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Joyish Gloom 

Britain's Editors outdo Interpol for moody murk.

"We're not scared to make big music," says Editor Tom Smith (front).
  • "We're not scared to make big music," says Editor Tom Smith (front).

"Britain's answer to Interpol, faster and harder" is the short description of Birmingham's Editors, currently touring the U.S. spreading news of The Back Room, their debut LP. And that's an adequate snapshot, with one clarification: Singer-guitarist Tom Smith may sound as much like Interpol's Paul Banks as Banks does the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division -- which is to say, quite a lot -- but while Interpol suggests Chameleons U.K., one hears a heavy dose of early Echo & the Bunnymen in Editors' cacophonous, effects-laden guitars.

To their credit, they don't deny the influence. "I don't really like the sound of guitars in general," says lead player Chris Urbanowicz, as the bandmates munch on snacks in the lobby of their blindingly modern Manhattan hotel. "To make them sound a little bit different, I like a bit of beefed-up sound. When I turn off all my pedals and play a riff, it just doesn't sound very good. Whereas when I was growing up, I liked [Stone Roses'] John Squire -- because he used melody and his guitars didn't sound like guitars -- and [the Bunnymen's] Will Sergeant.

"I learned to play the guitar by playing the chord changes of [Oasis'] Definitely Maybe," adds Smith. "Long after that, I fell in love with stuff like Radiohead and the back catalog of R.E.M. -- things with a bit more depth."

Yes, this band is launched as the next classic British, atmospheric-guitar rock group, the latest in a brilliant strain descended from the early Bunnymen, Cure, Teardrop Explodes, Comsat Angels, Sound, and Chameleons through Kitchens of Distinction, Pale Saints, and Whipping Boy, and now Doves, British Sea Power, and Editors fans-friends Elbow. The Back Room is all about flashing guitars full of reverb that punctuate and penetrate the front of the mix -- not the meek background. This is paired with a charge of limber bass and hard-driving, rhythmic drums on the rigid throb of "Lights," "All Sparks," and "Bullets." The feeling is like sticking your head out the window of a speeding car -- refreshing and bracing, but a little scary.

As they're new unknowns, here's some history. The bandmates met at Technical College in little Stafford, equidistant between Manchester and Birmingham. They played their first gig in the summer of 2003. "It was at Suffolk at this little venue," says Smith. "We found it because we had advertised, and all our friends came. But the second gig, three or four weeks later, no one came. Three or four people!"

One of those few, however, was their "biggest fan" -- Ed Lay, whose adoration would soon be rewarded; he was offered the drummer's seat. "They were brilliant!" insists Lay. "When I was at college with them, I was hanging out with them all the time, because we all lived together. But I went to every gig. I have no other friends, so if they were going out, I had to go with them. None of us had any other friends!"

Clearly struggling and "friendless," they needed a break, and it came via a bigger Birmingham gig, where their eventual management saw them. "We basically paid this venue in Birmingham to play," notes Urbanowicz. Soon they'd relocate there. "We were just playing in Birmingham quite a lot, and as soon as we finished our course, we moved and started doing the crappy day jobs, so we could write songs and get to the point where we could put a record out. We just kept writing over the course of a year."

One song in particular did the business. "We had 'Bullets' when we were at university. That was the point that we thought it sounded good," says Smith.

"We sent it out as a demo to three people. And all of a sudden we had 40 A&R scouts coming to this one show, and we weren't ready for that kind of pressure!" says Urbanowicz with a shudder. "And then you have every record label going, 'Okay, let's check them out, this is their chance to impress you.'

"It's not a pleasant experience, playing in front of industry folk," adds Lay.

Or, as bassist Russell Leetch puts it: "I about shit myself."

And results didn't come quickly. "Basically, everyone said, 'We'll come back to them in six months.' But there was one guy that stuck with us all along, and that's the one that we signed to (Kitchenware)," says Leetch.

Anglophiles know the rest. "Bullets," their first single, released in January 2005, caught on after BBC DJ Zane Lowe began playing it. Along with "Blood," it hit the U.K. Top 25 -- as did the LP, upon its release in July. A tour followed, supporting Franz Ferdinand ("They were really good people!"), which saw Editors play in front of huge crowds like the 14,000 at Manchester Evening News Arena. This apparently failed to daunt them. "We're not scared to make big music. We're not scared of big choruses or melody," Smith insists. "We definitely weren't scared of the bigger stage, either. It was good."

And now they're here, trying to do the same in the U.S., where many U.K. bands have failed to match home success. And unlike such high-energy party/dance bands as Franz and Arctic Monkeys, Editors are more a minor-chord, broody outfit, even on their up-tempo tunes. "There are some lyrics that are about the darker side of things and the things that aren't so nice about life," avers Smith. ("People are fragile things, you should know by now/Be careful what you put them though.")

"But there are also lyrics that are openly romantic. ['These dark pubs we drink in somehow light up when I'm with you.'] To the casual observer, we get labeled as a bunch of moody bastards. But people that actually get us, I think, see more than that."

Hey, it worked for Interpol . . .

More by Jack Rabid

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