Q&a Editors - Tough Love: the band on sackings and survival

Q&a Editors - Tough Love: the band on sackings and survival

editorsEditors have been making changes. Following the release of 2009's In This Light and On This Evening tensions within the band grew to the point where the four-piece admit they almost called it a day. Instead after much soul-searching the group decided to continue though the services of founding member, guitarist Chris Urbanowicz have been permanently dispensed with. Having just released their fourth album, The Weight of Your Love and added two new members to the band, frontman Tom Smith, drummer Ed Lay and new guitarist Justin Lockey recently sat down with Q to discuss the line-up changes, their record and why they're the band people seem to either love or hate...

How the devil are you? Tom Smith: "Good, thanks." Ed Lay: "Really good!"

You've been through a time of great change as band, how does it feel to be here now on the other side that? TS: "It feels great. We had a show booked in last year which brought the new, five piece band together. From that point it felt exciting. That energy we had we took that to make the record, so it feels great."

Was there ever a moment where you doubted you'd get to this point? "Yeah. Take the point when Chris went, go back two weeks earlier and it's pretty dark [laughs]. It was about as scary as it's ever been for the band, and that wasn't something we'd arrived at over night. It had been led up to after a year, year-and-a-half's working on songs - with [producer] Flood a lot of the time - and it just gradually, gradually... not falling apart, but realising it was just not good enough. There was a gradual realisation that for the first time in our career we were doing a record we just weren't buzzing about. On the first three records, for different reasons, it was an exciting time. This was the first time where we were asking: What's wrong? What are we doing here? Is it the band? Is it the songs? Is it Flood? We listened to the songs and we still believed in them; Flood is Flood, one of the greatest producers of all time so it's not his fault. We realised that the four people in the band had done everything they could do creatively and it was time to move on. That point was horrible."

How hard was it to change that? EL: "You're not sure exactly what the problem is, that's why it's such a horrible situation to be in. If it's clear you can just change it." TS: "We weren't fighting, we weren't throwing guitars across the room." EL: "We got to the stage where Russell [Leetch, bass] and I were trying to work out songs in a horrible little rehearsal room in Birmingham without Tom and Chris being there because nobody knew what we wanted to do. I guess me and him just thought we've got to keep it together. Then we thought, Why the fuck are we trying to keep it together if it's just not working? I think I saw a breakdown coming. It got awful and the communication between us was zero. I don't know how we got to the point where we figured out a route but it meant Chris leaving the band. It was a couple of weeks of shock. Then Tom, Russell and I went back into the studio the day after we told Chris he wasn't going to be in the band and we had the most productive day in the last two-and-half-years of working together. Then we got very lucky with the two people we brought in. They were very hard working, very driven and had ideas coming from all directions. It was a very interesting place to be in our different rehearsal room last summer." TS: "Yep we changed everything. Producer, rehearsal rooms, we had to really."

Bands can be strange things. On one level it's a creative endeavour, on another it's a job, but if it was a regular career there would be an HR department to help you sort all this out... TS: "Yeah, they'd have had a word about it six months earlier [laughs]. I think the reality is that most bands with longevity have gone through some change. There are of course a couple that haven't, that have remained intact, but most have little changes. The part of me that is sad is the part that thinks of those four mates doing our debut record thinking, We're going to stay together forever, making records and it's a bit sad that's stopped."

Where did the new members come from? Justin Lockey: "It came together when they were looking for a guitarist to play a show. They wanted me to play Chris' old parts which was a strange one. We were mutual friends via Flood and so they asked me to help out. So I went down to rehearse, though Tom wasn't there because he had tonsillitis, which I thought was a great start [laughs]. Then essentially I've stayed in Birmingham since... like Terry Waite, in a dark room. It's not Beirut but close [laughs]. That was it really. Did the show and stayed around, did some writing." EL: "It was a lot of pressure to put you under. It was our biggest show ever." TS: "I thought we should cancel the show, it was too much to deal with..." EL: "...but me and Russ couldn't take that, we'd been sitting around for too long. You have an option then, do you get a sound-a-likey to walk in, play the parts and pretend everything is roses or do you take the opportunity. We'd toured with R.E.M. a few years previously and they'd have a few different members onstage and it was an exciting moment watching them, you feel the extra pair of hands gives them more scope to do more on stage. So we figured we'd try to up our game and get some extra energy onstage. As soon as they came in the room it just felt better with five people. We'd never go back."

The fact that Justin is here chatting implies that this is the band now. They're not extras who never get mentioned? TS: "That was an option, have extra musicians be part of the record making process but not do the photos or the talking, but I think we felt it's a new chapter, we're all making this record so we can all shoulder the burden of talking about it [all laughs]. With Elliott [Williams, keys] he has other things going on as well so it's a total open door policy for him. He was a massive part of making the record. The week or two when they first came in was for the show, but we hoped deep down if it went well we'd throw some new songs into the equation and that's what happened. It was about the future. There was an energy there and an excitement and this record has been made pretty quickly from when they joined."

