- 26 Aug 16
After more than a decade on the go, Editors remain in rude health. Tom Smith tells Ed Power how the Picnic-bound rockers came through past upheavals to end up stronger than ever
On stage in Germany recently, Tom Smith had a funny thought. "We were playing this goth festival in Cologne. The audience was dressed like something out of a Tim Burton film and there was a really gentle vibe - not like a rock concert at all," recounts the Editors' frontman. "And as I was singing, I found myself listening back to the words. I thought... 'wow, maybe I am a bit of a goth'. The lyrics seemed to make sense in that setting. It was quite striking: the festival had a beach, and you had this gorgeous weather, and all these sun loungers by the water - and a load of goths head-to-toe in black. It was quite a sight."
Smith is chuckling as he says this - a display of levity many fans of his band would have once considered ludicrous. When they shuffled into the spotlight with their 2005 debut The Back Room, Editors were the quintessential gloom-shrouded young men inviting the world to drink deep of their bottomless angst.
They were predictably branded copycats in certain quarters. Yet the charge that Editors were indebted to Joy Division and Interpol was always inaccurate - a fundamental misapprehension of what the group was about. As a songwriter Smith has a rare gift for wide-screen empathising - one that arguably marks him out as a peer of Chris Martin rather than of Ian Curtis (and we absolutely mean that as a compliment). "Well I was always lot more chilled than people thought," he says today. "But I did find the whole thing a bit..." He trails off, grasping for the right words.
"I didn't set out to be a singer. I like making music and songs with my mates. The idea of being a frontman was alien to me. For it to become my life - to have people singing the songs back... There was a weight, a responsibility. I felt an anxiety. It was hard. I'm not saying I hated it - I did enjoy it in ways but it wasn't what I signed up for.
"To be honest, when we started the band, I had no idea what I had signed up for. It took me about three records to feel more comfortable and relaxed on stage." Editors have been busy these past few months playing festivals across Europe including a well-received turn at Indiependence in West Cork. They finish the season off with a performance at Electric Picnic. On the heels of arguably their most consistent record to date, 2015's In Dream, it has been the perfect victory lap.
"It's actually shaping up to be one of our best summers ever," says Smith. "The crowds have been good. Festivals, of course, are their own thing. Nine times out of ten the audiences are bigger than those you would normally play to. With that comes the challenge of performing to those who might not buy a ticket to one of your concerts. Everything is magnified - the stages are bigger, the audiences larger, you feel you have to put on a bit of a show. When it works it's more rewarding." In Dream was written and recorded at Crear Studio in ScotlandÕs remote Western Highlands. Out of the way places obviously appeal to the band, who assembled their second album, 2007's An End Has A Start, at Grouse Lodge in Westmeath. It was a strange time to visit as Michael Jackson was also in situ, working with Will.i.am on the album (never to be released) that he hoped would rejuvenate his career. "Michael would never come out during the day," Smith told me at the time. "He'd be up there in his house, with his kids. We heard he'd pop down in the middle of the night and try vocal ideas. We never saw him. Surreal doesn't begin to describe it."
Editors began when Smith was studying music technology at Staffordshire University in the English midlands. As Pilot, they built a following across greater Birmingham and were soon at the centre of a label bidding war. The Back Room was an instant hit, reaching number two in the UK (In Ireland, An End Has A Start was the bigger smash, breaching the top five).
That the band still exist might be considered a minor miracle. Four years ago, coming off third album In This Light And On This Evening, they were in full-blown crisis mode. Sessions with producer Flood weren't working out and Smith had undergone a fractious split with guitarist Chris Urbanowicz, whose jagged riffs were considered key to their sound. Smith may well have pulled the plug entirely were it not for the fact that Editors were booked for a major slot at Pukkelpop, the Belgian festival which, with an 180,000 attendance, is firmly in the Glastonbury league.
"The second incarnation of the band came together for that festival in 2012. Our first rehearsals with the new members were in the weeks leading up. It was a very big show and it felt like the second incarnation of Editors was forged on that stage. We are fully aware of what we achieved with Chris and how important he was with the band. Going through that transition was odd for many fans and for us. But now we're planning our third album with this new line-up. It's a nice feeling. When you start a band you dream of doing it forever. It doesn't usually work out that way. To be still here is something we take huge pride in."