1What is the phone number in the lyrics of Razorlight’s 2004 single ‘Vice’?
“(Laughs) 07761 010233.”
“I’ve got an old Nokia so I still know people’s phone numbers off by heart! I’ve never had an iPhone. That was my number for three years. I scrawled it on my chest when we were on a football-themed cover of NME [for Euro 2004] draped in the England flag – which was fun for my Swedish bandmates! Loads of people would phone to leave songs and messages. It was a beautiful time when we were breaking through and there was little difference between our audience and us.”
You don’t own a smartphone and are conducting this interview from the landline of a restaurant in a rural French village where you live. Doesn’t it make life difficult?
“No, it’s the other way around! When Facebook first arrived, Razorlight were one of the biggest bands in England. We were told we should do it, but for me, social media is the least rock ‘n’ roll thing you could ever do – and I don’t think any band should be doing it.”
2Who once asked a genie to use a 3D printer to print out a Razorlight album that “doesn’t totally suck”?
“Adam Green of The Moldy Peaches. Sir Adam Green. His Holiness. The only living genius in America!”
CORRECT. Razorlight’s 2018 album ‘Olympus Sleeping’ opens with a skit where Adam Green says: ‘Genie, this is Aladdin. Give me a Razorlight album that doesn’t totally suck.’
“We were joking in the studio, thinking: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if Adam Green said that?’ We got in touch with his management, and he came straight back to us. It was based on his film version of Aladdin where the lamp is a 3D printer. I loved the bit where he’s like: ‘Genie, print me such and such’. We’d always make jokes about that. I feel The Moldy Peaches are hugely underrated, so was honoured he wanted to do it.”
3In 2007, you became the seventh man to grace the cover of Vogue. Name any two men that appeared on it before you.
“I thought Elton John! They said I could choose which model I wanted on the cover with me. I’d done the music for Hedi Slimane’s collection at Dior, and he’d followed us around on tour, so I had that connection with fashion – but I didn’t know anything about models. So I asked my girlfriend [at the time actor Kirsten Dunst]: ‘Which model should I use?’ She said Natalia Vodianova, who’s pregnant on that cover. All the music press interviews I did at the time had crazy agendas and would print things I hadn’t said, so when I did Vogue or when I wrote a front page story for The Independent on climate change I could get my voice out there without people pretending I’d said things that I didn’t.”
Ever receive the fabled ‘Bono talk’?
“Yeah, I did because we toured with U2 – and I was going out with their manager Paul McGuinness’ daughter Alex, so I was sort of in the family for a bit. We’d talk a lot about songwriting. Before that, he’d walked past me in a corridor and gave me a little private whisper: ‘Don’t be afraid of success!’.”
4At a 2004 Make Trade Fair gig at Hammersmith Apollo, what cover version did you perform as a duet?
“It’s gotta be with Jamelia, right? I was thinking about that the other day, but I can’t fucking remember what we sang! Oh man, she’s such a great singer and I really wasn’t, so I felt bad. I had to hit this harmony and I couldn’t, and she just looked at me. What were we doing?”
WRONG. You sang Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’.
“Great song! I once listened to that on so much ketamine, it’s crazy – that song lasted about a day. The outro’s pretty long anyway [Johnny starts singing the outro], but when I did that on K – with John Hassall from The Libertines when we were 17 – it was like that outro lasted a whole day, so I almost can’t listen to it without getting ketamine flashbacks. So it was brave of me to do it with Jamelia, but she was brilliant.”
Any other memorable duets?
“Ray Davies phoned me up out of the blue, and said: ‘Alright Johnny, it’s Ray from The Kinks. I’ve got Elvis Costello in the studio, we were thinking do you want to come down and play guitar on ‘Sunny Afternoon’? Fucking what?! Yes! I had one of those hangovers where it’s seeping out of every pore and it lasts until 9pm the next day, but it was still incredible.”
5Which of TV’s Gladiators appears in the video to ‘Before I Fall to Pieces’?
“I’ve no idea! You could have asked me about the Oscar-worthy actor in the video, and I might have told you that. But which Gladiator? I’m afraid I can’t help you!”
WRONG. It’s Scorpio, aka Nikki Diamond.
“Right! Universal decided to take all of their videos off YouTube the day we put that one out – (Sarcastically) which was great! I was super-excited ‘cos we had Guy Pearce in it, who’s one of my favourite actors, but he was so convincing at playing an overweight superhero that nobody knew it was him. We were hoping that video would travel further, but it didn’t. Guy’s amazing. I was fanning out on set, thinking: ‘L.A. Confidential, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert…and now he’s in my video!”
6Razorlight have a new single out called ‘Burn Camden Burn’. Name the two London boozers you played gigs on the roof of.
“The Hawley Arms in Camden and…The Bricklayers Arms?”
“The Bricklayers was one of the most exciting moments in Razorlight’s early days. I woke up with a messy head and hailed a cab: ‘Take me to the Bricklayers Arms in Hoxton’. When we got there, the driver said: ‘I can’t go down here mate, there’s too many people’. I was like: ‘What? Really?!’ My T-shirt was so smelly, so I’d borrowed my girlfriend’s one which was black. I was also wearing black jeans. I’d sworn to myself I would never wear all-black in public – because it was too much of a cliché. I was always obsessing over the small details. There were thousands of people to see me in the same street where I’d been stopping people and asking for change and fags two years previously. It was crazy, but all I was thinking was: ‘Why am I wearing all-black? I look like such a prat.”
