Live @ Carling Bristol Academy
October 10, 2004
Interview: Steve Bateman & Graham Gardiner Photography: Steve Bateman

“Every once in a while a band emerges fully formed, that fulfils a dream no one even realised they had. A band who are spookily, synchronically of the moment, but who also transcend it, slightly glazed eyes already on where they're going next. A band who simply strap on, plug in and give out but manage to do so with an uncanny pop universalism. A band whose musical Esperanto is, in this case, comprised of equal parts American, English and Swedish - a transatlantic / North Sea meeting of angular, electric wire guitars here, a voice as English as cricket there. A band whose tunes make grown men go weak at the knees, and yes, whose looks make young girls' knees tremble too. That band, right now, is Razorlight.”
- Official Biography Extract

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find Razorlight!” That was the unexpected message that greeted me, after I called Razorlight’s Tour Manager, Kumar, to confirm R*E*P*E*A*T’s 5pm interview with the band, at Carling Bristol Academy on Sunday evening.

He continued, “The only clue that I can give to you, is a pub called the Highbury Vaults, but I’m not sure where it is, or if the band will even be there.” Although amusing now, at the time, both Graham and I, wondered if the interview would happen after hearing this. But, as devoted Razorlight fans, we weren’t prepared to let this faze us, and we were determined to track the band down.

After asking several locals for directions, followed by a brisk 15-minute walk, we eventually found Johnny, Andy, Carl and Björn, having a quiet drink in the Highbury Vaults. Walking over to them, was a little nerve-wracking to say the least, but, they were all very warm and hospitable, with Johnny and Andy agreeing to do the interview at 6pm – success!

Razorlight, are one of the finest young rock ’n’ roll bands to emerge in Britain for many years. They were formed in the summer of 2002, by charismatic frontman Johnny Borrell, who recruited Swedish ex-pat Björn Ågren (guitar), Björn’s friend Carl Dalemo (bass), and Christian Smith-Pancorvo (drums) – who left in 2004 “due to health reasons,” and was later replaced by Andy Burrows.

With several demos being played on London’s XFM, interest in the band soon grew, and they eventually signed to Mercury Records – unleashing their limited edition debut single, Rock ‘n’ Roll Lies, in August 2003.

Along with a hectic touring schedule (as both a support + headline act), more singles including Rip It Up, Stumble And Fall and Golden Touch, Razorlight finally released their debut album, Up All Night, on June 28, 2004 – which has been hailed as “the finest debut since Definitely Maybe,” and as “a modern classic” by some critics.

Containing sharp observational lyrics and rhymes (revolving around the highs and lows of life in London), Johnny accurately describes the record as, “the perfect document of living with passion, spirit, spark and desire in the dirty old city."

As an exceptional live band, Razorlight would later tonight, serve up a blistering set from start to finish – with the opening pairing of Rip It Up and Don’t Go Back To Dalston, rocking everyone who had come to see them play, on the NME Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot Tour.

But, there were plenty of highlights throughout, including the adrenaline-charged Carl and Björn, vigorously jumping all over the stage. A topless Johnny climbing atop the 10ft speaker-stacks, during new song Keep The Right Profile, and even walking through the entire crowd for the classic / epic In The City, as his impassioned deluge of Dylan-esque words, tells a tale of love and rock ‘n’ roll…

Great songs, a great voice and fast becoming an era-defining band – Razorlight truly have a Golden Touch.

