A catch up with the Brummie indie rockers before they headline Beyond The Tracks in their hometown this weekend
Dom Gourlay

16:53 14th September 2017

Editors have been one of indie rock’s biggest success stories of the 21st century. Fusing grandiose arena sized choruses with post punk leanings, their instantly recognisable sound has seen them release five albums since 2005’s debut The Back Room and shift over two million records worldwide, becoming one of the UK’s biggest musical exports of recent years in the process.

Formed in 2002, the five-piece return to their native Birmingham this weekend to headline Beyond The Tracks on Sunday. In the meantime, Gigwise caught up with bass player Russell Leetch (RL) and drummer Ed Lay (EL) back stage at Lowlands festival in Holland and discovered album number six may not be that far away…

How’s festival season been so far?

EL: It’s been wicked. A thoroughly enjoyable second summer of the record.

You’ve been playing to huge crowds all over Europe this summer and headlined festivals in Belgium and Holland among others. Do you feel more connected to European audiences than the ones back home?

RL: I don’t know. It’s a weird one. I guess we do spend a lot of time playing shows around Europe. Even going back to our first ever UK tour we came over to Belgium and Holland as well and since then we’ve always aimed to play there as much as we have back home. After the first couple of records when things fell apart and we had a bit of a gap, it felt as though the UK audiences’ attention spans had waned a little. People saw us back then and made their minds up, but they haven’t seen the new line-up or how Tom (Smith, vocals) is on stage now from where he was in 2007.

Your popularity in Europe does seem to be on the increase.

RL: It does. I don’t know why.

EL: I’ve had the radio on at home this week and they’ve been advertising Beyond The Tracks in Birmingham which we’re headlining. But what’s interesting is the advert only features three of our songs off the first two albums – ‘Bullets’, ‘Munich’ and ‘An End Has A Start’. Whereas they haven’t touched anything off our last three records.

RL: It’s weird because over in Europe songs like ‘Eat Raw Moot = Big Drool’ and ‘Papillon’ are much bigger. They were the ones which saw us crossover from the UK to mainland Europe in terms of popularity. I don’t really know why because I think those songs are quite easy to get if you’re a British music fan. I guess what people are listening to has changed and people don’t have their favourite bands any more. For some reason it just kicked off more over here. We just go wherever we’re wanted!

Do you think the internet has influenced the way people’s attention spans have changed?

RL: A little bit. Shuffle culture is there isn’t it?

EL: We played Kendal Calling earlier this summer and the amount of bands they had on the main stage was frightening. We played for about 50 minutes and it was really difficult trying to condense 10 years and 5 albums worth of material into such a short time slot. It felt like being on a conveyor belt. Get them off, get the next lot on. Whereas when we come to European festivals, we have at least 90 minutes and everybody’s got time for us.

RL: We only played ‘Munich’ and ‘The Racing Rats’ off the first two albums.

How did you first become involved with Beyond The Tracks?

RL: We’d been asked to do something in Birmingham for a while and always wanted to. It’s a bit of a weird time because we’re just finishing off our new record. We’re in the studio directly before and after it. I live in Moseley so always wanted to do something in Moseley Park. I know John (Fell) who books it and he approached us about putting something together. It’s great to be part of a line-up like that. It’s certainly a day I’d go to! But obviously it’s a new event in Birmingham so no one’s quite sure how well it will go down.

EL: The line-up looks mega to me. With it being the first year of Beyond The Tracks we want to start it off with a bang.

Do you feel an affinity with the current music scene in Birmingham?

RL: I go to a lot of gigs but I don’t know many bands from Birmingham. There aren’t as many as there were when we started out. There used to be a night on at The Jug Of Ale where it was £1 entry, £1 a pint and you knew everyone in there. Bands from around the whole area shared bills and there was definitely a scene back then. I guess it still does happen but it’s tricky breaking out of it. It’s always been a difficult city when it comes to breaking new bands. You could put on a show in Manchester and it would sell out really quickly, whereas Birmingham is a different animal altogether. Even big acts from out of town tend to struggle here. It’s an odd city because it’s spread out, and it is multicultural as well so to get people to come out to a gig in the city on a rainy Tuesday night you’d need to make it appeal to all the surrounding areas as well like Solihull and Sutton Coldfield. I much prefer watching gigs here than having to worry about putting them on!

When did you start writing for the new album?

RL: Straight after we finished playing last year’s festivals in August. We had two weeks off then went straight in the studio and we’ve been working on it pretty much ever since.

EL: It was always our plan to spend as much time as possible on the record in order to draft ideas then write and develop them because that way, there’s little pressure. But now I’m thinking maybe we spent too much time and overcooked it because that created a great deal of pressure when it came to finishing the album.

