Editors | Escaping The Workroom

With songs like these, it’s easy to see why the Editors had a sizable portion of the record industry at their beck and call during the ceremonial label-artist courtship period.

 

You’ll find bassist Russell Leetch hulking menacingly in the background of most of the Editors’ press photos. Perhaps standing alongside his diminutive rhythm section partner Ed Lay makes him seem larger than he actually is. Still, with his close-cropped haircut and sturdy build, Leetch gives every impression of being an incredibly tough customer, like a longshoreman who somehow found his way into one of the United Kingdom’s hottest new rock acts. In person, however, Leetch effectively undoes any misconceptions that an ignorant young rock journalist might have formed based on promotional snapshots alone. He’s affable, accommodating, and animated, fueled by the excitement of being part of a band that’s just beginning to crest in prowess and popularity.

But just as Leetch’s appearance belies his personality, fans and the rock press alike often mistake his band’s grimly elegant sound as signifying a group of four young men in dire need of some sunlight and a Prozac prescription.

“We’re really happy people,” says Leetch, sounding almost worried that anyone might think otherwise. “Just normal guys.”

Part of the Editors’ appeal is indeed a certain everyman factor. The United Kingdom loves an underdog story just as much as the folks here in the States, and the music press across the pond has championed the Editors as a classic example of how to pay one’s dues and find immediate success, all without the benefits of a well-oiled hype machine.

“We’ve never been shoved in the people’s faces,” Leetch says, “so people do discover our music quite organically.”

The Editors discovered each other by chance, at Staffordshire University. They all majored in music technology, which is of course a breeding ground for bands, thinly veiled as a field of study. Possessing similar musical tastes (including a shared adoration for Elbow and the Strokes), the foursome began the process of gelling as a unit and sharpening its chops. As early as graduation, the group’s output had begun to attract label interest, including a few ardent advances from the majors. Encouraged by this promising start to its career, Leetch says that the group decided to “give it a crack,” and in autumn of 2003 relocated to Birmingham, where their management team was located.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Leetch, who was born some 20 minutes outside of Birmingham. The return proved to be less than ideal, however. The band’s members had to start grinding out a living while continuing to rehearse together, working what Leetch lovingly refers to as “crap jobs.” Leetch drew the “mind-numbing” gig of a call center drone.

After a year-and-a-half term of imprisonment amongst the working undead, one can speculate that the desperation and bleakness of the situation played no small role in molding the songs that would become the band’s platinum-selling debut, The Back Room. “Munich,” one of the singles that helped to catapult the band atop the U.K. charts, is shot full of the kind of anxiety that only a wage slave could fully comprehend. From the onset, the song craves to burst forth from its moors, with Chris Urbanowicz’s guitar line careening wildly up and down, while Lay’s hi-hat works overtime just to keep up. Sure, frontman Tom Smith sounds like he’s singing about the frailty of the human condition with the central line, “People are fragile things you should know by now/be careful what you put them through,” but isn’t he really just railing against the indignities of working a dead-end job for peanuts?

With songs like these, it’s easy to see why the Editors had a sizable portion of the record industry at their beck and call during the ceremonial label-artist courtship period. Ultimately, however, the group opted for the independent label Kitchenware, signing on in September 2004.

“The people that we chose were the ones who were the most friendly to us and got what we were about, so that’s why we signed to Kitchenware,” says Leetch.

Those who have kept their ears to the ground here in the United States might have heard some of the rumblings as the Editors conquered their homeland through a string of hit singles and incessant touring. Be warned: They’ve now set their sights on our fair nation, and fired the first major salvo of their American campaign with a string of dates this past spring.

And yes, there is a follow-up record in the offing, with some early appetizers from it beginning to trickle into the group’s live setlist. Though there’s always a redoubled pressure for a hotshot young band to reproduce its early success on album #2, Leetch views the sophomore squeeze as a healthy motivator.

“I think a little pressure is good because you want to make [the new album] better than the last one. We’re hungry for our music to get better and be more successful with our music.”

Whatever the band produces next, don’t expect it to conform snuggly to expectations. The Editors have a nasty habit of defying those things.

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