1. Congratulations on Up All Night going Platinum + your Q Award for 'Best New Act'. Although you said you "still haven't come to terms with fame and success" - do these achievements feel like a vindication?
Johnny: "No not at all, I don't really believe in the idea of vindication for a start (laughing). People tell me that I should, but you know (pausing), this is Chapter 1 of Razorlight and it's a good record - it's probably one of the records of the year. It's a good feeling, as there are a lot of bands in the world, and this year, out of all the bands in the world, I think we've made one of the best records. I could say that as a fan of the record even, without any conceit or anything. I don't feel any vindication at all (laughing), it's a very simple thing - you make music and that's it - 13 songs you know, that's what it is. I've got no expectations apart from just making good music, and making a better 2nd album, a better 3rd album, a better 4th album, and maybe a dodgy 5th one (laughing). Something like an award is pretty meaningless, without being ungracious really. I mean, I have a lot of gratitude (pausing), actually, it's voted for by the readers isn't it (looking at Andy)?"
Andy: "Yeah it is - that was a particularly good one, and we didn't know that until we got there."
Johnny: "Well you know that's great, if people think that we're the best band around - but music isn't a competition is it. It's hard to distance yourself from the feeling that it is though, because all you have to do, is look at the charts. I mean the moment you get somewhere in the charts, like when the album went in and it was Number 1, we were sitting there and then suddenly it's like, "Oh shit, is it going to stay at Number 1?" Then it drops to 3 and you start looking at the charts, and it's bullshit to be honest. I really doubt that anybody sitting in this pub, knows what chart position London Calling went in at. You don't remember a chart position, but you remember a good piece of music. But the award was cool actually, it's a thing isn't it - it's not actually very big, it's actually quite small. We were talking to The Edge and Adam Clayton from U2, and The Edge was hilarious actually, he was really cool - he was talking about his band and his frustrations…"
Andy: "It was very funny hearing two legends talking about their rhythm section, and not being able to cut it (laughing). You know, that was really weird and unexpected."
Johnny: "Talking about his frustrations with the band basically. Every band has frustrations and you get frustrated with people in the band, but it's quite reassuring to know, that even a band of that stature still have that - but that's music, that's what it is. There's no magic-land above the clouds, where everything works all right, but I think you always assume there is…"
Andy: "The magic is in the photocopier - the dude in the photo, is the same dude with the same problems (laughing)."
Johnny: "Exactly, the magic is in the photocopier (laughing), so there you go!"

2. For many, both Golden Touch and your appearance on Parkinson, were major turning points in your career. Would you agree?
Johnny: "The major turning point in my career, was probably hearing Lead Belly & The Golden Gate Quartet, singing The Midnight Special. Concurrently at the same time, I had an amazing piece of luck - I was playing at the Twelve Bar, and Rob, otherwise known as Larry Love from the Alabama 3, came down and said do you want to support us at The Underworld. I was 19 years old and kept telling my mates, that all I wanted to do was to sing Gospel music, and they said "Fuck off, you can't do that, you're a skinny white boy." But I was like, yes I fucking can and I went and supported them. Rob said, "Johnny, I just want you to come and sing some fucking Lead Belly shit, with Gospel singers, before we go on." I just couldn't believe it, so I went and did that! I love singing with Gospel singers and I always have, it's just that thing you know, I've always done it - I was doing it before the band got signed, I was doing exactly what I did on Parkinson before the band got signed. You get record companies coming down and going (adopting American accent), "What's the angle man, how do we do it?" not that all record companies have American accents (laughing), but you know what I mean. It's just music, I don't believe in genre and I don't believe in any boundaries on anything, I just believe in music and if it works, it works! So I did that thing at Glastonbury, and then we did it on Parkinson, and we did it last night."
Andy: "I'm sure commercially, it was a turning point for people who didn't know about us, but whether it was a turning point for Johnny or for us, I'm not sure. It sold a few more albums."
Johnny: "Well the thing is, if there's 8 million people watching a show, if you work it out, if 1% of those people went out and bought the album, then it would be almost triple-platinum overnight. If 0.1% bought it, then that's what 80,000 - so it's a volume of people. Golden Touch, took me 2 weeks to write sitting at a desk. I kept coming back to it, kept coming back to it, and there's bits I left out of it, that I regret now, and I sort of do them live - some of them. I really thought it was a good song when I wrote it - it really felt like it was a good song. Vice is my favourite at the moment, definitely, and not just because it's out, it's actually my favourite. When I hear it (pausing), actually I was in the cab coming here and it was XFM, and they were playing some old stuff - they played Animal Nitrate and Disco 2000, and then they played Vice all in a row. It was very interesting, because you can imagine when I was 16 / 17 years old, those songs were very important to me, and then I heard my one back to back. Yeah it was great, I was really happy, because it sounded brilliant and it totally fucking stood up. Steve Lillywhite said to me, that you can never put on your own record and judge it. It's true, the only time you can ever judge it, is if you hear it by accident, like when it's on the radio or something like that, and that's very true."

3. Andy has fitted into Razorlight perfectly, but can you tell us about Christian's departure and this changeover?
Johnny: "I don't really know to be honest, it'll take me a bit of time to try and come to conclusions. I mean Christian (pausing), there's nothing I can say about it really, apart from that I wish him well, or maybe I don't - I'm not sure actually, I'll have to think about it. The changeover was miraculous really - we had 85 drummers over a weekend, and if Andy hadn't of come, then I don't even think we'd have a band. The first time Andy played Golden Touch, it sounded ten times better than I'd ever heard it played. The second time Andy played Golden Touch, I suggested why don't you go double time in the choruses, and you did it (looking at Andy), and it sounded a hundred times better than I'd ever heard it. Andy's exactly the kind of person I'd have behind the drums, because he's a brilliant musician and to have that much feel, and be that good, and to have such a genuine love of music and songs, is rare - I've got it as well, so it's quite handy really (laughing)."
Andy: "Joining Razorlight has been unbelievable!"

