They don't refer to him by name. It's 'he' and 'him' and 'that guy' and at one moment 'that fucking idiot.' But at no point do Stuart Richardson or Mike Lewis mention their former bandmate by his name.
No Devotion: "This band isn't looking for anyone's pity."
No Devotion were born in the darkest circumstances imaginable. Now they're looking towards the light...
Twelve years have passed since I first met these two men. The duo, along with four lifelong friends from the tiny working class village of Pontypridd in South Wales, were in Las Vegas, the world's most fantastical city, to film their first big budget promotional video. As we glided around Sin City in a gleaming red 1950s Cadillac they exchanged in-jokes and laughed loud and long, these six young men with the world at their feet and lives of boundless possibility stretching ahead.
For the most part, it was a fabulous ride. There were hit singles and number one albums, sold out arena tours and festival headline slots, magazine front covers and awards ceremony triumphs, dreams fulfilled and expectations blown sky high.
And then it all came crashing down.
Officially, Lostprophets broke up on October 1, 2013. Unofficially they broke up sometime on the afternoon of December 19, 2012 when the criminal charges levelled against their singer were made public.
“We had a conversation on the phone and were like 'No matter what, it's done',” says Mike Lewis.
“There was no going back from those accusations,” says Stuart Richardson. “Just the fact that he would bring those accusations into his life...”
The sentence is left hanging.
Richardson and Lewis are in London today ahead of No Devotion's first ever show in the capital. They offer firm handshakes and warm smiles as they rise from their seats in the corner of an Islington pub, though there's a certain tension in the air, and not only because the clock is ticking towards showtime on their most high profile gig to date. The band's PR company have requested that today's conversation should focus solely on their current activity, but inevitably, it's impossible to completely disregard the events which birthed this union.
The new year blues of 2013 bit hard for the members of Lostprophets. As tabloid headlines around the activities of their lifelong friend grew ever more lurid, and internet speculation spiralled distastefully, they drew their families closer and shut out the world beyond. But with each email, text message and phone call exchanged between the disoriented musicians over the holiday season their resolve to continue making music as a unit hardened.
“I don't really want to talk about all that stuff,” says Mike Lewis quietly, “but for us, as family guys with kids, what happened was probably the worst thing that you could be associated with. It was horrible, awful. But, beyond those horrors, there was still real life to deal with. That band was what we made our living from, so when that's gone it's like, “Well, what adjustments do we have to make?' It's like anybody who loses their job.”
“That's how we had to look at it,” says Stuart Richardson. “People lose their jobs every day, and you have to pick yourself up and move on. You can sit around feeling pissed off about the situation you're in, but at the end of the day, you have to adapt. My dad lost his job in the past and he still put food on my table... you just have to deal with it. That's not to romanticise anything, but when you have kids, that's just reality.”
“This is what I do,” he says firmly. “I'm a musician, I write music and I perform it onstage. This is what I do. I didn't know what else to do with my life. And you know what, I didn't want this life to be taken away from me, because it wasn't my fault.”
Each man - the group line-up was completed by guitarist Lee Gaze, keyboardist/turntablist Jamie Oliver and drummer Luke Johnson - had been stockpiling musical ideas for a number of years, and as soundfiles were distributed and downloaded, each instinctively identified common threads in their individual expression, a shared passion for The Cure, New Order, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Cocteau Twins and other moody British pop acts of the 1980s.
“It was obvious,” says Lewis, “the kind of band we wanted this band to be.”
Joby Ford, guitarist with LA punks The Bronx and a long-time friend of the band, extended an invitation to the fledgling group to demo some new material at his Big Game Lodge studio in Los Angeles. And that demo eventually landed the band a new singer.
Geoff Rickly's initial dealings with No Devotion stemmed from a tentative proposal that he might direct a documentary about the musicians as they came to term with their shattered lives.
The former frontman of New Jersey post-hardcore crew Thursday, Rickly had himself forged a fresh beginning with the formation of a new project named United Nations, and he was curious as to how his friends in Lostprophets might negotiate their own second act. Impressed by their initial demos, he would speak to the quintet's manager Karen Ruttner, a mutual friend, and enquire as to who was under consideration to take on the vacant singer's role in the collective. “Nobody,” he was informed. “You're the guy.”
