Editors have had a stressful start to their latest tour. Guitarist Justin Lockey has flown back to the UK to be with his wife, who’s due to give birth, while a London gig at the Eventim Apollo was rife with technical difficulties. But now the rest of the band are settled among the cobbled streets of Amsterdam, where they’ve sold out three nights at the Heineken Music Hall.
Away from a typically energetic, flamboyant performance, they’re a chilled bunch. In the dressing room, bassist Russell Leetch, loud and boisterous, is the dominant force on the band’s playlist; drummer Ed Lay thrashes me at table tennis, and Elliot Williams (synth, guitar) reclines on a sofa with his girlfriend and chats to Nicholas Willes, who’s standing in for Lockey.
Frontman Tom Smith takes longer to warm up: naturally shy and softly spoken despite his ostentatious attitude during live performances, and perhaps a little uncomfortable with having a journalist around. Expressive both on- and offstage, he uses his hands in elegant, fluting gestures – in a muted version of his stage persona – and pushes his hair back self-consciously, looking a lot younger than his 34 years.
“I never set out to be a frontman,” he admits, speaking after the band’s first night at the Heineken. The show involved dramatic sparks and bursts of flame and the band were well-received. The audience here are a little more receptive than in London – eager to hear the material from In Dream, the band’s first self-produced album, which was released in October and made it to No 1 in the Dutch album charts. In the UK it peaked at No 5.
“The way I am on stage was born out of insecurities. You become the character that you create: an exaggerated version of yourself. For me it’s like a cross between… Nosferatu and John Cleese,” he suggests, laughing. “It’s fun, it’s theatrical, you know?
“If you’d shown a younger Alex Turner a picture of him onstage combing his hair, and his Richard Hawley-meets-Elvis rip-off, he’d have said ‘fuck off’. But that’s what makes him a brilliant pop star. People get so hung up, especially in the UK, about being ‘for real’, whatever that means.”
Smith still seems a little wounded at the mixed reception given to their third, 2009, album In This Light and On This Evening, and what he calls “a culture of piss-taking and belittling” in the UK media at their infamously “dark” sound. “We were never good at press,” he shrugs, saying some of the acts emerging at the same time as Editors were “better at giving the pull quotes… Or maybe they were just a bit more interesting.”
Leetch later adds that the band could actually be more confident now because of this: “Getting a rough ride helps, sometimes… you grow a thicker skin.”
“We did two cover shoots for NME but we got bumped off at the last minute for the Arctics or Bloc Party,” Smith says, laughing again. “The ‘dark’ thing and the Joy Division comparisons were there in the background: we were always uncomfortable with that and we could never answer those questions very well, so whenever we did do interviews we got a bit shafted and our integrity was questioned.”
In Dream seems to be Editors’ best-received record since their 2005 debut, The Back Room; Smith feels the audience has finally stopped shouting for “Bullets”, their first single, and is accepting a new line-up along with a bigger, Eighties-influenced, electronic sound.
The album summarises what he describes as a definite “phase two” for the band: one part cool, atmospheric pop, and one part warm, uplifting crowd pleasers.
Going heavy on the synths means there’s also a euphoria running throughout the record that wasn’t there before, most notably in “Ocean of Night” and “All the Kings”, and yet the exploration of the darker side of one’s self that Smith does so well remains as affecting as ever.
Over the last three albums he’s been pushing himself, daring to use a higher vocal pitch more often, and has found that it has a profound effect on his lyrics. In some ways it’s ironic, as Smith says he has heard his voice is “too dark” for Radio 2 – Leetch adds that they’re also “not indie enough for BBC Radio 6” – yet Smith has an astonishing vocal range that will leap from a rich, sonorous baritone to a heart-rending, high pitched cry.
Now based in north London with his wife, the radio DJ Edith Bowman, Smith drops their children off at school before heading back to compose at home, finding that when he sings in falsetto it brings a different influence to a song.
“It depends on what you compare it to,” he says of this “darkness”. “I think my lyrics are serious; there’s always an attempt to hit some kind of emotional chord. So I put these insecurities into the songs, and also use my imagination at the same time.
“I write about things that might sound very personal but they’re more ambiguous, like sketches. In some of those songs, singing in a falsetto I felt like a different character, so I was thinking about the lyrics in a different way.”
Everyone in the band seems to devour new music (Leetch likes to experiment on the others), with Smith leaning naturally towards pop lyricists: Chvrches, The Weeknd, and Lana Del Rey.
“She’s getting more and more interesting as an artist,” he says, speaking of Del Rey. “I love how slow everything is on Honeymoon; these druggie twisted Bond themes.” He admits he worries about new bands coming through in the UK. “I couldn’t name you an album of a new band that has stuck with me. But I’m sure that will change.”
Smith is more one for looking forward rather than looking back. July saw the 10th anniversary of The Back Room, but there was little in the way of a celebration.
“The conversation was had about how to mark the occasion, but I wasn’t really in the mood for being nostalgic; although we put something on Facebook and that prompted this outpouring of messages to the band, and I thought: ‘OK. We did make something quite special’.”
Recovering from guitarist and founder member Chris Urbanowicz’s departure in 2012, a period “wracked with doubt”, took its toll on the band. None of them has spoken to Urbanowicz since he left.
“He lives in New York, you know?” Smith says, noticeably quieter. “If he lived in London I think he’d be inescapable, so we would have had to… but next year I think we go back to America, so we should really find time. I don’t want to be too negative about him. It is sad, still.”
“We’re lucky that we’ve got Nick [Willes],” he continues. “After the fourth record he stepped in to do the keyboards when Elliot went to do his solo thing.” Fans are becoming accustomed to the odd switch in line-up, as Lay and Lockey have also taken time off when their partners were having children.
“I think audiences are used to… [the term “paternity cover” is put forward and Smith laughs, nodding] “Paternity cover, yeah. I felt that in the UK, definitely, that the audience are OK with it now.”
After “almost a thousand gigs”, Lay says the band is well-versed in lifting tracks from their five studio albums and putting a varied set together, particularly after touring with REM, who put sets together in a similar fashion.
In Dream’s cinematic, Elbow-esque “Salvation” leads to the heavier “Sugar” from The Weight Of Your Love, recalling Muse’s Absolution, to the swagger and Hammer-horror mechanics of “Eat Raw Meat” on In This Light and On This Evening, followed by the breathless urgency of “The Racing Rats” from An End Has a Start.
Later, Smith, Leetch and Lay will sit side by side in a pub near the band’s hotel, drinking beer and talking about music, and football scores, and a model village they want to visit in Hamburg on their day off. Lay notes that it’s odd how UK press interest in the band “ebbs and flows”; Leetch jokes that perhaps one day they might be in fashion. Smith, cheerful, resolute, and still looking forward, says he can’t think of anything else the band would do, if not this. “To still be doing it is a nice feeling.”
Editors’ new single “Ocean of Night” is released on 11 December. The band’s latest album, ‘In Dream’, is out now
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