You wore all-white for a while…
I embraced that! I was thinking about copying a David Bowie haircut, and Alex [McGuinness] said: ‘Don’t do that. Whatever you look like now, you need to wear exactly that for a year. So I wore all-white for every public appearance for a year.’ She was right, because I became quite well-known.”
Is ‘Burn Camden Burn’ indicative of where you’re going with future Razorlight music?
“Not so much. I liked where we were going with the last Razorlight album [‘Olympus Sleeping’], but I want to simplify it even further. A lot of music these days sounds like people have thought too much about it and taken too long over it. When you put on an Undertones record, it sounds like: they had the songs, walked in, played them – and that’s the recording they got. That’s the feel I’m trying to get. But I’m trying to get the line-up right at the moment because Bjorn [Agren, original Razorlight guitarist]’s back in the band, which is great, and I’d like to get back to the way it was in Razlorlight before I wrote [top 10 hit] ‘Golden Touch’, where I was maybe 40 per cent of Razorlight. After ‘Golden Touch’, Razorlight became more about the songs I wrote and less about the band itself, which put a lot of pressure on everyone and confused the dynamic. I’d like to get back to being a smaller percentage of a band. I’ve had an email exchange with Carl [Dalemo], our original bass player, so we’ll see where that’s going – it could be good.”
7You cameo in a 2005 episode of The Mighty Boosh “searching for the new sound” Which two other musicians are also looking for it in your segment?
WRONG. It was Kevin Rowland and Chris de Burgh.
“Fuck, you’re right! How did I change Chris de Burgh to Bryan Ferry in my mind? That’s terrible! I’ll be kicked out of the rock ‘n’ roll club forever! I didn’t mean it! I apologise to Bryan Ferry. Noel came and supported Razorlight at Ally Pally as his Boosh character, Vince Noir, before they were known. But my best cameo was when I went to see them at Brixton Academy, and he asked me backstage if I’d mind dressing up in a full bunny rabbit outfit and run out into the crowd and start dry-humping the audience. I didn’t expect that when I woke up! I’m neighbours with Noel, so I still see him.”
8Which two acts did you perform between at Live 8 in 2005?
“Snoop Dogg was standing at the side of the stage when I came off, so he might have been somewhere around us, but I don’t have a Scooby-Doo.”
WRONG. You were sandwiched between Snoop Dogg and Madonna.
“It was Madonna?! Jeez! I’m such a big Snoop Dogg fan. He watched our set and said to me: (Imitates Snoop): ‘Yeah man, I dig that shit!’ as I walked off. I’m like: ‘Thanks Snoop! I dig your shit too man!’ ‘Doggystyle’ was an incredible album. It came out when I was 13, and I was like ‘wow’.”
9What is track six on ‘Borrell-1’ called?
“Track seven is ‘Cyrano Masochiste’, so track six would be the first track of Side 2. No, I don’t know!”
WRONG. Track six is ‘Cyrano Masochiste’ – the one you ruled out! Track seven is ‘We Cannot Overthrow’, on a record that also includes the memorable song title ‘”Pan-European Supermodel Song (Oh! Gina)’.
“Everything about making that album fell into face in such a beautiful, inspiring and enjoyable way – it was one of those magical moments of synthesis that you pray for in music.”
For a bonus half-point: instead of money, what did you need to enter your ‘Hypnagogic Mandala Parties’ gigs in 2015?
“You had to draw a circle within a square.”
CORRECT. You gained entry by using mandalas, a Hindu and Buddhist symbol that represents the universe.
“They weren’t like normal gigs. To get in, you had to draw a mandala – to get into the spirit, like a fancy-dress party. The first one we did was brilliant; the second – where we offered people a choice between drawing a mandala or paying a fiver – was shit. We got closed down by The Guardian, which was annoying. You know how they run a feature every few months about how gentrification is killing working-class areas of major cities? We were in Hackney and did one of these parties and our studio backed onto a private gated community – some old warehouse that had been turned into apartments. A Guardian fashion journalist secretly filmed the party and then sent it to the council and got us closed down.”
10Which chart-topping frontman once said: “We’re not worried about becoming a bunch of wankers because the people who become wankers were always gonna become wankers. Johnny Borrell is a wanker because he’s a wanker, not because Razorlight got massive”?
“Hmm … Whoever it is, he didn’t say it to my face!”
“Well, I don’t think I’ve ever met him so it seems like a strange thing to say! You just read that to me and I think: ‘Gosh, I hope he’s doing alright man’. ‘Cos I don’t think you give it out to people who you don’t even know unless you’re not doing alright yourself. All I can say to the guy is: ‘Good luck man!’.”
Did any criticism of you ever hurt?
“Something like that doesn’t bother you because it is transparently what it is. The only thing that bothered me was journalists making up quotes that people on the street would believe. I had five years of people saying to me: ‘Man, you’re actually alright’. What did they expect?! It’s fine to say you don’t like someone else’s music – I was always forthright about that – but to personally insult someone you’ve never met seems surreal. You wouldn’t do that in any other walk of life.”
There’s always a musician who’s an easy punchline for a while…
“But I never thought it would be me! (Laughs) So there you go!”
The verdict: 4.5/10
“I thought I’d only get one or two.”
Razorlight’s new single, ‘Burn Camden Burn’ is available now.