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Editors Interview

When Editors’ debut The Back Room finally touched down on the shelves of record stores in 2005, it won over critics and fans with its distinct sound and Tom Smith’s remarkable voice, and even received a Mercury Prize nomination. A couple of records and some changes in the band set-up later, The Weight of Your Love came across as a rather traditional rock album, expressing a stark contrast to the band’s earlier work. With their latest oeuvre, In Dream, they return to their roots by featuring layers of synthesizers and move away from a traditional song set. Whereas critics find fault with a supposed lack of highlights on this album, one could claim that instead of using a run-of-the-mine approach of reproducing the success of The Weight of Your Love, letting the tunes on In Dream unfold results in the listener discovering a quite unique musical landscape. While in Cologne, I talked to Ed Lay and Elliot Williams about recording in Scotland, the possibility of Editors making a German rap album, and their collaboration with artist Rahi Rezvani.In Dream is quite different from your last album, some songs don’t follow such a thing as a “classic“ song structure. Did you feel the need to break with conventions to a certain degree or did this just come naturally?Ed:I suppose the difference between the last record and this one is that the last one was a rock album. It was traditionally made and we rehearsed in a room together, we wrote the songs in a room together, and then we took them to a regular studio in Nashville with acoustic instruments that had been used on countless records before and it felt traditional. And this one, we discovered a vibe for it and then let things take their own course.Elliot: Yeah, I think in terms of songs structures and stuff we weren’t really so bothered about it, like you said, traditional song sets. Once something developed we would just let carry it on, we don’t have to adhere to any stipulations about making something of three or four minutes. And in some cases we obviously ended up with seven minutes. But yeah, I think it’s totally natural, not something we set out to do, it was just, once we made it, it felt good, it felt weird to stop doing it.When you listen to a record for the first time, it’s always like you have expectations what is going to happen next in a song, and then, in the case of In Dream, these expectations don’t get fulfilled. And I think it’s as if the more often you listen to the songs, the more they expand and the more layers, the more you actually hear in a single song.Ed:That’s what everybody wants in their record. You don’t want just a flat one that you don’t want to revisit. You want to discover new parts. So I’m glad it comes across like that.You recorded in Scotland, didn’t you? Do you think that recording in Scotland has had any distinct influence on the outcome of the album?Elliot: Massively, I would say, especially this record. Just because we were in total isolation in the West Highlands of Scotland. There are no distractions, which was the whole point of going there in the first place, but we didn’t even go with the intention of making a record. But the kind of space, the environment is what led us to making a record. Sort of being away from everyone and not having those distractions, so we were able to just concentrate on the music and not pull out any influence of anything, and then have the balls to say “Okay, we are actually going to do this.” Instead of going home all the time and talking to people that we know, or talking about who we’re going to work with, which we did a little bit. And it was our manager who said “I think what you’re doing sounds great, why don’t you just do it yourselves?”Ed: It was actually a leap of faith and it wouldn’t have happened at the start. We would never have said “This record we’re gonna self-produce”. It just happened by accident. But once we mustered the confidence to do it, we could then go back and revisit songs that maybe weren’t quite up to standard and treat them with a bit more confidence and get them into shape. I think some songs came very naturally, but some songs obviously we had to work on.Ocean of Night is quite an outstanding song on the album with its… well, can I say almost Caribbean rhythm…?Ed: Yeah, we talked about that…Is there any special story behind it?Elliot: Not really, I think that was the song that we kind reworked on when we were in Scotland. I think Tom started riffing with the piano hook and the chorus, which I think is a direct reference to the setting we were in, because we had these panoramic windows which looked out over the ocean in Scotland. It was kind of beautiful… When we started on that trip, with percussion, what did we put in first? Claps maybe? And then it was like “Let’s try and get that kind of carnival vibe”, which totally suits the track and the