How did having the extra bodies change the way you recorded this album? TS: "Well we just had to be open and listen to all five of our opinions. I think we would have felt uncomfortable telling the others what to play or saying: Us three are the important ones, new people you're secondary." JL: "Everyone was open about their parts on the record anyway." EL: "I think it's easily our most collaborative record." TS: "Definitely. The first album was the me and Chris show really. I've heard more from Ed in the studio on this album then I ever have. So it's still the same band, but there's a different element vocalising."

Was there a sense that Editors was up for grabs? EL: "I don't know. I just felt more relaxed in the studio. I would have put Chris as my best friend in the band from day one really, but I didn't interact with him in the studio very well at all. It's different personalities, so certainly with him not being there it gave me the opportunity to speak a bit louder. I don't know why, it's just how it worked out."

You said you'd been working on some of these songs with Chris before he left, did they change much when new Editors picked them up? TS: "It shifted. Even with Chris in the band we were trying to make a more rock record. He was playing guitar. The way the song Sugar feels, for example, that drum and bass groove was there from day one, we did that as a four piece. So something like that was similar, but having said that, with Chris leaving, er, I think we embraced slightly more traditional elements on the records that I don't think we would have done with him. Be that the acoustic guitar taking the lead or brass and strings. Things that we all wanted to do that these songs could handle. Look, we went to Nashville for God's sake! [laughs] It's bound to have a more traditional feel than if Flood and Chris had done the record, it would have been slightly more synthetic."

Lyrically, it does seem to be quite candid about relationships and love. Where did that come from? TS: "It just developed that way. It wasn't something I designed before I started, maybe after two or three songs have the word Love in the title you realise: This is what I'm doing, and I embraced it from that point. I tried to write love and deal with that topic, that sticky topic in a way that I feel comfortable. I just felt now was the time to do that, but it's not a concept."

Curiously at the moment where the band has grown in numbers, the lyrics are perhaps your most intimate. TS: "Absolutely. It's rooted in my life but I've always let my imagination get carried away. They're not diary entries but it's rooted in me. There are moments on the record that are the most connected to me that I've ever done, the most personal, so yeah, you're right. They're all songs sung from one person to another, with no care of what's going on in the world around them. They're personal things, even if that's a relationship that's dysfunctional and slightly strange it's still something that feels quite personal."

How was recording in Nashville? TS: "It was great. We were bonding as five people. We were living out in the suburbs, driving into the studio daily..." JL: "Ate more meat then we ever had, drank some good coffee, went to some good bars...." EL" But it was really focused on work. Every day we did a very good session. There were no distractions, it's not like being up in north London where if things aren't going well you start to wonder who you could meet up with later [laughs]. It was If you don't get this done in these six weeks you're in the shit. We gave ourselves a deadline, we said we'd do the festivals this summer and we'd look like mugs if we went out without a record. We wanted to crack on, it's been such a long time we felt we had it in us to work quickly."

With the changes, are you interested to see how this album will be perceived beyond your fanbase? TS: "Er, I don't know. I'm looking forward to getting out and playing and performing for people who like us. But equally when you talk about how it's received, all throughout our career you can open up a broadsheet and get four out of five and then open up another one the next day and get nought! We've always had that, we've grown thicker skin and it's not so important. We've made a record we're proud of, we're going to do our thing and play it for people. It's a funny one isn't it? It's the holy grail: critical acclaim and chart success. They don't really happen at the same time."

People who don't like you do seem to be actually offended by your music in a way they're not as bothered about other bands they don't like. Why do you think that is? TS: "It's the pointy end of the derivative stick. You can like or not like what we do, but a lot of the reasons we get written about is because we're always called a second rate version of something that's gone before. There are bands out there that get the best reviews in the world that are more derivative then we are. The Horrors or Savages but they don't get it like we do. But it's fine." JL: "I've seen it through their records on the outside though and you never get a middling, it's alright reaction for Editors. It's always: I want to hear that, or it's Fucking shit! Surely that's the best thing? The middle ground is such a bad place to be. Then again, I never understand why the people who hate a record go to the hassle of writing and commenting about it. It's strange. A British band on a fourth album is a target. A lot of bands don't make record four..."

Finally looking ahead, do you feel now you're set up for another four albums? EL: "It's certainly broadened the way we think about making records, we're not tied down any more. We sincerely hope that by the end of the next two years we can come out with something as the band we put together this time. If not, I don't think it will worry us in the same way we did before. We won't grind ourselves down to the point of self-destruction. At the moment it feels brilliant. We've never been ones to write on tour, but you never know..." Paul Stokes @Stokesie

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