Editors: ‘We’re a band with an identity crisis – we see that as a positive’

After finding fame as part of the mid-’00s post-punk revival, Editors have blossomed into a genre-smashing force. On new album EBM, they’ve teamed with producer extraordinaire Blanck Mass to generate danceable electro-rock. Keyboardist Elliott Williams explains their fearless eclecticism and new, politicised tunes.

Editors band

“Editors is a band with an identity crisis,” laughs the band’s keyboard player, Elliott Williams. “I think some people would see that as a negative, but we see it as positive for us. We’re constantly looking to progress and do things that excite us. I respect bands who can do what they do again and again and again, but we get bored of it. If we made our debut album again and again and again, it would be terrible.”

Editors burst out of Birmingham and into the national consciousness as a part of the post-punk revival. It was a movement that had already gathered steam by the time the then-four piece hit the scene, courtesy of Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and so on; their nihilistic yet upbeat guitar rock was the perfect antidote to the mindless nu metal and happy-go-lucky Britpop that preceded it.

Today, however – well… if you google “post-punk revival”, the first page features a Far Out article entitled “Is the post-punk revival over?” So it’s safe to say the movement’s not in the healthiest state.

Editors band

Photo: Rahi Rezvani

Thank God, then, that Editors fobbed the genre off years ago. First album The Back Room and follow-up An End Has a Start fit the bill perfectly, crammed with energetic anthems tinged with nihilistic and existential lyrics.

Then they made In This Light and on This Evening in 2009. It creatively dabbled in darkwave music, opening with a title track that explodes from moody synths to pulse-pounding hard rock riffing. It was an experimental swerve, but no less successful: like An End Has a Start, In This Light reached number one on the UK album charts. It was a blaring signal that Editors didn’t need to ride the guitars of an in-vogue movement to be beloved – and that realisation has moulded their career ever since.

“Our third record was very bleak and synthesiser-based,” Elliott remembers. “Then, for album number four [2013’s The Weight of Your Love], we went to Nashville and made an alt-rock record. I was amazed the audience was willing to trust the band: our core audience has shifted with us.”

However, the keyboardist concedes: “Every time we do a record, [the wider response] has been a mixed bag. I don’t think there’s a record that we’ve done where there hasn’t been absolutely brilliant feedback and also lots of people telling you that they hate it. It’s a constant in our world and I think we’re all used to it.

“If you’re a band who’s trying to do what you want to do, I don’t think you can care about the response of your audience, because otherwise you’ll just end up trying to appease them or trying to do the same thing again. I don’t think that that’s creatively exciting; it’s not good for your own progression as a human.”

All of this brings us to EBM. In a career now defined by jarring left turns, this may be the most violent swerve Editors have ever taken. The band have added to their ranks British electronic musician Benjamin John Power, better known by the pseudonym Blanck Mass. Since 2011, the solo artist has peddled the most experimental of electronica, with albums like 2019’s Animated Violence Mild reaping underground acclaim.

Stick the album on and we wouldn’t blame you for double-checking that you’ve actually put on new Editors music. ‘Heart Attack’ commences EBM with a digitised beat and sparkling guitar notes. It isn’t until Tom Smith’s signature voice hits and hums a soothing hook that this is tangibly the same band that made The Back Room.

‘Picturesque’ and ‘Karma Climb’ follow the same computerised, anthem-making model, before ‘Kiss’ crawls through droning synths and jangling arpeggios for eight minutes. ‘Strawberry Lemonade’ is a full-blooded industrial rock banger, pounding along, and ‘Strange Intimacy’ ends EBM with a dose of synthwave, its upbeat keys capable of soundtracking old Metroid or Castlevania games if given half a chance.

Editors EBM

EBM album artwork

“We met Ben when we were working on our last album, [2018’s] Violence,” Elliott remembers. “Most evenings, we’d come back to where we were living and chat, drink beers and put records on. We kept coming back to his record World Eater.

“After a few months of working, we needed an injection of new ideas, and then we just came up with: ‘Why don’t we ask Ben if he’d be interested in throwing us some ideas on stuff?’ We didn’t even know him! Justin [Lockey, guitars] had mutual friends with him and had to look in his little black book.”

Benjamin ended up with an additional producer credit on Violence, contributing to seven of its nine tracks. Editors also released an alternate version of the album called The Blanck Mass Sessions, which dialled the avant-garde electronica up to undeniable levels.

“Right before the pandemic, we’d been asked by a festival in Belgium to headline, but then also headline a second night and do something completely different,” Elliott continues. “We could have done a gig of rarities or an acoustic set, but we’d done that before: we wanted to do something more club-based and industrial. But then the pandemic happened. We thought, ‘Maybe it’ll happen next year. Why don’t we try and do something for this show as Editors and Blanck Mass?’

The first ideas exchanged between the two parties ended up becoming ‘Karma Climb’, and the rest of what would become EBM followed suit. Although frontman Tom’s always been coy about his lyrical themes, Elliott describes the album as “the most political we’ve ever been”, highlighting the track ‘Strawberry Lemonade’ in particular.

“That song’s like: ‘The world’s crumbling around me, but I’m not going to be your fucking poster boy for your agenda,’” he says. “That’s kind of my interpretation, but we don’t sit around and have conversations about [lyrics]. I think you can do a lot of things by committee as a band, but I do believe that lyrics should not be known by committee. It should come from a personal perspective.”

The resulting album hasn’t just left Editors in an identity crisis, musically. Looking to the future and the touring cycle ahead – which will include an early 2023 UK run – Elliott’s got no idea what the band want to achieve anymore.

“The band has been around for so many years that we feel like we’re out on our own in some respects,” he says. “We no longer get the mainstream radio that we used to get, and we’re not expecting it now we’ve got singles that are seven minutes long with thunderstorms at the end of them. I just hope that, when someone does talk about us, they’ll go: ‘That fucking band does exactly what they want to do; they’ve always stayed true to themselves and their creative ambition.’

EBM is out now via Play It Again Sam. Editors will tour the UK in January and February 2023.

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