Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Interview: Editors - Tom Smith and Chris Urbanowicz

"We know that we can make better records," says EDITORS’ mainman TOM SMITH. JAMES McGALLIARD meets him and guitarist CHRIS URBANOWICZ in London to find out how.

"A lot of people say ‘Why do you make such dark music?’ And the first answer is ‘I don’t know. Is it? I thought it was optimistic’…" Chris Urbanowicz, guitarist of Birmingham four piece Editors is discussing misconceptions about the band and their music.

Tom Smith [vocals and guitar] has some thoughts on the names of a few bands being brought up time and time again in reference to them: "I understand why it happens… Maybe they just can’t get past that and listen to what we’re doing; and listen to it without any cynicism - it can grate slightly…" Chris picks up his thread: "Slightly through their teeth they’re giving us compliments - ‘It sounds like so-and-so, but I really like it…’ It’s almost like they shouldn’t like it. They’ve already come with that pretence that they shouldn’t like it…"

The band first met around as friends around five years ago at university in Staffordshire when they were studying the same course. They may not have enjoyed the course, but by the end of it they were playing music together, which led to a management deal. After university, the four (Tom, Chris, Russell Leetch - Bass and Ed Lay – Drums) moved in together "down the road" to Birmingham, taking up day jobs to allow them to play at night.

They changed their name from Snowfield to Editors shortly before signing to Kitchenware Records. "Bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand have proved to us that we don’t need to sign to a major" says Chris. "One of the reasons we signed to an indie was so that we didn’t get the big marketing push right at the start, we tried to hold the first single back (Bullets) by making it a limited release".

As the follow-up, Munich, was released, the band locked themselves away to record what would become The Back Room. The recording took place over 3½ weeks in February and March of 2005, with producer Jim Abbiss (Placebo, Kasabian, Ladytron, Unkle, and DJ Shadow) at the desk. "It didn’t seem to be the obvious choice" states Chris, "That’s exactly why we chose him. He likes his dance music, like us, and… also we clicked straightaway when we met him."

The resulting album, The Back Room, could well be the one album you’re still playing in years to come when you’ve forgotten everything else you bought in 2005. Some of the songs were straight-to-tape live performances, whilst others involved a bit more work. "Lights was pretty well one of those ones where we didn’t really add much from the live take" says Chris. "We wanted to go straight in and show our intentions for the album – it’s a very aggressive start…"

With hindsight, which track is most special to you now? "Straightaway, from the first day we put an organ piece on Camera it became our favourite track" Chris opines. "It’s just so important. Just a three-day blur, can’t remember anything that happened, and just came out with this track and it was very special." Tom continues: "Before we went to the studio it was completely different, it was uptempo, structurally it was different." Chris: "It was one of those potentially awkward ones, there was something wrong about it…we recorded it a few different times, and we just thought ‘Tell you what! Shall we start again?’ I’m really glad we did that"

Do you ever get surprised at the end result, when you make something you weren’t expecting? "After those three days we sat there listening to it all of there in the studio, we’d set ourselves a new benchmark; we’d become something we weren’t before we started recording that song (Camera)", answers Tom. And it’s about trying to keep achieving that through your career, for that reason that felt so important which is why it’s the centrepiece, and why the album’s called The Back Room."

There’s a great contrast to this quiet man, leaning his head on his outstretched arm talking to me now, and the possessed spirit Tom becomes on stage. "Absolutely. We put literally everything we can do into performing the songs…There’s a certain intensity that’s in the songs that when we’re performing comes through, as when we’re playing them; all of us have different ways of expressing that. But we’re not shoegazing, we’re not standing there. We want to try and incite some kind of reaction from the audience - that moment where you feel compelled to move or be moved like the hairs on the back of your neck – you can’t help that"

Although Elbow and The Strokes may have been their student soundtracks, Chris thinks that their environment may have influenced their music "There was this myth that whenever you drove to Stafford it started to rain. You always knew when you were close because there was this big grey cloud. We weren’t really that happy there, and the same in Birmingham because we all had shitty long day jobs and we were going to rehearsals after these day jobs when we were all knackered, so maybe that had an influence." Tom remembers an upside to this: "Birmingham kind of looked after us…It kind of sheltered us and looked after us as well, so as bleak as the place is, and when we get the chance we’ll probably all going to move away from there, we don’t mind Editors being seen as a Birmingham band". "Because, "Chris adds, "the album’s way better than it would have been…"

They’ve a busy time ahead. A new version of Bullets will be released ahead of their large scale UK tour in October. Then they’re supporting Franz Ferdinand in arenas throughout November. They’ve also got to find time for the USA, writing the second album, having a break... So, what are the chances of coming out to Australia for the summer? "I would love to", coos Tom. Chris grins at the thought: "Do you want to give us some time off to write, or do you want to go on holiday to Australia and play some songs? Take your pick. We’ll get to Australia…"

In these days of the firework career, it seems as if these guys are in for the long haul. "We know we’re not the finished article yet", explains Tom. "We know that this is our debut record. We know that we can make better records. We know we’re not going to sound the same five albums down the line, so with that in mind, it’s healthy to want to try and grow and push yourself".

© James McGalliard 2007
I interviewed Tom and Chris prior to their soundcheck at The Scala on 9 August 2005.
A version of this interview was published in Inpress, Melbourne on 7 September 2005