With three critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums to their name and a fourth one due imminently, Editors can rightly boast to being one of the UK's most established bands of the past decade. Since debut single 'Bullets' arrived in January 2005, their brooding, anthemic rock has far surpassed the indie circuit to the point where they're more likely to be found playing to sold out arenas these days.
However, it hasn't all been plain sailing. Indeed, the past three years have arguably been their most turbulent since the band first started. Initially a four-piece comprising of Tom Smith (vocals/guitars/piano), Chris Urbanowicz (guitars/synths), Russell Leetch (bass/synths) and Ed Lay (drums/synths), fifteen months ago the band announced the departure of Urbanowicz citing the all-too-familiar adage "musical differences".
Now, four years on from their last album, In This Light And On This Evening, Editors are back with a new record (The Weight Of Your Love) and two new band members extending their ranks to a five-piece. After the electronic dalliances of its predecessor, The Weight Of Your Love represents a more orchestral, grandiose affair, heavily influenced by REM's Automatic For The People and in parts, reminiscent of Echo And The Bunnymen's Ocean Rain.
For the next thirty minutes or so, Editors frontman Tom Smith will give one of his most candid interviews to date, discussing the departure of his former bandmate Urbanowicz in great detail, explaining their decision to change producers halfway through recording and enthusing about the change of dynamic both new members have brought to the band.
DiS: It seems like you've been away longer than the four years since In This Light And On This Evening came out. Aside from making the new album and also the Smith & Burrows project with Andy Burrows, what else have you been up to?
Tom Smith: We live in a fast moving world. It is four years since the last Editors album, and in the midst of that I did the record with Andy (Burrows), so what else have I been up to? If I'm being brutally honest, it's been a trying time. Around the middle of that time things got really dark in Editors world, which I guess for many bands after being together so long is a long time for things to go wrong. I haven't really been doing anything else. We've been working pretty solidly on this fourth record for a long time. It just took a while for the wheels to fall off really.
DiS: The departure of Chris Urbanowicz from the band was quite a shock. What preempted that and was it a mutual decision?
Tom Smith: Chris (Urbanowicz) isn't here to tell his side although it's not like we fell out really. There was no shouting or anything like that. Towards the end of 2010 after we finished touring In This Light And On This Evening we started rehearsing new songs that were coming along with the intention of cracking on and making record number four. That was the plan anyway. We had a few tunes which we started laying down with Flood, and then we went away from that and listened back to the recordings and thought these aren't quite good enough. But we believed in the songs so we did a whole load more rehearsals and a longer recording session with Flood. I had more songs at that point as well so we spent more time in the studio with Flood. Weeks turned into months and we came out of that second session still unconvinced by the recordings. I'm not saying they were terrible by any means but they weren't up to scratch either, and it was the first time in our career we'd ever doubted our band. All the way through from making the demos that got us signed to recording our first album and then moving onto An End Has A Start and then more expansive territories with the third one had always been exciting times for us. We worked with Flood on that album and it was quite an experimental thing. We'd become tired of what we were doing with guitars and wanted to make a record with synthesizers and we were buzzing throughout those sessions. So for us to be in a position for the first time since becoming a band where things weren't flying we started to question ourselves. So you live with the recordings and go back in the rehearsal room, but then things started to get really dark. Communication breaks down and then the realisation sinks in that as a four-piece, we'd ceased to be able to create something we felt was good enough. And it took a while to get to that point, so we went off to do some more rehearsals and thought how are we going to make another record? Are we going to make another record even? And it was at that point where me, Russell and Ed decided we could no longer go on with Chris in the band. To make that decision was heartbreaking and a very dark time for everyone involved. But once we'd made that decision we had to move forward and get cracking again. That time was as bad as it's got for the band, but yeah, I guess that filled up the four years between records pretty nicely!
DiS: Several of the songs on The Weight Of Your Love date back to those rehearsals, 'Two Hearted Spider' being one. Did any of the Flood recordings make it onto the finished album?
Tom Smith: None of the recordings, no. Most of the songs date back to those rehearsals, possibly the bare bones of all of them. Most of the songs on the record would have been written when Chris was still in the band. We'd certainly worked on them in the room together. Part of the reason me, Russell and Ed continued was because we believed in the songs. We thought they were better than what we'd done with them and knew they could eventually be made into something we'd be proud of. Equally we also believed in each other. As scary as it was initially to carry on as a three-piece - we all wondered how on earth we were going to make this work - we kept trying because of that shared belief.
DiS: Eventually you brought in Jacquire King to produce the record. What did he do differently compared to Flood?
