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Editors on “Black Gold”

Lucky Enough

Oct 21, 2019 Photography by Rahi Rezvani Editors
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Editors are releasing a new best of compilation this Friday in the shape of Black Gold. Containing 13 songs from the band’s extensive back catalogue alongside three previously unreleased new compositions, it’s the first time Editors have put out a collection of this kind.

Editors are now six albums into their illustrious career after 2018’s excellent Violence, which many critics and fans labelled a highpoint of the band’s canon to date. The tracklisting on Black Gold encompasses their entire career to date and will no doubt be the subject of healthy debate between those same fans and critics over its inclusions and omissions. The band formed in Birmingham in 2002 and released their Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, The Back Room, in 2005, drawing favorable comparisons to Interpol, Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, and early U2. The Back Room landed at #2 on the British album charts, an auspicious placement for a debut album by a new indie band. Editors’ next two albums, 2007’s An End Has a Start and 2009’s In This Light and on This Evening, both debuted at #1 and the following three albums all hit the Top 6 in the British charts. The band is also quite big in some other countries, such as Belgium, where their last three albums have debuted at #1, and The Netherlands, where they have had two #1 albums and two #2 albums.

The band will be embarking on a mammoth tour throughout the UK and Europe starting at the end of January 2020, and with rehearsals set to start soon. Under the Radar caught up with founder member and vocalist Tom Smith and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Williams to discuss Black Gold. The band’s current line-up also features Russell Leetch (bass, synths), Ed Lay (drums, percussion), and Justin Lockey (guitar).

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): With such a revered back catalogue to choose from, how did you arrive at the tracklisting for Black Gold?

Tom Smith: It was a bit of a head scratcher. Once we decided to make it one CD, then we really had to be streamlined with it. I think we knew straight away there were going to be some songs missing that people might expect to be on the album. But we wanted to make sure every album was represented. Its not a straightforward task because it’s not a best of just for the UK or Belgium. Different records have resonated differently in different parts of the world. The first two albums are probably when we were at our most relevant in the UK but we’ve been making a lot of music since then so we wanted it all to be represented. Songs like “All Sparks” and “Blood” had to make way for some newer ones so it was a bit tricky if I’m honest.

Elliott Williams: It was pretty tough to be fair. We just wanted to get an overall picture of the band. I was quite a strange thing for us to do a best of anyway. Especially in the days of Spotify and playlists, whether it even has any value. The main reason behind it was to try and introduce a new audience to the band. We’ve made six records now. Three with the first line up, then three with this line up since myself and Justin [Lockey] joined. We’ve tried to paint an overall picture of how it all came together, and show that journey from the start to where we are now.

Was it a democratic process choosing the tracklisting?

Elliott: Definitely. It does get hard especially when you consider some of the songs off the first two records that haven’t made it. But we just wanted it to be a flagship for what we’ve done up to now, as well as an overall picture of the band. It’s a hard thing to get right, but I’m happy with the tracklisting. I think we all are.

There are three brand new songs on the compilation“Frankenstein,” “Upside Down,” and the title track “Black Gold”which for me highlights how confident the band must be in their current output.

Tom: We are as passionate about the music we make now as we have ever been. We’re very proud of every record we’ve released and still throw everything we have into it. We get the buzz making new music as we did when we made The Back Room. If that feeling wasn’t there we wouldn’t still be doing it. So I think that might be reflected when people hear us debut new material, whether that be “Frankenstein” at Bearded Theory festival this summer or more recently stuff from Violence. The band definitely feels completely at ease with itself in the line up that it is now. Going through the change and having made three records in thisI won’t call it new any morein the current line up as we are now. Just existing and touring and writing together in the studio more gives you a lot of confidence and I think that’s reflected in when we perform songs on stage. “Frankenstein” in particular is a very poppy, melodic moment so in that environment we were always prepared to throw that song in and see how it goes because as soon as people heard that hook for the first time, we knew it would go down well.

