Remember The Subways? Us too, and not 100 per cent favourably if we’re honest with you. Sure, their debut album Young For Eternity had its share of perky top-40 singles – ‘Oh Yeah’ and ‘Rock And Roll Queen’ went top-30, even – but there were certain nagging feelings in the back of numbed skulls: haven’t we all been here before, and wasn’t that band called Ash?
The Hertfordshire trio – Billy Lunn, Charlotte Cooper and Josh Morgan – released Young For Eternity in 2005. While unlikely to keep their looks forever, the threesome are nevertheless still in their early 20s, making follow-up LP All Or Nothing one of the freshest-faced sophomores of 2008. It arrives in July via Infectious Records.
See, the similarities are practically stunning, and that’s before you play the music…
…Which hasn’t always been brilliantly received, critically, as that opening paragraph might just have telegraphed. So-so critiques from NME, Q and Uncut (DiS rather sat on the fence, too: review) saw it reach 32 on the domestic albums chart, and it performed decently stateside too. But three years is a long time between albums for a band so very much in its infancy still, so it’s little surprise that the new record’s title seems so very make or break.
There have been obstacles, granted – vocalist Lunn suffered nodules on his vocal chords, rendering him unable to sing for a period – but The Subways’ success to date, and any they’re to enjoy in the future, requires a little qualifying. What better way to do this than invite Lunn to participate in our semi-regular DiSband feature? No better way.
Someone mention The Vines?
Video: 'Oh Yeah'
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(very cheery) Hello Gareth!
Right. I haven’t heard All Or Nothing yet, so I’m relying on you to be truthful and honest here: how does this album differ from the last? Have you decided to play on the fanbase and give people more of the same again?
The worst thing we could do was do Young For Eternity again. That’s lazy. We’re a band that’s always striving, we always want to experiment and want to evolve. I talked to many bands out there that are doing the same thing over and over again, and they capitalize on that. We’re a band that wants to progress. Going around the world and meeting so many people and different cultures, we’ve been given so much to write about. Playing with other bands, touring America, domestic bands in Germany, Japan, it’s been amazing.
I couldn’t sing for two months, so that was really difficult. So we went into the studio and just jammed, like maybe Hendrix would have done in the day. I couldn’t talk or facilitate the rehearsals, so we did our own thing. Josh did what he wanted and Charlotte is an infinitely better bassist than she ever was, and she’s come out with some killer basslines. I gotta tell you, this new record is light years ahead of the last album.
It’s good to hear you want to progress. But as a three-piece, aren’t you by nature limited?
We’ve been toying with idea of less is more but sometimes we feel that more is more! Because there are three of us, everything is integral to the song… (pauses). I guess, because there’s only three of us, we have to be, not louder, but more dynamic than other bands. I Listen to a lot of songs nowadays on the radio and I find that songs are the same all the way through. Key changes are quite sparse – we’ve toyed with key changes a lot. I’ve been relearning to use my voice again, and now it’s how I sing it, how I approach it, how I deliver it. As musicians we’ve really matured. In one of our new songs, I sing “it’s not what you do, it’s how’s it’s done”.
You had time off ill like you mentioned… when you couldn’t talk, did you find yourself internalising things, questioning the point of the band and what it’s about?
Absolutely. This band nearly fell apart because of the struggle we found ourselves going through. Because we couldn’t play, we found ourselves in limbo, me particularly, because I couldn’t articulate myself. I love discussion, I love confrontation, and I love singing. It’s what I live for and how I express myself. I found that I was listening so much more. I think it changed me as a person. I started writing a diary, which I used for lyrics a lot. I was getting frustrated, quite angry, quite bitter, but also more appreciative, and getting into some really good bands because of it, like Blonde Redhead and Future of the Left.
Your record was produced by Butch Vig - any nods to bands like Nirvana and Garbage? Could he deliver a sound you wanted?
We were set with the sound we wanted, and Butch knew that. We wrote a lot of songs when we were touring and in soundchecks so the approach was different to the last one. When we recorded the first album we were just kids, we only wanted to go out and get drunk. When we sent the demos to Butch we already knew what direction we wanted to go in. When we got the studio we literally just bashed them out. But Butch was a fucking genius, he was so meticulous and I found myself spending so much time in the studio – Butch and I had such a connection. We both have a love for impact and dynamics and structure, use of modes in songs to create impacts.
How the hell did you convince a top producer like Butch Vig to produce you anyways?
Getting Butch was a tough thing. We didn’t have to convince him but… we made a list of producers and he wasn’t on it. He’s such a big producer, why would he want to work with three skinny, suburban indie kids? We had all these meetings, and all these producers ideas were just crap.
Do you think the producers were thinking, “three piece punk pop band, major label”?
Yeah! They wanted to simplify and restrict us; they wanted to pop-ify us. And we really wanted to kick against that. We’ve been playing so long now, we’re not a pop band, we’re a fucking rock band. And we love music more than just turning songs into pop songs.