With his interest piqued, in February Rickly committed to a day's recording with producer Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, City And Colour, Bloc Party). By the end of the session, No Devotion had five songs on tape and a permanent frontman. Broadcaster Daniel P Carter promised to premiere one of the sextet's new tracks on his Radio 1 Rock Show on June 30: in different countries and separate time zones, the members of No Devotion gathered their families around their laptop computers that day to bear witness to their re-birth. As they listened intently, the DJ explained to his audience that he couldn't decide which 'side' of the band's Stay/Eyeshadow single he liked best, and so was taking the unusual step of airing both.
“I saw Dan yesterday and said to him 'I'll remember that moment my entire life',” says Mike Lewis. “I was there with my wife and she was all emotional: there were tears running down her face as we were listening to it. It was a genuine moment.”
“I had my kids around me," recalls Stuart Richardson, "and my youngest has just turned 5 and can't really remember what I do - she thinks Daddy works in a studio at the back of the house – so she was like 'Why's that song I keep hearing in your bedroom on this thing now?' I was like 'I told you I'm in a band!' It was an incredible feeling, pretty overwhelming.”
In the middle of last month, the band returned to their old rehearsal room at Music Box studios in Cardiff to rehearse for their first ever tour.
This was the same room in which their former band practised, a room filled not only with flight cases bearing the stencilled name of that band, but also with indelible memories, some still painfully raw. As they set about clearing out a space for themselves, members of other local bands recognised the rock stars in their midst. And slowly, and shyly, they began to filter across the facility to offer handshakes and good wishes.
“It was a little awkward at first,” says Mike Lewis, “but everyone said the same thing, 'We wish you boys the best.' That was the same sentiment we got walking around town, wherever we want. 'We wish you boys the best.'”
“The last 18 months have been surreal,” he sighs. “And it's been frustrating too. We couldn't say anything, we couldn't do anything, we just had to wait for this shit-storm to pass. And when you're keeping a low profile, you don't always see things clearly. I mean, the internet can be a fucking horrible place at times, and sometimes you'd read things and you'd want to respond, but we just had to keep control of our emotions. What happened brought us all closer. We were incredibly close anyway, but this really brought us together.”
“You definitely get to see what people are like in a time of trouble,” says Stuart. “When you've been kicked to the floor, there's definitely people lining up to put the boot in. It can make you pretty cynical, it destroys your faith a little bit, but you build yourself up. But when we got to Cardiff, everyone seemed to be on our side. People are proud of us, and I'm proud of us. We put a lot of work into this, we've done this all ourselves. And I think people are responding to us for the right reasons, because of the music. We never wanted a sympathy vote. We don't want anyone's pity”
“We don't want that at all,” Lewis agrees. “I read a cool thing on Twitter – it's actually a negative thing in a way, but I appreciated it – where, after we played our first gig, someone posted 'I've seen No Devotion now and I've realised it's not for me, but I wish them all the best'. And that's really cool, because I realise that what we're doing now is very different from what we've done in the past and it's not going to be for everyone who was into our old band. But it was an honest reaction and I respect that.”
“And it's amazing to work with someone who has the same vision that we have, someone that wants to do music for the right reasons, rather than for the fame,” his bandmates agrees. “Which is what the last band turned into. By the end it just stunk of desperation. It didn't start that way, but the more it went on, it just became kinda gross...”
“We got pretty far up the ladder, and it was poised to go higher, and he fucking blew it. It's like there's a point in a basketball game where you get to nail the jump shot, and he dropped the ball. It took us three years to make the last record, and it was his fault. And we never recovered from it. We could just see it slipping away. This being so right kinda makes you realise how wrong the last situation was.”
These are very early days for No Devotion.
To date they have released just two songs and played just four shows. There is much still to work out, not least the logistics involved in launching a new band whose six members are thirty-something family men living in different time zones. But there is hunger here, and ambition, and a palpable sense of determination to make up for lost time and lost opportunities. They stand now as men in charge of their own destiny, with eyes focussed only on the future.
“To me this is the most excited that I've been about music for a long time,” says Mike Lewis.
“I would say ever...” says Stuart Richardson quietly.
“Stu would mix something and send it over and we'd listen to it and I'd get chills listening to it,” Lewis continues. “Sometimes I'm like 'Fuck me, this is my band!' And that's just the best feeling, a feeling that had been missing for a while.”
“We know that, inevitably, there's going to be an interest in this band because of the past. But I look forward to when that day passes. There's a certain catharsis now to being able to talk about stuff. Talking about that and talking about him... I'm done, enough has been said. I just want to focus on the future, on what this band is doing and what this band can do. Because right now, this is all incredibly exciting again.”