UK alternative rock band Editors will be headlining this year’s Oppikoppi Festival, and lead singer Tom Smith talks about being passionate, word of mouth and not being all that good looking.Editors (not The Editors) began in 2002 in Stafford, England, and since then, have released four albums and have become legends in the alternative scene.
Smith says the journey has been a blast for the most part.
“The first couple of records were certainly a bit of a whirlwind. A very exciting time for bands like us to emerge.”
The band is made up of Smith on lead vocals, guitar and piano, Russell Leetch on bass guitar, synthesizer and backing vocals, Ed Lay on drums, percussion, and backing vocals, Justin Lockey on lead guitar, and Elliott Williams on keys, synthesizers, guitars, and backing vocals.
“It felt like boys with guitars were everywhere, walking onto playlists and big stages; so lots of amazing things happened to us back then as a result of the climate we emerged into, our records too of course.
“Since then, he says, things have changed a bit regarding guitars in the mainstream, which is totally cool. We’ve been doing our thing regardless.”
Smith says Editors have a very dedicated fan base across all of Europe – loyal and fanatical. “So even though perhaps our time in the mainstream’s eye has faded a bit, our shows and records have still been received well and we just keep rolling.”
He says longevity isn’t particularly cool in some circles but he’s immensely proud of theirs and the shows they have been playing over recent years have been some of their most memorable.
The band met while studying music technology, but Smith says none of them were particularly good at it or driven to do well at it.
“We had the band and our focus was really on that only, certainly for the second half of our time studying.
“We finished the course then moved to Birmingham together to concentrate harder on getting a deal. The course put us in a room together that’s all,” says Smith.
Editors achieved recognition through word of mouth, and this kind of thing isn’t planned.
Smith thinks that played a large part of their success on the debut.
“To start with, although we had a little radio support, spot plays , etcetera, we were never championed by the press or stuck on radio playlists.
“I think [BBC] Radio 1 thought we were just too dark for the masses.
The band’s debut, The Back Room, was out for not far off a year when it eventually climbed to its highest spot in the UK charts: No. 2.
“I think that’s testament to a word-of-mouth-type success. We were out playing live constantly, touring and touring, slowly the shows got bigger and things started to really happen.
“Eventually when we released the singles for the second time they weren’t ‘too dark for the masses’.”
And in a time of social media booming Smith says it didn’t add to any of it, “Praise the lord!”
Varying degrees of evolution
Four albums later the band has evolved through each.
The Back Room, released in 2005, is an immediate post-punk type record, energetic songs, wiry guitars and big melodies, says Smith.
The album contained the band’s hits Munich and Blood.
“Lyrically confused and ambiguous. It was the band we were in the rehearsal room, as most debuts are. It’s dark as all our records are, if compared to whatever pop music usually is.”
An End Has A Start, he says, is a more expansive record, bigger in sound and theme.
The album was No. 1 on the UK album chart and earned Editors a Brit Award nomination for Best British Band.
“It’s fixated with death lyrically – my life had seen me closer to the subject than I had ever felt up until that point. Piano was used for the first real time.
“Over the years we’ve never wanted to repeat ourselves too much, adding new ingredients to our sonic pallet as we’ve progressed helps to keep those feelings at bay.”
The album is more muscular than The Back Room and is more of a studio type album than a rehearsal one, Smith says. “Sonically denser than the debut.”
Third album, In This Light And On This Evening, is an electronic rock record. “Claustrophobic and synthetic.”
It was recorded in London and sounds like it to Smith, and feels urban and cold. “This was the point, we had grown tired and bored of what we were doing with guitars so decided to leave them to the side.
Lyrically it features many references to city life and city fears.”
2013’s The Weight Of Your Love is the record that saw the original line up break down.
“During the making … Russ, Ed and I parted company with Chris, our founder guitarist.
“That was a tough time, we tried for a long time to make the album with him but we couldn’t, none of us, including him, were happy with the results.”
Eventually, the band found themselves with two new members making the record and things started to feel fresh again, “like when we started almost, a new band playing loud in a rehearsal room … it came together very quickly.”
The record was nearly all put together in the rehearsal room, like the band’s debut was.
“After the wheels fell off it was the most natural thing in the world, it was like right, this is a new band lets play loud rock music again. Fuck experimenting with synths or anything alien we need to be a band.
“So the record feels more traditional, more rock. We made it in the States, in Nashville, a fun time, which really helped forge this version two of Editors.”
Smith says nearly all the songs are love songs.
“I’ve never really written about the subject in any depth before so it felt good to do so. They sound pretty twisted but for the most part they ain’t, but whatever”.
The dark indie style comes from Smith starting the songs on his own, recording demos for the whole band to digest an they then get into a rehearsal room together to make them into Editors songs, “whatever that is”.
“We all have to be into the direction, all have input and at this stage we’ll usually get a producer involved to help us put it all together. This is how we’ve worked on every record, pretty much.”
Smith succinctly describes the band’s style of music as “passionate”.
He says REM and Radiohead are some of his greatest influences. “Bands who have evolved and twisted over the years. Great performers, great songs and both have back catalogues which you can lose yourself in and study the journey.”
It has been written that influences include Echo & the Bunnymen, Joy Division, The Strokes, The Walkmen, and Elbow.
Editors were once compared to US band Interpol. Their style of dark indie guitar rock is raw and edgy, with a classic feel to a modern style.
Being one of the headliners at Oppikoppi, Smith says the band can’t wait. “Going anywhere for the first time is a buzz. To be playing part of a festival with history is a bonus.”
Oppikoppi –for those of you living under a rock – turns 20 this year. South Africa’s largest music festival is only beaten for the title of oldest music festival by Splashy Fen.
“I think in an age with so many heavily-branded music events popping up all the time it’s worth celebrating the festivals which have history. 20 years is amazing, here’s to the next 20!”
The band will be met with many, many fans here in SA, and Smith attributes the success to the songs and their ability as a live band, which will be a treat.
“That’s all there is. It can’t be anything else.
“We’ve been putting records out for 10 years and have outlived any fad or right time and right place kinda stuff. We ain’t that good looking either, so that’s all there is.”
Smith says he doesn’t have any preconceptions about South Africa. “I really don’t.
“Growing up, I was aware of Nelson Mandela and the social struggles on the news but was too young to really understand.
“You’ve always been decent at cricket and rugby but that’s it. I’m fascinated to visit the place in person … See the sights, drink the booze, and sleep very little.”
The band will also be playing one night only in Cape Town on August 7, 2014.
It’s 19 days to go until Oppikoppi, which consumes the music world from August 7 to 10 in Northam, Limpopo.
Editors will be headlining along with Australian band Wolfmother, and the dust is going to become home in Limpopo once again.
Smith is excited to play here and to the fans, he says “live long and prosper”. – Nikita Ramkissoon