Editors Interview

Here’s to the dark
Editors
“The world’s a living, breathing thing and it can surprise you. Something you’ve seen a million times before can still take your breath away in a moment.” Tom Smith, Editors, 2009

Remember Blade Runner’s nihilistic opening sequence where a futuristic Los Angeles skyline is clogged with fire spitting sky towers and whirring air taxis while Vangelis’ synth stirring soundtrack plays out over a dystopian vision of the city? Well, that's kind of what Editors had in mind when they sat down to write their third album ‘In This Light And On This Evening’.

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Editors - Papillon



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Tired of retreading the same gloomy guitar soundscapes that dominated their 2005 debut ‘The Back Room’ and 2007 follow-up ‘An End Has A Start’, singer Tom Smith and guitarist Chris Urbanowicz decided to attack their new songs electronically, radically retooling them with KORG keyboards and noodly effect processors.

“The electronic influence came really early on,” recalls Smith, as his slender six-foot frame slouches onto a pub bench just outside their London rehearsal studio. “Chris decided to bring in some keyboards because he felt like he was ripping himself off a bit during the early demos, doing things that he’d already done before on guitar. It was just a conscious decision to try something new really because we kind of got bored of being a rock band."

Taking their inspiration from ’80s sci-fi classics such as Blade Runner and The Terminator, the Birmingham mood rockers began scribing their own dystopian vision at the close of their ‘An End Has A Start’ tour in the summer of 2008. “We were talking about those films very early on because we wanted to create the same atmosphere that they evoked,” Smith ponders. “So, when we watched and listened back to their soundtracks, our music started to take a similar shape.”

Recorded with Grammy Award-winning producer Flood (U2, The Killers) and Ben Hillier (Depeche Mode, Blur) at London’s Resident Studios, ‘In This Light...’ paints a brutal backdrop of The Big Smoke where the streets are littered with drunken yobs, love is a broken dream and greedy politicians gorge on bloody corruption. Admittedly this unsentimental view of humanity is a tad shy of James Cameron’s post-apocalyptic vision of a world ravaged by machines or Ridley Scott’s dark depiction of LA where bio-robotic beings (replicants) walk among us. But musically it’s bathed in the same bleak sentiment.

In fact, the Birmingham mood rockers’ new LP could easily soundtrack the follow-up to Terminator Salvation, such is the metal clanging, bombastic nature of their third beast. The opening title track for instance, begins with Smith’s distorted vocals: “I swear to God / In this light and on this evening / London’s become the most beautiful thing I’ve seen”, against a backdrop of whirring synth stabs before it explodes into a stomping electronic finale, while ‘Bricks And Mortar’, is so close to the bone crunching original Terminator theme, it’s almost as if (original composer) Brad Fiedel came out of retirement to score the entire track. “It does feel a bit like a soundtrack and that’s great,” beams Smith, whose new growth of stubble makes him look like a cross between Wolverine and a musketeer. “The themes to Blade Runner and The Terminator are both stirring and we’ve always been quite cinematic anyway.”

“As soon as we recorded the title track,” he continues, “we were like, ‘That’s got to open the record’. So, it gave us that understanding of where we were going to go with the rest of the LP.”

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“I like the way you can get dark lyrics into people’s homes because the songs are big or poppy.”


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Despite their mechanical approach, Editors have still managed to maintain the same tear-jerking mood that left “broken hearts smashed on the floor” on ‘An End Has A Start’. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the haunting, black ballad ‘You Don’t Know Love’.

“One thing we talked about is how a lot of electronic records do sound clinical,” Smith explains. “There is no emotional attachment and they do feel a bit like they’re being played by machines. We wanted our record, because of what we’re about I guess, not to lose that emotional quality even if we were going in this electronic direction.”

Ever since Editors’ inception into the mainstream at the turn of 2006, their brooding, moody soundscapes have seen the four-piece lumped in the same bracket as gloom rockers Interpol and post punk legends Joy Division. While Smith admittedly basks in the cloak of darkness, a recent outburst posted on the band’s official forum spat at those who questioned their bleak roots.

“I am so fucking bored of people asking us why we’re so ‘dark’,” he riled. “Or worse, questioning our integrity for being this way. This is how we do it, it excites us to express ourselves like this, to be honest we don’t even understand what the alternative is and the alternatives we can imagine are too boring for us to even consider.”

