Editors: The lost chart-toppers get a new start

Editors shed a key band member and a producer as they struggled to make their new record. They tell James McNair that it was worth it

“It was terrifying,” says Editors frontman Tom Smith. “We'd tried for a year and half to find the way forward and just couldn't. When that happens after multiple recording sessions you have to say: 'What's wrong here? Is it the songs? Is it Flood, one of the greatest producers in the world? Or is it something to do with the dynamic of the band?'”

Together with Editors bassist Russell Leetch, Smith is re-pacing the lengthy, rubble-strewn path to the band's new album, The Weight of Your Love. Mates since they worked in a Birmingham call-centre together pre-Editors, the amiable pair are today holed-up at a muggy Brixton Academy, where Editors are rehearsing for Glastonbury and European shows.

With two new members aboard – guitarist Justin Lockey and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Williams – a meticulous run-through is crucial, but Smith says Editors 2013 are happier on-stage and have a keener understanding of the need to entertain. He and Leetch also seem philosophical, though not coldly so, about asking long-term guitarist Chris Urbanowicz to leave the band in April 2012 due to – yes, that's right – musical differences. For a time, though, the pressure of trying to follow two UK No 1 albums (2007's An End Has a Start and 2009's In This Light and on This Evening) almost sank Editors.

“We were all turning 30 and it was like, 'shit, what are we going to do if not this?'” says Leetch.

“And most of us have kids now,” chips-in Smith, whose wife, the Scottish DJ and broadcaster Edith Bowman, recently gave birth to their second son.

“Ed [Lay, Editors' drummer] had a little breakdown in a restaurant one day,” resumes Leetch. “I'd never seen him like that.”

Moving forward involved parting ways with their regular producer as well as Urbanowicz, but, while Leetch confirms that they haven't spoken to their former guitarist for over a year, a recent communique from sometime U2 and PJ Harvey knob-twiddler Flood confirms he and Editors are still good friends. “I've been listening to your album so much over the last month, and I love it,” runs the text message from Flood that Smith reads aloud to me. “I've almost managed to distance myself from the pain, and can enjoy it as a punter.”

Flood's successor on the album was Jacquire King, the American producer whose diverse CV includes albums with Tom Waits, Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon. Smith says it was King's work on the last band's US No 2 album Come Around Sundown that drew Editors to him, for they wanted to travel Stateside to make a modern-sounding album with one eye on the enormodomes.

“We thought these songs would respond well to that environment,” says the singer, “plus you can get a child-like kick out of being a British band making an album in America, and we needed that sense of fun again.”

After fulfilling a longstanding commitment to headline Belgium's Rock Werchter festival, Editors, now a quintet, flew to Blackbird studios in Nashville to start work on The Weight of Your Love. The five of them lived, Monkees-style, in an old house out in the burbs, mostly avoiding the downtown area that Leetch describes as being like “a country music Disney World.”

Cracking new Editors songs such as the early U2-ish “A Ton of Love” and Radiohead-meets-Echo & the Bunnymen-like “The Weight” underline the wisdom of employing Jacquire King, but though he has undoubtedly enabled Editors to nail their most rewarding and immediate-sounding record to date, the sessions with him were not without awkward moments either. “Jacquire's very to the point; very American,” smiles Leetch. “He really wanted to get to the heart of the lyrics and we didn't. I had to leave the room at times.”

Given Smith's high-profile relationship with the aforementioned Bowman, moreover, questions about songs such as “What is This Thing Called Love” – sample lyric, “I've been your lover for the last time” – aren't likely to go away.

“Obviously love can be a damaging and destructive thing as well as a wonderful, life-affirming thing,” offers Smith, his portcullis already dropping. “It was a topic I mostly avoided on the earlier albums because I was worried about being cheesy or cliched, but this time I felt comfortable having a go.

Smith and Leetch first attended Glastonbury as punters.

“It was 2003, and Radiohead and REM were headlining” recalls Leetch. “I remember saying to Tom, 'Next time we come to Glastonbury we'll be playing it' – and two years later we were."

When Editors play the festival for a fifth time this week, the only sadness will be the ructions that led to recent line-up changes.

“We've always admired bands that build a back-catalogue over 25 years with the same four people,” says Smith, “so it's sad it didn't work out with Chris. He was a good mate and a big creative influence on the band, but we had to change things for everybody's sake.”

Editors play Glastonbury's Other Stage on Sunday evening. “The Weight of Your Love” is out on Play It Again Sam records on 1 July