"It’s the album I’ve always wanted to make" - DiS meets Andy Burrows
It’s fair to say that Andy Burrows never expected to be promoting a solo album. The self confessed “kid from Winchester whose never travelled and never lived anywhere else” was content to sit behind the drum kit, whether it be for a teenage garage bands, or mega selling chart-botherers Razorlight. In the eight years since he joined Johnny Borrell’s crew, he’s experienced a gradual flowering of confidence that’s taken him from the drum stool to front of stage, and culminates in the recent release of Company, his first full-length solo album, and a beautifully accomplished half hour of minor key, melodic pop which Burrows wrote in its entirety, played nearly all of the instruments on and co-produced.
When you meet Andy Burrows you can’t help but like him. He’s, sharp, friendly and has a sense of humour that’s heavy on self deprecation. What becomes clear during our conversation is how seriously that self deprecation is meant. He’s always quick to point out his limitations, and while he’s clearly proud of his work he seems constantly surprised and gratified that other people actually like it too. We meet straight after a press showcase in a beautiful 19th century chapel in Soho. I start by telling him how much I enjoyed the performance. His immediate response was “thanks... it was a bit weird, but...”. Later, I’ll tell him how I’m trying to “trace your journey a little bit” and apologise myself, “sorry that’s about the wankiest thing I’ve ever said out loud”. “No no”! he replied, “you’re talking to me! I’m just going ‘I’m grateful! He wants to trace my journey at all!’”.
And Company does feel like the end point of a journey, the summation of nearly a decade of dealing with big egos and little stages alike, of being a key member of Razorlight, a hired hand in We Are Scientists, the frontman of I Am Arrows, and one half of a duo in Smith & Burrows. “That’s why I called it ‘Company’” he explains. “Some of the relationships I’ve had over the last eight years have been so fascinating and so influential, and so cutting in some places. And being out with the band I’ve got for this [album] has been amazing, and Keith and Chris from ...Scientists, it’s just funny. Razorlight got really big and it was difficult - the band was difficult. And then playing with Scientists, or my own thing, or playing with Tom [Smith] and the difference in the enjoyment of music verses the company you’ve got and the people you hang out with. I’m still fascinated with it - does that mean you can’t have the ultimate best time with a band that’s been successful? One minute you’re doing something massive and everyone's going “woah” and the next you’re above a pub and going “hey, does anyone here like me? Or no, not really...” I think that’s really important. “
Has it come out as the album you envisioned? “It’s not only the album I wanted to make, but without wishing to sound too over the top, I think it it’s the album I’ve always wanted to make.” he says “I feel like with the one I did post Razorlight, under the I Am Arrows thingy, I was so worried about who I wanted to appeal to and what I wanted it to achieve I ended up shooting myself in the foot a little bit. I was happy with the record and stuff, but I don’t think it was as ‘me’ as I wanted it be. I’m not normally very good at shutting up and not being heart-on-my-sleeve, and the cool thing about this record is that it’s a lot more ‘me’, also because I wrote it and recorded it before I knew what was going to happen and before I had a deal, I just thought ‘cool, let’s just make a record and not worry about how it should sound or who it should appeal too’. It was one of the most elating feelings.”
Was there a musical touch point going in? “No, nothing. Absolutely not at all.” he says, definitively “We were just in a tiny little loft and there’s a piano in there, and an acoustic guitar in there, and sometimes a couple of my drums, and Tim’s [Baxter, producer and pianist] got his Rhodes piano. If anything the sound was just what we had around. I did try, in between Razorlight and the Smith & Burrows record, I tried a few different producers who were a bit more... I guess, contemporary. Synths and programmed drums and stuff. It just doesn’t suit me. I’ve got to the point where it’s just like ‘ya know what? This doesn’t work for me.’ Phoenix are one of my favourite bands and I love the fact they use drums that are all chopped and stuff, and it sounds so fucking cool, and my little brother's got a new band and he’s so good at doing programmed stuff, and he’s been playing me stuff and it sounds cool but it just doesn’t sit right with me. My vocals never sound right over programmed drums. I’m a drummer as well so I get annoyed about it not being a real drum kit and not being real. So in the end I was like, you know what? I want to make a record that’s fully rootsy, and I’m going to play the drums and the bass and the guitar myself, not out of pride. I’m just going to play them and if anyone else wants to come and join in then wicked. I wish there was a better, less wanky word, but it’s just a super-honest record. Lyrically, melodically, musically... I thought it was really cool to be sat in a loft and making a record on my own.”
