Interview with Editors: In The Future, The Present

Imagine the year 2010. A dystopian era highlighting the uneasy relationship between government and money, the erosion of employment and a growing sense of depression amongst a populace that communicates primarily through small handheld devices.

Well, maybe we are in the strangely warped civilization of the future so often depicted in mid-20th century science and speculative fiction films. Sure, no flying cars, and arguably Big Brother is still a lingering threat rather than a present reality, but the unsettling archetype of futuristic societies isn’t that far off from our present day recession mindset, it’s just a lot more mundane in practice.

It’s a feeling that British indie rockers Editors have tapped into on their most recent release, the Flood-produced In This Light And On This Evening, which only saw a proper physical release stateside a few weeks ago, despite being out in the UK since October. Comprised of Tom Smith (guitar and vocals), Chris Urbanowicz (guitar), Russell Leetch (bass) and Ed Lay (drums), the band has been fawned over across the pond for their Joy Division-esque songs of “disappointment.”

Leetch was kind enough to dial international for the following talk about the long gap between U.S. and U.K. releases, their recent sense of prolificacy, working with Flood and hanging out with R.E.M.

The record is just out recently in the States, yes?

Kind of. It was released digitally earlier in the year. If it was our choice, we would have had everything out at the same time, but we have a label. So, yeah (laughs). So it came out physically last week.

Do you feel that that delay hurts you or encourages people to download it illegally, etc?

If I were a fan, I would want to hear it, yeah, definitely. I like going to record shops and buying vinyl or CDs. There are some great ones in New York, I’ve lived there for a while and I love going to them. But yeah, it’s tricky, because of the Internet now, as soon as something is out there, available to get, anyone can get it in the next few minutes (laughs).

Tell me about the general feeling of alienation on the album. I believe there was some influence from science fiction films. As in films that are set in 2010, and here we are.

Yeah, kind of. We were always fond of those films made in the ‘80s where they couldn’t film the white light properly so it always comes out blue. That kind of grainy effect, which reflected how the world is in that year that they said would be the future. Obviously it was a big year when we were making the record, housing, government, all the banking things. It’s definitely rubbed off on us. And I guess that’s why it’s a record about London or a city in general.

Is it a feeling of disappointment?

We’re constantly disappointed. It’s also that when you’re young, cities can be the best as well. It’s that balance I guess. They’re also pretty daunting. I think we were always having thoughts of the dystopian kind of future, not the utopian. It’s definitely an, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen next?’ kind of thing. Maybe the outlook is a little bit bleaker than people always think.

Well, they just announced you’re out of recession somewhat, with 0.1 percent increase.

Coming from Birmingham, it’s very disappointing. It’s funny, because I don’t live in the city anymore, every time I go back, I notice things change. Like how many people used to work there in the car industry. It used to be one of the main manufacturing places. I think it will be interesting to see how that city redevelops, if it does.

Where did the idea of the video for ‘Papillon’ originate?

It came a bit late in the day because we liked the concept first for the video, and then it became a bit more expensive, and so this was just flung together very late in the game. It was shot by a director that’s friends with the head of Kitchenware Records. It wasn’t really our idea.

So it wasn’t your concept, you were just pitched on it?

Yeah. It just happened. It’s funny, videos, sometimes you can get pitched a great idea and it’ll come out bad, and sometimes you’re not so keen on the idea and you kind of like it in the end. I try not to get involved with it too much.

Do you like it?

I don’t, no (laughs). But if other people do, that’s fine. I prefer the ‘You Don’t Know Love’ video, but I can understand why people would like it.

With the general change in tone, were you primarily using your regular electric bass or were you using a lot of synths? How much were you stepping out of your regular element?

We all contributed a lot more than just going, ‘Right, you are on bass, that’s all you’re going to play.’ Even Ed had keyboard parts that he played, and we all sang backing vocals on all of the tracks rather than it just being Tom. So we kind of gave different voices to the songs. It just felt very refreshing to work in that way, and we’re eager to get back in. We actually went back into the studio last week with Flood. We’re eager to continue the relationship we formed.

So you were very happy working with Flood then.

Totally. He’s awesome. We have kind of a pre-concept of how he’s going to be as a kind of master of these records, and he’s a very normal London guy I guess. He focuses in on the band and then you kind of understand that that’s why he’s a really good producer in that way.

Did your tour with R.E.M. sort of inspire this move to more synth-based collaborative work?

A little. R.E.M. are one of our favorite bands and to tour with them and get to know them a little bit was unbelievable, and we always try to do something different with each record. Especially just seeing how they are as a band while they’re on the road, how they’ve just wanted to be in a band and it’s kind of just taking it back and trying to be as good of a musician as possible I guess. It was quite refreshing to go on the road with them.

So would you say it reminded you why you wanted to be in a band in the first place? Tapping into that original creative potential as just guys playing music?

Exactly. [R.E.M. guitarist] Peter Buck, when he would chat to us in the dressing room and talk about different bands and stuff, he was just saying, ‘I play guitar for a living, and if I wasn’t playing guitar, I’d work in a record shop. I’d be one of those sad gigs in a record shop drinking coffee and talking to you about music all day.’ We’re all kind of in the same boat.

This is your first tour back in the States in two years?

In two years, yeah. It’ll be our only tour for this record. We’re kind of paying for the trip ourselves, but we want to come and play, and we love playing over there, so it should be fun.

I know this is sort of a short run. After that and Europe, are you planning to jump back into the studio again?

Kind of. Throughout the summer we’ll be doing loads of festivals. And then whilst that’s going on, we’ll be writing, and then back in the studio with Flood. Just kind of crack on and try to get another record out as soon as possible, because we feel refreshed.

You were just in the studio last week so I’m guessing you’ve already started writing?

Tom’s always writing. What was great about when we did the album session this time is we had such a good amount of songs. We were working on 22 songs throughout the recording sessions, and to be playing around with that number of songs you get to go, ‘This is a weaker song, we’ll leave this off.’ Rather than with the second record, we had 12 songs total and ten went on the album. So, yeah, we definitely feel more prolific I guess.

You guys were booked for the Tonight Show and that’s not happening I guess, huh?

I don’t think that’s happening. I did watch bits of it on the Internet, and yeah, I didn’t think Conan would be lasting long enough to come on and play on it. It’s a shame, because when we played Conan [the first time], none of us had ever seen him before, and we really liked it, and since I’ve lived in the States, I’ve watched him quite a bit and I enjoy him.

Editors perform at Terminal 5 on Feb. 19 and the Trocadero on Feb. 20.