Editors talk new line-ups and new directions
In the midst of the indie explosion of the mid-noughties, Editors' widescreen, new wave-influenced rock stood out from the crowd and gave them huge chart successes, with two number one albums and a string of hit singles.
But where most of the class of '05 have faded, combusted or stagnated, Editors have forged ahead. Th band's lust for evolution even saw them drom their guitars almost entirely on 2009’s electronica-tinged chart-topping In This Light And On This Evening.
There was an unexpected evolution to come, however: following that record’s release, guitarist Chris Urbanowicz amicably split from the group, citing that old classic, musical differences.
As a result, Editors did what any self-respecting, self-rejuvenating band might do: they flew to Nashville and, alongside new members Justin Lockey (lead guitar) and Elliott Williams (synths), recorded last year’s acclaimed fourth albumThe Weight Of Your Love.
MusicRadar caught up with frontman Tom Smith to find out about the new group dynamic, their adventures with analogue gear, and why Editors’ next record might just break the patterns of their past...
Sugar and youthful exuberance
Let's start by discussing the new single, Sugar. It's got some pretty futuristic textures, ranging from the fuzz bass to electronica and backwards strings – was it a challenging track to pull together in the studio?
"Actually it wasn't, this one. The first things to come about were the more simplistic drum groove and that bass line you mentioned, and as soon as they were there they came to dominate the track – and we knew where we were going.
"It was quite an important track for the record though, because it was the first one we did with the new band. The new band came together because we had a show booked in, so primarily the reason they came into the rehearsal room was to work on the old songs, so we could play them at this show, back in 2012. But then we threw Sugar at them, to see how they'd respond - and how we'd respond to what they thought.
"So Sugar was the first one that the band worked on in its new guise, so it's quite an important one for the record, and the band itself."
You've brought Elliott in on keys and synths. When he arrived, did it open up some new possibilities?
"Elliott was someone we knew from Airship, a band that had toured with us. So we knew him as a friend: we'd never worked together, but we knew he could sing. And actually his voice his become an important part of this new record and the sound of the band.
"He also brings a youthful energy and exuberance - 'cos he's a bit younger than we are. And that’s not to say we've all been beaten up by the music industry, but he had more energy and it was nice to have someone in the rehearsal space that brought that excitement along. It's rubbed off on us. He's gone off to make a solo record now, but the door will be open for him."
Spontaneity and happy accidents
What kind of new directions did the band embrace during the making of The Weight Of Your Love, and did any of that have to do with the gear you were using?
"There had been very few guitars on our third record – it was mostly synthesisers, artificial drum sounds and so on. With this one, it does go off in a slightly more orchestral direction, but at its heart is a rock album.
"A big factor in the making of this record, the way that it sounds and the tools we used to make it, was the decision to go to America. That led us to a studio in Nashville, called Blackbird Studios. And the beautiful, analogue gear that they've got there is just insane. Millions of pounds worth of microphones, thousands of drum kits.
"All the gear we were using had been bought-in from Abbey Road by this eccentric studio owner – he was a Beatles maniac, who was also loaded! And he’d bought up this old gear and made an incredible place. It is old fashioned in its working methods, with tape machines and so on."
Did you use any particular methods in the studio to capture a sense of spontaneity, or to prompt great performances?
"Yeah, Jacquire King - the producer - is very much about musicianship, and he wouldn't go into drum takes or any recorded part and fix them on Pro Tools or whatever - which is done a lot. With all the songs on the record, we did takes from start to finish and picked the best ones, and that’s how we moved the tracks forward.
"A song like The Phone Book, which is a stripped down band performance, was an example of it being late night in the studio, the lights down low, everyone having their part and facing each other to perform it as well as you can, and capture that magic."
Do you believe in happy accidents?
"It's not scientific, is it? You can't explain why one take is better than the other: there's just that natural ebb and flow when you have more than one person playing together. I think a lot of the producer's job is to notice when one take is better, and Jacquire has a very strong opinion about which parts work best."
Working with Flood
As you mentioned earlier you've worked with Flood in the past, who's obviously been attached to some iconic rock albums such as Achtung Baby. What did you learn from him?
"Our record with Flood was a very electronic one - but it wasn't electronic in a hi-tech or up to date kind of way; he helped us use synthesisers, but try to play them like a band. Even though we were making these very synthetic sounds and making this cold, claustrophobic album, we did still want to play it in a room together - in many ways like we did the new album, just with vastly different-sounding instruments.
"And Flood obviously has a lot of experience making records: he's a master of dark rock music: whether it's electronic or more traditional. We also share a kind of cynical take on life [laughs]. When we first met Flood , he walked into the studio wearing a t-shirt that said 'The Beatles Are Shit', and I liked him straight away. Not so much that I think the Beatles are shit or otherwise, but I liked his take on life."
What kind of guitar did you use on the LP, and did that go some way to shaping the record at all?
"On this new record I played predominantly acoustic guitars. Another great thing about this studio we were in, is that there were four or five beautiful Gibson six-string acoustic guitars - one of them was 1915, another had Neil Young's name scratched into it… I don't know why old guitars sound better than new ones, they just do.
"The eccentric dude who owns the studio was talking to us one day about why he thinks a guitar that was made in the 1960s sounds better than a new one. And he believed that, when you cut down a tree - this is pretty hippy, by the way - when you cut down a tree to make a guitar, the wood takes twenty years to realise that it's dead and is no longer a tree, and only after that substantial amount of time does the wood know it has a new job and adjusts to being a guitar!"
That's an interesting theory!
"He'd drunk a lot of Doctor Pepper, that guy."
A lot of rock guitarists are into warping their sound with pedals - is that something you go for?
"That's more Justin’s area – when I'm writing I generally just play the acoustic guitar. That said, a pedal I always dig out is the Boss Digital Reverb pedal [RV-5], which has a modulated reverb setting which sounds like glass breaking, an icy, cold texture. That's been a recent addition to my live setting, as something that can be pulled out for dramatic effect."
What challenges do you face bringing sometimes-complex records into the live arena?
"Well, you don't want to sell the recordings short; you want the big moments to be big and the intimate moments to still feel that way, and putting it on stage night after night can require compromises, and it can be tricky to recreate that.
"When we're in the studio we're not thinking, at that point, about how it might translate to stage. Then, once you've got the record, you have to listen to it and ask what the most important things to be heard are: some things you can just loose - certain string arrangements don't need to be there. What is the heart of the song?
"We're lucky that we've had a continuous relationship with our two front of house engineers over the years; we work through the songs together and discuss what works. Some songs just don't end up getting played live, while sometimes there'll be a song that will surprise you in the live arena by becoming better than it ever was on record."
Editors are quite an evolutionary band: what kind of direction would you like to pursue in the future?
"There's so much to be said for not repeating yourself and I've always been a great believer in that. But there's also many great things that have happened when bands and producers have spent two, three or four albums back to back working and growing together, evolving slightly more naturally.
"And I wonder whether this is the time to actually pick up from where we left off from The Weight Of Your Love, and take that relationship with Jacquire to the next level."
And pursue some of the possibilities that this record presented?
"Absolutely, and I'm so excited about continuing the relationship that this new band has really, because in many ways Editors as we are now, our creative relationship and dynamic together, is very new. It's in its infant period."
Sugar is released on 24 March.
For more information visit the official Editors website.