- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2001

One big difference between teen-agers in the United States and Britain is that young Brits instantly recognize the name Stereophonics.

The Welsh rock trio may have had two successful albums in the United Kingdom — its first, "Word Gets Around," made it to the Top 10 and the group's follow-up, "Performance and Cocktails," peaked at No. 3 — but Stereophonics has yet to heavily penetrate the U.S. market.

The band hopes its third U.S. tour, to promote the new album "J.E.E.P. (Just Enough Education to Perform)," will be the one that finally brings it into the big time across the pond. With the British band Coldplay gaining an unexpected radio hit from its somber single "Yellow," this could be the year for another resurgence of Brit rock, not seen since the days of Oasis.

The last time the trio of Kelly Jones, vocals-guitar; Richard Jones, bass; and Stuart Cable, drums, came to the District's 9:30 Club in April, it opened for another British group, the Charlatans UK. Now the trio returns to Washington on Friday as headliners, switching to an all-acoustic show to debut tracks from "J.E.E.P."

Richard Jones says he knows that gaining stardom in the States will not come easily.

"In the beginning, when we were touring North Britain, we did 150 to 180 gigs a year, so we built up an audience by touring," says Richard Jones via phone, his Welsh accent strong on American ears. "Hopefully, we can aim to do that everywhere around the globe, but it's not going to happen overnight."

The three grew up in the village of Cwmaman in south Wales, getting together out of "boredom" to play as a local cover band. The name Stereophonics, taken from an old radio they found, came in 1996 after the group started to do more original music and play bigger clubs.

A year after the new name, the band was signed by Richard Branson's fledgling label, V2. The band's popularity grew quickly through Britain as it landed several Top 10 singles with its first album, in 1997.

The Stereophonics' sophomore record, released in spring 1999, was the first to have a visible impact in the United States, gaining play mostly from college stations and building up a small, but devoted, fan following.

The musicians' songs tend to change with the influences on their lives, but the three young men still carry their Welsh roots with them, Richard Jones says.

"The main thing is the working-class background and you don't get nothing for nothing," Richard Jones cites as lessons from his small-town upbringing. "You've got to work hard if you want to get ahead."

The new songs recall these roots while recounting "places we've been to, people we've met, situations that we've been in," Richard Jones says.

"It's moved away from the three of us in a room," he says of their songwriting sessions. "Kelly comes up with the melodies and lyrics on acoustic and me and Stuart add our bits and make it a Stereophonics song."

What largely makes something a "Stereophonics song" is the wordplay of lyricist Kelly Jones, whose stories range from brief character sketches to complex tales — far beyond the typically banal lyrics of many modern-pop songs.

The opening track on the band's first album, "A Thousand Trees," tells the story of how a teacher's reputation is destroyed after he is accused of molesting a schoolgirl. "Local Boy in the Photograph" is about a boy the band knew in high school who killed himself by jumping in front of a train.

The catchy rock choruses and fast pace of their songs tend to hide the meanings that lie underneath the surface of the words.

This time around, extra guitarists have been added to the band's traditional sound to give the album a richer feel as the group moves slightly away from its hard rock roots.

The first single from the new album, "Mr. Writer," includes backing vocals and what Richard Jones describes as a "Steve Wonderesque keyboard riff" that jazzes up the sound.

Another new track, "Vegas Two Times," recounts the trip the band took across the desert in Nevada during its last tour, which was "kind of like the fear and loathing trip that Hunter S. Thompson took," Richard Jones says.

Band members hope that their guitar-driven sound will help them stand out from the wealth of soul, rhythm and blues, hip-hop and punk bands dominating MTV and U.S. radio.

The band Vibrolush, a New York-based alternative rock quartet, opens for several of the Stereophonics shows, including Friday's. Its sound skirts the line between Brit-pop influences, such as Blur, and more standard radio fare, such as Matchbox Twenty.

"Usually in the arena shows, everybody knows all the songs and they like to sing along; … in the smaller club shows, you've got to grab the audience's attention a lot more," Richard Jones says of the upcoming 9:30 Club show. Small venues have their advantages, though.

"It's more personal. You get a good vibe from it," he says.

WHAT: Stereophonics with opening act VibrolushWHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NWWHEN: 9 p.m. FridayTICKETS: $12.50PHONE: 202/432-7328

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