Interview: Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell

The frontman on the what inspired him to start the band, their December UK tour and new music.

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Last year Razorlight founder and frontman Johnny Borrell made a surprise announcement. After four years away from the band that made him a household name, Borell would be bringing the outfit back to release their first new album in a decade, dropping four new tracks instantly.

The resulting record, Olympus Sleeping, saw the band embrace the indie-pop roots that brought them huge success during their original run and helped fans reignite their love for a band that they weren’t sure if they were going to hear from again.

Formed in London in the early 2000s, Razorlight became a chart phenomenon with their highly infectious tunes, all penned by the enigmatic Borell. Their first two LPs, Up All Night and Razorlight both achieved multi-platinum status and would lead the band to headline arenas and appear on festival main stages across the UK and beyond.

During these years they celebrated an omnipresence on the UK charts with hit tracks such as Golden Touch, Somewhere Else, In The Morning, Before I Fall To Pieces, Rip It Up and the No.1 single America. 

Razorlight - America (Official video)

Razorlight would release one more album during their initial run, 2008’s top five effort Slipway Fires, before disbanding quietly in 2014.

Now back with their latest album, 2018’s Olympus Sleeping, Razorlight spent most of the summer playing festivals across Europe and recently released new music in the form of stand-alone single Cops And Robbers.  

The band will head out on a headline tour across the UK this December, before joining fellow indie heroes Kaiser Chiefs on the road next year.

Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell opens up on the forthcoming dates, revealing what fans can expect from the gigs.

How excited are you about taking Razorlight on tour this December?

I’m super excited. We’ve just done a big festival run, which was probably our busiest summer for a very long time and we feel really good. The band’s really tight and together and I feel really good about it.

What can fans coming to the shows expect?

We’re just a band that plays music. It feels it’s getting rarer to see that. There are no laptops or click tracks or s**t like that. We just go on stage and play our instruments.

Hopefully, every night’s a bit different and it becomes about getting that feedback from the crowd, looking for that energy.

Razorlight - Carry Yourself

Is playing live the thing you enjoy most about being a musician?

Yeah, absolutely. The thing that’s so important to me about playing live is that it’s different every time you do it.

Your songs grow and they change over time. I see so many bands going out there, singing to a backing track. If I’d have done that for the last twenty years with Razorlight, just done a song like Golden Touch exactly same every night, it never would have grown or evolved. That sounds like a death sentence to me.

For us the crowd makes such a big difference – you get that energy and you give it back. I love it. I like making records, but there’s just something about playing shows.

You’ve been releasing music for over fifteen years now, what’s it like hearing songs you wrote that long ago being sung back to you?

I feel very lucky. The fact that people have taken these songs to their hearts and still know the words too. Now you also get people at the shows who weren’t even born when they were released which is truly amazing. That’s every musician’s dream.

And seeing Razorlight live might spur some of those people in the crowd to start their own band.

I always think about that. I started Razorlight because I went to so many gigs and I thought, “I’m not quite seeing the band that I wanna see, so I’m gonna form my own band”.

Can you remember any particular gigs having a massive impact on you?

S**tloads. In the early noughties, me and my friends – who went on to form The Libertines and bands like that – would go see bands, and we just didn’t want to be in a band. We were at the bloated end of bands like Blur and Oasis, and we thought that being in a band was just not something we wanted to do.

Then bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The White Stripes and The Strokes came over. All those bands that were at the start of that wave, like The Vines, The Datsuns and The Von Bondies. They were always very influential gigs ‘cause you’d come away from them really inspired. Suddenly we were like, “let’s do this”!

I saw one of the very first Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ shows in London and it was mind-blowing for everyone there. We walked away thinking, maybe being in a band isn’t the worst idea.

Just before that bands were just a bit overly tabloid bloated, it didn’t feel alive. In the middle of the nineties, you could go down to The Good Mixer and you’d bump into Noel Gallagher and have a chat, but by the end of the nineties, it felt like everyone was in their ivory towers. It felt like it had just gone off a little bit.

Will you be playing any new music at your forthcoming shows? 

There’s a couple of things that’s gonna happen. Obviously we’ll play some stuff from our album that came out last year, and it’s been really great to see that material slot in especially in our festival sets, so that’s really good, ‘cause obviously it was a long time between us releasing records so for that music to just slot into the set and go down as well as the old stuff is great.

And we’re also currently working on the next record, so I think we’re gonna go a bit old school and put in some really new stuff and test it on the road. It’s good ‘cause we get nervous when we do that, and it’s good to feel that edge.

Your new single Cops And Robbers sounds like you’re having a great time creatively. What can you tell us about the track?

We actually haven’t played that live yet. Getting it together for the festivals was tricky because no one can play the piano as bad as me! So we couldn’t work out who was going to try and do that. If I play the piano on stage I can’t move around, so we’re figuring it out.

It’s fun. Especially on this tour, we’ll be playing that and stuff off the upcoming album. That scares us a bit and it’s good. You always need that kick up the a**e as a band. We’re just enjoying being back out there.

Razorlight - Cops and Robbers (Official Video)

Are you now more appreciative of Razorlight than ever before?

When the band wasn’t fulfilling me creatively, I had to put it to one side. It was the right thing to do.

There’s a lot of pressure on you when you’ve got this successful thing that’s making loads of money, for you and for other people, to just carry on releasing singles and I just couldn’t do it. I think it was the right thing to do. To have the integrity to do that. Hopefully, that serves me well for the future.

Razorlight is important to me. I can’t lie to it. I’ve got to look it in the eye and be sincere.

When you get on stage, especially with rock music, people can f*****g tell. If you’re not hitting that guitar with passion it doesn’t sound right. We’ve all been to too many gigs where it’s like “do they wanna be here”? And that is the s*****t feeling in the world.

Here are Razorlight’s upcoming tour dates:

1 December 2019 – O2 Academy Leeds
2 December 2019 – Engine Shed, Lincoln
4 December 2019 – Albert Hall, Manchester
5 December 2019 – Newcastle University
6 December 2019 – O2 Academy Leicester
7 December 2019 – Nick Rayns LCR UEA, Norwich
9 December 2019 – Barrowland, Glasgow
10 December 2019 – Liverpool Guild of Students
12 December 2019 – Winter Gardens, Margate
13 December 2019 – O2 Academy Oxford
14 December 2019 – Electric Brixton, London

17 January 2020 – Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham W/ Kaiser Chiefs
18 January 2020 – Bridlington Spa Centre W/ Kaiser Chiefs
20 January 2020 – Bonus Arena, Hull W/ Kaiser Chiefs
21 January 2020 – Bonus Arena, Hull W/ Kaiser Chiefs
22 January 2020 – Usher Hall, Edinburgh W/ Kaiser Chiefs
24 January 2020 – Empress Ballroom, Blackpool W/ Kaiser Chiefs
25 January 2020 – Arena Birmingham W/ Kaiser Chiefs
27 January 2020 – Plymouth Pavilions W/ Kaiser Chiefs
28 January 2020 – Bournemouth International Centre W/ Kaiser Chiefs
30 January 2020 – The Brighton Centre W/ Kaiser Chiefs
31 January 2020 – Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff W/ Kaiser Chiefs
1 February 2020 – The O2, London W/ Kaiser Chiefs

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