Congratulations on your new album! It's such a special concept - combining the original tapes of you singing as a boy with your current voice.
It is a really unique way of me revisiting my past. I made 16 or 17 albums as a boy, and honestly, at the time I didn't go back and listen to them, so this was the first time where I really listened and appreciated the work that had gone into them I suppose, from all the people involved in the process. I actually felt really proud of what I'd done as a kid, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try and build something on top of it. But you don't know if it's going to work until you're in the studio, really. I knew what harmonies I wanted to sing over the original recordings, and I'd worked on the arrangements, but it really takes getting into the studio and hearing both voices - the old and the new - come together to know that it actually makes sense. It was a concept that might not have worked, but it was actually the easiest recording session I've ever had. Somehow everything just dropped into place, and it felt like the first time. 30 years had gone by, but I was still the same person, and all the emotion and phrasing was the same as when I was a kid.
Out of all those albums you'd recorded and songs you'd sung as a child, how were you able to pick the repertoire?
All of the songs I went with were those that meant a lot to me, and they were also the ones that I really genuinely wanted to sing as an adult as well. It's kind of like my life on one CD, and it pulls in all sorts of pieces. When we were going through all of those early albums there were tracks from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, so we tried to include as many as possible, but we did have to cut a few that didn't quite fit. The songs that made it through are really special to me.
How did those original records come about? When did you start singing?
Well, everyone in Wales sings! If you don't sing then you recite or you dance, but most people sing. I have found music in everything from a really early age though, and my parents will tell stories which make me sound like a complete weirdo! When I was 2 or 3 and getting my hair dried, I used to hum along to the noise the dryer was making. I would make up songs as the bath water ran too, while I listened to music programs on the BBC. As a kid, without really thinking about it, singing was just the same as breathing. When my voice changed, and I started school at the Royal Academy, I lost that feeling though, and I think it's only been in the last 10 years that I've felt it again - knowing that my voice was there and feeling comfortable with it. I've really enjoyed singing so much more in the last 5 years, maybe because of feeling a bit more secure. I think that comes with getting older. I absolutely went through that period at school when everyone would hang outside the door to your practice room listening and judging, and it doesn't feel good. Having been through all that though, I finally feel that now I'm happiest when I'm singing again.
I think everyone goes through that period while they're studying in some way or another. It's easy to lose your spark!
Absolutely, and when I was studying I was doing well academically - winning prizes and competitions - but when I was 21 or 22, while I knew how to sing a song my voice wasn't doing what my mind was telling it to do because it was just too young. That's why I left the Academy after three years to go to theatre school, because I knew I had to do something different. I studied straight theatre and musical theatre and got taken apart and rebuilt. I really loved that work ethic and the ethos of the place - you had to get out there and be real.
Working across so many different genres must have given you a lot of tricks for managing performances. Can you tell me about what your process is like before you go out onto stage?
I'm a typical singer, really. A little paranoid! I tend to warm up a bit before soundcheck, and usually sing the same song, a hymn that I know so well it's in my muscle memory. It's a piece that starts gently and builds up to a big moment, which naturally helps me go through all the motions. After the soundcheck, I tend to not sing much until maybe 20 minutes before going onstage. Then in those final moments, I'll sing something similar to the piece I'm opening the show with, so I know that the part of the voice I'm about to use is ready. I think that more than anything it's a mental thing. I'm always apprehensive before I step on stage, but I think that's adrenaline now! I also don't plan what I'm going to say between songs which is what keeps it fresh and exciting for me. I try not to be too precious about my voice now because it's not realistic to have a silent day in my work! I have had to do lots of radio and television on days of performances, and that can be hard when you're tired, but it's real life, and I believe in getting on with it.
It's so interesting that you don't plan anything you're going to say! I imagine your broadcasting career has helped you to develop that ability to talk on the fly?
So much! And also I quite like the idea that there’s an element of danger in it, which then people spark off. I have lots of fans in Britain who will come to every concert, so if I am reeling off the same stories all the time, it’s really boring for them. I really want people to come my concerts and be moved and have a great experience because of the music, but I also want them to laugh and have a good time! Life's too short to be glum.
When you're travelling, do you have a specific way of looking after your voice?
I try to rest as much as I possibly can! Sleep is a pretty good thing. You don't have control over everything though, and so I'm not precious about things. I do try not to go to noisy restaurants if I have to sing, though, because you just spend the whole time shouting. I also don't really drink alcohol unless I don't have a gig for days. I think more than anything though, it's about keeping your mind fresh and not being too bothered by things. Keep it light, in all aspects.
Keeping it light is such fantastic advice, across so many parts of not only this industry but life! What is your advice to people taking auditions, and perhaps not being successful in securing the part?
What’s meant for you won’t pass you by! I really do believe that if one door closes, you have to make sure another one opens. And that doesn’t mean going home and crying into your pillow, even though it can feel like that's all you can do. You move on. I’ve had loads of flops, and loads of albums that haven’t sold anything. And all you can do is go "oh well, there we go" and get on with it. It’s all about keeping it real, keeping it honest, and having that energy and that drive to keep going, keep going, keep going… Because eventually, it will happen. I’m a great believer in the fact that the effort you put in is repaid at the other end. So when people say ‘oh Aled Jones is a crap singer’ I say 'fine!', and I know that I’m not going to please everybody. It’s impossible to. But as long as I am being honest to myself and trying the hardest that I possibly can do, then sod the ones who don’t like it.
It can be a real challenge when you're studying to remember all of those things!
I think it can be really hard for musicians. When I was at the academy we had these practice rooms underground, and there’d be people in these little booths 12 hours a day, practicing and practicing and practicing. But I think the days of going into a conservatorium and just practicing your violin or your voice, your flute or your oboe, and nothing else, thankfully have gone, or at least are going. People are learning all sorts of other skills, and of course, the more strings you’ve got to your bow the more chance you have to succeed. And also the more chance you have to a healthy life. It's important to remember that you're more than just your instrument. Even if you're a singer! And actually, the more strings you have to your bow, the better your music is: it’s the equivalent of the more experience you have, or the more read you are and the more exposures you’ve had in life, the better actor you are. It’s the same as a musician, you know. You might have the greatest technique in the world, and you might have the greatest voice in the world, but if you haven’t got the the brain or the heart or the soul to go with it, then for me, it's not worth doing.
Listen and download Aled's new album, One Voice, here.