4. You've always had tremendous confidence in your abilities, but were there any instances where you doubted if you would succeed?
Johnny: "It depends how you measure success you know. When I was listening to the monitor mixes of the album, I was sitting up all night and it was finished, it was just to be mixed, no more recording to be done. I listened to it three times in the night, in-between watching Jeremy Brett and Sherlock Holmes episodes, and drinking brandy (laughing). I mean yeah, you doubt yourself all the time, but that's what drives you on to do stuff. Without self-doubt you wouldn't do it, otherwise, you'd write 10 songs and go round - probably like a lot of bands do - come up with a shit band name, tour the toilets and never get anywhere. I relentlessly fucking pull the songs apart, and wish that I had some talent (laughing), and that's how I feel. Everyone's like that - everyone! But ultimately, the only thing that I can do, is to get inspired. You hear a song and something happens, you get inspired and you write a song, and the more you write, hopefully, the better you get at it. That doesn't always work does it, because Paul MaCartney wrote some great songs, then he started writing some really shit ones, but there you go. I think it's probably age, but I'm young enough yet."
Andy: "Yeah, you're all right at the moment (laughing)."

Pic : Anon

5. Do you remember how you felt when Up All Night was finished (along with the artwork), and you could hold your own record + buy it in the shops?
Johnny: "Yeah, it was on Oxford Street. The morning it came out, I went straight down the shop the moment it opened! I was mildly disappointed because it wasn't gatefold, because we didn't have time to make it a gatefold thing. I mean it says artwork by Intro here (looking at sleeve)…"
Andy: "I remember going round to see Johnny, and it was the first time that I'd met him. He was staying in a flat in Finsbury Park, and the artwork was fucking everywhere (laughing), he was living in a lounge full of all this (pointing at sleeve), and all of his other stuff."
Johnny: "Basically, the company came up with a load of shit, and then I gave them really what it was supposed to be. If I was that kind of person, I would have insisted that it said that I did the artwork, but I can't give a shit. People can rip-off my songs, people can do whatever they like, I don't really get bothered - mentioning no names (laughing). But yeah, it did feel really good, just looking at it and going fuck I've got a record - and then putting it on. I like the cover, but I think it's very difficult to make a CD actually look good. You can do it with a 12", but something this big (holding CD sleeve), is pretty fucking difficult. I didn't like the picture because I was on tour, and I knew which picture I wanted, but it hadn't managed to get to the office in time. I mean literally, we were up against fucking deadlines. I would've liked one where I was actually looking at the world, because I'm not quite looking at the world there. Inside, that's the only beard I've ever had."
Andy: "Only beard you've ever had (laughing)?"
Johnny: "It is! Anyway, the original artwork which has been used for the Japanese version - I hated that. That was sort of leave the design company and the record company, to come up with a cover, and it was like "Here you go!" I was like ok, great, so you mean as well as fucking doing this, this and this, I'm going to have to do the artwork as well, great. But no, of course I was going to do the artwork, because it's my record you know. I don't like the fact that it repeats itself in places, and I wanted it to have more of the chords in and stuff, but it's pretty good, there's bits I really like. The Electronic Lie & Love Detector, this guy found at the design company, that was cool. "I know the rest! His thoughts are the ultimate logic and justice," I quite like that as well. The decimal points record, is a BBC record from 1971, which explains the decimalization system - I used to put it on at night when I was going asleep, I got obsessed with it actually (laughing)."

6. During your infamous NME interview, you claimed to be "The greatest songwriter of your generation." Do you feel you've now justified the bold statements, such as the Bob Dylan songwriter comparison?
Johnny: "I never, ever made a Bob Dylan songwriter comparison, I never did that. What I said, is that the first Razorlight album, would be a hell of a lot better than the first Bob Dylan album. How many songs did Bob Dylan write on his first album, do you know? He wrote 2, and the rest of it was folk covers right. I wrote every song on this record, so that's not even a songwriter comparison. Obviously, you get Chinese Whispers, but I actually don't give a shit, you know whatever, but I never made that comparison. It's a funny thing with Dylan, if you can hear It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), and not be absolutely blown away and just really check yourself, and say who the fuck am I, then you really don't deserve to have ears. But other stuff, sometimes I hear it and I think it's incredible, sometimes I think it's not. "She can take the dark out of the night-time, and paint the day-time black," that's just a beautiful line, but sometimes, I think it's a piece of shit - but most of the time I think it's a beautiful line. But I really don't think I've made any particularly bold statements. Paul asked me at the end of my career, who I'd like to be compared to, and I said, well not The Libertines for fucking sure. I'd like to be compared to Orson Welles and Edith Piaf, you know what I mean. Fair enough, but time will tell."