Tom Smith: I think when Chris was in the band there was a more electronic edge to how the songs sounded. We still picked up the guitars. Very early on we decided we didn't want to make In This Light... part two. We wanted to make a more rock orientated record again. In all honesty, Jacquire's a wonderful producer. He got involved when most of the songs were pretty fully formed. Post-Chris leaving, Justin (Lockey, guitars) and Elliott (Williams, keys/guitars/backing vocals) came in to help us play a show that we'd already booked in the previous year. Chris had gone and there was just the three of us and we were about to play probably the biggest show we'd ever done up to that point, and initially I was ready to cancel. It got to the stage where I wondered how were going to be able to pull it off and at the time it seemed a better option to go away and lick our wounds, figure out how to heal them. But we made the decision that we should honour it and make the show work so that's originally why Justin and Elliott joined. They were brought in to rehearsals purely to play all the old songs ready for that show. Justin learned all of Chris's old parts and we thought if rehearsals went really well, then let's try and throw in a couple of the new songs we've been working on over the last year or two and see how it sounds. Justin and Elliott responded very quickly so it wasn't long before we were working on 'Sugar' and 'Two Hearted Spider'. We ended up playing those songs at the show and it was a success. It was a wonderful night and I guess from that moment on, the new five-piece band was formed. The relationship was forged on that stage. We all knew we were onto something here, so after that gig we went back to Birmingham and spent six weeks in the studio with all of the new songs without worrying about any of the old ones. Six weeks later we pretty much had the record written. We recorded some demos and took them to Jacquire. He's a more straightforward producer than Flood. Flood's an amazing producer and I'm sure we'll work with him again in the future, but with Jacquire there was a more straightforward nature to how he wanted the songs to sound. Throughout our career - especially with the last record - we've always tended to layer things up. There's been a lot going on within most of the songs, so with this new batch we wanted to treat them a little more simply. We wanted a traditional kind of rock backbone to the rhythm section, and Jacquire has always managed to get that with the records he's worked on. If you look through his back catalogue; he's worked on records by Kings Of Leon, Norah Jones and Modest Mouse for example; he's very much a songs man and unfussy in his production. He's all about going back to basics and getting good sounds from good performances really.
DiS: My favourite record he's worked on is probably Derdang Derdang by the Archie Bronson Outfit.
Tom Smith: He's got quite a varied output actually. One of the discussions we had before we sent the demos to him was about making the record in America. So in that sense it also made sense to work with an American producer. But I guess it's also borne out of a love for alt-American bands. The king of those for me would have to be REM, and one of the drunken conversations I had with the band revolved around who was the new Scott Litt. Of course there isn't a new Scott Litt, but that's what led us onto thinking about Jacquire. It was a bit of a gamble especially after the last record. It was quite a surprising place for Editors to go but then we like that element about it too.
DiS: It's interesting you mention REM, as I can hear a more Americana vibe in places. People like Band Of Horses and My Morning Jacket spring to mind for example.
Tom Smith: I like Band Of Horses but I wouldn't say The Weight Of Your Love is necessarily influenced by them. We just wanted to make a traditional, sweeping rock record. In the rehearsal room I was using brass sounds and string sounds. We knew they were going to make a big impression onto the songs. Even in terms of using things like acoustic guitars which we'd never really done before when Chris was in the band we felt it was something we wanted to explore on this record. REM were a shining light in my musical development. We wanted to make a big rock statement akin to something like Automatic For The People. We're four albums in now. We're not a new band any more. WE don't feel connected to things coming out that are new. We're not old old but at the same time, Russell's got kids, I've got kids so there is a certain maturity to the way we approach writing songs. We felt more comfortable using elements to our music that maybe in the past we'd have felt uncomfortable doing. People worry about being perceived as cool and trendy when they're younger. I know we certainly did.
DiS: During that six-week period in Birmingham, did Justin and Elliott contribute towards the writing or rearranging of any songs that made it onto the album?
Tom Smith: Absolutely. We took all the old demos right back to their infant selves which was basically me and an acoustic guitar then we talked about how we were going to develop them. Everyone had an input. I guess there was a decision to be made by me, Russell and Ed as to whether we were just going to get people in, for example with the press shots. It's like when REM became a three-piece, they still had extra musicians to help them in the studio and play the songs live, but they weren't officially part of the band. That was the way we wanted to do it. We wanted to become a new band and start a new chapter, and that extended to them doing press shots and being in the band and ultimately helping us bring the songs to life.
DiS: Was there ever a worry that the band might not continue?
Tom Smith: It was never a worry because we had confidence in the songs and the founding three members had confidence in each other. Even so, there was definitely an awareness that things were breaking. The original creative dynamic we had was broken. So we were going to try and fix it, but yes, there was a possibility this wasn't going to work any more and the third record would have been our last. We all thought that, definitely.