Were those songs written during the sessions for Violence or after and are they precursors for the next full-length Editors record?

Tom: They were written after Violence. They weren’t around when we were recording that album. They were written quite quickly. We weren’t looking to jump in and make another album. We were pretty excited about the tunes. In some ways they felt like extensions from the songs on Violence but to go and do them with Jacknife Lee gave them a bit of a different edge, which was really exciting. So this idea of a best of had been floating around for a while and up to that point, I felt slightly uncomfortable with being nostalgic or having a best of. It took me a while to come to terms with and come round to the idea. I’m enjoying the moment to reflect and just acknowledging what we’ve achieved before we move onto whatever we do next. I don’t know yet whether these three new songs are the end of this chapter or beginning of the next one. Time will tell.

Elliott: We had these songs, so we were gearing up towards maybe making a new record but the label had been talking to us about doing a best of. So we thought if we’re going to do this, let’s do it properly and put the three new songs on the compilation. It’s not necessarily a precursor even though I think the new songs show where we might be heading in the future. Once we’d done them we decided to draw a line under it. So it’s more about what we do next which is anyone’s guess at this moment. We’re trying to live in the present right now, then eventually get around to thinking about doing something new. Whatever we do next, I don’t think it will be as up front as the three new songs here. I think “Frankenstein,” “Upside Down,” and “Black Gold” are probably the poppiest songs we’ve ever recorded, so while it’s hard to say right now what we’ll do next, I think we’d all agree it will be very moody. That’s another reason why we wanted to release these songs then draw a line underneath them.

I agree that Editors have never looked backwards in a nostalgic sense; something, which was again recently highlighted with the Blanck Mass mixes of Violence. Are you often looking for collaborations such as that one, almost as a way of constantly reinventing yourselves?

Tom: We’re always looking for new ways to keep it fresh and keep it different. The music making experience, whether that be finding people or locations to make it feel like we’re not repeating things we’ve done before. Violence was really interesting in that regard. Not only with Blanck Mass but also with Leo Abrahams as well. Bringing the whole thing together out of these different recordings we’d made was a brand new process from what we’d done before. I think we just get a kick out of that. Collaborations come along but you can’t really force them. We’re definitely open to working with different people but its often down to how the songs progress or what opportunities present themselves to us. It was really cool to be able to share the Blanck Mass versions of those songs because it was a really good process.

Elliott: We don’t think about it too much. We struggled initially as a band with the idea of a best of or greatest hits compilation. Just because we’ve never really had that moment of reflection to look back where we’ve played an anniversary of an album. It’s always been about pushing forwards. I got into New Order through Substance and we saw this as being more of a gateway for maybe a younger generation whose parents are fans of the band. An entry point to discover all these other albums. That’s what appealed to us the most about doing it. We’ve never been retrospective. We’ve always tried to keep pushing forward, and with this drawing a line under what we’ve done it leaves things wide open to go anywhere again which is exciting for all of us.

There’s also a second disc of recordings on the deluxe edition of Black Gold entitled Distance: The Acoustic Recordings, which features acoustic versions of eight songs from the band’s back catalogue. How did that come about and how did you decide which songs to record?

Tom: If we had more time we could have done a lot more! It was lovely to revisit some of those songs, especially ones like “Let Your Good Heart Lead You Home” or “Distance.” The really earlier ones that we haven’t played for a while. It really stirred some memories for me in playing those songs again. It’s a long time since I’ve sung them. Over the years, Editors have been asked to perform acoustically quite a lot. It’s something we’ve always enjoyed and people generally tend to respond quite well to it. Essentially, we’re boiling the songs down to how they are when I first write them and it’s worked quite well. I know this is a best of but it’s nice to touch on personal favorites like “Walk the Fleet Road” even though they aren’t singles.

