JUSTIN LOCKEY was standing in a field in Scotland when the call came through. “Editors were looking for a new guitarist. Someone recommended me. The biggest gig of their career was around the corner.
“They wondered could I step in? It was surreal.” He was north of the border, directing a documentary about a friend’s band. If he was up for the job, Editors needed him in London straight away.
Guitarist Chris Urbanowicz had departed Editors in acrimonious circumstances half way through their new album. They were booked as headliners as the 85,000 capacity Rock Werchter festival in Belgium. The clock was ticking.
“It was a bizarre chain of events,” says Lockey. “They’d asked their producer, Flood, if he knew of any good guitarists and he mentioned me. Editors and me had never met before — we were all strangers. You don’t expect that sort of thing to happen, do you?”
He joined Editors at a fraught moment. In the middle of recording what would become their fourth LP, The Weight of Your Love, the group was at a crossroads. Singer Tom Smith was eager to move away from their gothic indie rock and into a more ‘songwriterly’ direction.
Guitarist Urbanowicz wanted to stay left-field. Views were exchanged and Urbanowicz left. Smith wondered if Editors had run their course. “They had done a lot of experimenting,” says Lockey. “Their last album was quite synth-based. Now they were eager to get back to the feeling they’d had on their first record. Back then they had felt like a band, not this diffuse project. That is what they wanted to recapture.”
The early sessions were awkward, the guitarist recalls. It is difficult to walk into a room of strangers and feel immediately at home. Gradually, though, it all started to click. One evening Editors’ 2.0 line-up quite casually knocked out two new songs. When they’d stopped playing everyone in the room fell silent, basking in the moment. Something special had happened. Editors were a functioning entity again. “I’ve played in various groups but never in a proper ‘us against the world’ band,” says Lockey. “That is the feeling we were trying to create, a gang vibe. It was fantastic because we wrote new material without having even planned it. At Rock Werchter we were able to put two new songs into the set, which was an amazing achievement.”
On older songs, Lockey is required to fill in for the departed Urbanowicz. Here, he has to walk a somewhat tricky line. On one hand, he needs to be respectful to the music. On the other, he isn’t an automaton. “You can’t really deviate. Editors have some great melodic parts and you have to be faithful to that spirit. If I went to see a band, I wouldn’t be too impressed by someone mucking with their stuff.
“But I don’t mess with it too much. It’s a little heavier, I guess.They didn’t ask me to join as another Chris. They wanted me to be me.”
Editors began life in 2002 at Staffordshire University. Frontman Smith was studying music technology. He struck up a friendship with Urbanowicz. Under the name Pilot, they became a cult affair. Having signed to a subsidiary of Sony — and changed their name to Editors — they released a dark, propulsive debut, The Back Room. It went top 10 and suddenly Editors were British rock’s hot new thing.
After Rock Werchter, the plan was to return to the studio and start writing. However, none of the line-up relished a trek to the faceless London facility they’d been working in. Instead, they went to Nashville. The moment they touched down in America’s country music capital, they understood they had reached the correct decision.
“It was fantastic because it’s a small place and you know you are there to work,” says Lockey. “In London, someone is always popping around to the studio to say hello. In Nashville it was just us. It was sort of a bonding session — with the bonus that we got an album out of it at the end.”
As Lockey prepares for Editors’ biggest tour yet, the biggest adjustment, he says, is being the focus of the audience’s attention.
Editors’ music is guitar-driven and, on stage, Lockey is required to spend a lot of time in the spotlight.
“All the stuff I’ve done was left-field,” he says. “It was a challenge for me to be out front as lead guitarist. In the past, I could hide because I’d be playing with two or three other guitarists.
“That’s not how it is with Editors. They have these massive guitar parts. You have to step up to the plate.” So far, that’s exactly what he’s been doing so well.
* The Weight of Your Love is out now. Editors play Olympia, Dublin on Wednesday, Nov 20
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved