The beat goes on
He fell out with Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell and quit as their drummer, but Andy Burrows isn’t licking his wounds - he's on track to have the album of the year with his new project, says Ed Power
Published 13/08/2010 | 05:00
In the final months of his time in Razorlight, songwriter and drummer Andy Burrows was on such frosty terms with frontman Johnny Borrell that they had to be driven separately to concerts.
There were shouting matches and, if the tabloids are to be believed, a punch-up at Camden's Hawley Arms. But mostly this was a Cold War-style communications break-down, characterised by years of simmering hostility and a slow, painful growing apart.
"I definitely remember a certain configuration of car arrivals," says Burrows, who finally quit the arena-plodders in 2009, reportedly disgusted that his contribution to hits such as America had gone unacknowledged.
"Communication wasn't exactly great. Towards the end for me, it was a pretty crappy place to be. It didn't feel great, but I must say I'm proud of everything we did."
Rather than mooching around the house and cultivating a beer belly, the amiable Burrows took a more radical course. He started a new band, I Am Arrows, whose Beach Boys-tinged debut Sun Comes Up Again couldn't be further removed from Razorlight's broad stadium shapes.
"When I started making this record, I tried to do stuff that wasn't really me," he says. "It was full of samples and electronics. I got through a couple of weeks and thought, 'I'm not being true to myself, this is silly. I should do something that comes naturally'. Once I reached that conclusion and stopped battling my own instincts, it got a lot easier."
Of course, the real question is: how the hell did the drummer from Razorlight (Razorlight!) come to make what many are already hailing an album of the year? After all, with the famous -- and solitary -- exception of Dave Grohl, the post-break-up careers of famous sticksmen rarely finish well.
The majority end up starring in their own one-person tribute acts, drafting in session guitarists and bringing out a cobbled-together album in a hapless bid to trade on their previous band's name. Shouldn't Burrows be seeking to cash pathetically in on Razorlight's following at the head of The Andy Burrows Project, or some-such?
"I've always written songs. In hindsight, I think I was too lazy to put the effort in," he reflects. "Also, I was having too much fun on the drums. It was only when I discovered that writing could be therapeutic that I threw myself into it. And [after Razorlight] I felt I was duty bound to get off my arse really. There was stuff I needed to get out of me musically."
Burrows sings and plays all the instruments on Sun Comes Up Again. Sadly, on stage, you won't see him attempting the musical equivalent of playing keepie-uppy with one foot tied behind his back, singing and drumming at the same time. Unless your name happens to be Phil Collins, the sight of a guy warbling from behind a kit is, he says, profoundly iffy. So he's abandoned the drums, strapped on a guitar and moved centre-stage.
"There's something that doesn't quite work about it. I take my hat off to [The Band's singing drummer] Levon Helm and, you know, Big Phil Collins. I've always enjoyed drumming and singing back vocals. Whereas with drumming and lead vocals... there's a bit of a battle between drumming and singing, isn't there? A sort of... it doesn't work when you're singing from the heart. That's not to say it hasn't been done. It's certainly not for me."
He hasn't, he would like to point out, quit drumming for good. Side by side with I Am Arrows, Burrows found time to join American prep-rockers We Are Scientists for their recent third album, Barbara.
"Last summer, me and my family went to live in New York for a few months. I knew Keith and Chris from We Are Scientists fairly well. We had a great time in Brooklyn, it was awesome. The record was almost a result of just hanging out and being friends. It was a lovely vibe. We were hoping we'd get to tour the record together. It's not yet worked out that way unfortunately, but, in the future, who knows?"
As you might imagine, sharing a stage with the famously (some might say notoriously) flamboyant Borrell taught Burrows a thing or three about the art of fronting a band. Not that he necessarily wishes to put all those lessons into practice.
"He's brilliant at what he does, he's an amazing frontman," says Burrows, through teeth gritted almost imperceptibly. "I don't think I have any aspirations to be that kind of frontman. I see it as getting up there and playing the songs."
So no chance of squeezing into a pair of blinding white trousers and inviting the world to gawp at your crotch, as Borrell did while touring Razorlight's second LP? Burrows laughs, but only a for a moment.
"I feel very comfortable playing guitar and singing. I don't want to think too much about whether it's as a frontman or not. He's great at what he does; it's not something I want to be at all. I've watched and learned. However, I won't be stepping on anyone's toes."
If he was sorely tempted to slap Borrell while in Razorlight, at least he wasn't the first to feel this way. In fact, in February 2007, bassist Carl Dalemo did exactly that, landing a haymaker on the singer mid-concert in Lyon. Speaking to Irish journalists 12 months later, Borrell himself acknowledged that he had a rare talent for rubbing people up the wrong way.
"There's that thing in Britain where you're not allowed to be proud of what you do," Borrell said. "You've got to have this false modesty, to keep your head down and act as if you don't deserve success, even if you've worked damn hard at it. I guess that's why we rub people up the wrong way.
"In England, we seem to rub people up the wrong way. Even when journalists say they like our music, there's always a sense of it being through gritted teeth."
Uproar of another sort befell Razorlight the last time they headlined in Dublin, when a punter chucked a pint at Borrell (thank God for plastic glasses). Strangely, Burrows goes a bit blank when the subject is brought up now.
"I think... yeah... yeah.. .ha ha. I can't really remember what happened there," he giggles. "When it did happen, we just carried on. I do remember the venue. What was it called? The Olympia? Oh yeah, it was beautiful. I would be very happy if I Am Arrows could play somewhere like that."
Before his dreams of gracing the Dame Street cake-tin come true, however, there's the small matter of opening for neo-progsters Muse at Wembley Stadium this autumn. How tempting will it to be to get his Freddie Mercury on and yell "Hello Wembley?" to the afternoon crowd?
"We already played Stade de France with Muse. Leading up to it, I thought, 'no, I'll keep my cool'. Of course, as soon as I was on stage I blurted out 'Bonjour, Stade de France'. I couldn't believe I said that. Something comes over you when you're up there."
Sun Comes Up Again is out now