Doom spells boom for Editors

EDITORS felt like some people “didn't care” about their last record, so they ditched their guitars for computers and are back with a new sound and album that will dismay as many fans as it will delight.

Jonathan Barnes

EDITORS felt like some people “didn't care” about their last record, so they ditched their guitars for computers and are back with a new sound and album that will dismay as many fans as it will delight.

But being at the centre of the debate is just what they wanted, the band's Ipswich-raised drummer Ed Lay tells JONATHAN BARNES.

THEY might have sold millions of records, toured with music giants and won a host of awards, but Ed Lay admits his band are not very rock 'n' roll.

“I don't care,” he shrugs - which is the nearest to a rock 'n' roll sentiment as you might get from the Editors drummer.

It feels to the band like some people have got it in for them at the moment, as they prepare for the release of their third album, In This Light and On This Evening.

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The record, which has sidelined guitars in favour of synthesizers and programmed beats and riffs, marks a major change in musical direction from their previous two, but what binds it to their earlier work is the air of doom, its atmospheric darkness.

And some critics seem desperate to know just why they are so dark, and accuse them of being fake when they argue that it's just how their music turns out.

They are constantly getting asked what their problem is - and keep answering "nothing".

It appears to irk such people that there's no better explanation for their ominous mood-music, no tragic back story, even more so that they appear to be just four ordinary guys. Not very rock 'n' roll.

“I honestly don't understand what people expect,” says Lay. “We're not guys who go out and shout about what we're doing and draw attention to ourselves.

"That might not be very rock n' roll, but we're not trying to fool anybody we're being anything other than ourselves.

"Are our lives shrouded in misery? Absolutely not. We're in a very privileged position and we're very happy to be in that position.

"But we're very serious about the music we make; we do look at the dark side of things, but that's what's most interesting to us."

Lay, who was born in raised in Ipswich, met his bandmates - Tom Smith, Chris Urbanowicz and Russell Leetch - while all four were students at the University of Staffordshire.

They came together as Editors in 2003, sharing the same house in Birmingham while gigging their way to nationwide attention.

Their debut album, The Back Room, released in 2005, was a slow-burner sales-wise but, powered by a string of stand-out singles and a Mercury Prize nomination, it went on to shift more than a million copies worldwide.

Editors' second album, An End Has A Start, appeared in 2007, and sold well too, but the band were getting bored. Last summer, after finishing a tour with R.E.M., they set about writing new material in the rehearsal studio, but inspiration was in short supply.

"Nobody was particularly enthralled about the direction in which we were going. It felt like we were ripping ourselves off.

"It felt like some people didn't care about the last record. It was a good album, recorded in a short space of time, and some people loved it, but some people threw it away.

"We decided we wanted to do something much more interesting for ourselves in the first place but also to provoke a reaction from those people."

The eureka moment came when Smith began e-mailing demos of new songs to his bandmates to work on their individual parts. (This is how Editors songs have always started, and especially now, as Leetch and Urbanowicz have moved to New York, and Smith lives in London with his girlfriend, the DJ and television presenter Edith Bowman, and their baby son Rudy. Lay is the only Editor still living in Birmingham).

"In This Light and On This Evening (the title track of the album) was the first demo that came through," says the 28-year-old drummer.

"It had this incessant synthesizer riff and it was completely 'in your face'. I was so enthralled and taken in by it, and I knew that Chris and Russell would be listening to it at the same time, thinking the same thing.

"It felt like the shackles were off and we could experiment to our heart's content."

Urbanowicz, principally the band's guitar player, "bought a synthesizer on eBay" and he played little else on the album, with his signature vibrato guitar sound rarely to be heard; current and future singles Papillon and Bricks and Mortar contain no guitar at all

The drum sound was revolutionised, synthesized and digitalised too, with Lay admitting he spent much of the recording of the album "with my nose stuck in a manual".

"We tried to avoid a normal, acoustic drum sound on every track - we put contact mics on the drums, put them through effects pedals, used sampled drums.

"The idea was to create synthetic beats, but we didn't want to make it too clinical or too computer-generated."

But not every idea was welcomed with open ears, such as when Smith sent through his rough workings of the bizarre electro-pop tune Eat Raw Meat=Blood Drool.

"It was disbelief," says Lay. "I thought 'what on earth is he going on about?' It had a weird uptempo drum beat and sounded really amateur. None of us really clicked with it."

It was the album's producer Flood, recognised for his work with industrial-sounding bands Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, who insisted they persist with the track, much to the band's ultimate relief. It's now recognised as one of the record's most distinctive, original tracks.

The band know their new direction will delight some fans, but alienate others. But, after the indifference directed towards An End Has A Start, "that was what we craved," says Lay, who is due to marry his fiancee Claire next summer.

"Some people have some really strong opinions about what we're doing. But we've done it without fear of consequences - and I think it's our most complete record yet."

It's certainly bold, stark, intoxicating, eye-opening. And, much like the band, not very rock n' roll. But, as it turns out, it's all the better for it.

- In This Light and On This Evening is released on Monday. Editors play the University of East Anglia in Norwich on October 18.

DID YOU KNOW?

Ed Lay went to St Alban's Catholic High School and is a big Ipswich Town fan. His dad Rod is a member of the Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society (IODS).

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