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Editors - Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors (Live at Glastonbury 2008)



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Today, he’s a little more laid back about his initial rant. “I don’t mind people calling us dark or describing us as dark,” he reasons. “It’s when people question why we’re like that. I grew tired of that cynicism towards us because of the fact we are dark. Personally, I like the way you can get dark lyrics and serious things in life into people’s homes or cars because the songs are big or very melodic or poppy. I like that,” Smith enthuses as he leans forward. “Even the sounds on the record, the way they’re kind of sinister and scary at times. It’s just the way we love to do it.” Speaking of dark, the disturbing ‘Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool’, is easily ‘In This Light’’s most vicious moment. Coming on like a Kraftwerk freakshow, this is Editors at their most evil, as Smith barks: “I don’t want to be left out or get fucked / But there’s a talent in your lies / If you’re chewing with an open mouth / Raw meat / Your blood drool that attracts the flies.” Of the nine tracks that made the final cut, this was the one the band almost tragically left off. That was until Flood stepped in.

“We’d written twenty songs before we went into the studio,” the towering singer explains. “We had too many tunes for the time we had to record them so we had to prioritise some of them and towards the bottom of all the band’s list was that song. We were like, ‘We’re not sure about that one’, but Flood straight away went, ‘I’m sure about it, we’re not going to leave this one off’. Looking back now, I’m glad he fought his corner because it does feel very different from what we’ve done before. It’s very melodic and poppy but it’s also very scary and nasty.”

Wind the clock back an hour and we find Smith craning his hand like Chris Martin as he powerfully croons that same track live, while the rest of the band flank him in a triangle formation. Dotted around their black and grey rehearsal studio are chunky colour-coded American wrestling models, like the He-Man figures pretty much every kid owned back in the ’80s.

While the band hammer out their bleak, life-affirming anthems, swapping guitars for synthesizers, for effects boxes and back again, it’s difficult not to get distracted by these tiny models even as Smith’s baritone vocals spine tingle at every turn. “Chris is a big WWF fan,” the singer laughs. “He picked up a load of them while we were out in the States. According to Flood, Billy Corgan is a big fan too.”

Speaking of fans, Editors have attracted their own share of A-list celebrity followers over the years. First Kanye West and then the late king of pop, Michael Jackson, expressed a curious interest in the band when they first made headway in America. “That was crazy, I have to admit,” chuckles strapping bassist Russell Leetch. “One of Chris’ good friends knew Michael Jackson and she gave him our first album to listen to. Weirdly, when we were recording our second LP in Ireland too,” he continues, “he was actually staying in a house very close by. He never came down to say hello though, he was very shy like that. But we saw his people and it intrigued us for the whole time we were there.”

“Yeah, he cast a Jacko-shaped shadow over the second record,” interjects Smith playfully.

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“The way I see it, it’s too brutal a world to have a God.”


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When the conversation turns to Jackson’s recent death and where the band were when they first heard about it, the singer’s mood suddenly switches. “We were in Germany in Aschaffenburg,” he recalls. “The news came through and, almost in a weird way, I kind of expected it. But then they played one of his songs on the radio and it hit home. It is sad, it’s really sad,” Smith adds, nodding sympathetically. “The whole furore which is still going on now just feels horrible and in bad taste.”

In a world where vast voids are left by legendary pop stars, the credit crunch is inescapable and politicians are constantly being bombarded with charges of corruption, ‘In This Light And On This Evening’ is a harsh slap of reality in the face. Even God is notable by his absence: “If there really was a God here / He’d have raised a hand by now”, Smith insists on their epic new single ‘Papillon’. “There’s a fair splash of God or lack of God in there,” he elaborates. “He is never far away from your vocabulary though is he? The way I see it, it’s too brutal a world to have a God.”

This unsentimental reality is played out even further on ‘The Boxer’, where Britain’s increasing problem with drunken violence comes at you like a broken bottle to the cheekbone. “It is pretty prominent in the UK. It’s probably always been the case but there does seem to be something in our psyche which I’d say is a problem. I mean when you go out of the country and you see people drinking abroad in other countries, it’s nothing like that. There’s rarely any trouble.”

There's no doubt ‘In This Light And On This Evening’ is Editors’ blackest album to date. But as Blade Runner’s mind-blowing opening sequence shows, bleak visions can still take your breath away. Here’s to the dark.

Words by Damian Jones
Photos by Emilie Fjola Sandy


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View this accompanying gallery of the band rehearsing HERE.

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