Razorlight interview

A chat with Razorlight

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Nobody likes being labeled “the next big thing” and not living up to the expectations that a phrase like that raises, so perhaps it’s best that when the London-based band Razorlight released their debut album, Up All Night, in 2004, it flew a bit under the radar in the States (even though it went platinum in the UK). Basically, it drew just enough attention and sales to warrant their label, Universal, to release the self-titled 2006 follow-up on these shores. As it happens, this is one of those rare sophomore efforts that handily outshines its predecessor, which means that the guys in Razorlight are rather optimistic that this could be the real start of their breaking into the US market. What was originally promoted as a conversation with one member of the band quickly turned into chatting with three members of the band – drummer Andy Burrows, bassist Carl Dalemo, and lead singer Johnny Borrell – on topics ranging from their appearance at Live 8 to their teasing rivalry with Muse, plus one of the more blatant cases of namedropping Bono you’ve read in a while.

Bullz-Eye: Hi, how are ya’ll?

Andy Burrows: Cool. You?

BE: I’m doing great.

AB: Good stuff.

BE: So have I got both of you on the line at the same time?

AB: Yeah, you’ve got Carl over there…

Carl Dalemo: I’m Carl.

AB: …and I’m Andy. Hopefully, you can hear us.

BE: I can. And I hope you don’t mind, but if you could identify yourselves when you’re answering a question, just to aid my transcription. I’d appreciate it.

AB: Okay.

CD: This is Carl, and yes. (Writer’s note: At no point after this did either Andy or Carl ever identify themselves, so I can’t be held responsible if I’ve erred in my attribution of who said what.)

BE: I got a copy of the new album, and it’s great.

AB: Oh, cool, cheers.

BE: So is it…it’s not actually out yet in the States, is it?

AB: I think it’s out today. (Pauses) Carl says yeah. I think it’s out today…at least here in
NYC. Are you in New York, or…

BE: Actually, I’m in Virginia.

AB: All right.

BE: So…how did the first album do for you here in America? Because my musical tastes are pretty Britpop-centric, so it’s hard for me to really gauge how things go over with the mainstream.

AB: (Chuckles slightly) I dunno. We were over here for a few tours and stuff. I dunno, we didn’t really kick off that much. But it was great going on those tours, but we did, like, small venues…and the last thing we did was support; we supported Muse on their Campus Invasion Tour, or whatever it was called.

BE: Actually, I’ve read some press reports about how your album came out at about the same time as Muse’s album in the UK. Is that right?

AB: Yeah, we actually knocked them off the Number One spot. (Laughs)

BE: I heard they were trying to make it into some kind of Blur vs. Oasis battle.

AB: Nah, we’re good friends with them, so…

CD: It’s just fun. Like, a year ago, we toured some weird campuses together in America, and a year later, they’re number one for two weeks, then we knock them off, and then we’re number one for two weeks.

AB: So we were pretty chuffed about that.

CD: I’m happy for them; I hope they’re happy for us.

AB: Oh, they’re happy for us. In fact, I was just about to congratulate us on behalf of them.

BE: Plus, equal opportunity.

AB: Yeah.

BE: And I guess the new album’s done huge for you so far, premiering at #1 on the UK charts.

AB: Yeah, you know, it’s a huge sort of thing there in the UK that we’re really proud of. We spent a lot of the summer over in places in Europe, like Germany and France and Holland. It’s really quite exciting. It’s looking like everybody’s really loving the album. So it’s a different thing over here, that’s all.

"I think this album is a big, big step for us, and we're very proud of it. I hope it puts us into our own little Razorlight niche, as opposed to just being bracketed along with a bunch of other bands."

BE: And you had Chris Thomas producing the album this time.

AB: Yeah.

BE: Did you just sit around having him tell anecdotes about all the people he’s worked with over the years? (Writer’s note: Thomas’s resume includes work with Pink Floyd, the Sex Pistols, INXS, Pulp, and U2, among many others.)

AB: We did, actually, from time to time.

BE: (Laughs)

AB: He wasn’t too annoying. He didn’t bombard us with stories.

CD: No.

AB: We had to kind of get them out of him. But there are some pretty…his first day on the job is quite a good story, because he’d kind of begged George Martin for a job at Abbey Road, and somehow he managed to blag his way in at age 21. On his first day of working with the Beatles on The White Album, George Martin just kind of wandered in and said, “Right, I’m off on holiday now, so you can hold the fort.” And he was, like, “Shit!” And they were in the middle of a song…I can’t remember which song they were in the middle of…doing a live take down in Studio 2 at Abbey Road, and Chris heard a mistake in the vocals, so he pressed the buzzer button they had in those days to stop the tape, and they all looked kind of scary and moody, and he said, “I’m really sorry, guys, but I heard a wrong note in there.” And so they came storming up the steps, up to the control room, and he just sat there, bless, a little 21-year-old lad on his first day on the job, going, “Oh, shit, I hope there was a mistake!” And then John Lennon comes in, and, thankfully, there was a mistake, sure enough. But I thought that was rather a cool first day on the job.

