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Ian Brown Comes Up Roses

Former Stone Roses singer looks to the U.S.

November 15, 2004 12:00 AM ET
Ian Brown, former singer of the influential British rockers the Stone Roses, has yet to match his near-legendary status in the U.K. here in the States. But with his new solo album, Solarized, set for U.S. release on February 22nd, his back catalog to follow shortly thereafter and Roses classics worked into his live sets for the first time in a decade, Brown is ready to make his mark on this side of the pond.

"I'm hoping to get a lot of work in America," Brown says from his home in London. "I don't really feel I've had a chance there -- with the Roses, we missed our chance."

In the late Eighties, the Stone Roses -- Manchester mates Brown and guitarist John Squire, drummer Reni, guitarist Andy Couzens and bassist Mani -- pioneered a brand of neo-psychedelic pop, spawning a generation of bands like the Charlatans U.K., Happy Mondays and, later, Oasis. But although the band's 1989 self-titled debut was a monster in the U.K., legal troubles and in-fighting delayed the release of their less-inspired sophomore record Second Coming for five years. The group fell apart within the year, their hopes of a U.S. invasion dashed.

Brown's solo career, which has consistently earned him hits in England, first kicked off with 1998's Unfinished Monkey Business -- for more practical reasons than one might expect. "I'd never been paid for the first Roses LP -- it was 2002 before we received any royalties," he says. "So at the time I was really poor, and I thought either I can go to the unemployment agency, or I can go out and play. And all these people in my old city were calling me up and telling me, 'Do it! Do your own music!' So I spent maybe eight months getting ready, and then I started writing songs."

But despite his Brit success, Brown's solo material -- beyond 2000's Golden Greats -- has yet to be released stateside, tied up at Interscope until this year. Now finally freed from his contract, Brown's back catalog will see the light of day via indie label Koch Records (Wyclef Jean, Sloan, the Cardigans) -- including 2001's Music of the Spheres, which features the haunting U.K. single "F.E.A.R." "It was just a matter of time before I could commandeer the whole lot," Brown explains. "I've had a lot of bad luck with [record] companies."

In the meantime, Brown has actually remained in touch with some -- if not all -- of his former bandmates. "Mani and Roni and me stayed close, and we're still like that now," he says. "Even right after the breakup, there was a tune on my first record that featured them both." He recorded the track "R.E.I.G.N." with Mani for the new U.N.K.L.E. album, and even invited him onstage for a round of applause at a recent Manchester gig. And in July, during a break from recording, Brown played a complete Roses set for the first time in eight years in a gig at the historical Claremont Landscape Garden in South East England -- albeit with a covers band he'd hired.

"It feels like now I've established myself as a music-maker in my own right," he says of returning to his roots. "And the songs still sound fresh -- they don't sound like a waxworks museum. I think if they came out this week, we'd do really well."

But it's not all nostalgia for Brown: Solarized is forward-looking, full of experiments in sound. "I took each track to a different place," he says excitedly. "There's a Phil Spector kind of sound, then the first time I play an electric guitar on a record, then the Mariachi horns. My wife is Mexican, and she's really influenced me: She's got an impressive collection of Mexican music."

The new record has been boosted in England by the single "Keep What You Got," a collaboration with Oasis' Noel Gallagher -- remarkable, considering that the Roses and fellow Mancunians Oasis have long been painted as rivals in the British press. "I know the media makes like the Roses should have become something bigger than we did, and then Oasis came along. But [Noel] and I are great pals," Brown insists. "It's like with the [Happy] Mondays: The media tried to come up with a rivalry. But we were both from Manchester, had the same friends, and we wouldn't let those people get us down."

This doesn't mean, however, that the partnership was smooth. "[Noel] had this tune he was working on," Brown explains. "But when I tried it out, you know, I sounded like Oasis for like two days. And I said, 'I can't do anything with this!' But it got to be about both of us -- I put a Roses reference in there, to the [1989] song 'Waterfall.' I've learned that the kid's a great musician, really musical."

This month, Brown heads down to Mexico to shoot the video for "Time Is My Everything," the second U.K. single off Solarized. And director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter, Y Tu Mama Tambien) has offered to take the helm on a future clip. (Brown had a cameo as a "bohemian wizard" in the last Potter installment.)

Once he wraps up a string of mostly sold-out dates in England and Ireland through mid-December, Brown will have to see what February brings, still hopeful of a U.S. tour. "Proper American quality dinners, proper P.A.'s, proper caravans to sit in, quality people!" he says, laughing. "It's amazing over there, really."

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