The Editors: 'It doesn't feel like the same band anymore'
Editors drummer Ed Lay tells Chris Jones about fun times and big hangovers in Belfast
You may not think that rock stars and early mornings go well together, but after more than a decade in the business and with two small children to contend with, Editors drummer Ed Lay is unfazed by a 9am phone call.
“I’ve just done the nursery run,” he says when he picks up the phone in a remarkably chipper tone of voice. “I mean, if I was on tour it would be a different story. It’s almost like I lead a double life. We’ve all got families now, pretty much, and there’s a separation that has got to be maintained otherwise you’ll go crazy.”
Lay says that with the band’s fifth album finished, there’s not much to keep him occupied for the moment, but that will soon change. “We’ve got drip feeds of emails coming through about artwork and stuff like that, but other than that it’s a bit of childcare and trying to sort out the house before going out on tour for the next couple of years.”
That tour will begin in Belfast on October 9, and Lay has fond if painful memories of beginning their last major tour here too. “We have a tendency to overcook it,” he says ruefully. “Me and Russell (Leetch, Editors bassist) went out and DJed after the set and it turned into an incredibly late night. It was a really awful way to start off the tour. I probably felt worse on that second day when I woke up in Dublin than the entire tour put together.”
But he says he’s fond of the city and looking forward to embarking on the next phase of the band’s career here. “We’re not doing any festivals this year so it’ll be our first show proper that we’re going to be able to do, and it will be a privilege to be able to show off some of the new tunes in Belfast. We haven’t been to Belfast in a while so it’s a real opportunity to show people what we’ve been working on. It’s been an exciting time for us.”
There’s a sense that Editors are ready for a rebirth. The band’s last album, 2013’s The Weight Of Your Love, was the result of a turbulent time in the band’s history. Around 18 months after beginning work on the record, progress had stalled and in April 2012 guitarist Chris Urbanowicz was asked to leave. Lay remembers that as a difficult time.
“It got fairly bad,” he admits. “Not in an angry sense — we weren’t having full-blown arguments in the studio — it’s just that communication stopped.
“You don’t get this massive flare point, you get a point where people stop coming in to work because they don’t really know how to portray how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking about the music.
“It’s a real shame that it happened but what came out of it was the three of us — me, Tom (Smith, singer) and Russell — felt that there was something we wanted to keep going. We felt quite strongly and passionately about it, so that’s what we tried to do. We came up with a solution and unfortunately it meant Chris leaving the band but it meant we were able to carry on.”
Has Lay spoken to Urbanowicz since? “No, I haven’t. It’s a bit of a strange situation. It’s like when you’re introduced to somebody and you forget their name, and you get to a certain point when you can’t really ask their name again. It’s like that, it’s really difficult. Maybe I’m waiting for a moment where I feel, ‘this is it, I’ve got to speak to him’. It’s quite a personal feeling.”
Following his departure, two new members joined and the band decamped to Nashville to record the album afresh with Kings Of Leon producer Jacquire King. Reception, though, was muted and Lay is lukewarm about the record, saying that its anthemic rock sound wasn’t a fair reflection of the band’s tastes.
“It was more a case of getting a band together, I think,” he admits. But at least it gave Editors the kick-start they needed and, as he points out, the band went on to play some of their biggest ever shows while touring it: “There was life in the old dog.”
Lay is much more enthusiastic when discussing the new material, of which two songs have so far been released as teaser singles, and the five-piece line-up, now well established as a unit.
The new songs hint at an album heavy on electronic textures — something they have tried in the past, notably on their third album In This Light And On This Evening. Lay namechecks the in-vogue electronic producer Jon Hopkins and, more improbably, The Chemical Brothers.
"I think we were always going to have a reaction to the last record," he says. "The new stuff is (a case of), okay, we know how each other works, we've got to know each other, how can we push ourselves? What music do we like creating? This record, and the fact that we produced it ourselves - there were no outside influences.
"We were in the middle of nowhere, a place called Crear in Scotland, and we put together a studio ourselves.
"We were completely isolated and all the decisions were down to us. So this is definitely a slice of how we like our music to be portrayed. If you don't like this record, I don't think you'll like the tunes that we're all listening to."
Editors could never be accused of making the same record twice, much as some early fans might have wanted them to.
Indeed now seems like a good time to reflect on their past, since this month marks the 10th anniversary of their debut album The Back Room, which launched them from the close-knit Birmingham scene to relatively instant success.
It was a time when British guitar bands influenced by new wave and post-punk bands of the early eighties were very much in vogue - contemporaries included Franz Ferdinand, Maximo Park, The Futureheads and The Rakes. But Lay says the anniversary hasn't been on his mind, and he has no interest in looking back.
"We've been so wrapped up in this (new album)," he explains, "and it almost doesn't feel like the same band anymore.
"Maybe that's why I haven't thought about it.
"Obviously there are some songs that we still play and are incredibly important to us, but because we've gone through so much I haven't really looked back."
All the same, he's able to acknowledge the serendipitous timing that put his band on the road to success.
"We went out on tour with Franz Ferdinand (in 2005), and that was huge for us," he recalls. "That got us out to a whole wide range of people, and it came at a time when mainstream radio was playing our type of music.
"We hit at exactly the right point, it couldn't have been more perfect. They were playing guitar bands and they were hungry for young British talent - people like Maximo Park.
"We were definitely in that vibe. And it was exciting, of course - when you're on the highest rotation on MTV2 or something. You couldn't buy that now, no way. So we definitely got lucky when we came out.
"But I think the bands that have stalled are the bands that kept on doing the same thing. They thought, 'this is what people want - indie jangly guitar music with spike', and we just thought 'we'll do what we want'."
Lay is too polite to name names, but his satisfaction with his own band is patently obvious. And a decade on, with their fifth album just around the corner, who can blame him?
"I think it's testament to us as now - a group of three individuals - that we are still writing and releasing music, and people are still talking about what we're doing, 10 years down the line. It doesn't happen to many bands."
Editors play The Limelight, Belfast on Friday, October 9