Stereophonics: how we made Dakota

Kelly Jones, singer/songwriter

A lot of early Stereophonics songs were written while I was working in the market back in Cwmaman. Some afternoons, you’d just be standing there with a bunch of old ladies, waiting for them to buy some cauliflowers. A Thousand Trees, Local Boy in the Photograph – all that stuff was written on the back of brown paper bags. Then you start travelling around the world, and your experience of life changes from album to album.

I started writing Dakota in a Paris hotel room in 2004. It was snowing outside. You sing lots of gobbledegook when you’re writing songs, whatever comes out of your mouth. But sometimes your subconscious delivers a cool phrase. “You make me feel like the one” just came out. I left the song on my dictaphone, but I must have felt strongly about it because I texted David Steele, the head of V2 Records, saying: “I think I’ve just written a big song here.”

I was thinking about who had made me feel like “the one”. It’s part biographical and part imagination. You know, teenage relationships, when things were brand new: the smell of grass and chewing gum, my first car and driving to the next town with a girl you’d met in college. The Dakota lyric is a bit like The Bridges of Madison County, where you have this amazing romance, then you don’t see each other ever again. And if you ever did, what would happen?

On the album prior, we’d had gospel singers. With Dakota, we wanted to snip it all back, have edgy guitars, more in-your-face. I was trying to get away from that soulful sound, have elements of stuff like Depeche Mode, and a big chorus that took the back of the wall off. Dakota has always had a punky potential, too. On my new album, Don’t Let the Devil Take Another Day, we did a kind of White Stripes version, just a guitar and drums.

We’ve had seven No 1 albums, but Dakota was our first No 1 single, and reignited the band. It came on the back of Stuart [Cable, drummer] leaving, and there was a lot of weird press going on, but we kind of answered it with that song. The whole look of the band changed as well. I’d chopped my hair off and just happened to put on a black leather jacket and sunglasses at Live 8, so one minute we looked like the Grateful Dead, the next like the fucking Ramones. When we played Dakota that day, we had the loudest crowd response of any band on the meter reading.

I remember getting a text from Noel Gallagher. He wrote: “Eh, you’ve had your first number one.” Then, underneath that, in capital letters, he wrote: “But you used a fucking synthesizer …!”

Jim Lowe, Producer

I was working in a studio in Shepherd’s Bush, London, when Kelly came in and strummed through Dakota on an unplugged electric guitar. I told him: “That’s the best pop song you’ve ever written.” I was that confident.

Kelly always wants to push the boundaries. The previous album – You Gotta Go There to Come Back – was very organic, acoustic guitars, string sections. Dakota was a sharp turn. That song had a different edge. It was a very straight beat, with angular guitar, all downstrokes. Until that point, his songs had more of a swing.

I remember telling him that Dakota sounded like the Strokes. We’d watched them in Japan, and I think it had a big impression on the way he was suddenly writing with these slightly mechanical guitar rhythms. So he said: “OK, make it sound different.” That’s when I started programming an arpeggiated synth, which flipped the song on its head.

We wanted to make sharp cuts from the nostalgic verses to these euphoric choruses where he’s belting it out. Kelly’s voice has incredible grit. That first session was spontaneous, exciting. We had the whole song demo’d in three hours. But when we went to record the album, we felt we’d lost something. So actually, about 70% of the final song is the demo. Sometimes, they just have the magic.

NME described Dakota as “ineffectual U2-style stadium-alt”, but it didn’t matter. I was round at Kelly’s house listening to the chart rundown when Dakota got to UK No 1, and the drinks were out. I’ve seen the Stereophonics play Dakota a million times since – and the crowd always goes completely nuts.

• Kelly Jones’s new album Don’t Let the Devil Take Another Day is out on 4 December; an accompanying documentary is released on 11 December.