DiS: The Weight Of Love appears to have a similar theme running through most of the record. Was it intended to be a concept album about love?
Tom Smith: I'd like to think if we ever made a concept record there'd be more thought involved. Going back to when Chris was still in the band and the first half dozen or so songs started to take shape, I think three of them had love in the title even then. I think it's more about having a certain degree of comfort and willingness to approach the topic than before. These lyrics are a lot more straightforward in a way than anything I've written before. There's a lot less ambiguity. Nearly every song on the record touches on love. They're all meant to be songs from one person to another without a care for what else is going on in the world. Be that if it's a break-up song or a slightly more twisted left of centre way of looking at a love song. Equally, 'The Phone Book' is possibly the rosiest sentiment of love I've ever put into a song. I wouldn't call it a concept record as there was an element of it evolving and me understanding what I was doing halfway through rather than sitting down and designing it.
DiS: Focusing on some of the lyrics - "You swallow my soul, it breaks my heart to love you" in 'Sugar' or "We built this city now we tear it to the ground" in 'What Is This Thing Called Love' for example - it does seem like a very dark record in places.
Tom Smith: In places, yeah. I tried to look at both sides of love I guess. Even 'Sugar' which you mentioned, I still see that as a love song. It's like when I look at one of my boys it kind of breaks my heart in a way. That's where the lines "It breaks my heart to love you" and "You're like a gift from another world" come from. It's still a loving sentiment. It isn't just darkness there. People may see it that way but it isn't for me. I'll never be able to write love songs that are just greetings card sentiments. I just don't find that interesting and I never will. Across the record there is dark imagery, but at the same time I do think it's as hopeful and loving as I've ever been before.
DiS: Two tracks on the album which stand out for me are 'Formaldehyde' and 'Hyena', but again with the latter despite being quite upbeat musically, there's still a dark element in lyrics like "Don't bore me with the truth, I live alone, don't you?"
Tom Smith: 'Hyena' is possibly the darkest song on the album. It's certainly the most dysfunctional. There are times when the songs stem from me, but they're not diary entries. I gladly let my imagination run away with itself and invent scenarios. Many of the songs on the record like 'Hyena' are more personal.
DiS: Why did you choose 'A Ton Of Love' as the lead single off the album?
Tom Smith: I think there's a confidence about that song, an immediacy to it. We have been away for four years so it seemed appropriate to come back with something in that nature I guess. We tried to simplify the music that we made and in a way dumb it down a bit. Many of my favourite records are simple and straight to the point and go for the throat. We wanted to make one of those big, simple rock statements that harks back to people like Echo And The Bunnymen or U2 or REM. Someone mentioned The Cult earlier as well, and that was kind of the point really. I think those kind of confident rock statements generally work well as singles.
DiS: Editors have built up a loyal fanbase over the years, and in changing with every album have attracted a lot of new fans along the way. How do you think a lot of the older fans will react to The Weight Of Your Love? I guess in some ways for a band not afraid to experiment and diversify it is inevitable to lose fans at certain junctures too?
Tom Smith: We make music quite selfishly. It's for us primarily. That's not to say we don't think about how people may react. There's probably an element of people that loved our third record - or came on board then - that won't like this record. Because it's strikingly different from what we've just done. At the same time, I think we're a band that tries to take its audience on a journey with them. Make decisions and twists and turns in the road and build up a fanbase that will love some records more than others but also appreciate that we're always trying to do something new and change the way we do things. We're always trying to evolve, sometimes for the positive and sometimes for the negative in the ears of the listener. But there's also been a dramatic change in the band as well. Chris was an enormous part of the band. He had a signature guitar sound, especially on the first two records. The way his guitar bounced off what I was singing is kind of what we were really. That's what people fell in love with, so if the only thing you liked about Editors was the high screeching guitar sound that's gone now so maybe you won't like us any more. That's the bottom line, but equally - Chris's creative side is gone now - I've seen more of Russell and Ed in the studio than I ever have. Ed especially. Before, he'd just come in the studio and do his drum parts without any real creative control over what's going on around him. Yet with these recordings he was probably the most vocal about how the songs should sound. Hopefully people will see a different side to the band, and that's good. Things evolve and people change. It will be interesting to see how people who've been fans from day one take to this record. That's what we always do. Put ourselves out there then wait and see what happens.
DiS: With the change in dynamic on the creative side, does the new line-up feel like a new starting point, year zero even for Editors?
Tom Smith: Yeah, it almost feels like we're a new band. It's a new beginning as far as explorations into what we can achieve as a five-piece are concerned. There's so much that we're capable of doing, whereas with the old four-piece I think we'd used up our lot. It had gone. So I feel glad sitting here with the other four guys knowing that the possibilities for this line-up are endless.
