Interview With Razorlight
When Razorlight released their debut album in 2004, ‘Up All Night’, they were quickly heralded as the year’s Best New Band by NME and Q.
Three albums later, they’ve proven they have the staying power to succeed in one of the world’s most fickle music scenes.
“It was great – we loved it,” says Swedish-born guitarist Björn Agren when recalling the band’s beginning. “I think it was really cool that our kind of music, the kind of music that we’d been listening to all our lives … there hadn’t been much of it around. None of it was in the charts, it wasn’t that cool to be in a band; you’re supposed to have [a] drum machine and synthesiser, and go around playing dance music.
“Then all of a sudden, people started liking rock again, and rock was in the charts again. So I think around 2002 to 2003 and ’04, it was a really cool time to be in a band in London because the whole thing just exploded. There was a great energy in the entire city. It felt like we were doing something…it kinda felt like it must have been like this in ’77 – everybody’s just up in arms, dragging guitars around, playing rock.”
Like any new band that provokes fierce interest/hype and subsequent fame/success, Razorlight decided on several guidelines early in their career. Number one: establish a means to shrug off any praise or criticism. “We decided really early on that the only people that we’d listen to their opinion are the four people in the band and that was because people saying good things about you can be even worse for the band,” Agren ascertains. “There’s a point where you, yourself, will start thinking that you’re really hot shit and you don’t need to try anymore, then the whole band will just become really boring, really quickly. Even though you have talent, you still have to work on it.”
The band’s latest album, ‘Slipway Fires’, includes a few of their strongest and most moving ballads to date, one of which is ‘Hostage Of Love’, a song they performed at Nelson Mandela’s World AIDS Day concert in Johannesburg back in 2007. “It’s so strange,” says Agren, “because, you know, we’ve played with U2, we’ve met Roger Daltrey and all that stuff, and then you meet Nelson Mandela and all of a sudden, meeting Roger Daltrey doesn’t mean anything …it’s like meeting Gandhi, basically. The whole AIDS thing is an insanely important issue. It’s become an issue of if you have money or not. And if there’s one thing that should transcend whether you’re rich or poor, it’s an epidemic.
“It just felt good to do something about it,” he adds. “And we actually did go down to South Africa as well and saw for ourselves what’s going on. It’s insane…if they find someone who’s HIV positive in the slums of Johannesburg, what they do is they give them multivitamins and tell them to stop smoking and tell them to get as much exercise as they can. And these are people who have HIV – it’s insane when there are drugs available.”
It was around that time, in late 2007, that the band members went on a much needed holiday. Agren took his guitars to an island in the Mediterranean. “I do these kind of hermit holidays, I like to call them,” he laughs. “I just get away to some secluded place and just hang out on my own for a couple of days, and just bring my guitar and record some ideas. Johnny went to this island off Scotland for a couple of months just to write lyrics and write songs. It’s great to go away for a month or two, and then you remember why you are in a band with these people in the first place. So then there’s all this anticipation when you get to play together again.”
And how was the recording process of ‘Slipway Fires’ compared to the first two albums? “This was easily the most enjoyable writing and recording of an album that we’ve done,” says Agren. “Maybe not so much writing, writing’s always fun but the recording was…well, the first time we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. And then on the second one, I think our producer really wanted to get it done in a time-frame so the mood was a little stressful. Whereas with this one, the great thing is that everyone who worked on this album was either born in 1980 or ’79, so it was nice and chilled out. And that was the recording, two months. And before that, we had a rehearsal space where we’d write all our musical parts. We always like to finish the bulk of the album before we go into the studio, so we know what we’re doing and we know how we’re going to record and play.”
Razorlight frontman, the flamboyant Johnny Borrell, is notorious for being one of the most seemingly arrogant and egotistical musicians in British rock. His statements have included: “I’m the greatest songwriter of my generation,” and the unflattering review of the Kooks’ debut album, ‘Inside In/Inside Out’, as “the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard.” So, I ask Björn, is Johnny as arrogant, confident and conceited as people think he is?
“I think it’s funny when people go ‘Oh, you’re not allowed to be that confident’,” he responds. “Like everyone’s supposed to be confident, but you’re not allowed to be too confident. Well the thing is…I think he reckons he can probably back it up with the amount of time that he’s put in, and of course he does exaggerate sometimes and then the journalist will exaggerate a little bit more. I think it’s a bit sad when people think that’s all there is to him, you know, this guy who makes these loud statements. That’s one part of him but there’s a lot more to him.” In other words, Borrell is an arrogant egotist but fans will still kneel at his un-humble feet.
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