For issue #11, ONE headed to the Warner Bros. Records offices in Burbank to meet up with UK garage/punk outfit The Subways. Mid-tour in support of their sophomore release “All Or Nothing” — following their successful 2005 debut “Young For Eternity” which spawned the hit “Rock & Roll Queen” — they were particularly easy-going during the sometimes-monotonous photo/interview process. After shooting with the band we spoke with singer and guitarist Billy Lunn, learning more about the band’s early days, recoding the new album with Butch Vig, and where they find inspiration. —ONE
Hi, is this Billy? Billy, this is Justin. Hey, nice to talk to you too, and thanks for working with Wes on those portraits. And hey, listen, I hate to do this to you, but I’m on the go so I’m gonna have to put you on my speaker phone, so it’s gonna be a technological clusterfuck for a second… hold on… Can you hear me?
Even better than before actually.
(Laughing) Well, then all right. So, you’re The Subways; what’s the hometown, where are you guys representing?
Josh and I are from suburban north London, and Charlottes from Harlow in Essex. We formed in 2002 and yeah we just started playing together when we were friends in school at like 16. Played our first show at The Square in Harlow, our first ever show, which is where Oasis and Coldplay and Blur all played, so it was amazing to have our first gig there.
At that age man, wow, I can only imagine. Must’ve been a pretty amazing feeling.
So, I mean, what kind of, or, as a band do you think you’ve benefited from playing together for so long… I’ve read all the press stuff about you guys like your throat surgery and the break up and stuff, aside from those big headline-stealing situations, being a band that long, how hard is that?
I think the pros and cons are pretty extreme actually things can be really, really amazing because we know each other so well we feel at ease with each other. Especially when we’re writing songs together, we feel like we can be totally honest with each other. I feel I can take any idea to them. I’m totally open and confident about any lyrics I come up with in front of them, or any guitar solos or song ideas which for us just makes it so much easier; you know we really make music that we really, really want to make; there’s no songs in our repertoire that none of us want to play we all want to play the songs we have. But you know, because we know each other so well we know what buttons to push when we want to rile each other up (Laughing). Our arguments are pretty extreme. But I think that each of those situations just brings us together because once you’re over it you grow up together, you know? And we’re on this big adventure together touring these amazing cultures and countries and cities, and towns, and villages. And all these people and play on these crazy stages; we’re on a great journey together, and I don’t think I’d want to be on this journey with anyone else.
Well I guess it makes sense! When you formed the band at 16 that was your first band, right?
Absolutely, as soon as I learned to play the guitar, “Supersonic” from Oasis was the initial reason I wanted to pay guitar, it made me pick up the guitar and learned. After I did that I’d take my acoustic guitar to school and in any spare time I’d play, instead of playing football or eating lunch, and just play the guitar with as much spare time as I could possibly muster. Eventually Josh became interested in the drums after I played him Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, and all those bands, so we started jamming out together. My parents bought him a drum kit and me a guitar and we’d rock out, and when Charlotte and I started going out she’s watch us rehearse until one day I told her, “Hey, look, instead of sitting there why don’t you join in and start playing with us.” That’s really how the band started; it’s been that way ever since. That’s all we know—in regards to the band, we’ve not been in any other band. For us it’s just normality, we wake up and make music together.
That was an excellent answer. I’d guess you’ve had to give that one before, eh Billy?
Oh, no, no, no…
(Laughing) I mean that it was so well stated, and encapsulated. Well done!
Well from playing together for so long and all that, how has it changed, you know, with the responsibility and recognition that goes along with recording for major labels, on the international stage?