rhythm. It’s been crazy trying to get that.Ed: It also started off with a different chorus, didn’t it? Tom also originally wanted to put in a different chorus. It was one of those songs that wasn’t really… moving. I think that sums up the whole recording process, really, because we all knew that something was right and then just by being ourselves in a room together, knowing that, trying to record it, and talking about it, led to something really developing, really quickly.Elliot: Yeah, really quickly.Ed:That’s kind of a theme of the whole process, really. It was really inclusive and everybody’s opinion really mattered.Elliot: It was a lot of space and time to sort of work things out as well. There was nowhere to go, so if there was a problem, it was kind of like “Stay here and fix it.” Or wait till it comes. We don’t have anywhere to go, so let’s just thrash it around for eight hours and something will come out of it eventually. We kind of worked our way through all the problems that we had.Ed: Sometimes during a recording session you can be quite browbeaten if you’re just going over one thing over and over again. Especially in those traditional studios when you get a control room with all the band and then one person is in the studio, and they’re isolated. But we had no walls, you know, the studio was just in one large room and everyone had equal input if they wanted to, or just sit back and let somebody else take over.So things could flow then…Ed: Exactly, flow is very important.Elliot: Yeah, really good. There was no sense of massive performance, such things happen when you’re in a studio as well. And you work with a producer or an engineer, you’re on their time as well. But in this case, if it feels good, just do your thing, relax about it.I think this is the first Editors album that features any female vocals, in this case they were contributed by Rachel Goswell from Slowdive. How did this collaboration happen?Ed: Well, we’d heard through mutual friends that she was quite into our band, which we sort of found surprising, because we never think that cool bands like us. (laughs) And, you know, they’re having a moment now, they’re a cool band, very revered, artists of way back citing them as influences. And one of our old sound guys, they were his favourite band, so we listened to them a lot on our first tour. So we knew who they were and we liked their stuff. And we’ve always talked about having female vocals, probably from the third album onwards, but we hadn’t really navigated around it, we just hadn’t made it happen. So, those couple of songs, we were like “This would really suit…”, just having a bash with another voice. I mean, Elliot’s voice came on the last record, so we’d already done that and we liked that, we liked this sort of change between Tom’s and Rachel’s aethereal voice, it kind of balanced Tom’s. It was great. We kind of got to do as much as we wanted.Elliot: Yeah, she just came around and we were like “Let’s just see what happens, let’s hang out.” And it was nice to have a different person in the studio that time, because it had just been the five of us.Ed:Yeah, it was!Elliot:And luckily she likes talking a lot. (laughs) She’s lovely, really got on with her a lot.So that might be an option for the future, more female vocals on records?Ed: Anything’s an option. I think what we’ve done with this record is “Let’s rule nothing out.” There’s plenty of stuff we can do, plenty of people we can work with. You know, Tom’s just done some collaboration with Casper, the German rapper. He’s done that sort of stuff, so, you know, who knows? It might freak some of the fans of An End Has A Start out, or whatever…Elliot:What, when we release a German rap album? (laughs)Ed:Yeah, yeah… (laughs) Anyway, collaboration seems to be more appealing now.Was there anything during the recording process that you personally wanted to come across? Was there anything that drove you crazy?Elliot: Oh, there were lots of things that didn’t work. You have that in any situation when you’re in a band and you’re writing stuff. There’s definitely a few songs that we knew were brilliant, brilliant songs, but we just couldn’t pinpoint the exact way to make it all sit together. But we got there in the end. Like, All The Kings was one that just… You know, the demo that came from Tom was just the most obvious demo and everyone was like “This is a great song!”Ed: “It’s gonna be easy…”Elliot: Yeah, “It’s gonna be easy…” and that song we started working on first, and we had this kind of bombastic 80s song that just wasn’t quite in the right way, it didn’t have any depth to it, really. And then we kept trying in a few different ways, and then we finally ended up where we got to now. I think we’re all very happy with it, especially coming out and playing it live, it feels like it’s a great track, it’s really working.Ed:You kind of lose your sense of perspective as well, when you’re going