7. Which bands / musicians, had the greatest influence on you as you were growing up, and inspired you to form a band?
Johnny: "The only band that inspired me to form a band, was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs - absolutely! I did not believe that bands could exist in this day and age, and still be vital and mean something, until I saw Karen O at the Metro Club, I just didn't believe it. Which is why, I was playing an acoustic guitar and singing with Gospel singers, I was trying to reinvent it. I just did not believe that rock 'n' roll, could be anything other than a pastiche or a retro thing, until I saw Karen O and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs that one night, and I just thought hang on, there's something happening here. That's the only band that ever inspired me to form a band, really, actually. I mean loads and loads of bands have inspired me to write songs, and to do things, live my life in certain ways, but that's the only band that ever inspired me to form a band!"
Andy: "The Beatles probably."
Johnny: "Yeah, but I never wanted to be in a band, well I always did, but I just thought the idea of being in a band was fucking redundant."
Andy: "Yeah, yeah, yeah (laughing), which brings us back to what you said (laughing)."

8. To what extent has Beat Poetry influenced your lyrics, i.e. "She's been reading Bukowski for days" from In The City?
Johnny: "Well I don't think Bukowski is a Beat Poet for a start, because A. he was a novelist not a poet, and B. the Beat Poets were surely a collection of poets from the 1950s - like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snider, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, people like that. So, I don't know why Bukowski gets linked with any kind of Beat thing. I really, really am a big admirer of Charles Bukowski, but for his honesty and integrity, and his bullshit and hypocrisy - that's a classic Johnny rant isn't it (laughing)? But I am an admirer of all 4 of those things. In terms of Beat Poetry, that's just me being a shit lyricist really. Sorry, I'll try harder next time (laughing)."

Pic : Anon

9. In the promo video for Vice, your mobile number was shown, which enabled fans to call and leave messages for the band. Were you able to return many messages + which was the most memorable?
Johnny: "It was absolutely great in the beginning right, because it was just in the song, and people were ringing it up. Then it was on the press release for the single, and it went to the press, it was on the cover of the NME…"
Andy: "From the album though, there were loads of people weren't there."
Johnny: "Yeah, well that's when it was good, because it was 20 a day or something like that, and I could actually have some relationship going on. Now, if I ring it, it's always full, because it holds 50 numbers. It's my old mobile number, but if I ring it, I can go through them all and I can call it back in an hour, and there will be another 50. So it's just impossible now. The best message I ever got, I can't really explain why, but there was a girl who rang up and said she really loved the music, and she didn't want me to phone her back, she just wanted to tell me that she really liked the music, and I thought it was really inspiring."

10. Many fans are aware of your friendship with The Libertines, but don't know the true story / history behind the relationship. Can you tell us more?
Johnny: "Well I met John, Pete and Carl, at about the same time - Pete and Carl were living in a flat downstairs on the Camden Road. I went round and met Pete, because my friend took me, and we were trying to borrow some money off him, to go to the pub. He had a stack of books and I picked up Nausea by John-Paul Sartre, and we started talking about it. We played each other a song, he played me America by Simon & Garfunkel, and I think I played him Rock 'n' Roll by Velvet Underground. He said he was looking for a bass player, and I said I know a guy called John, and that was it. In later days, John had left the band for a bit, and he was actually playing with Andy, which was a weird coincidence. So, I found myself in a situation where I was walking down White Chapel High Street, with absolutely nowhere to go, and I bumped into Carl, who said "Do you want to play bass?" I said Carl, I'll help you out for a week or whatever it is. I did that, and that was when Gary joined the band and John came back. I tried to kick the skiffle out of them a little bit, and then that whole Rough Trade thing begun. Good Luck to them by the way, because the thing about The Libertines, is that I've been a fan of them before anybody else in the world, because I was a fan of them before they even formed. I'll always give them all the fucking support, that they can possibly fucking have, and it's just a shame that they've broken up, but there you go."

