They may not be old enough to buy booze, but they’re definitely old enough to kick arse all over South By SouthWest and the rest of the US
Despite sounding like many other grunge-themed American power trios, Home Counties heroes The Subways are currently in the process of winning hearts and minds Stateside on their 21-date tour. Yes, where Oasis, The Libs and, um, The Music have all failed, these Welwyn troupers are having a crack at America – and, it seems, they’re winning. Even though singer Billy Lunn is the only one of them that’s old enough to buy a proper drink here, the last few weeks have still been a blur. First, there was their appearance on The OC, playing ‘Rock & Roll Queen’ live in the Bait Club. Now, the band are all road-hardened gig vets, well used to life inside the tourbus bubble.
“It’s the only place that feels like home,” laughs Billy when we catch up with him on the way from a show in Kansas to the band’s appearance at SXSW. “Our drummer Josh doesn’t sleep in hotels, he can only sleep on the bus. He’s like a cat or something – he likes enclosed spaces.” Coffin bunks or not, things are going insanely well. “Last night we played in this real little backwoods God town. When Fall Out Boy played they drew 50 people – we turned up and the place was rammed!”
Even though there are over 1,000 bands playing this year’s South By SouthWest, The Subways find themselves at the centre of an A&R whirlpool, with the massed ranks of American music business types all turning out to see their gig. Even after a day spent doing boring TV and radio interviews the band lay waste to Austin, with Billy screaming, “Thank you so much for coming to see us!”, bass player (and Billy’s muse) Charlotte swirling around the stage and Billy’s little brother Josh doing his Grohl Jr thing on the drums. Out here in Austin, The Subways are quickly confirmed as hotter than a day-trip to Death Valley.
The next afternoon finds them backstage after a daytime show in some grubby warehouse in the arse end of town. Billy is nursing a brutal finger injury, which he’s picked up from striking the guitar too hard during the show. Outside, bunches of people bustle in the streets for the festival. Sucking intermittently at his slashed finger, Billy’s still in enthusiastic mode. “I would never have expected anything like this,” he beams. “As well as the amazing reactions we’ve been getting from audiences every night, we’ve met all these bands that we haven’t seen for years – since we played at [tiny north London gig-pit] the Buffalo Bar. Then all of our favourite bands are playing too – our hearts were fluttering before the Arctic Monkeys even stepped onstage, we were so excited. South By SouthWest is like Glastonbury without the mud!”
“Things have been crazy since The OC,” says Charlotte, peering out of the window at the SXSW crowds. “Now we can go and tour for months this year in the States. We played a gig in Washington and 850 people came, which was amazing to us. But we love touring. It’s our life and it gives us purpose.”
Only draconian US licensing laws can dull their fervour. “We played a show in LA and Josh and Charlotte had to be escorted in because they were under 21,” laughs Billy, much to his fiancée’s chagrin. “Afterwards this big bouncer made sure we left as soon as we finished,” she moans. “We played in New York and the show was fantastic. All the people at the front were crowdsurfing, but the people up on the balcony were just standing with their arms folded. I was like, ‘It’s not enough!’. I got them clapping, then I went on to the balcony. I was thinking about jumping down, but I had to finish the gig – in one piece.”
“We just want to connect with people. I remember when The Libertines played The Square in Harlow,” reminisces Billy, “and Carl jumped into the audience and accidentally bashed one of my mates in the head – it was the most brilliant moment. They’re the reason we wake up in the morning.
“Basically,” he smiles, “whether it’s at the Buffalo Bar or in front of a huge American crowd, we play every show with our fucking hearts.”