In 2002, four young lads that met at Stafford University during their music technology studies relocated to Birmingham after graduation and decided to put together a band in the massive post-punk era that swept the UK in the early 2000s. A series of well-received club dates and demo recordings earned the band some attention and they ended up signing with Kitchenware Records which released their debut single “Bullet” in 2005 followed up by what would become a very successful debut album, The Back Room, the same year.
Fast forward seventeen years and Editors have skyrocketed, and the small club shows at home-turf in the UK at the beginning of the century have morphed into huge arena shows across the world. The secret? Editors never stopped progressing and have never shied away from exploring new musical avenues.
A few days ago they announced the release of their seventh studio album EBM, and yet again it’s a change of direction. Blanck Mass and Fuck Buttons electronic producer genius Ben Power, who co-produced on Violence, was announced as a new permanent band member earlier this year and has laid the foundation for a completely new Editors sound. Gone are the moody, sometimes slow, electronic-tinged indie rock pieces from the last couple of albums; with EBM they aim for the club floor.
When the band swung by Hamburg for a covid-postponed gig at Stadtpark Open Air, we met up with Ed and Russell and chat about their new sound, how their work process has changed with Ben behind the decks and what will happen in the next two decades with the band. And maybe they’ll pick up where New Order left in 1990 and write a new football anthem for England.
Two decades of band life and ready for a club album
You celebrate twenty years as a band this year. That’s quite impressive when you consider that most bands break up after the second or third album and do something else. You’ve been around longer than Oasis made it. What’s your secret to keeping this marriage going?
Well, we’ve had a couple of split-ups along the way, we’ve had some changes, and had different editions of the band. Elliott and Justin came into the band in 2012 which kind of invigorated us as a band and changed the direction in certain ways and we found a new process of working. And now we have Ben from Blanck Mass coming in and adding something completely new. Well, not new because we have worked with him before, he co-produced on Violence so we’ve had some input from him before. But having him as a permanent member of the band writing songs together with Tom, Justin and Elliot has given us a new perspective.
But has it changed the band’s dynamic? I mean, you started out as friends from university but when you change members it turns the project into something else.
It’s like any long friendship that comes in and out of focus. We’ve all grown up together and now we’re married with kids and all of that stuff (laugh). As you get older you know it’s your job when you’re touring but at the same time you hang out with your friends. But you want some sort of separation. There’s family life and band life and we want it all to co-exist but to be separate. I guess your perspective changed over the years.
But we’re all good mates and still like to hang out together, and we all like very similar styles of music, that’s crucial. We deviate slightly but when we’re putting it all together I think it’s fairly similar.
Now you’re about to release your seventh album, EBM, but the first big news turned up a few months ago when you announced that Ben Power, from Blanck Mass and Fuck Buttons, is a permanent band member. How did it all happen, to make him a permanent Editors member?
He has written the record, we got a bunch of new songs now, and it feels like we’re a real band again. It would have been funny to get to the end of the recording process and just say to him “Thanks, see you around” (laugh).
Maybe he will come out and tour with us for the October shows we’ve just announced. He’s obviously not here today because he still works on some soundtracks; to get everything sorted for him to come for tonight’s show was a bit too much. But with this transition, it’s going to be fun and a new way to re-envision a lot of older songs. We’re going to send him some midi lines so he can work on them and add some elements to what we’ve done, you know, to let him do some reworks on his synthesizers.
For an outsider who would put on a Blanck Mass, or a Fuck Buttons, record for the first time to learn more about Ben, it would seem like an unlikely addition to the band considering his background. How does his musical background tap into Editors sound?
I think we have quite many similar reference points. We’ve worked a lot with Flood [producer] and Ben loves a lot of Flood’s records. Well, he likes a lot of music in general and just has this wide repertoire doing soundtracks and all, and we were fans of Fuck Buttons although it’s more alternative. We’re just like-minded people that grew up with the same kind of music.
Since Fuck Buttons he hasn’t really had any other creative counterpart. He worked with other bands obviously but to actually be in a band doing the job as a musician, going out touring, and all that, really appealed to him. To get into that collaborative situation with other people in the studio and accept other people’s views and learn again how to hold back your own direction for somebody else’s, for the greater good, just appealed to him.
If you listen to Blanck Mass’ recordings there’s not much vocals going on, and when you get this electronic producer mindset we don’t have to deal with songs and forms and structures anymore. He write big songs just like Tom, and his musicality is important just like the musicality of the voice is an important part of our band, and merging it all together in a satisfying way appealed to all of us.
But how much has the writing process changed with Ben? Electronic musicians usually have quite different working methods and I guess you had to synthesize different ways how to write music. Has it affected how you have worked with the new album?