DiS: What can we expect from Editors live shows in the future? Are there any of your older songs which you perhaps won't revisit at this moment in time?
Tom Smith: No, I don't think we're that cynical with it. Those songs put us on the stage to where we are now so we'll definitely continue to play a lot of the old tunes. There's also the difficulty that four albums in we've got an extensive back catalogue now so choosing the set is a slightly more complicated procedure. Playing the old songs with a different guitarist and an extra set of hands on stage does mean they'll sound slightly different. And that's good. It's exciting for us. Going back to REM, we toured with them in 2008 and they had five musicians on stage and it made some of the songs sound really different. Not necessarily louder, but more of an extra musicality that we no longer had, and Elliott's a great guitarist and keyboard player and he also has a great voice, which makes it nice to have another vocalist in the band. Another layer to the sound that for the original three members makes some of those older songs sound slightly reinvigorated.
DiS: Where did you first meet Elliott and Justin?
Tom Smith: Justin came as a recommendation from Flood. Flood had produced a yourcodenameis:milo record back in the day, and since then he'd also taken Justin under his wing as a fledgling producer. Justin does a lot of production. He's super talented in so many different aspects. I think one of the reasons Flood recommended him is because he was there when the wheels were falling off. I think he was shocked when he heard about the decision we'd made regarding Chris but at the same time not entirely surprised either. He'd been there when things weren't going so well and I think he had an idea of the type of personality that could work in the dynamic. Justin is a very different guitar player to Chris, and that's important to us. He's just a very creative guy generally. He also makes music videos as well as being a producer. He's always coming up with ideas. Probably too many. In the rehearsal room the energy was totally different to how it was previously. Elliott is the singer in a band called Airship that we toured with a few times. Thinking back to that show we had booked in, we didn't want Justin to be seen as the new Chris. To shoulder that kind of responsibility. So we thought it would be a good idea to get somebody else in there to share some of that burden and make the musicality of the stage a bit different. So we got Elliott in as a bit of a dog's body I guess! He's obviously become so much more than that, and I've already mentioned his voice. His backing vocals on the chorus to 'Formaldehyde', which he wrote, is equal to the main vocal. A big part of a tune like that. He's a bit younger as well which is nice for us. We're all in our thirties and Justin's 34, whereas Elliott's pretty much ten years younger than the rest of us, so it's nice to have a slightly youthful energy around the room. And also someone that feels less beaten up by the music industry. It's nice to be around someone that feels less weary in that sense.
DiS: You're playing the Village Underground a week on Monday (1st July) to launch the album. Why did you choose that specific venue?
Tom Smith: I'll be brutally honest with you, that had nothing to do with me! Not that I wouldn't want to do it. It's a smaller venue where we can fit all of our gear onto the stage. It's nice to go and do a small gig, especially on the day of release. I'm excited about it of course, but I didn't have anything to do with choosing which venue we played.
DiS: You're also scheduled to play numerous festivals over the summer. Are there any you're particularly looking forward to?
Tom Smith: Glastonbury has always been good to us. We've played a lot of shows there, so I'm looking forward to that one the day before the record comes out. It's like you mentioned earlier about us being away for so long, and in the UK four years is a very long time for a band to be away. So I guess from that point of view, we have taken a few steps back over here whereas in mainland Europe that's not the case. Our stature has remained the same over there. I think they're less quick to move onto new things and more loyal as a fanbase in some ways. So there are lots of festivals coming up in Europe that are big shows, and they're exciting too. The summer should be good. It's nice to get out again and be part of the circus. The festivals I always look forward to before the summer starts, and then about halfway through I tend to get weary and start to look forward to our own tour. There is something slightly more rewarding as a performer to put your own show on, have your own audience in the room and be able to take them on more of a journey. Whereas with festivals, the experience needs to be more instant to be gratifying. Equally, when they are rewarding you can end up feeling like a superhero. But there's a certain madness that comes with them too.
DiS: Will there be a full UK tour to coincide with the album's release, and have any specific dates been pencilled in?
Tom Smith: There will be a UK tour. We're looking at doing a month's worth of dates in Academy sized venues once we get the festivals out of the way.
DiS: Finally, are there any new artists or records that have grabbed your attention recently?
Tom Smith: I really like the new Frightened Rabbit record. It's a wonderful album. I was listening to that a lot while we were making our record actually. I do like the new National record. I'm still getting to know it. It's revealing itself to me slowly as most of their records tend to do. There's a brand new artist from Nashville called Night Beds whose record I really adore at the moment. I was listening to that a lot while we were making our record too. It's one guy on his own, and he lived in Johnny Cash's old house.
The album The Weight Of Your Love is out on Monday 1st July.
For more information on Editors visit their official website.