Editors frontman Tom Smith understands that his British band’s last album, 2015’s experimental, slightly self-indulgent In Dream, didn’t get a fighting chance on these shores, thanks to the abrupt cancellation of its American backing tour. “We were going to come over, but we just didn’t make it,” sighs the mausoleum-spooky vocalist, who is 34. “I got sick on our European tour, and it took my body a long time to get over it. So we had to cancel a few things, and unfortunately our little Stateside tour didn’t happen. Health-wise, I’m okay now, but it was a bit of a bummer.”
It might seem like an eternity away for Editors when they finally touch down on these shores this spring, supporting their return to phantasmagoric form with new LP Violence. The album, out March 9, was sleekly produced by Leo Abrahams after its tracks were first given a jagged electronic edge by Benjamin John Power. While the expansive and airy In Dream was tracked in the Scottish highlands, its followup was conceived in Brighton, where the five band members shared a house, and it pulses with a similar urban anxiety as the band’s 2005 debut, The Back Room.
“Even though in this new record you can feel the presence of violence, and the modern world is there, the important acknowledgement is about the connection between people, and that’s a positive thing. So there’s always more hope and optimism in our songs than the casual listener would probably give us credit for.”
From the opening processional “Cold” (with Smith forlornly noting, “It’s a lonely life/ a long and lonely life”), Violence reads like Moliere’s Misanthrope, with one man fighting for home, hearth and family in the wake of today’s scary socio-political landscape. Somberly, Smith trudges across the melancholy terrain of the jarring “Hallelujah,” the Brontosaurus-stomping “Nothingness,” the corporate-greed study “Magazine,” a funereal “Belong,” and the gorgeous piano lament “No Sound But the Wind,” inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s post-Apocalyptic novel “The Road” (and first heard on The Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack). At the moment, Smith reports, “The world is pretty fucked up. And I struggle with what you’re supposed to tell your children, as well. Because you can’t believe this is happening. And deep down, you think that eventually the good folks win, right? Right?” Hopefully. But if not, fans will still have Editors music to accompany the end of the world.
Smith spoke with Paste about Violence, serenity, keeping the world at bay, and the magic of Paddington 2.
Has your home become a sanctuary to you of late? A retreat from all of the horrific Trump/Brexit news headlines we face each day?
Yeah, sometimes. It actually has to do with family, and having your own family with kids and stuff. We live in a world now where we are bombarded with bad news, strong opinions, hateful things, and the way that we’re exposed to what’s going on is violent in itself—the subject matter of what you’re being told is influenced by whichever side of the fence is shouting at you. And I don’t think anybody should live life just blinking and ignoring it. But it’s crucial to know what’s important in your life, and to focus on the people around you that you love. That’s what I’m looking at in these songs. The record, in and of itself, is not a message or a statement record in any kind of political sense. It’s just an acknowledgement of focusing on humans. The humans you like.
Where do you and your family live? In the country or in town?
We live in London, in the heart of the cold city, and we go back and forth about our next move. I grew up in semi-rural Gloucestershire, and she grew up in a tiny fishing village on the east coast of Scotland, so we both have that small-town way of life in our blood. And I think the time will come when we will make that move, because it’s tempting, it’s tempting. But I’m still excited by the city, though—I haven’t given up on it just yet.
Rather than deal with untrustworthy humanity, it’s much easier, and less stressful, to just stay home, right?
Yeah. We usually stay home all the time. Go to a concert? No way. Or not many, at least. There are very few things that will get us out of the house like that. So we watch films, play board games like chess and Monopoly, and mostly I hang out with my children. My oldest is 9, my youngest is nearly 5, and they’re full of life and a lot of fun. And it’s all-consuming. As a family, I feel like I’m just running around taking them to their various social engagements. But sometimes it’s as simple as stopping and eating together—when we’re all at home, that’s part of our every day ritual. And a film that we just watched with the kids that was incredible was Paddington 2. It’s wonderful, it’s beautiful, it’s about community, and I highly recommend it. And obviously, watching it with your family is a really good thing.
And you can pretty much exist undisturbed at home. Long gone are the days of door-to-door salesmen.
True. But the problem with homeless men in the UK now has just skyrocketed, and not just in big cities but in provincial towns across the country. So quite often now, you get guys coming to your door who need a roof over their head, and inevitably they’re selling kitchen products. So we get one or two of them every month, maybe a few more. Otherwise, you’re right—that’s all there is, really.
Do you have a home studio catacombs you can disappear into?
Yeah. I’m sitting in it right now. I can now work ProTools, just about, so my studio has all I need to record myself. I’ve got my guitar, and an old piano in the corner, so all I need is the quiet, really. And the solitude and time.
It’s weird to hear the new version of “No Sound,” without that great descriptive verse, “The kiss if the snow / The crescent moon above us.” Now it feels post-Brexit with, “We walk through the ash / And the charred remains of our country.”
The lyrics that are on the record now? That’s what was originally written for Twilight, and the Twilight people heard my original demo with those lyrics, without “Kiss of the snow.” But they wanted it to be a little more… Twilight-y, so that was one of the lines that I changed slightly to suit the film. And the version that they used was a demo recorded on two microphones in my front room at our old house, on a beat-up, battered piano. I asked when they wanted me to record it properly, but they just took the demo. It was crazy—this huge, big-budget film had the cheapest song of all time on it!
Home is the asylum for your characters in “Belong,” right?
That’s two people in their ark, in their room, escaping and taking refuge in each other. It’s a song about possession. It’s got a dark underbelly to it, and there’s some anger in there, too. But that’s exactly what it is: people shutting the curtains in their ark. And “Darkness at the Door” is about friendship, about the band, like, us versus the world. And “Magazine” is poking fun at power, like political power, and a candidate just saying things to get votes. And “Counting Spooks” is two people fighting off the world, while holding it together and getting through this nonsense that we all feel. And they’re feeling stronger in their togetherness than they would apart.
So the album is ultimately bleak but hopeful?
Yeah. That’s the balance that I tried to walk, to tread throughout. People are always talking about how dark we are, and I always get asked where that comes from. And it’s a question I have to dance around, and I have done for years. But I do know this: The people who like this band, who come and see us play and buy our records, they don’t finish an Editors CD or come out of an Editors concert feeling sad. People connect with those little glimmers of hope that are in those songs. And even though in this new record you can feel the presence of violence, and the modern world is there, the important acknowledgement is about the connection between people, and that’s a positive thing. So there’s always more hope and optimism in our songs than the casual listener would probably give us credit for. But I get that we’re more serious than most. I get why those questions are asked.
And you seem happy in the “Darkness” chorus to sing about the “Darkness at the door to greet me.”
Yeah. If it’s not some poor homeless chap, it’s darkness!