When I call Ed Lay, he’s got the small issue of a broken shower on his hands. At home in Somerset, housekeeping and rehearsals are keeping him busy before heading out on tour for three months. When not dealing with such mundanities, he is most likely to be found behind the drum kit for Editors, arguably Britain’s most successful post-punk outfit.
Hot on the heels of summer festival season, the Birmingham five piece are preparing for a string of dates across the UK and Europe to promote their latest LP, Violence. Belfast’s Ulster Hall will play host to Editors on 15th October, the band’s first gig in the city in three years. It’s a pleasant coincidence then that a Northern Irish band played such a seminal role in Ed Lay’s musical education.
“My first gig was a band called Therapy? at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire; it’s just that feeling, the power of the bass in your chest, that’s what made me want to do this for my life and I knew what I wanted to be involved in. It was what really turned me on to the power of live performance, that feeling when you go into a room where there’s massive PA and a storm of excitement. It’s a bit like going to your first football match or something. I always remember walking down the steps and seeing the terrace for the first time, it was just unbelievable.”
Ed fondly remembers playing Limelight back in 2015 as one of his favourite shows of the In Dream tour. Always a band to keep fans on their toes, Editors’ live shows – just like their studio releases – are never quite the same as the last. “It’s a bit of a step up this time with some smaller venues thrown in the mix. Since then , we’ve released a couple of records that have got people thinking about our band again so hopefully there’ll be a bit of inquisitiveness about what we’re like and if we’ve still got something to offer, and I firmly believe we have. It’s a good time to be a band.”
Whilst Editors’ raison d’être is very much live performance, touring is different now six albums in. “Obviously spending time away from our families gets harder and harder as the kids get more dependent on you and relationships at home become more complex, so it’s always hard to leave.” Despite the occasional twinge of homesickness, going out on the road remains very much a thrill for Ed: “Being a live band is where we’re at, we’ve always had a very important role as a live act and I think our music translates particularly well live. For us to go out on tour, especially our own tour rather than festivals, you get to curate it yourself, invite the support acts. We’ve got a very exciting Irish act called Talos along with us for the UK tour. It makes it our show, it makes people want to come there to see us, which puts a little more pressure on things.”
From humble beginnings gigging around the English Midlands, Editors have now played to crowds as huge as at Glastonbury and Lollapalooza. Early singles ‘Bullets’, ‘Blood’ and ‘Munich’ garnered media attention at the time of their release and helped debut album The Dark Room climb to number 2 in the charts in 2006, but the band’s rise wasn’t the catapulting success it may have seemed. “It was quite gradual; it was never just from nothing to everything. We’ve worked really hard, we’ve done a load of gigs, over a thousand. To do that many shows, you realise you’ve got to build up to [bigger] venues, it’s not like we’re an arena band everywhere across the world.” Ed is equally grateful and bemused by Editors’ massive mainland European fan base: “There are places where we do play arenas, like Belgium and Holland – that’s where we are festival headliners. It’s bizarre! It’s one of these anomalies – we play to 20,000 people in arenas in countries like that, and then we come over and play much humbler venues in the UK. You get a balance in learning how to work different types of rooms, which is a challenge in itself. It’s pretty rad what we’re doing. We love the variety that brings us.”
Having spent the last few years on some of the continent’s biggest stages, it must be strange to downsize to the likes of the Ulster Hall. “I mean, when you get on stage at Glastonbury and there’s 20,000 people shouting for you, that’s a massive thrill… but people talk a lot about intimacy and it’s true, you do lose it. When you’re playing lots of different smaller venues, it’s difficult to translate a bigger production into it so we’ve thought about that and downscaled quite a bit.” Ed is quick to reassure: “Not in terms of impressiveness, but in terms of what would look completely overblown and stupid in a smaller venue, but keeping ‘us’ as a rock band – what we’ve always been. Hopefully that will carry the songs just as in far in the venues we’re partnered up with. We’re coming back to a lot of ones we’re played before, which keeps us grounded.”