We were running out of time and we thought “What are we going to do?” and I turned to Charlotte and said, “Fuck it, let’s call Butch and see what he’s up to”. He was mixing the new Against Me record in New York with Rich Costey, and we thought, “Shit, let’s spend the money, splash out on a plane [trip], shoot over to New York, have a coffee and let’s have a chat”. Five minutes into the conversation, it was amazing, I said, “Butch you have to make this record, you’re perfect”. And that was it. It was amazing.
Well, he made Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, an amazing record that’s all about power and dynamics and if he can do that with you, it’ll be a miraculous job.
Video: 'I Want To Hear What You Have Got To Say' (live)
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You made this record in the states. You’ve done better over there than many other British acts in the last few years. Do you think it’s because of the songs you write and the way you play? Are you the sort of band American crowds like like?
I don’t know. All I know is that I write the sort of songs that I want to hear. The songs we’ve made are songs that I want to hear. We’re a British band, we love British music. I don’t like power chords, I like open chords, and Butch wanted to emphasise that – that Beatles-y open chords thing. Butch captured it to be American – that’s his thing, his trade. I remember going over to America, we were driving over to do some promo, the radio was on, and playing was the loudest song I’ve ever heard. I remember thinking to myself, “How does someone make a song sound that LOUD?” And it blew me away.
Do you know what song it was?
No, I don’t even remember what band it was.
I guess as a rock band, you always listen to other bands and ask “How can I sound BIG? How can I headline Donnington?”
(giggles) Yeah. All I want to do is sound huge. I remember listening to the opening chords of Nevermind by Nirvana and it sounded like a building falling down or something like that, like the earth splitting in two. And that’s what I wanted this record to sound like.
‘Girls & Boys’ is our most ambitious track off the record, the heaviest track and I said: “It has to be our first single, a statement of intent”.
Indeed, there’s not much pop in the song. People probably expected a melodic single.
It feels like you’ve been away for a while – does it worry you that you’re going to come back and the climate for bands has changed? Acts like Foals or some math-rock band are cool now…
(interjects hastily) Foals aren’t math-rock though, they’re not, and it annoys me when people say that. For fucks sake! Don Caballero, Shellac, you dickheads! It’s just syncopated notes, not math!
I mean, do you worry that you’re going to come back and people who were into you are now into Foals?
No, no! Who gives a shit!? All I wanna do is come play rock music and make people smile and sweat. I want people to come to the show feeling something visceral, something cathartic, like the Greek theatre or something. I find our performances are quite theatrical.
We have been away for quite some time, but other bands are just territorial, all they’ve done is tour the UK, gone over to Germany for some shows and thought: “Fuck it, let’s go back to the UK, play some new shows and make some more money”. And then they record their new album, and it’s shit because they didn’t have the time to sit back and get it perfected and write their second album properly. We’ve toured the world, we’ve seen loads of things, had so many fun and exciting times; and we’ve been through a lot of struggle. We’ve given our all and it’s a really potent record. I honestly feel I’ll never do any better than this record.
I think that’s a common feeling.
Yeah, you’ve got to do something that scares you… you’ve gotta evolve, gotta take that next step. On the next record, I’ve got to take a bigger step. (Laughs)
Your shows have a very young crowd – people going nuts to a rock band. Do you think you’ll have that same audience again – a few years older – or do you think they’ll have migrated and you’ll see a new set of kids – people seeing you as their first rock band?
I think we’re gonna,.. I think we’re gonna... I can’t get the words out. I think we’re going to get lots of people coming to the show. A lot of different sorts to the show. I definitely feel that if they hear the record they’re gonna turn up.
Yes, but do you think that your fans, those who bought the first record, will be there again? You seem like an introduction band to rock ‘n’ roll, the sort of first band that kids see. Do you think you’ll have a new audience – another set of people – and you’ll do that all over again?
Yeah, I hope so, I hope so… yeah absolutely. Yeah. Um… we get a lot of that, a lot of examples of that. People do say to us that you know; we’re the first band they’ve ever seen. Yeah, um, yeah. We’ll get… I mean… I guess so…
Right, I’m going to go, I think I’ve got more than enough. Nice talking to you.
Yeah, thanks Gareth, nice talking to you!
Video: 'Rock & Roll Queen'
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The single ‘Girls & Boys’ is available to download for free, now, from The Subways’ MySpace page here. The album All Or Nothing is released through Infectious Records on July 9. The band tours as follows (further dates and festival appearances at MySpace):
10 London ULU
11 Colchester Arts Centre
22 Paris La Boule Noire
18 Wrexham Central Station
20 Preston 53 Degrees
21 Coventry Kasbah
24 Sheffield Foundry
26 Peterborough Cresset
27 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
30 Leicester University
Next up to the DiSband block, unless they bottle it (they won’t, right?): Bullet For My Valentine.