Johnny goes off on one
- Razorlight »
But when DiS phoned lead man Johnny Borrell and interrupted his viewing of ‘On The Waterfront’, Razorlight were kinda in-between drummers. In fact, Christian had not officially stopped playing for the band and had a few gigs left to do. This didn’t stop Mr Borrell, how do you say, ‘going off on one’…
Readers, we give you one of the easiest men in the world to interview. See how many naughty words YOU can spot.
DiS: Let’s go back in time a bit… The vision you had for this band – how is it all panning out in the way you saw this band becoming? Is it going to plan?
Johnny: (Long pause) Ermmm… 80% (more silence).
Care to expand on that one?
Not really. It’s a bit close to the bone, that one actually.
Close to the bone?
Yeah. Well, you know, you might have to get me drunk and warm me up a bit. Let’s come back to it.
OK. I was looking through your biog and it said Steve Lillywhite was no longer involved in your album’s production. What happened with that, or is that another close-to-the-bone one?
Yeah, you get right to the jugular! Steve is talentless and has got a reputation based on nothing – no, I didn’t say that. That was a JOKE. The fact is, we did the singles with him and it wasn’t really working. He had some personal shit going on and we reached a mutual decision not to do it with him. So we went and did it with John Cornfield.
How much difference was there between the two producers and how much input did you have into it yourself?
Well John Cornfield – it’s an insult just to call him an engineer because he’s such a fucking great engineer. He just sets up the mics and gets the sound. We’ve got such a fucking great band sound on this record; as good a band sound as I’ve heard for years, you know? And he did that and left and left all the arrangements and production side to me, and I did all that. A match made in heaven. With Steve it was just weird.
Did you try a few producers/engineers before settling on Cornfield?
Top of the list?
He was there or thereabouts. There was talk of American producers but I just didn’t want to take that gamble with someone I hadn’t met. The session was weird y’know ‘cos we started doing it at Sphere and then his dad got ill and he had to Cornwall for a bit, so we had to take a bit of time off, then to get back into it we had to go down to Cornwall, which was an unbelievable nightmare. I don’t want to bang on about adversity but there was a lot of it. It was a tough record to make, especially with Christian. You asked me about him leaving (no I didn’t!) and it’s kind of… I don’t really know how I feel about it emotionally. He left. But he would’ve been kicked out if he didn’t leave.
Absolutely. I read that thing in the NME about it being health differences. People say to me that it sounds bollocks, but (incredulously) it’s absolutely true. The thing is, it’s not that we’re getting wrecked: we’d be doing live takes with the vocals and I’d say ‘come on Christian, let’s do a take,’ and he’d turn round and go ‘no.’ Like… what the fuck? ‘I’ve got to digest.’ And he’s sitting there eating strawberries. Right! So you kinda go ‘OK, fine’ and then if he’s not ‘digesting’ he’s ‘resting.’ He refuses to practise. He’s good in certain ways; a very characteristic, original drummer, when he’s good he’s good and I like a lot of things about his drumming, but he just refuses to get better and doesn’t have the passion for it. We had to mix the tracks. It’s fucking difficult. I’m really fucking disappointed. Maybe people will get the impression I’m being difficult and he’s being straight-up with it – I don’t know why – but me and John were doing the album and pulling our hair out. We couldn’t fucking believe it… just couldn’t fucking believe it. He’s going to do the next few gigs and then we’re just going to do a tour. It won’t the same without him, won’t be the same dynamics.
Yes, I was going to ask that at some point.
(Sighs) Fuck, I don’t know. This is the only band I’ve been in, really (despite being tagged as ‘ex-Libertines’, he was in the Libertines for a grand total of 10 days). I don’t know! DoyouknowwhatImean?
At least he was eating strawberries and not injecting smack. I don’t want to talk much about that because he’s not here to speak for himself obviously, but when he was in Stony Sleep there were all these stories about their drug-intake.
Yeah, Lee (RIP) took a lot of heroin but he liked playing the bass! That was his fucking passion. I don’t really think that’s the worst thing in the world. If you’re tired in the studio, you do what you can – you have a cup of coffee, a fag and a couple of beers, whatever it fucking takes to get there but Christian can’t fucking do that. He’ll get set up then say ‘I’ve got to go rest now.’ It’s just bullshit. The clock’s ticking. This album’s taken a fuck of a lot of time and a lot of it is to do with Christian. He’s just a weird guy. You try and level with him but there’s just no fucking comeback.
What response have you had from the wanted ad in the NME?
Pretty good. We’re just going to try them out (they eventually hired a chap called Andy Burrows). I think I’m due a bit of luck, y’know. I think there will be somebody who’s fucking ideal. My soulmate is out there. I’ve never had that in a band.
Yeah, but like a real partner. Most bands have that and are built on an axis like that. God knows. Maybe I’m incapable of it. But no, I’ve never had that… fuck, it’s weird, because you shoulder all the pressure yourself. You get this album, all songs written and produced by Johnny Borrell and it’s so fucking… you know?
I see what you’re getting at.
I produced, arranged, wrote and fucking recorded this record! And Bjorn’s a wonderful guitar player and Carl is a great bass player and I love them both but… maybe I’ll find the drummer that’s a genius and can write fantastic songs.
