Once upon a time Razorlight dealt in spacial fragility as a counteraction to the bombast and constant drone of the garage bands of the time. Johnny Borrell and Bjorn Agren were the sort of players that realized less is more and the live shows pushed that to the fore with Borrell freestyling over barely formed chord progressions. It was a revelation and that's what made Razorlight so special, but alas the Razorlight of old is no more and it's been replaced by a beast of a band that sound like a steroid addicted version of their former selves. Designer Magazine's Alex McCann caught up with Bjorn at the MEN Arena to discuss the past 12 months and hopes for the future.
Q: In that time honoured tradition something always has to be the new something. With January being the new December, meaning we have to look back on the past 12 months. You started 2004 playing to about 250 people at Manchester Roadhouse and ended the year on the Arena tour with the Manics. How's the journey been?
A: It's f**king cool (laughs). It's the only thing you can say because that tour early in the year was great. It was the first time we started playing live really good. Then we did the tour a few months after to about 1500-2000 capacity and that was sold out every single date. It's been a nice year in ascension and we haven't had to deal with any failure or any disappointment. The only thing was going to America and touring with Jimmy Eat World and at least half the crowd were going "I don't understand this. What is this? I have no idea".
Q: It must have been good to have a challenge though because in the UK it's band you've had a crossover with such as Suede?
A: Yeah, we got so good by playing those 3 weeks on the Jimmy Eat World tour. When you play your own gigs whatever you do they'll cheer and it doesn't make you play better. On that America tour you really had to play cos the only excitement you were getting was from the other 3 people on stage.
We actually played a gig with The Futureheads in San Francisco and that was much better. It was just this tiny club to about 200 people, but it was rammed.
Q: The thing Razorlight have done is that with each support slot, you've ended up leapfrogging up to the same size venue on your next headline tour. It must feel pretty strange that on this tour you could be reaching the Arena level next after the Manics tour.
A: It's quite insane that after the 2 dates at the Apollo the next logical step is here. I'm just happy that people want to come us see us. We've definitely been thinking lately about how we've overtaken every band we've supported within the year. The thing is that when you look at it from the outside you think "shit they've grown so much", but it's hard to look at it from the inside and out.
There's a lot of bands that seem to have grown quite quickly. The Scissor Sisters, us, The Zutons and I think that's cos there does seem to be an interest among people for guitar bands. It's a lot easier for bands like us to get big exposure now.
Q: Are you fans of the Manics at all?
A: I wouldn't call myself a big fan, but "Motorcycle Emptiness" is just an amazing song. I really like their political edge. They've got a T-Shirt that says "All Rock N Roll Is Homosexual". That's a pretty hard-core political statement and you have to appreciate that.
Q: The perception of Razorlight has changed in the last 12 months. January 2004 there was clearly visibly divide between those that love and those that hate you. Now there's barely a critical word said against you
A: In January there wasn't an album out, but we were saying we know this album is gonna be really good. If the album isn't even there it's understandable people could say well how can you even say that. We just knew that the album we were going to come up with was going to be something we we're proud of.
Q: When bands move onto the next album they tend to look at their previous release quite critically in terms of how they can improve. How do you look back on the debut?
A: I haven't listened to it that much. Again it's so hard to try and judge something yourself because you can never be totally objective. I remember the first reaction I got about a month after it was finished. I was just making some food and I thought i'll put it on in the background so I can almost disengage myself from the music to get a better point of view on it. I actually had to put the knife and fork down as I got this tingle up the back of my neck. You feel really stupid, but it just hits a nerve. If you're good, you're good - you can't really argue with that.
Q: In between all the constant touring you've been in the studio working on the new single?
A: We've been trying to record and then we went to LA for free days to record "Keep The Right Profile". We were trying to record "Anywhere Else" and we've got a version of it demoed but we weren't totally happy with it. I think the problem is we were working on it between TV shows and Razorlight are a band who'll never release anything unless they're totally happy with it.
We have a quality control policy where we'll never let the fans down and we'll never let ourselves down. I find it weird that some bands don't want to reach beyond themselves just because they sell records. Everything has to be a step up or a step in the right direction - there's no reason why it shouldn't be perfect.
Q: Why did you choose Ethan to produce the single?
A: Well the thing is we were discussing with him to do the first album and he was on our list. He really wanted to do it, but we'd written and rehearsed the album in London so it would have felt a bit weird going to America to record it. He kept phoning us up after that and I think it was because he's English he gets so tired working with American bands. We were only there for 3 days, but after about 2 days he had this cockney accent and you could tell there were so many things he hadn't been able to do for so long. The fact that we nailed the song in 3 days says quite a lot.
Q: What does "Keep The Right Profile" sound like? Are there any comparisons with songs on the debut?
A: There's not many songs on the album you can compare it to. We're playing it tonight and it does stand out. It's not a complete departure. (Ed: Designer Magazine describes is at "reminiscent of Blondie and features the refrains "It's a wonderful life, you can do what you like" before heading into a dub breakdown and leaving with the lyrics "When you're gone you don't come back". It's the best song Razorlight have recorded to date and looks set to be a sure fire Top 5 smash")
Q: Last time we spoke Johnny credited you with being the member that brings a lot of space to Razorlight's sound. Is the next album going to continue that?
A: There's never any specific arrangements. We like to play around with it and songs are constantly changing and the way we play the songs now are totally different to what they sound like on the album. I think if you preconceive how the album should sound it ends up sounding a bit cliched. The best thing we can do is just get a rehearsal studio in Berlin for 3 weeks and just play and see where it takes us. We know we're a good enough band to change things around...certain bands aren't together enough to even do that and consider improvisation.
Q: Johnny mentioned last week of you not doing albums again and getting into the industry cycle. Would you care to elaborate?
A: It would be fun doing it a different way, but we'd have to get to a certain level to be able to do that. You have to reach a certain level and an established fanbase until you can do that. Like any relationship you have to establish a trust. If you've got a certain amount of trust you're able to move about a bit. Most bands do the album-tour-album-tour thing because it's tried and it works. Hopefully we'll be able to free it up a bit in the future...(laughs)...depending on how the second album goes
"Keep The Right Profile" is out February 14th
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