“I’m the best songwriter of my generation. Ask me in 20 years about The Libertines.” Johnny Borrell arrived with a bang in 2004, letting NME know his true worth – and the relative lack of it in former bandmates The Libertines – just as Razorlight’s ‘Stumble And Fall’ broke the top 30. As debut solo album ‘Borrell 1’ hits the shops, here’s Johnny and his career in quotes.
And just in case Dylan wasn’t fully appraised of his place in the grand scheme of things: “Well, put it this way, compared to the Razorlight album, Dylan is making the chips, I’m drinking the champagne.”
Sexy? That’s not what Johnny Borrell’s all about: “I don’t think it’s my job to be minxy.”
Even in those bullish early days though, Johnny still allowed himself a trace of vulnerability. “Sometimes I feel so confident. I’m on top of the world 50 per cent of the time. And the other 50 per cent it’s just dizzying fits of insecurity, confusion and traffic in your mind.”
And computer games were almost his undoing. “When I was young I used to think I was Maradona. I even lost a girlfriend to one of those computer football management games. It got to the stage where I was lying so I could play them in secret. One night she turned to me and said, ‘If it was porn, I could understand.’ Then she walked out.”
Following the release and top three success of Razorlight’s debut album ‘Up All Night’ in summer 2004, Johnny had an intriguing plan: “I’m going out to America and I’m not coming back until I’m king.” What would unfold?
By early 2005, promo had taken its toll: “It’s so hard being on tour, but spending so long without talking to anybody outside the band, you do get quite isolated. I had a lot of baggage I’d built up and I just had to fuck up in order to shed the skin.”
But there was still time to reminisce about those Libertines days: “That sort of scene was a cocaine scene to me, and I’m not a big fan of cocaine. We could’ve gone down and played the Rhythm Factory and got fucked up with everybody and kissed Peter [Doherty]’s arse and kissed Carlos [Barât]’ arse whenever they walked into the room, which frankly a lot of those bands did.”
“If 20,000 children die of poverty every day and if I’m worrying about my credibility or somebody else’s perception of my fucking credibility, that would be the height of bullshit.” So stop banging on about that white-top-white-jeans combo at Live 8.
Early 2006, big things are about to happen – No.1 album, No.1 single – but Johnny’s worried about the hangers-on: “People kissing my arse happens frequently, and it pisses me off.”
But he’s not doing any arse-kissing of his own. Here’s his measured take on The Kooks: “And that record is the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard. I sounds like the band are literally rolling over, sticking their arse in the air and begging Radio 1 to fuck them.”
A year on, some Carl Barât memories: “We were onstage and I stepped past him to get my guitar and he was pissed and he backed into me. When I pushed him out of the way, he came over to me and said, ‘Don’t fucking push me.’ And I said, ‘Fuck you fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking fuck.'” It’s that power as a wordsmith that’s got him where he is today.
Things in the Razorlight camp are just perfect: “There are some days that I can’t even look at them, and others when they do three or four good things in a row and it’s great. I love them and hate them equally.”
Never give Bono your number: “The last time Bono phoned me, it wiped all my old saved text messages out of my phone it just went [makes Dalek, evaporation type noise] ‘ching, ching, ching, ching’ like that – like a Pac-Man thing. He deleted all my text messages; it was amazing! Maybe he was using Al Gore’s phone or some secret service stuff.”
Speaking of rock gods, what would John Lennon think of Razorlight? “Are you asking if John Lennon would like Razorlight? Of course he fucking would. Because we’re fucking brilliant. Certainly if he was standing at the side of the stage, I wouldn’t change a note of the set.”
There was always a Razorlight masterplan: “When I was a kid dreaming of forming a band I wasn’t dreaming of carrying my own amp up the stairs to go and play the Bull & Gate. That’s the reality and everyone can fucking do that. There are very few people who can take it all the way, and at that time I was dreaming of playing Wembley Stadium.”
“It was a shared lounge and there were four people on the back. You could go quite fast. I could almost get into second gear,” said Johnny, about the hitherto somewhat implausible tale of him riding a motorbike through then-girlfriend Kirsten Dunst’s living room.
He may hang out with Hollywood stars, but still The Libs are never far from his mind (or interviewers’ question sheets): “Some people will tell me how bad things are for Pete and Carlos, like that’s going to make me feel good. It doesn’t make me feel good. It’s just depressing. It’s just sad. We were really close friends a long time ago. The people I knew don’t exist any more.”
He even had time to consider his three biggest mistakes: “The first two were probably haircuts – I had a James Dean phase when I was 18 and the 1950s quiff didn’t really suit me.”
Now he’s a changed man, out on his own with ‘Borrell 1’, there’s a chance to look back and take stock. Johnny’s (sort of) remorseful: “I’m sure there were times when I was obnoxious. But that’s rock’n’roll, you know?”