BE: Absolutely! So over here in the States, there’s kind of a tendency to lump all of the new British bands into just one group, but there’s a review of the new album on AllMusic.com that says, “This sets Razorlight out from the Kaiser Chiefs, Snow Patrol, and Keane.”

AB: I think it does. I think this album is…personally, and I think the rest of the band feels this way as well, I think this album is a big, big step for us, and we’re very proud of it, and I hope it puts us into our own little Razorlight niche, as opposed to just being bracketed along with a bunch of other bands.

BE: I think it’s great. Musically, I think it’s all over the place…and I mean that as a compliment.

AB: Yeah, cool.

BE: I mean, you’ve got “Before I Fall to Pieces,” where the guitar at the beginning actually reminds me of the Housemartins a little bit…

AB: (Chuckles) Cool.

BE: And you’ve got the Motown feel on “Hold On.”

AB: Yeah, and a bit of a reggae feel on “Back to the Start.” A Police feel. I think it’s great. I think we’re really, really, really proud of it.

BE: And, obviously, the record buying public seems to agree in the UK.

AB: Absolutely. And we hope it can travel to other places now. Like I said, we spent a lot of time in Europe over the summer, so we’ll see what else happens.

BE: Did you do the festival circuit?

AB: Erm…

CD: We did quite a few.

AB: We didn’t do as many as we’d done in the last few years, but that was mainly because we wanted to do something a bit different this year. So there’s no Glastonbury, and we’ve done Reading for the last two…

CD: Three.

AB: …three years in a row, yeah. So we did the V Festival on the weekend, and we went over to Holland and played Lowlands, which was absolutely brilliant; it was like playing in the UK for us. Then we’ve got a tour in Japan coming up, and a European tour, then an arena tour of the UK. So it’s pretty cool.

BE: I was hoping that I might see you at Lollapalooza in Chicago, but there wasn’t nearly as much of a British rock presence as I was hoping. There was no Arctic Monkeys, no Keane, no Muse…

AB: Has that been already, Lollapalooza?

BE: Yeah, it was the first weekend of August.

AB: Well, you know, we’ve got a lot of work to do here.

BE: I understand. When will you be doing another US tour? And will it be another club tour?

CD: I dunno. I mean, we were supposed to support Keane, but they cancelled it.

RazorlightAB: Yeah, we were supposed to be over here for a few weeks this time, and now it’s just turned into a promotional trip.

CD: It’s a bit unclear. We’ve only just heard that we’re not doing those dates. But we’ll definitely come back!

AB: Yeah, hopefully, when we get done with this promotional trip, something can be arranged ASAP, y’know.

BE: Are you going to be doing a show in New York City while you’re there, or is it strictly promotional?

AB: Strictly promotional this time around. But, yeah, hopefully, it won’t be too long.

BE: What’s the first single being pushed in America?

AB: Um, I think “In the Morning.”

CD: It’s been out for awhile, on the radio.

BE: So is your song entitled “America” your big chance to be heard in America?

AB: Um…I dunno. We’ll see, I suppose. It’s a special song, and it’s a big song on the record, and it’s hard to tell how it will translate here. So we’ll see.

BE: Have you heard a lot of people compare your sound…well, the vocals, specifically…to Split Enz?

AB: (Blankly) Split Enz.

BE: Yeah, Split Enz. Tim Finn, Neil Finn…

AB: (Still uncertain) Oh. Split Enz? Is that what they’re called now?

BE: No, no, that was the original band that they were in.

AB: Oh, before Crowded House?

BE: Yes, pre-Crowded House.

AB: Oh, okay. Huh. Wow, well, I don’t know that that’s an influence that we’ve ever…actually, that’s not true, I used to like Crowded House, but I’m not the singer.

BE: Well, I guess more specifically I’m saying that Johnny’s voice sounds very…Finn-ish.

AB: Well, I’d say that’s a good thing. I like the Finn voice, personally. I’m sure he’d be very happy with that.

Johnny Borrell: Can I join in? Hi, this is Johnny; I’m here!

BE: Oh, hey! How are you doing?

AB: He was smiling at your Finn comparison.

JB: Thank you, that’s a great compliment. Thanks.

BE: Absolutely.

AB: I was nervous, not knowing whether to say if that was a good thing or not. (Laughs)

BE: So, do each of you have a favorite song on the album, or do you love all of your children equally?