The press and the way you’re presented to the press – well, the bio says “Johnny is about to release his debut album” – it all kinda centres round…
Well it is and it isn’t. It’s a BAND. That’s why when you ask if it’s my vision it’s not – it’s 80% of it and 20% is taken another way, in a way I wouldn’t necessarily have taken it but I think it’s a good way.
How would you prefer for your band to be presented?
A bit more leftfield. I don’t like following rules but I’ve learnt all the rules and I stuck to them for years. I fucking spent years writing songs and listening to the blues and soul and everything and I’ve learnt the rules, and now I want to break them – but you can only break them once you’ve learnt them. I am the WORST person to ask about this! I’m so fucking subjective on it. What the fuck do I know?! Really! What do I know? I just write these songs and try and make them sound good. Hehe.
What has your experiences with the music industry been for you apart from this album? Was it more fighting against adversity?
What like our label and stuff?
Welllll, the label, and you’ve got an ex-NME writer as a manager…
Well Roger (Morton, manager) is a really good friend and I’ve known him for years and… he is what he is. The label: there’s times when you get really pissed off with them just for incompetence or something, but they’re pretty cool.
Were you wined and dined by several labels?
Yeahhhhh. I think we made the right choice. But the grass is always greener. I’m not just talking about the label, I’m talking in general. But the reason the grass is greener is because you’re creative and you want to get on with making things. The trouble is, you have to start talking about making things and, as everybody knows, the more you talk about something, the less it happens. I could sit here and talk about writing songs but it’s not going to help me write songs.
I think I read in the last DiS interview that you’ve got tapes and tapes of things, and you’ve already written the second album.
I’ve written a very, very fucking beautiful album. And God knows when it’ll come out. I’m going to try and record it in the next couple of weeks (!). Or after the tour. It’ll be quick.
Have you thought about writing for other people?
I write for every side of my personality every day. So it’s not really any different! We’ll see, if I get any offers.
So you’re not too attached to them then and want to keep them for yourself?
Once you’ve written a song, it’s done and it’s public property anyway. But I think about the industry and also the nature of songs – you get offers to sell your songs to adverts and shit, and I was totalling up the amount of money we’ve turned down this year, and it’s fucking staggering. I think that’s important. I don’t get it. I don’t get Jet. What’s that one? ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’. I heard it at the club we played at the other night and it sounded great and obviously it’s doing its job, but shouldn’t they get fucking lynched for selling that song to an advert? We were offered that and I just told them to fuck off straight away. I don’t know, man. Sometimes you just think everything is just so the cult of celebrity and the kids just don’t fucking get it, they just think ‘fair play, you’re making even more money.’ Sorry, I don’t mean to use ‘the kids’ in a patronising, inverted commas way.
Maybe they just don’t think about it in that way, they just think ‘oh, it’s a song on an advert.’
Yeah but where do people get their facts from, man? The NME obviously don’t care.
You played SXSW recently. How was that?
Well… it was an industry festival. How much fun do you think that can be? A thousand pissed off guitarist, a thousand pissed off singers, a thousand pissed off door managers, a thousand roadies, a thousand managers, a thousand press agents – (in mock delight) wa-heh-hey!
A thousand A&R… no, TEN thousand A&R men, and a thousand A&R assistants and a thousand fucking record label bosses.
But it sounds like heaven, Johnny.
For music to exist, it needs to interact with something, and the performance interacts with the audience – that’s what makes the gig.
Did you feel a little out of place?
Yeah, we did a good gig, but the whole thing is rubbish. We did what we had to do to get interest and blah blah blah but it’s a pretty fucking cynical part of the job. You’ve got to just do it a couple of times and bite the bullet. It was cool going to America. New York was great. I wanted to go and see Texas but it (SXSW, held in Austin) wasn’t Texas, it was a town that just doubled in population with a load of industry people in it. It’s shit.
Do you feel like a London-centric band sometimes, or do you think you’ve passed that play-the-Barfly-on-a-regular-basis level?
I think we passed that quite a long time ago (ironic – they’re due to play Camden Barfly on July 15th). Yes… breaking out of England. No! England and Japan, then we’ll see what happens after that. You can’t really torture yourself by thinking what’s going to happen to your band. I just got a new guitar! And I got a new amp, so I’ve now got two amps onstage and two guitars exactly the same. And they’re very rare – not expensive, but very rare. It’s a Gibson L6S and they were only made for about five years in the ‘70s, and now I have two of them. So my life is fucking great! Hehehe. I’ve got a Marshal stack, a fucking Vox, and two beautiful guitars. KnowwhatImean? What more could I want? I’ve got a fucking kicking band and we’re great. Conversely you could do it from all sorts of angles and screw yourself up about it, which obviously I do, relentlessly.
Aww. Are you still addicted to Teletext?
I can’t get a good enough reception on my screen. I just tried it now and all I get is this flashing nonsense. I miss ‘Words Of Wisdom’ the most (that’s Ceefax. Never mind). It’s amazing how a meaningless championship match can occupy your thoughts for a whole 90 seconds and alleviate your mind from the darker recesses of your soul.
How do you do that now then?
You have to get a paper. Every morning, I have to go and get a fucking paper, rotating between The Guardian and The Independent. I don’t know why I don’t just get them to fucking deliver it!
Debut album ‘Up All Night’ is out now.
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