I don’t think the pressures have altered at all really, because when we started out Charlotte and I would book the shows, we’d go on the internet and find out the addresses of the venues where we wanted to play. When we first decided to venture into London and start playing shows at 17-years-old, Charlotte and I would make the CR-Rs, package them up and ship them off. I used to record, or produce the demos. I had a 16-track recorder, and these cheap mics, Josh would play, Charlotte would play, then I’d play, then I’d mix it, burn it to a CD-R and sent it out. I think that’s pretty much how it is now. I still write the songs, and do most of the engineering and Charlotte also deals with that sort of stuff, but the roles in the band have pretty much stayed the same. The pressures pretty much stayed the same. We just do what we do. We just really love it, and yeah… we’re just really comfortable in the roles we’ve given each other. Josh just sorta, you know, he basically just likes getting up on stage and playing the drums—that’s what he really likes. I think that’s what a lot of drummers like—that sort of primal release of energy. But Charlotte and I really enjoy talking about music, and going into the cities, and that kind of thing. She and I have a sort of melodic partnership when it comes to writing songs; if I have an idea of what I want to perform I take it to Charlotte and we work on bass lines, melodies. If I think it’s really gonna be heavy we bring in Josh to add that Kinetic energy, and it’s pretty much been that way since the beginning. It’s been working out pretty well so far.
Touching on what you said about Josh adding the heavy footprint in the tracks, and knowing that you guys worked with Butch Vig on the new record, how much of this album’s sound had you mapped out before heading into the studio, and how much of it just took form in there?
Basically all the songs that we have on the album, even those that aren’t on the record, we wrote immediately after we released “Young For Eternity” and then we spent two and a half years touring, and while we were on tour we wrote as many ideas as we could since we were afforded the opportunity to travel to all these great places and playing to these crazy audiences, which was incredible and certainly inspiring, When I was traveling on the bus and we were riding through cities, and towns, and the desert, and through the mountains and that kind of thing it started inspiring us and I’d literally be writing the songs on acoustic guitar then take it to Charlotte and Josh and so by the time we finished touring at the end of 2006 when we were demoing I borrowed five grand off the label so we could afford some Pro Tools equipment and cheap Pro Tools equipment so we could demo these songs properly. A lot of the songs, parts-wise, the more I think about them were really built up and it’s definitely a more intricate record, especially compared with the first which was quite simplistic and live and more raw. On the second record after touring with bands like Taking Back Sunday or Foo Fighters, or playing with Oasis, and after seeing all these amazing bands on stage and meeting with them and talking about records and that kind of thing we really wanted to evolve and try things we’d not tried on the first album. A lot of the double tracking ideas we used with Butch Vig on the record we were playing around with while demoing, songs like “Girls and Boys” were written on tour while we were in America and “I Won’t Let You Down” as well. “Shake! Shake!” was written in Arizona… so we really thought about everything that was going to be on the album before even meeting up with Butch, and then when we got together is was basically the fine-tuning; putting it up in those speakers and making it sound like it was turned up to eleven and everything was purely widescreen because that what an incredible producer like him does. One strange thing was—I’ve never written in the studio before, always written on tour or at home, never in the studio, I find the studio a stressful environment, but when we wrote with Butch on this second album it was ust incredible I don’t believe that we’ve ever had as much fun in that studio as we did with Butch. He’s a really disarming character; he put us all at ease. We felt like we could totally open up to him, and he continually encouraged us to keep writing in the studio and that’s how we came up with songs like “Strawberry Blonde” and “Obession.” And I think you can hear that, the songs written on tour and the ones written in the studio.
I’ll have to give another listen and keep my ear open for it, experience the differences for myself.
Well those two tracks are the ones with where we have key changes in the chorus, which is something that I never really worked with before. I really wanted to… (call starts to break up) I really wanted to work with key changes and that was the perfect environment. I could sit down and think about it, talk about it with Butch.
It sounds like it was a good pairing for sure. Billy I think I’ve taken enough of your time so I’ll get out of your hair. But real quick, how were the Souther California stops of the tour?
So good, it was so good. It’s so good to be back really. We recorded the album in L.A. last year—we spent quite a lot of time out here, so it really started to feel like a second home. We played in San Diego at Epicenter last night, it was great to be back, and it’s amazing to see familiar faces down in the front row. It was brilliant. We just can’t wait to come back; the audiences out here are incredible.
Very cool man, listen Billy, thanks for your time.
Thank you Justin, thanks for calling man.
I’m glad we got to talk, and the best of luck with everything coming up.
You too, and hopefully we get to meet up next time we’re in San Diego.
No doubt, I’m looking at the schedule like I should have been at the show last night!
Next time though, it’s a plan.
Photo © 2008 Wes Driver
“All Or Nothing”
Warner Bros. Records