Interview with Russell Leetch, The Editors, The Back Room

Interview with Russell Leech

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If it’s Tuesday, then it must be another UK band trying to crash our shores and enslave us all. This week, it’s the Editors, a quartet whose upbringings are from literally all over (they met in Stafford), but together make records that are powerful, epic, grand, sweeping, all of those other adjectives that stand for ‘big,’ ‘important,’ and ‘Joy Division’ (lead singer Tom Smith, whether he likes it or not, is a dead ringer for Ian Curtis). Bullz-Eye caught up with Editors bassist Russell Leetch (but only after their steak sandwiches were finished cooking) to talk about the dressing room must-haves and the dreaded letter ‘I’ (Ian Curtis, Interpol).

Bullz-Eye: I went through your press clippings, and didn’t see a single quote from you. Are you the Quiet One, the George of the band?

Russell Leetch: Um, no, not really. We kind of, like, take it in turns, for everything, really. In the UK press, whenever it’s an NME thing, usually the quotes are from Tom and Chris (Urbanowicz, guitarist), or they misquote us. But usually, it’s those two.

BE: Is this your first time in the States?

RL: Yeah, Well, um, we like to think so. We had a one-off gig in Nashville, as part of a Jack Daniel’s birthday party. That was with Maximo Park, and that was just a one-off date. But mainly, the audience was made up of people from the UK. It was kind of a pointless exercise, so this is definitely our first time with touring.

BE: I would say that Los Angeles (Leetch was in LA at the time of this interview) is a little different than Nashville, then.

RL: Yeah, yeah, it’s been really good. We’re enjoying the sunshine.

BE: You recorded a Morning Becomes Eclectic session (for Los Angeles station KROQ) earlier today, right?

RL: Yeah, yeah, it was really good!

BE: What was that like?

RL: It was cool, it was really nice to be invited to do radio sessions, because, you know, our record isn’t out yet, and we’re just starting to build a fan base, because obviously, our fan base in the UK is quite big now, and we’re quite an established band there. So it’s just all starting again (building a new fan base), and it’s really quite exciting for us. We’re really enjoying it.

BE: Well, you’ve probably heard these questions a million times, so…

RL: No, that’s cool, I don’t mind.

BE: Of all the bands you’ve been compared to, which comparison do you think is the most flattering?

RL: Um, well, it’s really hard to describe a new band without comparing them to someone, and we always get Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, and more contemporary bands like Interpol, as well as early U2. And they’re all really good bands. So there’s nothing wrong at all (being compared to them), we think. They wrote great songs, and they all had – well, apart from Joy Division – careers, and we’re all about being a career band.

BE: Are there some comparisons that you think are more accurate than others?

RL: No, not really, because we are our own band. We’re not an identical copy of so and so. We’re kind of on our own two feet. And I think those comparisons are because Tom’s got a baritone voice. It hasn’t been a stumbling block for us. People know us as Editors, and they can associate a sound with us. Chris’ guitar lines are very My Bloody Valentine meets, I don’t know, Sigur Ros, the way that he makes the sounds kind of swell. And it’s quite different from a Joy Division guitar line.

BE: Which comparison do you find the most irritating?

RL: I suppose, time after time, when we started off, it was, “Oh they sound just like Interpol.” It’s not really getting compared to anybody that annoys us. It’s when people won’t listen to our music because they think we’re just a mimic of someone else.

BE: I personally think the Interpol comparison is pretty lazy. I don’t think you sound like them at all.

RL: Yeah, they make soundscapes. We’re very song-based. We like big choruses, we like to have a real pop tune element to quite a lot of our songs.

BE: Right. They’ve never written a song like “Bullets.”

RL: So far. Exactly, yeah.

BE: I was listening to the disc in the car earlier today, and I definitely heard some (similarities to) Echo & the Bunnymen, but I sure as hell didn’t hear Interpol.

RL: Yeah, it’s just the voice thing, I think is the main comparison, because the voice is the strong element that people listen to on record, isn’t it? People always compare using voices, I suppose.

BE: Tell me a band that is a big influence on you that people wouldn’t know from listening to your record.