Throughout their career, Editors’ discography has been anything but predictable. Labelled as everything from indie rock to dark wave, the band veered into more electronic territory on their fourth LP The Weight of Your Love (losing guitarist Chris Urbanowicz in the process), and have not only revisited but furthered the influence of this genre with their latest release. Ed believes the constant development of the band’s sound is inevitable.
“I don’t think it’s up to the audience really, we’re always going to evolve. I don’t think we’d find any joy in playing [the same thing], that’s not what we’re about. I’ve seen people go to retro nights and have a fabulous time because you can never really recreate experiencing something for the first time. So for us as we get older, I feel that we have to change our music. We can’t just be that band that we were fifteen years ago, it’s impossible. We’re different people, we’ve got different bodies and we can’t necessarily play the same things flat out. We’re a changed group. I feel that we’ve expanded ourselves really well over time and we’ve got more left in us.”
For Ed, Editors aren’t about nostalgia.
“We like experimenting with new gear and different types of music. If people get sick of that then fine, we’ll disappear. Every record we make connects in a different place more, for instance, this record [Violence] has really connected in Germany for whatever reason, and the French seem to have clicked onto it suddenly. We’ve never thought, ‘Oh, we want to be really big in the UK, let’s concentrate on that and make really UK-centric music’. We’ve done what we like and it’s been picked up in different places which is really exciting for us. So we can travel, experience other cultures and get invited back to play big shows – which is exactly what we intended to do. We’ve always wanted to spread our net quite far which is a great position to be in, being able to be more expansive than reclusive.”
The more hard-hitting synth-fuelled edge to Violence is largely thanks to Benjamin John Power, AKA Blanck Mass of UK drone duo Fuck Buttons. “The collaboration came about through our guitarist [Justin Lockley]. He’d briefly worked with Ben before through his connections with Mogwai. We’d heard his record when we were working on the new songs and we couldn’t believe just how brutal it sounded, and we thought we needed something like that in what we were doing. We wanted something a bit more aggressive and electronic, so we contacted him and he felt it was a good challenge for him at that point. I’m so glad we’ve got his stamp on the record.”
Of course, everything in moderation. “On the flipside of that, we got [producer] Leo Abrahams who pours more emotion out of the songs, more of that band energy that we might have lost had we just stuck with Blanck Mass’s interpretation of the songs. We had to meld the two together and I think there was a compilation of everything that had been in the last fifteen years. We were trying to get that balance – I think balance is a key word for this record. We wanted to feel like a band that was playing songs, but more than you would get from just four or five guys rehearsing. We wanted emotion but also some bleak power on there as well.”
Violence’s lead singles ‘Magazine’ and ‘Hallelujah (So Low)’ have been well received so far. Ed feels that they really encapsulate everything Editors wanted to get on the record: “The title tracks work for me and the new set and live production is strong. We feel like it really draws people in.” Many bands from the British indie rock heyday of the mid 00s haven’t stood the test of time, yet Editors have. Ed pinpoints the band’s constant evolution as a testament to their longevity at the top:
“We’ve never just made the same music that everybody likes because that’s never going to sustain us as a band. We work hard and often spend time abroad and in Europe as we really enjoy exploring. As a band, we’ve gone through a bit of upheaval, like when Chris left [in 2012]. That was a lifetime ago, three records back… bringing new people in, fresh ideas, working with Leo and Blanck Mass, different producers, working on our own… we’ve kept on wanting to try new things. That’s the main thing: we all love music in different ways, and it still moves us when we hear new records.
In terms of new releases, Ed rates Cat Power and Lana Del Rey’s recent collaboration ‘Woman’, and, if push comes to shove, reckons The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream would be the album he could listen to for the rest of his life. But when asked about what inspires him to keep making music at this point in his career, Ed searches for the words. “We’re a… hungry, ambitious band, though quite quietly. We want to be big and we try to make songs that have staying power.”
Editors will perform at Belfast’s Ulster Hall on Monday, October 15th 2018. Buy tickets for their show here.