editors with stellastarr* and the mobius band at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Friday (March 24). $16.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
If you were to take the label- generated buzz around UK upstarts Editors at face value, you'd have to believe the dark, broody quartet were leading the charge of some boom in a distinctive Birmingham (England, not Alabama) sound.
Their bio, website and advance press releases are littered with references to the band's adopted hometown, one-time centre of England's Industrial Revolution. It's a peculiar point to play up, especially since none of the four members is a lifelong Brummie.
In fact, bassist Russell Leetch insists, Birmingham is basically bereft of an identifiable "scene," and unlike fellow Brit rising rockers like Hard-Fi, say, whose piss-and-vinegar punk tunes are rooted in Clash-style critiques of their region, Editors' morose tunes have absolutely no connection to geography.
"Bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Hard-Fi and the Rakes between their accents and the descriptions in their music you can figure out exactly what part of the UK they're from," Leetch sniffs. "We've never been about that. It's much more interesting to us to talk about what we do y'know, we went out to the pub, drank some, got our hearts broken."
Lord knows that's not just a Birmingham thing. Instead of regional inside jokes, Leetch and singer/guitarist Tom Smith, drummer Ed Lay and guitarist Chris Urbanowicz assemble track after track of reverberating guitar noise and heart-palpitating drums kinda like Interpol with a pulse exploring universal issues like love and pain couched in metaphors of blood, artillery and chronic diseases.
According to Leetch, finding a balance between tapping into collectively appealing themes and artfully cryptic songwriting was crucial to vocalist Smith, whose chief influence is REM's Michael Stipe, cuz "people can attach their own meaning to his lyrics."
I'm caught a bit off-guard by the Stipe shout-out, since REM's Athens jangle seems light-years away from Editors' raw post-punk aesthetic, though maybe it seems less surprising when you consider Leetch and his pals claim they'd never heard of Ian Curtis and co. before critics started comparing their band to Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen.
It's a generational thing, apparently.
"When I was 16 and at school, Radiohead's OK Computer was a massive album for me," Leetch explains. "I'd read NME and publications like that, but I can't recall any articles on Joy Division. I was born in 1982. Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures came out in 1979. I feel like I kinda missed out on that whole thing."
In spite of fessing up to having been a regular reader of the NME in his teen years, Leetch is relieved that Editors haven't fallen victim to the fuck 'n' run treatment typical of the UK music rag.
When I talk to him, he's folding his socks, preparing to head to Austin for the tastemaking South By Southwest fest where, despite the buzz they're generating, they wound up not getting that much attention. The gig kicked off their first official North American tour, which coincides with Sony BMG's release of their full-length debut, The Back Room (the major label licensed the LP from Brit indie Kitchenware, famous as the home of Prefab Sprout).
"It's been good cuz we've never been involved with a hype machine the way the Arctic Monkeys have. They've been on the cover of NME four times this year.
"We've never been forced down people's throats. And when we do interviews, we feel comfortable that we can just talk about music without having to contribute to articles that say we're going out with so-and-so or doing X drugs."