Rock’n’roll royalty – In conversation with The Subways’ Billy Lunn

Underground Overground: The Subways. From the left: Billy Lunn, Charlotte Cooper, Josh Morgan

Underground Overground: The Subways. From the left: Billy Lunn, Charlotte Cooper, Josh Morgan

The words exciting, explosive and thrilling get used a lot when The Subways are brought up in conversation.

A lot of exclamation marks are used too, especially when you’re in conference with the band’s front-man Billy Lunn via an email Q&A.

I’d have much preferred a face-to-face one-to-one or even a phone call, but he’s been a busy lad and our schedules didn’t match. And while I might have sneaked a few more questions in here and there, Billy came up trumps all the same.

Space ruled out using all his added punctuation, but hopefully you get the gist all the same. Sometimes the words tell their own story.

And anyone who’s witnessed the band live, enjoyed their first three albums and hits like Rock’n’Roll Queen and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, will know exactly what they’re all about.

You can even tell that energy from the song names, including 2011’s life-affirming It’s a Party! and We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time or most recent single My Heart Is Pumping to a Brand New Beat.

And right now the Welwyn Garden City trio are testing their fan-base’s adulation with a fresh approach for their new album launch.

With the old days of big-money record company advances long gone, the band are running a pre-order campaign for their upcoming release.

On the back of the success of Young for Eternity, All or Nothing and Money and Celebrity, the new album – simply The Subways – is out in two segments, albeit as a less-than imaginatively-titled Part 1 and Part 2.

artworks-000080636682-l38hv7-t500x500And in what they believe to be a first, if you pre-order in any format via PledgeMusic or iTunes, you receive six-track Part 1 as a download straight away.

They have also commissioned comic-style artwork, although details of Part 2 remain a secret until closer to February’s official release.

But those heading to see them on their latest UK tour will get to hear a few of those new tracks, prompting me to put to guitarist/lead singer Billy that these remain exciting times for his band.

“Very! This album has been in the pipeline for a while now, and we’re all just excited to get out there and play these songs for everybody.”

The first fruits of the new material were unearthed with My Heart Is Pumping … What’s the fans’ reaction been like?

“As always, the reaction has been amazing. Our fans are the best. We just can’t wait for them to hear the whole album now.”

Anyone who knows this tight-knit band recognises Billy as the frantic one out front, with similarly-infectious input from bass player and co-vocalist Charlotte Cooper and drummer Josh Morgan.

So how do they best sum up the new album? Is it frenetic in places? Or is there a new maturity to the band?

“I’ve been reading the canon of English and foreign literature, so you may notice there are some references secretly peppered in places. But mostly it’s us rocking out, having fun and spreading the love!”

It’s been a typically-busy summer for The Subways, with trips to the Czech Republic and Germany following appearances at Glastonbury, Frequency, Hurricane and Southside to name but four festivals. All that, plus new recordings too.

476716804_640“I think you may have nearly covered it all there, but we have had a really great time at all the festivals so far.

“The album was recorded in a studio near to where I live. I engineered, produced and mixed the album, so it’s 100% our record this time!”

When I saw The Subways at the Ritz in Manchester in May 2012 – in the company of old workmate Bryan Walker, who’d been raving about them for some time – I found them pretty intoxicating to say the least. Does Billy remain as excitable as ever up on stage?

“I just feel so lucky to be doing what I do every single day. It’s hard not to wake up and get excited at what the day holds – life is amazing!”

While no less ‘on a high’ on stage, The Subways’ front-man quit the booze a while back, something he reckons gave him a new outlook on life.

“I haven’t touched a drop before going onstage for a good few years now, but I’m fully teetotal when off tour too.

“I find that the high comes from the audience, and from the joy of getting to play music with my two best friends onstage.”

41MTGKQ8VZLAlmost unbelievably, next July will mark a decade since the band’s explosive debut LP, Young for Eternity. Have you been proved wrong yet? Any sign of grey hairs yet?

“More than I’m willing to count!”

This time it’s a self-produced album. What made the band want to go down that road?

“We’ve learned a lot, having worked on the last three albums with three world-class producers, so it was hard not to become interested in the process and want to eventually give it a go ourselves.

“I’ve also personally recorded and mixed all our demos before each album, and on our latest set of demos, Stephen Street was quite impressed. I decided that, yeah, I’d like to give it a go from now on.”

The Subways have certainly had some high-profile help so far, from Lightning Seeds supremo Ian Broudie to Garbage drummer and Nirvana-producer Butch Vig and the afore-mentioned ex-Blur and The Smiths producer Stephen Street.

