Welsh rockers Lostprophets are the biggest and loudest thing to come out of Pontypridd since Tom Jones. Frontman Ian Watkins talks to REBECCA BARRY
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It's not hard to pick the references to singer Ian Watkins' favourite Kiwi band. One listen to the eclectic rock of Welsh band Lostprophets and it becomes obvious Shihad are high on the frontman's list of reference points.
"The Pacifier album's good but it's not so good as Shihad Shihad," he says. "Tracks like Home Again are just amazing."
The self-described music geek and his five bandmates have churned out one of the more interesting rock sounds the nu metal genre can lay claim to.
While their genre is often denounced as indulgent and angsty, Lostprophets splice up their post-hardcore-meets-hip-hop foundations with majestic soundscapes, Anthrax-style riffs and the flamboyant epic sound of Faith No More and Queen.
At times Watkins sounds like an incarnation of Mike Patton, an influence that comes from years of worshipping the band, he says.
Occasionally they get serious. Watkins wrote Sway, his most personal song, about the loss of his father.
And although he's also not likely to push any political agenda, he has publicly criticised musicians - British boy bands in particular - of "jumping in on the anti-war bandwagon".
But Watkins insists he's in the band "for a laugh".
"When you tour, it's like a lads' holiday. The friends you grew up with - imagine just hanging round with those people for the rest of your life! It's kind of like the Goonies on tour."
It was in the grey mining town of Pontypridd - birthplace to Tom Jones - that these six Goonies began their success story.
Sharing a distaste for the alternative music on offer at the time, a love for the even-then retro pop of Duran Duran and the Police, and a tendency to shun their peers' drunken weekend habits, they focused on their underground tattooed musical collective and the other normalities of teenage-dom: video games, movies and skateboarding.
"It was just always us," says Watkins. "We were trying to think of a way we could stay hanging out forever. We were like, 'Let's start a band!"'
After making a loud impression on their local waterholes, their first demo caught the attention of metal magazine Kerrang!, which offered them a slot at a London show. There they were exposed to their future record label, and in 2000 released their debut album, the eclectic The Fake Sound of Progress, later gaining crucial exposure playing support for Linkin Park and the Deftones.
"The first album we did in a week for £4000, we had no idea what we were doing," says Watkins. "We were six naive kids just doing whatever we wanted unchecked by any producer or label."
That changed the following year when they signed to Columbia in the US and the album was remixed by famed producer Michael Barbiero. Two years of touring later and they'd been crowned Best Metal Act at Britain's NME Awards and garnered a swathe of positive reviews.
Start Something, their ambitious second album, was recorded with Eric Valentine, the man behind Queens of the Stone Age and pop-punksters Good Charlotte and is laden with strings and bursting with dynamics.
"This time we actually put some thought into it," says Watkins. "I grew up listening to bands like Queen, Duran Duran and the Police and I wanted to make a big rock, epic-sounding album.
"I didn't mind sounding grandiose or pompous because I wanted an element of that in there. I think so many bands at the moment are embarrassed to sound big.
"A lot of bands are going for the garage rock sound or the stripped down or the low-fi, hey-it-sounds-like-we've-recorded-for-five-pence-in-an-underwater-tape-recording. The Queens of the Stone Age album Eric did just sounded incredible. It didn't sound new and super-polished but it just sounded massive."
Like the lead singers of those bands, Watkins is not your typical swaggering star, perhaps because he started out on drums.
"Sometimes it's just a pain in the ass being a singer because you've got to be on, constantly. If you're having a bad day and you're a drummer you can go get on the drums and just play and not worry about it, whereas when you're the singer, you've got to go on and be entertaining.
"I'm not one of these singers who goes on stage and is all moody and doesn't speak. I go on stage and think I'm really funny, and try to be this stand-up comedian. A lot of people don't get our humour and have no idea what we're talking about but we do make ourselves laugh.
"We think we're really witty and dry, we think we're pretty sharp but probably it's completely wrong and everyone's like, 'What the [expletive] is this guy talking about?"'
Perhaps the best example of this is his description of their tours.
"We have push bikes and we carry our equipment on our back. If you're good you get baskets but if you've been bad the night before you have to have it strapped to your back with a big amplifier.
"If you're really good you get a Penny Farthin' with bicycle straps and, like, 20s jodphurs. And a handlebar moustache."
* What: Big Day Out, Friday, Ericsson Stadium
* Who: Lostprophets, Welsh rap-metallers
* Where & When: Essential Stage (upper field), 3.15pm to 4pm
* On CD: Second album Start Something is out now