Andy Burrows is no stranger to making albums alone - this is technically his third 'solo' record. The first, The Colour of My Dreams put out in 2008 before he left Razorlight, was a collection of poems by a family friend, Peter Dixon, set to music and released to raise money for charity, but at only 14 minutes long and done at home on Garageband, with no original lyrics it hardly counts as an ‘album’ at all. Then there’s his first post Razorlight album, 2010’s well-received Sun Comes Up Again, written and played entirely by Burrows but actually released under the name I Am Arrows. This makes Company... “my first proper album really, yer. The first thing I’ve put out under my own name and written all the songs”. Which begs the question, ‘how come it’s taken so long?’ He thinks for a while; “Because I’m a drummer in a band, and that’s the role I know and I’ve done it forever. The idea that I’d be someone who wants to make their own album was just never at the forefront of my mind.”
Even in his wild teenage fantasies of being in a famous band it was always behind the drum kit, not in front of it. “Being a singer and writing the songs, I’ve never had a great deal of confidence,” he explains. “It’s definitely grown over the last ten years, or eight years, or whenever. It’s largely down to Johnny [Borrell, Razorlight frontman], and then Tom [Smith, the other half of Smith & Burrows] but I never used to dream about being a frontman or a singer. Never. I wanted to be Michael Jackson when I was twelve, but... really I’ve always been a drummer, and it’s only the last couple of years where I’ve really enjoyed playing my songs. I think that’s where the change has come from. They’re ‘my’ songs, and right now I’m really enjoying it. I’m actually enjoying singing, standing up and playing and singing- I love it. I really, really love it, a lot more than I thought I ever would”. This no false modesty either. When he joined Razorlight he specifically told the band he couldn’t sing, and his ambitions genuinely extended no further forward than the front of the kick drum.
But then things changed. It’s common knowledge that Burrows’ role in his former band went well beyond tubthumping, making significant songwriting contributions, not least co-writing ‘America’, the band's only UK number one. How can someone with such low self-confidence, who’s not only the newest member of the band, but the drummer end up giving them their biggest hit, and what’s more being the only member of the band to have a noteworthy career outside of it?
Despite their notoriously turbulent relationship, it was Johnny Borrell’s support that pulled Burrows from his shell. “Aside from all of our other issues, Johnny was always really encouraging,” he explains. “It sounds arrogant, and I don’t mean it to, but within a month of me being in in the band Johnny was able to say ‘okay, you do more than just play the drums, don’t you?’. When I joined the band I said I couldn’t sing, I said I couldn’t do anything except play drums, because it’s all I wanted to do, but a few rehearsals in Johnny was saying ‘hang on a minute, what the fuck - you were just singing!’. I remember when we were recording in Primrose Hill, in the old studio - Mayfair studios - which is no longer there. We were recording demos for the second album, 'In The Morning’ and things, and Johnny would come up to me and say ‘Come on, you’ve really got to step up to the bar. Let’s do this together’. And that was a big deal for me because I’ve never had any confidence, ever. I’d never had that encouragement - lots of people have said I’m a good drummer but no-one had ever said ‘oh yer! You write really good songs!’ And Johnny was literally the first person to say ‘you’re pretty good, let’s do this together’. I remember when we were out on tour with Muse in America on a seven week tour and I had that little thing that was the main bit to the song ‘America’ and I remember playing it to Johnny and him saying ‘fucking hell! That’s great’. We’d still fall out over the fact that it was too cheesy, or too pop. Johnny’s a lot cooler than I am, I really wanted to do pop. But I got a lot of confidence out of him, I feel like he wanted me to write, and that was a big deal - I’d never had that before, someone going ‘you can write!’ or ‘you should write with me’”
Since then, everything Burrows has done professionally has added another notch to his self-confidence. The Colour of My Dreams was “kind of necessary in terms of me learning. We’d had this really big success with ‘America’ and I’d always dreamt of being a professional musician but I don’t think I’d realistically dreamt about having number one singles and selling millions of albums. I was quite freaked out about the whole thing, so after the second Razorlight album I thought it’d be quite cool to see if I can actually write music to someone else's words, and see how that would work. It was a real learning curve, an exercise really that turned into something really good that we could use to try and raise a bit of an awareness for charity.”
The Andy Burrows that emerged from Razorlight in 2009 citing 'personal differences' had changed much in his five years with the band. “I think it changed me massively.” he says, “I lost a lot of fears, but I probably gained a lot of anxiety too. It was mental. Fucking mental. Really, really mental. It’s an experience I’m really really grateful for. I think I left at the right time, I think if I’d gone on and on my relationship with Johnny would have meant that I would have fucking drunk myself to... I don’t know. It wasn’t great. But it was an incredible thing to have happened, so it’s silly of me to ever dumb it down or pretend it’s not the reason why I’m here today, because in every way it’s the reason why I can do what I do now. I didn’t have any confidence before Razorlight, I didn’t have any profile at all- it wasn’t about getting into a band as a springboard because I never, ever imagined having any success. If anything, when I got into Razorlight it was like, “Woah!” i’m just this kid from Winchester, I’ve never lived anywhere else, never travelled very much, and to suddenly be in this band, travelling the world and doing as well as we did, it fucking opened my mind massively. Like I said, it gave me as much anxiety as it did confidence, but I’m properly grateful for all of that.”