11. With the current resurgence of British guitar music, which new bands do you think, will have the biggest impact on the music scene in 2005?
Johnny: "I don't know about a big impact, but I like Bloc Party."
Andy: "Yeah, Bloc Party - we're going to meet up with them tomorrow."
Johnny: "I think they're really good. I genuinely, genuinely love Yeti, which is John Hassall's (The Libertines) band."
Andy: "We were so fucking excited watching them, it was amazing!"
Johnny: "Just fucking brilliant you know. It's kind of hard when you really like somebody, to watch their band and to be objective, but there's lots of people that I really like. A lot of my friends are in bands, including very famous people, and I've seen their solo efforts and not had that feeling. God knows what will happen, but I think if Yeti recorded their live set, it would be an absolutely fucking essential album. It would be the kind of thing you'd put on, and then come back to, not all the time, not something to live by, but just come back to. But I think they're the best band around by a million miles!"

12. Up All Night, is to be released in the USA on October 26, where you will also be supporting Jimmy Eat World. What are your thoughts on attempting to 'break' America?
Johnny: "Well, I'm just going to say exactly what Alex from Franz Ferdinand said (laughing), I've got no interest in breaking anything, I just want to make some music - I really try not to have any preconceptions about audiences. People sometimes ask, "How do you feel about playing to that audience, or that audience?" An audience is an audience, and when I get up there, I try to transform people."
Andy: "I'm sure that's not an Alex Ferdinand original anyway. I mean that's normal and totally fair, and good for him for saying it, and good for Johnny. It's true, that's what it's about."
Johnny: "Exactly, I mean we played in New York and Los Angeles, and they were both wonderful gigs. I fucking love it out there, and I can't wait to get out there again. It was really good going out there, because it's a blank canvas, and you can do what you like with it - it's great!"

13. When you return to the UK, you'll be supporting the Manic Street Preachers. Are you looking forward to this?
Johnny: "I am looking forward to it. I actually served James a couple of pints in The Verge in Kentish Town, when I used to live and work there. He was on his own as well, I might add, so I don't know why he needed a couple of pints (laughing), but there you go."
Andy: "I can't wait!"
Johnny: "It's going to be great you know. I mean the thing is, I was a massive, massive fan of the Manics first 3 albums, which were vitriolic - but nothing after and including Everything Must Go. Now, I don't really know where they're at, so it will be quite interesting."
Andy: "It's almost like they've gone so far, from where we were all probably into them anyway. It's just a privilege to be playing with the Manics, but I'm not so much a fan now, as I was when I was at college. I'm sure we'll have a good time - I'd love to hoover with Nicky, that would be good, get the Dysons out (laughing)!"
Johnny: "I really fucking want to talk to Nicky - I'm sure they're great! I mean how fucking hard would that be, going through what they had to? The way I saw that band when I was 18 / 19 years old, is very different from how I see it now, because now, I know what it actually means to be in a band."

14. You "love being on tour" - but what does it mean to you, to play your songs live?
Johnny: "I'm always flipping - I'm flipping between being exactly in the spot, where I was when I wrote the song - I love it when I'm there - and then I'm just sort of grabbing a bit of the crowd, and making them do something. Or, I'm in the music bit where I'm not singing, or even when I am singing, but we do this thing and then we all kind of interact, because you can't do it the same every night. It's not like you can put a click-track on, because when you perform, you interact with the audience, so you have to respond and rise, and hopefully, I'm getting better at understanding the signals from the crowd. When I started playing gigs, there'd be like the first 5 rows jumping-up-and-down, and the other people just standing at the back - so I'd go "Shit, they're enjoying it, but they're not." But it's not that, it's just that they're not at a gig to fucking jump-up-and-down, and now I realise that. Yeah, it's great!"

15. 2004 has been a breakthrough year for Razorlight, and you must have fulfilled many goals by now. But what are your other hopes + ambitions for the band?
Andy: "I need more paper (laughing), for my list of ambitions to tick-off, because I've run out - its gone a bit too fast for me."
Johnny: "There's a million miles you know. Hopefully, I'll live a long life and hopefully I've got a lot of things left to achieve, millions of things. But there's no point talking about them until you do them, and then I'll bore everyone shitless talking about them, after I've done them (laughing)!"

16. Lastly, chips or cream buns?

Johnny: "Chips!"
Andy: "Definitely chips!"

A very special thanks to Johnny, Andy, Claire @ Infected and Kumar, for all of their time and help.

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