Editors have good reason to be cheerful. Their debut album, The Back Room, has climbed from somewhere outside the top 200 all the way to No 2 in the UK chart. For the third consecutive night of a sold-out tour, ticketless American fans are queuing round the block to hear a record that's not out until April. A date at Brixton Academy, London, in May is so oversubscribed that a second has just been added. These are heady times for Britain's most miserable band.
Tom Smith, Chris Urbanowicz, Ed Lay and Russell Leetch are often portrayed this way, as unbearably earnest young men, the antithesis of the fun-loving Ricky Wilson and his Kaiser Chiefs. The monochrome minimalism of their image, Smith's foreboding baritone and the darkness in their lyrics seem to confirm this perception. Editors themselves reject it with an amused shrug.
All four are charming and passionate in defence of their music. Smith resembles that other neurotic front man Chris Martin in his seriousness but also his good humour. "The NME called me a 'gangly gloomhound', which I found quite offensive," he admits, "Yes, lyrically we deal with big issues, but the record's full of optimism as well, and there are a couple of quite straightforward love songs. We take things very seriously, but people sometimes get confused and think we're miserable bastards."
The tag that stuck, to the band's enduring annoyance, was Boy Division, as if the debt they owe to their Mancunian forebears is too crippling for them to be taken seriously in their own right. This alone produces a flash of anger. "I don't mind at all if people don't like our music," Smith says, "but the ultimate insult is for someone to say that it's fake. It's challenging our integrity, calling us some kind of Joy Division tribute band. We sound nothing like Joy Division. I have a deep voice, some of the lyrics are quite dark, that's it."
One qualified to assess the comparison had his chance in San Francisco and New York, but if he's formed an opinion, he's not letting on. "Peter Hook was DJing after the show," says guitarist Urbanowicz. "But I think he turned up five minutes before he was due on, played some pool and then went straight on. None of us has met him."
The song that has turned a year of slogging round every small venue in Britain into an overnight success is Munich. Despite reaching the top 20 the first time round, less than a year ago, it was re-released into a singles chart bloated with leftover stuffing and belatedly got the airplay its driving chorus deserved. Now, in the words of Urbanowicz: "Everyone's talking platinum. Journalists are mentioning 'the new U2' all of a sudden. People are getting a bit carried away. It's like, 'Calm down!' "
Drummer Ed Lay is more considered. "It's weird," he says, "the lad mags, like Zoo and Nuts and Loaded have picked up on us in a really big way, which is surprising. I guess our music attracts a lot of mid-twenties to thirties men and some of them work at those magazines. That's our fanbase, we have more male fans than female fans. I think that's why Franz Ferdinand took us on tour, to get some lads in."
That support slot, performing to up to 6,000 people a night across Europe, has at least prepared Editors for the months ahead. Soon they will headline the same venues, eat the same continental breakfasts and take part in the same round of promotional interviews. Last year they played 171 gigs, with an intensity more sapping in its own way than the rock'n'roll lifestyle they eschew.
Nominally from Birmingham, the band are long since reconciled to this new reality of Travelodges. Urbanowicz says: "We don't actually live anywhere. The lease runs out on my flat in March, and I'm not going to renew it, so I'll be living out of a suitcase, at friends, at my parents if I need to. It'll only make about three weeks' difference a year at most.
"I was starting to get burned out. I desperately needed a rest, but we kind of got roped into a tour in December. It was nice doing those gigs, but the euphoria tailed off and we knew just a week's break would do it. Now we're refreshed. The last few shows we've done have been such a change because we're all re-charged and going mental again."
As the lead singer, Smith goes most mental of all. There's a feverish, horrified quality to his on-stage persona that cannot help but evoke Ian Curtis, or at least allow a generation too young to remember to indulge in a moment of 24-hour party projection. He insists that there is nothing studied about these palpable tortures.
He says: "We're passionate about our music, and singing is the ultimate expression of that. Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing, I'm lost, and that's best. I'm just focusing my whole attention on the microphone." Urbanowicz is visibly gripped by the same emotional forces, and spends each gig walking through no-man's land, armed only with his guitar, to face some ghostly enemy. He looks terrified, shocked by the power of the weapon he carries.
But Smith is the focus of the band. He knows that if Editors are to fulfil their promise this is just the beginning. He says: "I've survived a year so far, but I'm not sure you can ever be ready. I've seen Jack White and Kele from Bloc Party get an absolute slating for being moody, which is ridiculous because when you're dealing with journalists all the time, it's understandable that you're going to have good days and bad days, it's understandable that you're going to crack. But we're very strong as a unit, we help each other out a lot."
This gang mentality can be seen in the way they finish each other's sentences. Their manner is relaxed and easy, despite a year of the unavoidable proximity that breaks so many relationships on the road. No-one would ever recognise the four characters that stare out from their official website - elegant rent boys threatening violence under a pitch dark railway arch. If anything is responsible for their unhappy reputation it is surely this fondness for the bleakest aesthetic imaginable, but they are unrepentant.
Urbanowicz: "When we did our first website before we got signed it looked the same - all black, minimalist design and so on, because we just wanted something classy that didn't distract from the music. We have 100 per cent control over our style and our image.
"We've got a new song that sounds like Motown meets the Velvet Underground. We describe it as 'pretty' which is not a word you'd expect to come from us. It's not exactly radical new directions or anything, but it's us re-finding our writing powers."
If those powers continue to develop, Editors may join that proud lineage of bands who make powerful, uplifting, enduring music maligned as depressing by their detractors. The Smiths were the most miserable band in Britain, Radiohead too, and, as he considers the future, there is a determined note to Tom Smith's humility: "To be within a hundred miles of those bands is a dream for me."Reuse content