles," he said, "and they used to have all these old ladies play violins and cellos. And in [jail], this Methodist priest used to make everyone sit around and listen to all this classical music, and it was like that. So I used cellos and violins to bring me back to that."

That classical touch comes over a sample-heavy swirl of drum machines and a psychedelic touch of guitars that wouldn't be out of place on side four of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

"I hope it's psychedelic," he said. "Psychedelic means mind-expanding."

'I Wanted It To Sound Supermodern'

He said he tried his best to make the music fit the classic-rock mold, but with a modern twist. Many of the guitars are samples fed into a computer, cut, spliced and spit back onto the master tape. The backing track for "Babasonicos" was an instrumental sent to him by an Argentine band of the same name.

"It's the sound of 2000," he said. "I told my programmer that I wanted it to sound supermodern."

Brown also likes to give his songs unusual intros. "Gettin' High" (RealAudio excerpt) leads off the album with half a minute of Japanese guitar sounds before crushing power chords turn it around. "Golden Gaze" (RealAudio excerpt) lopes along like a country number for a while until an ominous keyboard interrupts the hootenanny.

There's a bit of funky chicken on "Dolphins Were Monkeys," but for the most part this album is squarely in the rock genre, which is surprising, given what Brown's been listening to.

"I like [Brooklyn rap group] Dead Prez," he said. "I like Q-Tip's new LP. I like most of the rappers. I like that D'Angelo record [Voodoo]. That new one is beautiful."

But he's not about to try his hand at it.

"I love reggae music, too, but I wouldn't attempt to do it, you know?" He said there's no sense rapping with an English accent.

Coming To America

Brown will join hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy and British techno duo Leftfield for the Homelands Dance Festival (in Ireland on April 29, England on May 25 and Scotland on June 3). In between those gigs he'll be doing shows throughout Europe, and once those are finished he plans to tour the U.S. — his first Stateside visit since a 10-city romp with the Stone Roses.

How will his solo work play with U.S. pop audiences who are feeding on Limp Bizkit and Korn?

"No idea," Brown said. "You've got a lot of heavy rock and a lot of heavy-metal music, which is dying out in Europe. You got a lot of house music here. It's a lot more segregated in America. ... In England they don't really have all those divisions."

Fan Dominick Harders, a transplanted Englishman in New York working, coincidentally, at British Airways, said Brown will go over well in the U.S.

"They seem to go for a good selection of British pop here. I mean, the [May 1] Oasis concert in New York was a sellout in the first three hours," he said.