Razorlight have announced details of their first album in a decade with ‘Olympus Sleeping’. Check out four new songs along with UK tour dates and Johnny Borrell‘s exclusive comeback interview on NME first below.
Described by Borrell as ‘a love letter to rock n’ roll’, the band’s long-awaited fourth album marks their first since 2008’s ‘Slipway Fires’. Due for release on October 26, ‘Olympus Sleeping’ saw Borrell working closely guitarist David Ellis and with Martin Chambers of The Pretenders on drums, to create a record with “the electric energy of their first album, the pop-rock craftsmanship of the second and the lyrical ambition of the third”.
To preview the record, check out the performance videos for four new songs ‘Olympus Sleeping’, Japanrock’, ‘Sorry?’ and ‘Got To Let The Good Times Back Into Your Life’ on NME below, along with Borrell discussing the new record, his life over the past decade, politics, fake news, The Libertines, and looking back on his ‘motormouth rent-a-quote’ past.
NEW SONG: ‘Olympus Sleeping’
The band’s upcoming UK tour dates are below. Tickets are on sale from 10am on Friday August 31 and available here.
Tuesday December 4 – Glasgow The Old Fruitmarket
Wednesday December 5 – Sheffield O2 Academy
Thursday December 6 – Liverpool O2 Academy
Saturday December 8 – Bristol SWX
Monday December 10 – Birmingham The O2 Institute
Tuesday December 11 – Brighton Concorde 2
Thursday December 13 – Nottingham Rock City
Friday December 14 – London O2 Forum Kentish Town
Sunday December 16 – Manchester O2 Ritz
Monday December 17 – Newcastle O2 Academy
Tuesday December 18 – Leeds O2 Academy
Wednesday December 19 – Cambridge The Junction
Why did you choose now to return with Razorlight?
Johnny Borrell: “Well, I didn’t do Razorlight for a long time because I was off doing other music. If you have a band and it becomes successful to an extent, then people starting talking to you about it as if it’s a brand or something. The successful band model means people give you pressure to release an album every album every 18 months – whether you’ve got something to say or not. What people tend to do is copy whatever is trendy at the moment and blend that with their band/brand identity. Then they go ‘oh-oh-oh-ohhhhh’ over the middle. That’s their MO.
“Every time I’ve ever done an album, it’s because I thought that’s the best music that I can make at that point in time. That music wants to be made. With Razorlight, that wasn’t happening and I wasn’t inspired for a while. I was off making world music and doing jazz and putting a lot of effort into music that was very much uncommercial and a different kind of thing. Then I had a friend who just said ‘Let’s go into the studio and just jam, see if you if enjoy it’. That was about two years ago.”
NEW SONG: ‘Japanrock’
And it felt like Razorlight?
“It just felt good. I’m a songwriter so I’ve always had songs bubbling around. I got on bass, which I haven’t done in a very long time – probably not since a brief stint in The Libertines way back. Things came together very quickly. It was a very nice coincidence. I was at Dave Stewart’s [Eurythmics] birthday gig. I was standing next to Clem Burke from Blondie and Martin Chambers from The Pretenders, thinking ‘fuck these are my two favourite drummers of all time and we’ve been imitating them for so many years – why don’t I ask one of them if they want to play on the record?’ I looked at Clem and he was taking selfies on his iPhone, then Martin was just rolling a fag so I thought ‘I’d better ask Martin’. That was it. Martin is my favourite rock drummer of all time and we were really lucky. He just got it.”
What is it about this album that sets it apart?
“Well, this is my first interview so I’d better get an album together for that one! For me, it’s kind of like a love-letter to the genre. When we were doing it in the ‘00s, the last thing any band wanted to do was be defined as ‘indie rock’ – you’d wince a little bit. Not just Razorlight, but every band. This time, it was about embracing English indie guitar pop. That’s what I love about it. When I started Razorlight, I didn’t think that was what I was doing. The influences were in a triangle between The Buzzcocks, Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground. Then it turned into whatever it evolved into. It became more pop with the second record. I just felt really at ease this time with my life and my culture. I just wanted to have fun.”
NEW SONG: ‘Sorry?’
What are the lyrical themes on the album?
“I’ve realised that with Razorlight I only started writing songs because I found it very difficult to talk to people. I worked out that if I could sing things then I might be able to communicate with people in some way. Then I just got better at it. Lyrically, I feel like Razorlight songs are very personal and are still about me communicating – but they’re like the thought bubbles between the spoken words in a comic strip. It’s what each character is thinking but not quite saying. I ended up drawing a lot of them out too. There’s a song that goes “Sorry, you’re a fool – you may have slipped now”. I can just see that in a thought bubble.”
NEW SONG: ‘Got To Let The Good Times Back Into Your Life’
So you weren’t drawn in by this apocalyptic political landscape we’re living in?
“I’ve been living in France, I grew up there too. When Razorlight got to the peak of their success in England I was like ‘I’m out of here’, but obviously I’ve got my family, friends and network here in England. I think I’ve always been quite outspoken about what I believe in, in terms of issues. If you’re a musician and people are watching what you’re doing then it’s right to talk about that, but Razorlight haven’t always been a good vehicle for political songs because that’s just not what it is.