Yeah, but the whole process was done over lockdown as well, it was done remotely, which obviously works with computer music. He would send over ideas to Tom who continued his work. You know, it’s the first record that Tom hasn’t written all the chords, but Tom wanted that shift. Everyone gets stuck in their ideas after a few records and you don’t want to repeat yourself. Tom was writing a lot of songs but for different things and he really didn’t see them as Editors songs and just needed a different input from another person.
It worked out well to do it remotely, and when we all came together it added more life to the music, put the meat on the bones of what they were doing.
I got a copy of the album from your label a few days ago and have listened to it quite much lately, and I’m quite sure that fans will be surprised to hear songs like “Strawberry Fields” and “Kiss”. It’s something new and different, at times a bit of Depeche Mode over it.
Yeah, there’s definitely a type of Depeche Mode feel to that [“Kiss”]. We’ve made a couple of moody electronic kinds of records, but this is a bit more of a rush of energy, straight up, but it feels like a rock record as well and something for the clubs at the same time. When me [Ed] and Russell came to play our parts on the record we wanted to keep that electronic club feel. The album title [EBM] obviously reflects that, with the EBM movement and all, although it got the playful connotation as well because it’s Editors and Blanck Mass together. We just wanted it to be a club record.
Some of the remixes will tap into that as well and we already released the Phase Fatale remix of “Heart Attack”, and tap into that sort of industrial world, something we’ve always had a keen eye on. Just to have Ben in who knows so much about that world is quite freeing.
But Ed, you’re not worried to turn up for band practice and someone will say “Hey, we found this super cool Roland drum machine and it sounds awesome”, and then you’re suddenly out of the job?
When we first talked about Ben being involved in producing the band fully we went out an evening after a show and he said “Ed, I hate to say it but I’ll basically write all your parts” and I was like “It doesn’t really bother me, Ben, I’m sure I can bring something to that” (laugh). You know, if he got such intense views about rhythm in his tracks it’s not something I’ll shy away from because it’s all quite similar to have I think about it.
Tom has always been about the songs while other people in the band are more into an atmosphere or the tonality, and that wasn’t lost on Ben at all.
“It would be nice to be like The Cure”
Longevity in a music career differs drastically from band to band, and few bands carry on for two decades. There are tens of thousands of artists vying for attention and gigs, and that’s on top of the artistic challenge of getting the inspiration for new songs and finding the right melody or beat. But passion, perseverance, and a lot of hard work is the key to achieving something, and that’s what represents Editors.
Twenty years have passed, but what about the next two decades? And having two huge football fans for an interview inevitably leads to the question about the next English football anthem.
To get back to where we started; 20 years as a band is quite an achievement and usually, it calls for some sort of celebration. Save for the new album, do you have anything special coming up?
Maybe we’re not going to celebrate that the band started, we rather wait for The Back Room celebrations in 2025. It’s quite much happening with the new album and all and we rather focus on that this year, and the next. It’s nice looking back but we always try to look forward, and you just hope people come with you for the ride. We’ve been doing it a while now and it can’t be that bad (laugh).
You’ve made it through two decades with Editors. What will happen in the next twenty years?
It would be nice to be like The Cure (laugh). We played with The Cure just before the lockdown. You know, a band with their catalogue that just go up and do their thing is just amazing. They’ve been in and out of fashion over the years, and I think that’s a good way to be.
When we started we wanted to be like our idols REM and how they kept on progressing with their work and how they just enjoyed it all the way through. That’s always what we wanted, to get to that phase with this catalogue of songs. It was very hard at the time because there were lots of bands blowing up in the UK but then just imploded and moved on to something else. So to be part of a big generation of British songwriters and still carry on is just great and something we always wanted.
But we don’t live too far into the future, we just sort of think “This is a good idea for a new record, let’s go for it” and we have always tried to variate and not get stuck. We’ve sort of transversed the line between rock and electronic music and keep on meandering between those, and at the moment we’re very much down the electronic music path, and that’s how we want the tour to feel like in the autumn as well, like a club. But the next record may be stripped back and really dark and acoustic. Who knows? (laugh). It’s all about keeping it interesting. If you don’t do that you might as well do something else.
We still enjoy each other’s company and still look forward to going out on the road. Unfortunately, Justin isn’t with us this summer but it’s not because he didn’t want to be, it’s because he can’t. There’s an awful lot of people, especially after the last couple of years, who feel nervous and anxious about going back to whatever job they’re doing within the music industry, especially getting up and performing in front of people again and being out on the road for weeks. All those anxieties sort of builds up until it reaches a crescendo. There are expectations on everybody and it’s a lot to take onboard.
To wrap it up; I know both of you are huge football fans. It’s Ipswich and Aston Villa if I remember it right. Any plans on writing a football anthem?
(laugh) We’ve tried and got one stored that is called “Back of the Net” (laugh). New Order did it, why not give it a bash, maybe not to Qatar but the Mexico one would be a perfect fit (laugh).
Photograper: Sophie Dobschall