As The Enemy prepare for a reunion tour, frontman Tom Clarke has spoken to NME about the toll that success took on them in the ’00s and band’s decision to return “without the music industry” behind them.
The ’00s Coventry indie veterans announced their return earlier this month with a September 2022 tour to coincide with the 15th anniversary of their acclaimed No.1 debut album ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’.
Before their split in 2016, the trio released four albums over 10 years, scored hits including ‘Away From Here,’ ‘Had Enough’ and ‘Saturday’ and supported the likes of Oasis, The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols.
To find out how life has been since and what’s on the horizon, NME caught up with Clarke to discuss the stress and alcohol issues that marred their success, why they’re now swerving the music industry and the chances of new music…
NME: Hi, Tom. How does it feel to be part of The Enemy again?
Clarke: “I’m a little overwhelmed at the response since the tour has gone on sale. It caught me off guard. I’ve toured solo for the last five years, and it’s been nice not to have any hype surrounding it. It’s a surprise how much ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ still means to people 15 years on. Our old producer, Matt Terry, told me: ‘It’s not really our record anymore, it’s become everyone else’s’. He’s quite right.”
How long have you been planning the comeback?
“We’ve been having a catch-up every couple of weeks over the last couple of years. It’s not something we decided this year and immediately announced. We’ve all been doing our own thing, so it’s been quite delicate. We’re different people and I didn’t know if we’d be able to meet in the middle again and still have that interest, but we’ve all loved it.”
Was there any actual enmity to resolve?
“There was no real animosity. We never hated each other, but there had been disagreements over how the band should be managed – boring backroom stuff. I knew during the making of ‘It’s Automatic’  that it’d probably be our last record, because you could feel our momentum was gone within the industry. It was a great record but, in my heart, I knew it was coming to an end. Liam [Watts, drummer] and Andy [Hopkins, bass] probably did too.”
What reservations did you have about reforming?
“The only way I’d do it is if it was totally on our own terms: no management, no label, no publishing. I’ve been able to do it solo without the industry, so why can’t the band? There’s no pressure, and it’s a lovely way to be. It’s simple. We’ve put the gigs on sale, the fans love it and have bought tickets. It couldn’t be more beautiful, really.”
What changes have you noticed in Andy and Liam over the past five years?
“When Oasis split, I gained a huge amount of respect for Liam Gallagher, for playing much smaller venues with Beady Eye. I thought: ‘There’s someone who does it because they love it’. It’s the same with Andy starting Autopilot. He really put the graft in and focused on improving his songwriting. Of the three of us, Andy most enjoyed the lifestyle. To see him seriously graft with a new band was mightily impressive. As for Liam? He’s totally off the radar and never wants anyone to know what he’s up to. He runs his own small business with his wife that’s doing well, but I don’t think he’d want me to say what it is. Liam is Mr Solid, whether as a husband and father or in the rhythm section of the band.
And what changes have you gone through since the band ended?
“I’m a lot less stressed. I’m 35 now, and I’ve had to work out what my priorities are – and they’re my wife Kate, my cats and being able to go out regularly playing the songs which have changed my life. There hasn’t been a revolutionary change, but I’ve trimmed out the excess and keeping up a persona to concentrate on being happy. I’ve been in a stable place and thought: ‘What’s missing?’ To which the answer was: ‘A rhythm section’.”
Do you feel as if touring and the lifestyle back then really took its toll?
“I drank to solve all my problems. I’ve always been anxious about performing and, if you have a few beers, you become less anxious. I was drunk through a lot of the success. When you’re young, you don’t think about it so much, but it’s not a healthy way of dealing with it. Remove drink from the equation and you realise how hard it is to get on stage, which is a battle I had to go through when I first got on stage solo. There’s a chance that we might not enjoy this tour, that we’ll think at the end: ‘That was a disaster, I never want to see these people again’. But if we’re not enjoying it now, what’s the point? All I care about is that we play the songs, have fun doing so and the fans enjoy it.”
The Enemy were the victims of insulting media coverage during your success: comments about your appearance, claims the music was unsophisticated. Have those preconceptions vanished since you split?
“I’m not sure. We were quite divisive, which put a lot of people off. Many people don’t want to go through the mental energy of wondering whether they should like you or not. I’m the same: I’m not interested if a band seems super-divisive. The press coverage had a tone and rhetoric completely detached from us. At least there’s none of that now. At the time, I didn’t understand why some bands were press darlings when, yes, we got called ‘unsophisticated’.
“There was a separation: the media were middle-class, and the working-class bands like us and Reverend And The Makers didn’t hang out with them. We were writing songs about 3,000 factory workers becoming unemployed, which had no bearing on their world. We deliberately chose to write primary colour anthems, because there’s something about that kind of song which captures the feeling you get when everyone in a room identifies with something so raw. It’s the same with chants at football or riots. Put people in a room together and give them a chorus they can all sing, it’ll unite them in a way nothing else does.”
What are you happiest about what the band achieved?
“It’s amazing that there’s a new generation of fans at the gigs, kids who’ve grown up listening to The Enemy because it’s what their parents play. It’s exciting they can finally see us live, as they were too young when we split. What also makes me really happy is that different songs from ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ have become huge. As well as the new fans, our existing fanbase has grown with us. It’s no longer all about ‘Away From Here’ and ‘You’re Not Alone’. The fans have chosen which songs are their own hits, and ‘This Song Is About You’ – one of our least successful singles – has become massive.”
Will there be new music from The Enemy to follow the tour?
“It’s not been discussed. [2020 solo album] ‘The Chronicles Of Nigel’ did really well and I want to write more records. The Enemy rehearsals start in January, which is when I’ll also be working on my next solo record. Immediately after that, I’ve got another record lined up which, like ‘The Chronicles Of Nigel’, is a concept record. As I’m working on two solo records, writing for The Enemy as well might spread me a bit thin. Also, Andy hates how tedious the studio is. Trying to get Andy in the studio might be a tough one.
“There’s also the question of what a new Enemy record should sound like. You can’t cynically write about hating minimum wage graft. I think the only way it’d work is if I write something where I think: ‘This needs Liam’s powerhouse drums and Andy’s busy bassline’. If it was almost by accident, maybe. But then, if we did something, how would we put it out without engaging with the industry? Right now, there are too many unknowns.”
The Enemy’s full upcoming reunion tour dates are below. Visit here for tickets and more information.
22 – O2 Academy, Leeds
23 – O2 City Hall, Newcastle
24 – O2 Academy, Sheffield
29-30 – O2 Ritz, Manchester
1 – O2 Academy, Bristol
2 – Tramshed, Cardiff
5 – UEA, Norwich
7 – O2 Academy, Bournemouth
8 – O2 Academy, Birmingham
13 – O2 Academy, Leicester
14-15 – O2 Kentish Town Forum, London
20 – O2 Academy, Liverpool
21 – O2 Academy, Glasgow
22 – O2 Academy, Edinburgh
28-29 – HMV Empire, Coventry