A band’s third album doesn’t seem the prime time for a change, but that’s exactly what Tom Smith & Co. have decided to do. In This Light and On This Evening is Editors junior effort and instead of using it to solidify their sound and direction, the UK quartet decided to abandon much of their trademark guitar sound for a synth-heavy version – all in the name of breaking the spell of boredom.
As guitarist Chris Urbanowicz puts it, the band was “stuck” and needed a way to break the “sound block.” In this interview with Stereo Subversion, Urbanowicz tells us about their sessions with super-producer Flood (U2, Smashing Pumpkins) and being scared of medocrity.
SSv: Much is made about the expansive sound on In This Light. How did you approach that new sound?
Chris Urbanowicz: I think we were more focused on changing the way that we wrote rather than changing the actual sound. When we were writing in the early stages, we weren’t really getting off on it. Nothing was really happening. We were a bit bored just because we were using the same old instruments. I guess it just wasn’t clicking for whatever reason and we were ripping ourselves off. It was more the writing process that we felt needed to change. There weren’t any meetings we had to add or take away any instruments apart from the rhythm guitars. We knew we didn’t want rhythm guitars. The other thing we were aiming for was that we wanted it to sound more live as well since we were using more electronic stuff.
SSv: When you say the live part, was that because there’s a disconnect between the two?
Chris: There hasn’t always been that disconnect, but a lot of people never really get what we do until they see us live. So we wanted to connect that for the first time. Plus on the second album, we did things very clinically. We recorded a drum track and then synced up every kickdrum and snare and had everything so perfect that it took a bit of the soul out of it. We’re using more electronics on this so we didn’t want a clinical or robotic dance record. We wanted it to be machines played by humans, so that’s what we did was play them. [Laughs]
SSv: Is there a sense of fear in the beginning and you’re trying out these new instruments?
Chris: No, not at all. The thing is that we’re really good mates. It’s just the four of us in a room. If you can’t try out something and be scared, then there’s no point. So I don’t give a shit. We just have a good laugh about it if it sounds like shit. Then we just keep trying until we get something better. That’s just the character of the band. There’s no fear.
SSv: It doesn’t sound like it’s a case of writer’s block. It sounds instead as if you were able to write, but you just didn’t like it, which seems a funny middle ground.
Chris: Yeah, I think that’s a good way of putting it. It was a sound block, if you will. We were so scared of being bland or mediocre or middle of the road or bland or something like that, I guess after the second record when everyone was saying it was bombastic or a stadium record, the last thing we wanted to do was to become another Coldplay or U2. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something more interesting.
SSv: Where does that fear of mediocrity come from?
Chris: I don’t know. I think it’s just something that we’re all against. You don’t want to be associated with anything bland or middle of the road. There are certain aspects of the band in the past that have knocked on the door of that. Some of it is good, some of it is bad.
SSv: The response to the newer sound has been strong?
Chris: Yeah, the best thing we’ve found is that it splits people. They either really like it or really don’t. The people who have really disliked are the people who are usually narrow-minded and they kind of rest on their past a little bit. They don’t want us to change and they’re scared of change. That’s fine if that’s what they want, but we’re excited to gain new people who didn’t like the first couple records. That’s more fulfilling than anything.
SSv: I’ve read you recorded a lot of songs for this and yet the album has only nine tracks. I know there’s a deluxe edition, but who decides what goes where? How do you make those calls?
Chris: With great difficulty. When you come out of the studio and you’ve recorded so many songs, you want them all to be on the record. You’ve got an hour and a half worth of stuff and it’s just crap to have to choose. The one rule we had was when the record’s finished, you’d want the listener to put it on again. When we had 11 or 12 tracks on there, you felt exhausted. So we were just trying to find the right balance.
Maybe there were some better songs which got left off, but it didn’t work with the flow of the record. There are two songs we were re-recording in late January which didn’t make it and they’re not out yet, but they’re great songs. We just couldn’t get them right in the studio and we needed more time to rethink it. So there’s at least two more fishing around that will come out soon – at least we hope.
SSv: To go back to the comfort zone and getting out, what role did Flood play in that and how much of that was already accomplished before meeting up with your producer?
Chris: Yeah, we already did that before we even met Flood. It was quite obvious really when we started to write. It’s just not fun when you’re doing the same old thing. Making music is the best part for it. I love being in the studio and being in the rehearsal room that nobody’s ever heard before. When that starts becoming boring, then you want to do something to change it. We actually demoed about seven or eight songs with this industrial, electronic feel before we even met Flood and that was the demo we gave out to a few producers. He loved it and was at the top of a lot of people’s lists.
SSv: So what did Flood bring to the music that wasn’t there already?
Chris: Good question, actually. I was talking to him a couple of weeks ago and I was like, ‘What the fuck did you do?’ He couldn’t really answer it either. [Laughs] He’s got an amazing shit filter. He’s constantly making sure that the right things go through and the wrong things stay out.