Did they take something different from the individual experiences of working with each of those producers?

“Definitely. A lot of what I learned in the live room was from Ian, a lot of what goes on in the control room was from Butch, and how I dealt with the structure of the songs and the album itself comes from Stephen.

“I’m very lucky to have had these incredibly talented guys to learn from.”

The band are currently part-way through a month of dates up to November 1’s visit to Norwich, their first full tour in a couple of years. Did the size of the schedule fill them with dread, or at least make them feel a little nervous?

“We recently looked over the schedule and all of us nearly peed with excitement! We always find it strange that some bands don’t like going on tour. It’s the best thing in the world.”

the-subways-all-or-nothingThere are still just the three of them, but like a few notable trios over the decades – I’d mention The Jam, and no doubt they would include Green Day – they seem to have all the power (and more) they could possibly need.

“Thank you! We find that with only three of us, each part is essential. That always keeps us thinking, always keeps things exciting, and is way more punk that way too. Minimal and powerful is our philosophy.”

It’s an interesting set-up within the band, with Billy and Josh being brothers – yeah, I know, despite the names – and Billy and Charlotte … erm, ‘no longer in a relationship’, as the Facebook generation might put it.

I’m guessing they still get on well though, despite a fair amount of living in each other’s pockets this past decade. Do the sibling and ex-partner links help or hinder?

“If anything, after all that we’ve been through together, the fights and the tears and the arguing, we love and respect each other so much more. We feel lucky that we are so close.”

Do they still have recordings from their teen days, playing Green Day and Nirvana covers as Mustardseed back in 2002? And how do they sound to less green ears now?

“I haven’t listened to our really old stuff recently. Maybe I had a few sessions a while ago of going back and reminiscing and reworking old ideas, but maybe I should give them a new go. It’ll be funny … and embarrassing!”

Is Hertfordshire still home to the band?

“I still live in the town next to where I went to school, close to all my friends and family. Josh and Charlotte have sold out and moved far away though! Ha ha!”

1315845918_the_subways_-_money_and_celebrity__2011_The band’s big break followed Michael Eavis’s support after they sent the veteran Glastonbury promoter a demo.  How crucial was that initial 2004 booking in helping build a following?

“It was huge for us. Without that Glastonbury competition, we wouldn’t have been able to book our first UK tour later that year or sign with Warner on the last date of that tour. I can’t stress how amazing that gig was for us!”

The late Radio 1 legend John Peel – sadly lost a full decade ago now – gave the band their first national radio airing. Is there anyone out there offering similar service to up and coming bands today?

“Zane Lowe does a really good job on Radio 1, but I think XFM is where it’s at for the new alternative bands. Those guys are always shaking up their playlist, and giving bands a shot when they really need it!”

What can we expect on this tour? Will it mostly be the new album being aired, with a few old favourites thrown in?

“It’ll be a big mix – there will be probably half of the new album, plus lots of old favourites! Maybe we’ll even take requests. Ha ha!”

Finally, I’m still getting palpitations thinking about Billy jumping off a high balcony with his guitar at The Ritz last time I saw them live. Does he still enjoy a little crowd-surfing at gigs?

“My mum always tells me off still, but if I look around and spot a good place to jump from, I still get that urge to satisfy my thrill-seeking quality. I just can’t help it!”

Skies Above: The Subways (Photo: Steve Gullick)

Skies Above: The Subways (Photo: Steve Gullick)

For the writewyattuk verdict on The Subways at The Ritz in Manchester in May, 2012, head here.

The Subways are at Aberdeen Tunnels on Friday, October 24, Preston’s 53 Degrees on Saturday, October 25, and Derby Venue on Monday, October 27.

They then head to Peterborough Met Lounge (October 28), Cambridge The Portland Arms (October 29), Oxford 02 Academy (October 31) and Norwich Owl Sanctuary (November 1).

Grandmunster Slam follows in Germany on December 13, with more dates in mainland Europe in February and March before a return to the UK and further dates.

For full tour details and how to go about pre-ordering the new album, head to the band’s website here.

This is a revised and expanded version of a Malcolm Wyatt feature for the Lancashire Evening Post, published on October 23rd, 2014. For the original online version, try here

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About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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One Response to Rock’n’roll royalty – In conversation with The Subways’ Billy Lunn

  1. Pingback: The Subways – Manchester, The Ritz (May 8th, 2012) | writewyattuk

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