RL: The big one is REM for Tom, especially in the way that he writes his lyrics. And he’s a big fan of the first two REM records. I think you can see similarities there, when you listen to our album, to those first two REM albums. But we’re all big fans of things like Spiritualized, and Elbow…

BE: I read about the Elbow connection. (Tom Smith is dating Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman, who is the former squeeze of Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey)

RL: Yeah, they were a massive influence when we formed the band. They were one of the bands that made us want to write the music that we write, that big, epic feel. And just the way they go about being a band is a massive influence on us.

BE: Who are the five best bands in England right now? And obviously, you can’t include yourself in this.

RL: (laughs) Okay, that’s good. I’d say Elbow is definitely up there. We tend to listen to a lot of American bands when we’re on tour. Um…

BE: Uh oh. Did I put you on the spot here?

RL: Yeah, yeah. Well, Radiohead. Do you mean, like, present kind of bands…?

BE: Well, there’s just a huge swell of talent coming out of England right now, and I find it remarkable. It’s like the mid ‘90s all over again.

RL: Yeah, okay, well, we really like the Rakes.

BE: Did you say the Brakes?

RL: Yeah, the Brakes, and the Rakes. And the Lock Up.

BE: Ooh, you stumped me!

RL: Yeah, they’re very good, a very good live band.

BE: Well, what American bands are you listening to?

RL: The big American band that we all fell in love with last year was the National. They released an album last year called Alligator, which was constantly played on our tour bus. They did a co-headline with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah recently, and we liked that band as well, they’re very good.

BE: Okay, this is a fun one. Fill in the blank for me: you’ve just gotten to the dressing room for tonight’s gig, and you’re furious because there isn’t any…

RL: Beer.

BE: My answer is Jack Daniel’s, but beer is perfectly acceptable.

RL: Yeah, if there’s no beer, then that’s just disgraceful.

BE: Back to the whole UK music scene: how would you compare the UK music scene right now to other periods in its past? How do you think this field of bands ranks from a historical perspective?

RL: As we are now? Well, the bands that we’ve always respected have been the career bands that have developed with each album. Bands like, as I’ve said before, Radiohead, Spiritualized, Elbow. And it’s great that there’s so much new music coming out of the UK. But it’s really important for each band to step up, and, you know, who’s going to have five, six, seven albums out of all of those new bands? It’s kind of hard to tell. And we definitely want to be one of those bands that has that longevity.

BE: What’s your take on America? Is it important that you make it big here, or is it one of those things that will just be a bonus if it happens?

RL: I think it’s quite important to us. Out of all of those UK bands, if you look at Bloc Party, Maximo Park, and the Rakes, there’s a certain English element to it. I think our music is a lot more epic, and the songs are bigger. It kind of feels, I don’t know, right in America. I think our songs will really work on radio over here, and I definitely think that people are going to connect with our music, because (we’re) definitely not a “UK” band, where only UK people will connect with us. I think it’s quite universal.

BE: I’ll tell you this, if you’re able to kick My Chemical Romance off the airwaves, you’ve got my blessing.

RL: Yeah. (laughs) We’ve been listening to quite a lot of American stations over here.

BE: It’s weird, isn’t it? How compartmentalized the music scene is over here?

RL: Yeah, it’s the same bands on each station, with the big, polished rock sounds.

BE: I talked to (Duran Duran bassist) John Taylor, and he was complaining about that, about how overproduced all of the records are, and I can’t say I disagree with him.

RL: Yeah, yeah, exactly. What’s important is when a song is stripped down to, you know, acoustic guitar and vocals. Those are the strongest songs, and it doesn’t matter what you do, polishing it up. Good songs are good songs.

BE: I’ve only got one more question to ask you: how does it feel to be on a label that was once home to Prefab Sprout?

RL: (chuckles) Yeah, it’s weird, because the reason we’re on that label (Kitchenware), it wasn’t due to any history. It was more to do with its mission statement and its ideals. It’s an independent label, it works as a partnership between us and them. The artist is the main focus. If we were initially signed to a big major label, we could have been put at the bottom of their list, and we most probably wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s due to being able to put records out, and having the chance to tour and tour, that’s been really great for us. And that’s mainly due to signing to an independent label.

(Editors are heading back to Europe for a quick tour, and then they come back to the US to play South by Southwest and an eight-week tour. Their album The Back Room is due for release in April.)  

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