around the house with a track… Even on the last day of recording, we basically had packed up and then we’d go “Shall we give it one more try?” and it completely changed track again and we were like “Whoaaa… Stop, let’s just take it home and then get back to the stuff we’ve done”. And Tom especially put some more time into it at home.So there is a very specific artwork, everything fits together for this album, all the videos have a specific look, which is of course because they were all done by the same artist, Rahi Rezvani. At which point was he included in the creative process?Elliot: While we were making the album, kind of the inception of the record. I think we discussed about having a person coming in and doing everything. Which is always a dream when you’re in a band, that you can find someone who can replicate what you’re trying to say visually. If you split up that responsibility between different directors and photographers, you don’t have a relationship with many of them at all, on any level. We really wanted to work with someone like Rahi.Ed: We met him just a couple of years ago during a Cambridge show. We liked his artwork, he is incredibly focused. The first time he came to take shots of the band we thought “Alright, he’ll be in the pit”. But then he just waltzed on stage and stood right in front of Tom at a massive crescendo of a song, putting the camera in his face, and he just didn’t give a fuck. And there were like a thousand people going “Who is this guy?” and he was just standing right in front of Tom. This is where the emotion is, that’s where people want to be, but they don’t get to do it. We like that about him and we thought if we can give him as much creative license as possible, he’ll do the best stuff.Elliot: It is really, really nice having this person there and not having to kind of… You know, when you get video treatments as a band, you look at a lot of them and you go “Oh my God, that sounds terrible”. And probably, if Rahi had written up treatments and sent them to us, and we didn’t know him, we’d probably go “Oh, that’s terrible, we wouldn’t do that”. But because we have absolute trust, it’s like now… I don’t think we’ve seen a treatment for the last two videos, it’s just been like “You tell us what to do, Rahi, and we’ll be there” and that’s a really nice position to be in.While I was watching the No Harm video I was wondering: the camera gets so very close to you. Do you ever feel that it’s difficult for you, as musicians, to be in this different role of an actor? I mean, you’re always on a stage anyway, but people usually don’t get that close to you.Ed: It’s not natural. I don’t think anyone likes it, really. But he’s very… Like the first thing he did when he came to shoot us, he was just like “Right. Take your top off.” And I thought he was taking the piss. But then he explained “No, I’m going to shoot a portrait of you and I don’t want to see any clothing.” And we never even saw the pictures later. It’s just his way of doing things, going “I’m in charge. If I tell you to do something, don’t worry about it. What’s the worst that could happen? You’re going to be naked in front of a few people…”. It’s actually not that bad.Elliot: He has that way, he’s very… He’s so focused. You kind of forget about everything else that you’re doing, you don’t feel like an idiot or whatever, because he’s so focused on the thing. He doesn’t let you think about it at all.Ed: He knows what he wants. The worst thing that usually can happen in a situation like this is to say to us “Do what you do naturally”, but it’s such an unnatural situation. And then we can’t do anything. And then “You know, just give me a bit more”. But we need directions and I think he knows where he wants to place us. He knows what looks good. We don’t. We’re not behind the lens, we haven’t got his visual instinct. We’d much rather be told exactly what to do.Elliot:The good thing about Rahi is, he’s almost like the sixth member of our band now. That’s really cool, because obviously we see everything he does and if there’s occasionally some thing that we don’t like, we tell him, but most of the time…Ed:But then he says “Well, but it’s the best shot”. And then we’d be like “Okaaay…” He doesn’t take no for an answer. (laughs)He’s the boss…Ed: In that world, yeah, he’s the boss. Initially we said “You’re the boss”.So what have you coming up next? Some very big show for example you’re looking forward to?Elliot: Tour, tour, tour…Ed: This is a big show! I mean, we had no idea that this had sold out. It’s a huge room, I think 4000 people. All the German shows are fine, so it feels like this momentum building here. Yeah, lots of touring. It’s good. We’ll be busy until just before Christmas.You’ll have to get your Christmas gifts on tour then.Ed: Yes, I need my wife to get me a list. (laughs)

Editors Interview

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Photo by Rahi Rezvani