As they get ready to play Dingle, Editors tell Ed Power of a near encounter with Michael Jackson in Ireland, and why they’ve outlasted so many of their peers
THE last time Editors went for an extended stay in rural Ireland they very nearly bumped into Michael Jackson. Perhaps that is why, offered the opportunity to perform at Other Voices in Dingle, they said yes immediately. If it is half as interesting as their previous visit here it will be entirely worth their time.
“It was about 12 years ago,” recalls singer Tom Smith, sharing his almost-meeting-Michael anecdote. “We were staying at Grouse Lodge studio [in Westmeath] recording our second album. It was very rural. Michael Jackson was apparently there the same time as we were. He had a house, which was on another bit of land up the road.”
The King of Pop was an elusive figure, Smith recalls. “He would come out at night. Sometimes he came down to the little studio where we were working. It’s crazy if you think about it.”
Smith has been reflecting on the past more than is usual for him lately. Ahead of their Other Voices visit and a gig at Vicar Street, Dublin, in March 2020, Editors recently released Black Gold, their first “best of”. After 15 years and six albums it’s a fitting reminder what a great band Editors are — as angsty as Joy Division and Interpol (to whom they were lazily compared early on), but with an anthemic punch that marks them out as cousins fifth removed of Coldplay and U2.
“A ‘best of’ was not something that was on my bucket list, to be honest with you,” says the plainspoken and unassuming Smith. “But it’s a good moment to be a bit nostalgic. To take time and reflect. And it’s nice to put something out there that’s an entrance point.”
He is ever so mildly astonished Editors are still going. As well he might be, given the group almost fell apart in the aftermath of their opinion-dividing third album, 2009’s In This Light and On This Evening. It’s one of their finest — an almost entirely synth-driven affair located somewhere between Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and the soundtrack to the first Terminator film.
“It was probably our most important record. To do that — to be brave or to be stupid… well, it depends on whether you liked it or not. We’d stopped doing certain things. There weren’t really any guitars. A lot of people were like, ‘what the f**k is this?’. I love that record. I understand the confusion. But I was proud of it. And I’m proud of it now.”
Still, some fans were not pleased Editors were moving away from the taut guitars that were their signature. Nor, ultimately, was guitarist Chris Urbanowicz, a frowning Edge to Smith’s plaintive Bono. He quit in 2012 halfway through what would become fourth album, The Weight of Your Love. It could well have put a full stop to Editors.
“We were in a real corner,” says Smith. “We very nearly just finished. We thought, ‘Well, we could call it a day now, it’s been a great three records, let’s just go back to college or whatever’.”
Instead, they recruited two new members and overhauled their sound. The breakneck claustrophobia of albums one and two was replaced by a more expansive pop. They achieved something few groups manage, getting bigger and better.
“We became more of an equal thing,” says Smith. “The first records… it was really just me and Chris. And Chris had a strong idea what he wanted and didn’t want. That’s not being negative. That’s who he was. And that was combined with my songs. After that I felt everything was on a more even footing.”
Editors released their debut LP in 2005. At the time, the British music press was still all powerful. They were quick to turn on Editors, dismissing them as dull and derivative. Though they aren’t exactly the jolly sort, Smith and company could be forgiven for having the very final chuckle (not that they’re at all triumphant). They’re still here while some of the the publications that delighted in heaping scorn are no longer with us.
“I was never very good at the press game, at being a media darling,” says Smith. ‘For us it was about the music. In some circles of the press that’s not cool or particularly interesting to write about. It took us a while to come to terms with that. It’s quite hard to have people challenge your integrity if what you are doing doesn’t fit into a certain box. As you get older you realise it was never that important in the first place.”
The pejorative ‘landfill indie’ hadn’t yet been coined when Editors broke through in the mid-2000s. At that time they were one among a parade of intense young guitar bands. Within a few years a great extinction event had swept British rock. Razorlight, Bloc Party, The Libertines… one by one they either broke up or became so obscure that it amounted to the same thing.
Editors, however, have endured. A humble sort, Smith puts it down to serendipity.
“Bands are f**king weird. It’s weird to have something that can exist for five, 10 years and make something creative collectively. A lot of bands that burn very bright are perhaps not functioning as bands. They are perhaps the product of a very bright personality in that band.
“That’s not sustainable. You look at someone like Razorlight. Whether or not you liked them, they were a perfect guitar pop band. The dynamic of that band wasn’t sustainable because of the personalities. That’s probably true for most collections of people. To stumble upon a group of people that can keep finding ways of doing it and which they all find exciting… it’s weird to have that last.”
Editors play St James’ Church, Dingle, as part of Other Voices
THE MURDER CAPITAL
The Cork-Dublin band have become one of 2019’s indie darlings and Other Voices will be a fitting conclusion to a decent year.
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