What do you get if you cross Editors with We Are Scientists? Remarkably a noir-ish Christmas album it seems, as the former's frontman Tom Smith and the latter's drummer (plus I Am Arrows leader in his own right) Andy Burrows have come together to record album Funny Looking Angels. However rather than the usual tinsel-ridden, seasonal efforts, Smith & Burrows co-opt the likes of Black's Wonderful Life, The Longpigs' On And On, plus several new songs of thier own (a cover of In The Bleak Midwinter makes sure there's at least one carol) to get festive... ish. With the pair playing London's Union Chapel tonight (12 December), they explain why they're entering Slade and Wizard country... How the devil are you both? Andy Burrows: "Good, great." Tom Smith: "Yes good and great."
When did you decide to make a Christmas album? A: "We decided to do some recording together in May, but it didn't get festive until the end of June - when things were really hotting up. We're blessed in this country with two days of summer and shitloads of rain, so it wasn't that hard to get into a wintery spirit." T: "We just thought, Let's do something and see what happens. We did [Black's] Wonderful Life and then [Yazoo's] Only You and it just felt a bit wintery and festive. There's something about those melodies, a lonesome yearning that we connected with. So after those songs we decided to do a covers record for Christmas and then that led to let's write our own Christmas song. It's led us in a way and you can tell that. It's a modest record."
How did you pick the songs to cover, it's not exactly your regular Christmas classics... A: "It's a bit melancholic. We've been saying it's a mid-winter record as much as it's a Christmas record. By the very nature of the way it started, they weren't Christmas songs but they had a vibe which was definitely melancholic with a melodic optimism." T: "At the end of the year it's that time to take stock and these songs just lend themselves to that. Besides we're softies aren't we?" A: "We're softies, reflective, a little bit melancholic but we're also bubbly, but not bubbly enough to do something properly Christmasy." T: "When we tried to think about actual Christmas songs to cover, we thought about quite a lot but In The Bleak Midwinter was the only one we could really do. Wham! and all those standards? We just didn't think we could do it and be comfortable with the results."
So there are no outtakes of you belting out We Wish You A Merry Christmas? T: "Not that one, we did White Christmas." A: "The outtakes are in that spirit though. We did White Christmas and an Silent Night." T: "It's hardly Jingle Bells, is it?" A: "Even they didn't make the cut because they were borderline twee."
Any trepidation about doing a Christmas album? A lot of American artists do them, but they never seem to make it to the UK because it's not a 'British thing'. T: "Yeah since we did this we've discovered that most major recording artists, maybe up until the 90s, have all done big Christmas records. Bob Dylan did one last year!" A: "That was subsequent to us being told that no one was interested in Christmas albums, so that wasn't true." T: "But there was no trepidation. If we were doing something we weren't comfortable with, we just wouldn't, it's simple really. It's a sad, moody, joyful record for us."
The pair of you doing this reminds us a bit of Bing and Bowie doing Little Drummer Boy together, they had that downbeat feel too... T: "Does that make me Bing?" A: "It is great, that clip. I wished I'd mentioned it before when people were asking who our influences for this are."
You've got a series of gigs as Smith & Burrows coming up, how festive will they be? A: "We start in Belgium where they're fucking loving it! The show is like the album really, it's fun to look at - Tom's dad has built us a big S and B out of light bulbs, which is amazing - and the idea is it's Christmasy but not too Christmasy." T: "We do some of Andy's songs that he's written for Razorlight and I Am Arrows, a couple of Editors songs, an R.E.M. cover because they've gone now and then we do the Christmas songs at the end. We might do a raffle!"
Are the angel wings from the album cover (above) likely to make an appearance for the Christmas section? A: "They're on the bus... basically Tom and I have to gauge how we feel."
So one of you could be into it and the other not? [both laugh] A: "Imagine, [angry voice] Where are you fucking wings!"
There's a few indie Christmas albums around this year - you, She & Him, Tim Wheeler and Emmy The Great - is there much rivalry between you all? T: "It's peace to all!" A: "It's a lot of fun really. I was in Japan this summer with We Are Scientists and Ash were there. I think Tom and I were just getting our first mixes back but Tim Wheeler and Emmy The Great's album was nearly done and they were playing us bits of theirs. As soon as I heard it I decided not to put ours on, just on the basis theirs is kind of jovial and light-hearted! It's cool there are these duos who are offering up something more real and organic, rather than Cowell and Fuller serving it up on a plate every year."
So after making such a public fuss over Christmas, are Smith & Burrows and attendant families having a big Christmas do together? T: "We live in a mile radius of each other, so we probably will see each other." A: "And by that time I will feel for Tom as we will have only spent one day apart! [laughs]" T: "We became close over the last few years because we had children at the same time." A: "And when you become a new dad you need somebody else in the same boat if you want to go to the pub!"
So is this the start for Smith & Burrows, is there an Easter record on the way? T: "I think you only have so many Christmas songs in you and I've written my definitive Christmas album, love em or hate it it's as good as I'm going to get... who knows, but we'll definitely do another record. Obvious next year we've got other things going on, but when the time is right we'll do another album because I've never written with anyone before. There are four original songs on the record, and one of which This Ain't New Jersey we wrote totally together. That's the song I'm most proud of and I think we feel if we do a real rock record, get Andy behind the drums properly, we could make a really good, more traditional rock record then I'm used to making." A: "I've already got more out of this record then I even half bargained for. I never banked on Tom and I writing a song together. I think it's one of the best songs I've written with somebody else and I didn't know until recently that Tom hasn't written songs with anyone else before. And it wasn't very awkward." T: "We've found this ground that we both agree on creatively."
Finally, is all well with your day jobs? T: "There's loads and loads of recording to do!" A: "I think we're both planning to be out in the latter half of next year. We're both really excited about next year." Paul Stokes @Stokesie
Head to Smithandburrows.co.uk for more.