“But then that’s a total lie! It’s a complete lit because I did write ‘America’ as well. I wrote that the day I read in the New York Times that the United States were fine with torturing people. I remember thinking ‘How does that not stop the world?’ As Ben Elton used to say, it was ‘a little bit of politics’ – not overt. I was also spending a lot of time in America feeling a little bit alienated, so it was probably a little bit of both.”
Well, if you looked to America now then where would you even begin?
“Exactly. I’m working on another record at the moment from stuff I worked on with another band called Zazu. I’m staggered. With ‘America’, there was the ‘Habeas Corpus’ thing that torture is now acceptable under the Bush administration. It was only five years later when the stock market crashed and then people were saying ‘Oh, that was a really prophetic song, yeah?’ As is ‘now, there’s trouble and panic in America’ because Lehman Brothers failed. It’s like ‘no, I see trouble and panic when you’ve got the government of a supposedly free government who supports and sponsors state torture. That wasn’t really picked up on.”
Do you feel that when you said “you’d find out more truth by just walking down the street with a musical instrument than by looking at any of the news outlets” was prophetic too, ahead of the era of fake news?
“Haha! Yeah. I don’t think I was saying anything there that wouldn’t be said in a Buddhist meeting. I just meant that any time, if you put a bunch of news stories together then it is editorial. I’ve got a lot of respect for certain media institutions who really go out of their way to publish truth, but if Fox News isn’t an example of editorial choice getting in the way of truth for a political agenda then I don’t know what is. It’s state propaganda. Even after I did that interview I was shocked to see it in England because the verdict of the Hillsborough trial came in a year later and every newspaper ran it as a front page apart from the Murdoch-owned ones. The Times ran a front page of unseasonal snow in April or something like that, and then did a second edition where they begrudgingly put it on the front page. What I was saying is that there’s a lot of propaganda out there.”
Do you pay any mind to the things you said in the past or maybe a decade ago? Do you regret any of that or just see it as part of your life?
“Well, I’m not sure – because some of the things I was reported as saying I did say, and some of the things I didn’t. I can’t stand by anything that I never said at the time. There was quite a culture back then of ‘Oh, let’s just nick two words out of that sentence, it doesn’t change the meaning’. Of course it does! Especially if one of the words is ‘not’. Looking back of it in the first year of doing Razorlight, I was very much ‘motormouth rent-a-quote’.
“I dropped a couple of tasty one-liners about other bands at the time with hopefully some form of humour, but I had just graduated from being a punter, therefore from being a consumer of music to a maker of music in the public eye. When we talk about bands in the pub or amongst friends, we slate things or will say ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’. I hadn’t learned the rules of what you can and shouldn’t say, like sportsmen do these days. It’s often better to say nothing.”
Surely your way was better than the modern way of being media-trained to give flat, beige and diplomatic answers?
“Exactly, I just hadn’t learned those rules. I don’t think anyone could have taught them to me, to be honest. Then you go to a festival and hang out with the other bands and realise you actually quite like them, so you’re like ‘I’m not gonna be like that anymore’ – but by then it’s too late. People have decided that’s how you are. That’s the one thing I’ve learned – once you put the train in motion, it’s going to keep going, regardless of whether you’re doing it or not.”
So if you could go back and talk to 20-year-old Johnny, would you advise him against all that? How do you feel about ‘the myth’?
“You need to be true to who you are at the time, you know? What you said about ‘the myth’ is a strange world. I had moved out of London when I read in The Independent that I had gone to some pub and bought everyone drinks, started playing some songs and everyone had a great time. That sounds brilliant, but I hadn’t actually been in England for four months!”
Do you feel as if any great misconceptions about you remain in 2018?
“I really wouldn’t know because I’ve made a conscious decision and have done for quite some time. We’re in a world where there’s a lot of image management, whether you’re in the public eye or not – especially with generations coming through on Instagram. That’s not something I’ve ever been interested in. I’ve never taken a selfie and have never done anything on Instagram or Facebook. With Razorlight, it’s never been about being a Bowie-esque visual-musical crossover. I’m a geezer who stands there with a guitar and sings you these songs.”
Are you concerned about reaching a new generation and becoming huge again?
“We played an amazing show at Y Not Festival the other day, and it was so great. It was young kids going for it and people knew the songs. There were people in the crowd who were being born when I put the band together. That’s brilliant. If it connects with a younger generation and means something for them then wow, that’s really something humbling. However, I think it’s very difficult to come into a musical project with expectations. We didn’t play for ages then it was the 10th anniversary of ‘Up All Night’ so we played and that slowly put this in motion. I felt like there was a good record to be made, so that’s why I’m doing it. I don’t know where we are in 2018. I don’t know what straight up rock n’ roll is in 2018. It might be an anachronistic artform.”
Have you been following your peers? For instance, could you imagine standing alongside The Libertines or Arctic Monkeys?
“Not really, because you can only do what you can with what you’ve got. I just couldn’t have done Razorlight over the last six or seven years. I still have personal relationships with The Libertines so I still kinda know what’s going on so we run into each other, but I never have with Arctic Monkeys – but it seems to be so much of an event whenever they put something out so it filters through. I thought the last Monkeys’ record sounded interesting.”
Razorlight release ‘Olympus Sleeping’ on October 26.