Interview Date: 12/09/2009
Run Date: 01/12/2010
We’ve joked in the past that, if the bands from the mid-‘00s UK rock scene were individuals in a clique of friends, Editors were the old reliable pal, the ones that kept out of trouble and made sure you got home safely as well. Ah, but even Steady Eddie likes to shake things up once in a while, and when Editors unveiled their third album In This Light and On This Evening, many couldn’t believe their ears. Synthesizers! Walls and walls of synthesizers! Bullz-Eye caught up with Editors bassist Russell Leetch – for the second time, in fact – to discuss the motivation behind the band’s new approach, only to discover that it was exactly what you’d suspect: they were getting bored.
Russell Leetch: Hello, David.
Bullz-Eye: Hello, Russell. How are you?
RL: I’m very good. I’m speaking to you in boring Madrid, which we’re playing this evening.
BE: What brings you to Spain this time of year?
RL: We’re just on a European tour, which we tend to always do one around this time. And then one when it starts to get nice and warm in April and May. So yeah, we’re doing the cold one today and they haven’t turned the heating on in the venue, so it’s been really cold all day, which isn’t the best.
BE: Yikes. I doubt you remember, but you and I spoke four years ago, before The Back Room was about to be released in the States.
RL: Oh, wow. Yeah, that was a while ago.
BE: Yeah. A little bit has happened since then.
RL: Uh yeah, quite a lot has happened. All really good things, mainly.
BE: Well, first of all, congratulations on scoring your second #1 album in the UK.
RL: Thank you, thank you.
BE: When I listened to the new album, at first it sounded like a completely different band to me, but the more I played it, the more I realized that this isn’t that far removed from your first two albums.
RL: Not really. I think we’ve all said that we think this record is more related to the first one. I mean, if we just put out the record we’ve just done now, rather than the second one [2007’s An End Has a Start], I think that would have made some sense to a lot of people. But obviously, you know second records, pressures of time, having only a limited amount of songs, doing it quickly. Yeah, I think we got to where we are now very naturally, so that’s good.
BE: What was it that inspired the change in approach?
RL: We did become a little bit formulaic with how we write the songs. You know, it’s like okay, we know what the hi hat hand might do, and the bass is going to chug along and the guitar can be quite stabby or whatever it is. We just said, “this is going to get really boring for us,” and it kind of did. So Chris [Urbanowicz, Editors guitarist] started writing on a Moog synthesizer for his part and it just kind of transformed it. And then we started to put rhythms with different instruments, rather than it just being a bass guitar and drums. You know, electronic hits were introduced. It was just trying to be fresh, really.
BE: Are you now getting peppered with questions about where Editors will go from here, as if you’ve suddenly Prince or Frank Zappa?
RL: No, not at all. I think, as you say, it’s not that much of a departure. It is, and it isn’t. I think it leaves us in a really space to where we want to take the band, absolutely.
BE: You seem to be the only band member whose role didn’t change between the last album and this one. I still hear a lot of bass on the album.
RL: There is a lot of bass, played bass. There’s also sequenced bass, and “The Big Exit.” "You Don't Know Love" has two bass lines in it, which one’s on a synthesizer. So yeah, there’s been a few synthesizers. I think you can keep a bass guitar playing while mixing in synth around it, it works well.
BE: How did Ed [Lay, Editors’ drummer] handle the inclusion of drum machines into the mix?
RL: Very easily. I mean, we try everything live so I’ve got my laptop with drum machines on and then I just press play. And then we just do like a whole tape in the studio. So it wasn’t, like, layered upon; Ed was just playing and you get the whole thing. Songs like “Bricks and Mortar,” you can actually hear the drums go out of time with the drum machine, but that doesn’t really matter, that’s not the point of it. You know, it’s just for an extra layer which we really enjoy.
BE: Now curiously, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand ditched their guitars for keyboards in the last year as well. Was there some band summit that took place where you all discussed this?
RL: [Chuckles] It’s funny. Yeah, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs [did the same thing]. I mean, I think it’s just natural. It’s like play guitar music and tour, it’s so hard. You know the Noughties have been – I hate that saying, the Noughties – the 2000s have been bands coming out with few records but touring it loads and loads and loads. I think that it’s inevitable that you’re going to get bored with the guitar. You know, Radiohead did. You know, after touring OK Computer so much.
BE: I think I have about 50 albums in my CD collection that have [In This Light and On This Evening producer] Flood’s name on them. I’m assuming the same is true for you?