Elliott: It’s something that’s been up in the air for a long time now. When you do promotional stuff you often end up having to do things acoustically, and people seem to love it when we do it. We’ve been tossing and turning about whether to do an acoustic record or tour, and these are just songs we haven’t done acoustically before or for a very long time. I think it’s nice to highlight some of the songs that don’t normally get played out and show them in a different light as well. Acoustically, it can give them a different shade and they almost take on another lease of life on their own.

Will there be an acoustic segment on the forthcoming tour next year?

Elliott: It’s always up for discussion and we talk about it quite a lot. It’s just working out the logistics of it really.

Tom: I’ve done acoustic moments on quite a few tours but never with that next step of having a cellist with me or some strings. Biffy Clyro just went out on an acoustic tour, which I heard great things about, so I think it’s something we will do at some point. Maybe a whole show in that way. I’ll be surprised if we don’t because I think our songs work well in that space so it’s nice to give the audience a different take on the things that they know.

Elliott: We’re just working up to do promo now where Tom, Justin, and myself will be doing a lot of acoustic stuff. Which I can’t really reveal the details of just yet but there will be some small, mainly acoustic shows. We’d love to do a full, proper acoustic show at some point and I think we should. It would be nice to do something with proper strings and do it justice; so hopefully one day we’ll do that.

Having toured and sold out academy sized venues across the UK for a number of years, you’re playing arena sized venues on the Black Gold tour, which I guess seems the logical next step up?

Tom: We’ll see! We do like playing the bigger rooms and are lucky enough to have experienced that a fair bit over the years in different parts of Europe. We played Birmingham Arena on the second record so we’re particularly looking forward to going back there again. We’ve made six albums and even though the first two did better in the UK than the ones that followed, it feels appropriate to be able to remind people what we’ve been up to and celebrate that so we’re really buzzing about the tour. Obviously we’ll be playing songs from our back catalogue bar the new ones on Black Gold. We’re not promoting a new album as such so it will be slightly more celebrational in its feel. As scared as I am of nostalgia I’m actually quite looking forward to those evenings. Mainly because we’re proud to still be doing it. Our longevity is something I don’t take for granted. It’s cool to be up there again.

Elliott: We’re currently working on what the shows will look like, but as Tom said, we really want the shows to be like a celebration. We also want to try and get through a lot of material, and hopefully give fans an experience of what Editors are about throughout the course of our career. It won’t be too heavily focused on one album, as it tends to be when you’re on a tour cycle for a new record. So it’s quite exciting for us too, because playing in a bigger room gives us more scope to play with. Whenever we play smaller venues you tend to be set by the limitations of what they can hold or just logistical things, so it will be fun to play around with the rooms a bit. See what we can do and try to make things different in whatever way we can.

Will there be any songs in the set that you haven’t played live for a long time?

Tom: We were talking about it quite recently. A song like “Bones” off the second album, which we haven’t played live for years, is one we’ll probably revisit, and all our singles really. Playing live is such a big part of who we are so we try to make the experience as uplifting and celebratory as we can. Even though we’re making music that comes from a darker place.

Elliott: It’s a bit early to say until we get to rehearsals but I think we’ll definitely be looking to play some of the rarer tracks, and also changing the setlist from night to night. I think if you’re a hardcore fan there will be a lot of treats and Easter eggs!

Moving onto the future, will there be a seventh Editors album?

Tom: Yes, of course. I think this marks the end of a chapter so I’m just buzzing about what we do next. Next year we’ll throw ourselves into making record number seven.

Elliott: We’re all quite enjoying not having a clue what we’re doing so we haven’t started planning for the next record yet. Because we’ve always looked ahead to the next record this is new territory for us, which is what makes it even more exciting. You can have a tendency to over think things sometimes, which we try hard not to do as a band. We’d rather go on our gut instincts then ride with it. If we’d have thought about every move we ever made I don’t think we’d still be here. We’d be driving ourselves insane. So after we’ve finished touring we’ll probably work out what’s going to happen next but until that time, who knows?


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November 19th 2019

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