JB: It’s hard to love one more than any other.

BE: I understand.

JB: Y’know? It really is. But we really tried to make a record that had 10 singles on it. That was the thing from the start. So it’s kind of more than…certainly, there are a lot more than on the first album. If you’d asked me about Up All Night if I had any favorites, it would’ve been easy, because it was “Golden Touch” and “Vice,” and that was it, really. But on this one, I feel that the strength…

AB: You just start going down the list…

JB: Yeah…

AB: …and you’re going, oh, I love “In the Morning.” And then there’s “Who Needs Love?”

JB: They’re all strong songs.

AB: And “Hold On,” and then “America” is my favorite…it’s a singles album.

BE: What was it like for ya’ll to play Live 8?

AB: It was amazing! It was phenomenal. It was an absolutely amazing day; to be involved in such an event was a privilege, and the other artists who were performing…it was just staggering. The amount of people…that crowd was something else. It really was.

"We really tried to make a record that had 10 singles on it."JB: I think we just…we knew we were going to be playing to a lot of people, and we wanted to make sure that we were really good. I think it was a question of just getting the right set list together. We rehearsed it the night before, and I knew, like, once we got that set list together, I just kind of knew that we were going to be as good as we could possibly be at that point in time. It was important to get not just the songs but also to get the sort of rock ‘n’ roll thing happening. So that’s why we did “In the City.” I just thought, if we do “In the City,” then we’ll definitely have that explosion on stage, which was really important, ‘cause that just kind of automatically elevates it above just a guy singing some songs. And it was nice to sing a snatch of a Woody Guthrie song (“1913 Massacre”) in there to four billion people or whatever, because I don’t think…

AB: We really got quite a lot into those ten minutes we were allocated.

JB: It was a great ten minutes, y’know?

AB: Rehearsing, it was, like, 9:55 or something.

JB: We were talking about it with…who was it? Bono said to me that, if you think about it, in the ‘60s, when Jimi Hendrix went ‘round, when the Stones went ‘round, they played half-hour sets, and it was only toward the end of the ‘60s when promoters realized that they could make more money by playing in bigger venues and playing longer sets that gigs changed. Somebody was saying to me that they thought the perfect length for a gig was a half-hour, and either way, you can really do…the more succinct it is, the more damage you can do, y’know? And I felt like those ten minutes were an example of that, really, because you had a ballad, you had a rocker, you had a real rock ‘n’ roll moment, and a folk song. So…you know what I mean?

BE: Yeah.

JB: Pretty cool.

BE: Speaking of Bono, ya’ll have really been rubbing elbows with the big names. I saw that you opened for Queen and Paul Rodgers, you opened for Oasis…

JB: Yeah, it’s been great! Actually, pretty much…as far as any British musical heroes that we have, they’ve all signed us up at some point in the last twelve months. It’s been fantastic. They’re all there for the scrapbook. It’s just…brilliant.

AB: We got to play, uh…

JB: (Continues unabated) It’s a real honor, you know? I guess we’re just waiting for all of our American heroes to sign us up. That’ll be the next step. I haven’t gotten a phone call from Neil Young or Springsteen or Ry Cooder yet, but we’ll see.

BE: There’s plenty of time yet.

JB: Yeah.

BE: And I was saying before you…

Universal Rep: This is your last question.

BE: Oh. Uh, fair enough. (Momentarily thrown) Um…and you said that the American tour is impending. What are your hopes for this album in America?

JB: Well, we’d love… (Laughs) We’d love it to be a huge, unqualified critical and commercial success, y’know?

BE: And what are your realistic hopes for the album in America? (Laughs)

JB: (Notable lack of laughter) I see absolutely no reason why the songs on this record shouldn’t be played and listened to and sung and loved by people in this country.

BE: Honestly, I’m not disagreeing with you. I just know that, in this country, we have this notorious niche thing going on, where so few things are allowed to escape into the general populace.

JB: The notorious…?

BE: Niche. Like, where they’re constantly wanting to slot artists into just one specific area.

JB: Yeah. It’s…well, it’s an ongoing thing, isn’t it? This band…we’re gonna be here for the long haul, and that’s what we’re trying to do: create a space in the world that belongs to Razorlight. And that’s something you can only do by being consistently brilliant over time. You just break it down. I just always think, well, what do I do? I sing and I write songs. Andy plays drums, Carl plays bass, Bjorn plays guitar. We’re all brilliant, we write brilliant songs, so let’s just go and do it. Y’know?

BE: Fair enough. All right, well, it’s been great talking to all of you.

All three members of Razorlight simultaneously: Great. Cheers, thank you!