RL: Yeah, we’re all big fans of records that he’s made. And we thought we’d have preconceptions of what he’d be like when we met him. He’s so down to earth. [Note: at this point, Russell does this stream-of-consciousness imitation of Flood that, after multiple replays at varying speeds, we cannot make heads or tails of. So sadly, it has been omitted.] He just joins the band really well, and you can tell why he’s made so many great records, because he’s very…he doesn’t ponder on anything for too long. He’s just do it, record it, leave on if there’s a problem; do another song and come back to it. It works.
BE: When you first saw the video for “Papillon,” did you think, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t have to do that”?
RL: Yeah, it was a weird one because the pictures started coming in for the video, and then it got too late in the game, so someone had to call a friend to kind of do the whole idea and concept. It just ended up like that. It’s a funny thing, videos, because it’s really hard for us to say what we want and then sometimes what we get kind of thing. The one for “You Don't Know Love” however, we’ve just recorded with Arni & Kinski, who did all of the Sigur Ros videos and did the previous video for “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors” with us and we’re really excited about people seeing that one.
BE: Editors contributed a song to the soundtrack for “New Moon.” Have you read the “Twilight” books or seen the movies?
RL: I saw the first movie. It was On Demand when I was bored, on cable. When we got asked about it, we just thought it would be good to be included on that. I mean, I think bands can get discovered by great soundtracks. You know, before the “Breakfast Club” soundtrack, you know back in the late ‘80s with the Smiths songs and stuff like that [Note: he mentioned the wrong John Hughes movie, as the Smiths appeared on “Pretty in Pink” rather than “The Breakfast Club”], that brought them to a wider audience. If people get into us and hear us from [the “New Moon” soundtrack], then that’s good. And it’s included with a lot of good artists.
BE: Yeah, it’s actually quite a good soundtrack that they put together for that movie.
RL: Yeah, I think so. I haven’t actually heard it all the way through.
BE: Well, we’re at the end of the decade, so I’d love to know what your favorite albums of the 2000s were.
RL: 2000s. The National, both records, Alligator and Boxer.
BE: That’s funny; you mentioned them the last time we spoke.
RL: What, the National?
RL: Yeah, they’re my favorite band. So that would be them. I think collectively, I think they are the band’s favorite band. I really like the Burial record, Untruth. I thought that was really good. Interpol’s first record’s great. I really like that. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, I listen to that a lot as well. I mean, everyone’s putting that on their list but it’s a great record.
BE: What about from this year?
RL: From this year, I think it’s been like a weird year, like nothing has stood out like collectively, like oh, okay, Fired Up is a really good record. I think there’s been the good records, but nothing that’s like made me just listen to it again and again and again and again. So yeah, there’s been good stuff like the Except’s and the Antlers. We really like them. The Antlers are coming out on the U.S. tour with us next year, which we’re really excited about because we really like their record. Usually you get so many new bands and there’s so much new music all of the time, but I always like going back and rediscovering stuff. Actually, I’ve been listening to T. Rex a lot this year.
BE: Awesome. Yeah, you bring up an interesting point. I felt the same way about this year for music. There was only one album that I played a lot, and that was The Duckworth Lewis Method. Did you hear that?
RL: Oh yeah, about cricket.
RL: Yeah, yeah. I liked it. It was a really good pop record, yeah. I did like that.
BE: Well, we plowed through my questions in about half the time I thought we were. So you’re coming to the States next year?
RL: Yeah, we just announced the tour. It’s in February. Mainly coast to coast. Chicago and Denver, we’re going to do. Yeah, I think it’s going to be the only U.S. tour that we’ll do on this record. It’s harder to get financial support these days to actually come over, cross over. Actually paying for the trip ourselves.
BE: That’s good you can pay for the trip yourselves. A lot of bands don’t have that luxury.
RL: Exactly, yeah. It might mean that we don’t actually have to have a record label to do stuff, then.
BE: Well speaking of Chicago, I actually saw you at Lollapalooza in 2006. You were dressed in black and staring directly into the sun. You must have been burning up, up there.
RL: Yeah, yeah, it was really hot. I remember that very clearly. Yeah, it wasn’t the best idea wearing all black. But I don’t know, there’s something quite good about people in the sun just all dressed in black.
BE: Well, have fun on the rest of your European tour. It was good talking to you again and best of luck with the record.RL: Okay. Thank you very much.