During the making of their fourth album, Editors’ original guitarist left the band. Frontman Tom Smith talks to ANDY WELCH about the upheaval and resulting album The Weight Of Your Love
It’s been four years since Editors released their third album, In This Light On This Evening.
Since then, they’ve performed for hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, but then seemed to vanish.
They might have returned sooner, if not for some personnel changes along the way which took them some time to sort out. After a traumatic period, original guitarist Chris Urbanowicz left the band, or rather was asked to leave.
“We did about a year, 18 months of rehearsing and recording,” says frontman Tom Smith. “Things were OK in the band; we had some songs that we were kicking around and we were quite pleased with the recordings.”
Then, after living with the songs for a few weeks, it transpired they weren’t actually good enough. They went back to the studio, recorded some more, and the same thing happened.
“For the first time in the band’s history, we didn’t like what we were writing,” explains Smith.
“There was no excitement, nothing. After that, back in the rehearsal room, things got really dark. We didn’t fight or anything, but communication totally broke down, we all stopped talking, and we realised collectively we wanted to go on without Chris.”
He says it came as a huge shock and a surprise to Urbanowicz, and realising that they’d come to the end of what they could achieve together was a hard fact to accept.
“Chris had a narrow frame of what he wanted to do, and that’s fine when you all want similar things, but when you want to change things up, it’s not good enough. It was like breaking up with a girlfriend, and it’s scary realising that it won’t work anymore.”
As Urbanowicz lives in New York, and the rest of the band in London, Smith doesn’t think he’ll bump into their ex-guitarist any time soon, a good job considering “things ended very badly” and that “it’s still very raw”.
“He was a funny one, Chris. He didn’t like touring and he didn’t really like playing the guitar but, you know, he was the guitarist in a touring band. Maybe one day, things will have settled and we can meet up and laugh about it?”
The inflection in Smith’s voice as he says this suggests that day might be a long time in the future.
On a more positive note, whatever changes Editors made, they worked.
They released their debut, The Back Room, in 2005 after forming three years previously. Friends from Staffordshire University where they met studying music technology, they bonded over a love of REM, Echo And The Bunnymen and U2.
Soon after forming, and after going through several name changes - Pilot, The Pride and Snowfield - there was a scramble to sign them. When their debut eventually went to No 2 in the album chart, it was understandable why there was such a race to get their names on a contract.
Their gloomy sounding music and doom-laden lyrics, not to mention Smith’s big baritone voice, drew immediate comparisons to Joy Division, although the singer did profess at the time he’d never really listened to the Ian Curtis-fronted four-piece.
There were tours, festivals, a Mercury Prize nomination and, two years later, a follow-up, An End Has A Start, which went one better than its predecessor, hitting the top of the album chart in June 2007. It helped them become one of the biggest live draws in Europe, while the single Smokers Outside The Hospital Door gave them their highest-charting hit.
With their third offering, In This Light And On This Evening, also a No 1 album, they put away their guitars and did what so many bands do on their third album - broke out the synthesizers. It worked, again upping their reputation in Europe, where they’ve since been able to headline 50,000-capacity gigs.
“In terms of mainland Europe, we’re still at that same level,” says Smith, asked about the difference between how they’re perceived here in the UK and on the continent.
“As it’s been four years since we released an album, we’ve stepped down a rung or two in the UK. I don’t want to get down about that, I think we’re still a big band, but there’s definitely a greater hunger for things that are new in the UK, not bands releasing fourth albums. It does get a bit overlooked here that we’re so big in Europe, but so be it.”
The Weight Of Your Love, then, sees the band picking up their guitars again. To record it, they decamped to Nashville to work with Jacquire King, a producer with more than 30 Grammy nominations to his name, best known for working on albums with Kings Of Leon, Tom Waits, Norah Jones and Modest Mouse.
Smith says he was pushed by King to deliver better vocals all the time. Whereas he might have previously only needed two or three takes to capture what he wanted, King would ask for more and more until he was happy. And it’s a success. One of the most striking things about this new album is Smith’s voice, which sounds bigger and more energetic than ever.
“We’re not a new band,” says Smith. “We’re comfortable in our own skin and have a maturity that means we can approach a song like What Is This Things Called Love?, an actual ballad on which I sing in falsetto. In the past, we would have been reticent of expressing that sentiment and sounding like that.
“There are songs that younger ears of ours would have said, ‘That’s not cool enough’, but it’s no longer important. You care less about how you’re perceived as you get older.
“These aren’t diary entries, either. Across the 11 tracks, there are songs where I get carried away and let my imagination go, which I love doing. But these are some of the most honest songs I’ve written, and there are some big love songs. It’s pretty close to the bone.”
Smith has two children with his partner Edith Bowman, Rudy born in 2008, and Spike born earlier this year. He says fatherhood and being settled hasn’t changed the way he writes songs as such, although it all feeds into one whole.
“I suppose it’s about having a different mental attitude. Being a band that’s making their fourth album, being brave to sing about things that you wouldn’t have done before, being settled, having kids, it’s all part of the same thing.”
Editors’ fourth album The Weight Of Your Love is out now.