Tom Smith and Andy Burrows reveal why it took so long to record their second album together, and why some songs have a strange resonance even though they were recorded before the pandemic
In a normal world — the one we knew up to about a year ago — Tom Smith and Andy Burrows would be on tour right now. They would be on the road in support of the first album they made together in almost a decade. And they would no doubt have been thoroughly enjoying themselves — two best mates knocking out co-written tunes in front of happy, receptive audiences. It would have been a fun break from their respective roles as frontman of Editors and ex-Razorlight drummer/songwriter turned in-demand soundtrack composer.
But the first six weeks of 2021 has demonstrated that ‘normality’ remains a long way away and, instead, Smith and Burrows have more prosaic concerns, like getting that work-life balance right.
Smith, the marginally less hirsute of the two, says lockdown life is no easy task. “Both me and my wife [the radio DJ and TV presenter Edith Bowman] are trying to work and we’ve our two boys at home and we’re trying to homeschool them. Like every family, that can be a strain. While it’s great to be together all the time, there’s pressure to make sure everybody gets time to themselves. ’Cause that’s important.”
Even media engagements — the task of promoting their album — is affected and they’re purposely doing Zoom interviews at night when their children are in bed.
The English duo’s second album, Only Smith & Burrows is Good Enough, is a sweet and breezy collection of tunes that was written and recorded before the pandemic. While there is a touch of melancholia here and there, its sunny disposition serves as a perfect anecdote to this chilly, sleety February.
For Smith, much of the fun was going into a Nashville studio with A-list producer Jacquire King and getting the songs down. “We had some of that downtime where we could get together and go away and record these songs with someone who just got them,” he says. “You sort of take it for granted at the time, but looking back now, it feels very special.”
Burrows says several of the songs were years in gestation, but reckons some of them have a strange resonance in the Covid era. “Some people think a handful of the songs here were written about being locked in our houses.”
“All The Best Moves,” Smith chimes in, “is about somebody who doesn’t want to leave their house. He [the song’s protagonist] would rather dance in front of the mirror than dance with another human being because he’s sad and lonely.
“But,” he adds, “it’s a carefree pop record. We really tried to embrace that, to do something different — in my case, very different — than we’d done in our musical lives to date. Editors exist in this kind of darker, more dramatic, more theatrical world so making music in that environment is very different. But with Andy, there’s a sense of not being afraid of going for the melodies, being upfront with it.”
“It’s quite heart-on-sleeve, isn’t it?” says Burrows. “It’s a bit more like the sort of stuff I’m doing now.” More on that later.
The pair met at Glastonbury in 2005 — Burrows was friends with Smith’s then girlfriend Bowman — and they immediately struck up a close friendship. Editors were on the cusp of releasing an acclaimed neo-post-punk debut album, The Back Room, while Razorlight had become massive on the strength of their crowd-pleasing first album, Up All Night, released the summer before.
Both married their respective partners and had children around the same time — and they regularly holidayed together as families. It was no surprise when they began to collaborate on an album, although the result took many by surprise. Funny Looking Angels, which came out in 2011, is that scarcely seen creature: a Christmas album, albeit one shot through with sadness.
“I wonder what we could do to make something even more unfashionable?” Smith quips. “An Easter album, perhaps?”
Funny Looking Angels was comparatively well received at the time, but its stature has grown since then, buoyed by an appreciation for such richly hewn tracks as When the Thames Froze Over. They had planned to follow it up quickly, but life, children and other projects got in the way.
For Smith, the focus was on Editors, and the navigating of new waters after the initial huge success abated. With guitar-based indie in the doldrums, he set about reinventing Editors’ sound. Their most recent album, 2018’s Violence, was their seventh and arguably most experimental. It also marked something of a pause.
“We toured a best-of album after that,” he says, “so it did feel like the end of one chapter. But there will be new chapters.”
For his part, Burrows has had a more varied time of it. He quit Razorlight in 2009 just as their trajectory was flat-lining. There was membership of the short-lived indie group We Are Scientists, as well as soundtrack work for The Sims, the hugely popular videogame. The latter gave him a taste for more esoteric work rather than, merely, being the drummer (and songwriter) in a popular band. Soon came a commission to provide the soundtrack to the animated Yuletide movie, The Snowman and the Snowdog — the follow-up to The Snowman, the Christmas classic. That, in turn, helped open other doors. Enter Ricky Gervais, who was looking for a musician to create a fictional band for him.
“He knows so much about music and he’s just so passionate about it,” Burrows says. “We just got on so well and that’s how the David Brent movie came about.” David Brent: Life On the Road saw Gervais’ breakthrough creation try to reinvent himself, after his office job, as a rock star. Burrows helped create the music and appeared in the film as the drummer.
The film bombed at the box office, but Burrows’ musical chops had so impressed Gervais that he put him in charge of the music for his TV ‘dramedy’ After Life. Production on a third season is set to get under way in the next few weeks and Burrows has signed up again.
“Now that I’ve told you that I might get kicked off it,” he says with a hearty laugh.
“Writing music for a series like that is not just fun, but it’s really challenging too.” Smith has only seen a couple of episodes. “It just made me so sad, I sort of left it” he says of the show, which finds Gervais’s character try to pick up the pieces after his beloved wife dies of cancer. “But I will go back to it.”
Smith and Burrows are hoping to go on the road once Covid has been brought under control — something that may happen quicker in the UK than here thanks to the faster pace of the vaccine rollout. “We haven’t played live that much together,” Smith says. “I mean there was a couple of weeks of shows before we brought out Funny Looking Angels, but,” he pauses, and grins, “it’s not exactly the sort of album we could have been touring into February.”
They hope there will be more albums too. “Well, we’ve shown we can do it,” Burrows says. “You don’t always know if it [making music] is going to work with mates. If it was something that wasn’t working out, or being fun, we would have just knocked it on the head.”
“Having fun when you’re making music is part of what it’s all about,” Smith adds. “We both have other avenues we can explore” — including, in Smith’s case a new electronica project he says he can’t talk about just yet — “but making music with Andy is something I want to keep doing.”
‘Only Smith & Burrows is Good Enough’ is out on Friday.