Razorlight, of course, have pretty much slipped off the map. In 2010, a year after Burrows’ departure, Borrell sacked founding members Björn Ågren and Carl Dalemo, hiring new sidemen and effectively dissolving the band Burrows had given five years of his life too. “I’m not sure about whatever the hell he’s doing now,” he says, “and it upsets me a little bit because I think we took that band to a great place, and I’ve got no clue what he’s up to with that new band. It blows my mind that he’s going around calling that band Razorlight, I don’t know what he’s doing, He should do a solo album. Nobody’s in it from Razorlight, it doesn’t make any sense.” It’s testimony to how much that band meant to him that Burrows still believes there could be a future in the line up that record the Razorlight and Slipway Fires albums. “A tiny part of me thinks, in the long term there’s a future for Razorlight, the one me and Johnny and Carl and Bjorn were in,” he explains when I ask him where his former band could go next. “I think we could have a future. I’ve never said that before, I’ve never thought of that before and maybe it’s not true, but I think that era of the band could do something one day, that would be cool.” He thinks for a minute: “But probably not.”
After Razorlight Burrows’ confidence continued to grow, if slowly. He wrote and recorded Sun Comes Up Again with his friend Elliot James, but was dissuaded from releasing it under his own name, opting for the I Am Arrows brand instead. “A few friends of mine, some of whom are really famous and in huge bands said that they wouldn’t be interested in a solo album by Andy Burrows”, he explains, and as always his lack of confidence was a factor, when it came to making videos and doing photos he realised he was simply scared to face them alone, drafting in younger brother Ben “and a load of his young mates”.
In the end it was another collaboration that finally pushed him into a real solo record, last year's Funny Looking Angels released with Editors’ Tom Smith under the moniker Smith & Burrows. “We put that record together last year and went and toured around Europe, around these beautiful theatres, the response just blew my mind. It was the first thing since Razorlight that made me think ‘wow, fucking hell, this is incredible!’ And obviously everyone was just there to see Tom and I was just his sidekick friend, I was aware of that all the time, but at the same time when I sat down and played a couple of the songs that I had in the set I had such a great response with everybody just being really quiet and responsive - it really spurred me on to wanting to do my own record. It was the Smith & Burrows record more than anything.”
With Company Burrows is finally more than “the sidekick friend” he’s always seen himself as. It’s a hugely accomplished record, melancholic, sweet and personal, with hints of the smooth 80s soul of Sade and the folkier end of the Beatles and early 70s Lennon. It’s among the loveliest, saddest most accomplished records you’ll hear this year, a fact that hasn't been missed by critics with the record picking up a slew of respectable notices. "I’m so fucking grateful for people liking it," he says, "not just in this country but over in Europe, and to [record label] PIAS and everyone pushing me to... just... I’m not taking this shit for granted, of having a song and having it played, because there are just SO many people, SO Many bands, SO many songwriters. I had a really exciting time in Razorlight, and to be doing my own album and having the radio play it? I am one grateful mother fucker. Really, I am."
And finally, finally, in the face of a great album, strong reviews and a growing fan base that is entirely his own, Andy Burrow's confidence kicks in: "Don’t get me wrong, I do feel I’m delivering stuff that’s worthy of being played, but I’m grateful that people are playing it. I think when you’re in a band that’s doing really well, as Razorlight were, you can become really complacent, I think there’s a tendency for some people to turn into a total dick head - that’s why I’m grateful it all happened quite late for me. I’m just over the fucking moon that people are playing my songs."
With a record this strong, and a future that includes a collaboration with Mark Ronson and Andy Wyatt, a film soundtrack and another We Are Scientists record, Andy Burrows has much to look forward to, but its clearly his new found confidence in his solo career that’s exciting him most. He’s practically beaming. “Honestly, I’d love to be doing this.” he says “I’m a drummer at heart, and I love playing the drums dearly and miss them when I’m not playing but right now I’m loving this album and I hope we get to do this for a while. It’s the most fun I’ve had for years.”
That’s a lot to be grateful for, but even more to be confident about.
Andy Burrows plays the following dates in February:
Mon 18th Komedia, BRIGHTON
Tue 19th Wedgewood Rooms, PORTSMOUTH
Wed 20th Fleece, BRISTOL
Thu 21st Bush Hall, LONDON
Sat 23rd Temple, BIRMINGHAM
Mon 25th King Tuts, GLASGOW
Tues 26th Brundnell LEEDS
'Light The Night', from the soundtrack to The Snowman and The Snowdog, is available for download on iTunes now.