Has it been a smooth process?

RL: It has. We got a place in the Oxfordshire countryside and worked every week for five months. We’ve been messing about with samplers as well as guitars. Just getting the backbone of the songs. Then we wanted some extra production so we asked Blanck Mass to get involved, so he’s been working through all of the tracks. Adding what he thinks could change here and there. And now we’re bringing it all together with Leo Abrahams. So it’s been a very collaborative process. Some of the songs have changed and we’ve started playing a few of them live, which has been interesting gauging the crowd’s reaction and influenced us to change things even more in some cases. Before playing those songs live the record didn’t sound much like a band made it, but now it does.

How many of the new songs are in the current setlist?

RL: Three. We’ve been starting with one called ‘Cold’ then we’ve also been playing ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Magazine’ in the front half of the set as well.

Did you have a concept to begin with or did the songs come together in a more patchwork kind of way?

RL: Patchwork, definitely. Lyrically the songs are very different to one another.

EL: We’ve always known songwise if it’s been good enough to carry on with. But this one has been quite tricky because we had our ideas which kept on changing so we sent it out to a few people. That’s where Blanck Mass and Leo Abrahams came in because their input changed some of the songs quite drastically and gave us an idea of how the record should flow as an album.

RL: Leo’s quite song based. He’s played guitar with Pulp and then he produced Regina Spektor and Frightened Rabbit’s records among others. He’s also done a lot of stuff with Brian Eno and Jon Hopkins so he’s a good person to have in the studio.

How does the new record sound in comparison to your other albums?

RL: If I was to pick two I’d say maybe ‘An End Has A Start’ crossed with ‘In Dream’. The synths are still there but they’re amplified on this record. So if you imagine Blanck Mass getting his hands on Editors tunes that’s what it sounds like. We’ve enjoyed making it. I think it will be a really good record when it’s finished.

How many songs will be on the album?

RL: 10. Any more than that and it’s too many!

When are you planning to release it?

RL: It’s due to come out in March of next year.

Is Editors more of a democracy since Justin (Lockey) and Elliott (Williams) joined the band?

RL: Absolutely. We all write now. That changed when Chris (Urbanowicz) left the band. He liked his thing and wanted the band to sound a certain way which is fine, but it’s definitely more open now. Whether Ed writes a riff or I do that’s fine. Some of the guitar riffs come from keyboard riffs and drum parts come from all over the place.

Do you find being in the band much more enjoyable now than when you first started?

RL: Yeah, definitely. It’s much more creative and a lot more fun. EL: I think we’ve all learned a lot over the last couple of years. Not just musically either. I think we enjoy being in the band more than we did because of that. Everybody feels like they have their own slice of it. It’s mutually positive for everybody. We’re at a stage now where we believe we can keep on going for a lot longer. We’re not winding down now. Actually, things seem to be clicking up a gear which is why we keep getting asked to headline festivals in Belgium, Holland and Romania as we have done this summer.

RL: Romania was brilliant! If there’s one festival I’d recommend to anyone next year it’s Summer Well in Bucharest. It was a real goosebumps moment for us.

Was that the first time you’d played there?

RL: We did a show in Bucharest about seven years ago so had no idea what to expect this time. But we played to 25,000 people and they were really attentive. They were just up for it and the atmosphere was electric. Through the roof.

EL: It wasn’t just people screaming for the sake of it. They were respecting us as a band and knew the songs which is everything you want.

If you could pick out three key festival moments in the band’s career what would they be and why?

EL: Glastonbury in 2007 would have to be up there.

RL: We were second to the top on the Other Stage that year. The “miracle set” or whatever people call it. But it did align. We had an album out the next day and that set helped push us out mainstream territories. So it was a massive moment. A lot of people watched us that day. Then that translated into Europe. We played Pukkelpop in 2008. Again we were playing in the dark and there were a lot of people out front. Another big one would be Rock Werchter in 2012 which was when we had the new line-up. We already had the show booked to headline Werchter when we sacked Chris and for a while we weren’t sure whether we should do it or not. So we got the two new guys in and practiced for 6 weeks and everything really came together. It felt really magical.

Are there any new bands you’d recommend Gigwise readers should check out?

RL: I saw a really good band at Eurockeennes called All Them Wolves. They’re from Nashville and their set was great. They’re quite proggy and sound a bit like The Doors.

Do you think Editors would have achieved the same level of success were they just starting out now?

RL: It’s hard to say as they’re very different times. I don’t see many bands who’ve pushed through to the next level in recent years.

Beyond The Tracks runs from Friday 15th to Sunday 17th September. For more information on Editors visit their official website.

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Photo: Kim Balster