Razorlight Interview

By amanda van west

"Exciting, Thrilling, Confusing"
Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell spills about how their first American tour is going.

Interview by Amanda Van West, photos by Nancy Elser

"Hey girl, get on the dancefloor/And rip it up, yeah/That's what it's there for!" commanded Johnny Borrell, the frontman for new U.K. sensation Razorlight, as they launched into "Rip It Up" from their recently released album "Up All Night". The crowd happily obliged. Razorlight tore through an exhilarating hour-long set, and lived up to the hype that they have received in the U.K. Guitarist Bjorn Agren and bass player Carl Dalemo jumped around all over stage, throwing in some scissor kicks for good measure. Drummer Andy Burrows, who joined the band when original drummer Christian Smith-Pancorvo left due to health problems, banged and beat his drums with high, youthful energy. But it was Borrell who stole the show that night. Borrell spat out his lyrics with a feverish intensity, sometimes even throwing his guitar and knocking over his mic stand. He climbed up various amplifiers, eventually climbing up the tallest one and grabbing onto the ceiling rafters, all the while still singing perfectly, not missing one word. Borrell jumped off the amplifier and back onto the stage in one fluid motion, like some kind of wild jungle cat. At one point he grabbed a chair and stood on top of it proclaiming, "There! Now I feel like I'm on a real stage [the Popscene stage is only about a foot high]! Can everybody see me?" He was met with rabid cheering from the crowd, and received even more cheering (mostly from the women in the crowd) when he stripped off his shirt and ran around on stage like Iggy Pop.

All of Borrell's onstage antics were caught on tape by the BBC, who were there filming for their popular music show Top of the Pops. Razorlight ended their set by playing two extra songs that were not written on the setlist, "Up All Night" (which Borrell stated, "this is for all the sixteen year-olds who were kept up all night because their friends were in the other room shooting up heroin") and "In the City", a song that starts out very bluesy, but then turns into a completely trashy, Clash-like punk song. They put the excitement back in rock and roll, and proved that music today is as alive as can be.

After their show, I got the chance to interview Johnny Borrell and ask him all about their first American tour. I expected him to be very intense and to have an attitude, but he turned out to be incredibly polite and soft-spoken. We sat down out back and I asked him how the tour was going so far.

Johnny Borrell: Um...it's been a bit exciting, thrilling, confusing, disorientating, um, overwhelming, (laughs) boring...yeah, I think I'm quite proud of doing it, you know?

Amanda Van West: What was the most exciting part so far?

JB: A lot of things, I mean, um, getting out of Manhattan because we had been running around there for a bit.

VW: You guys have played there before, right?

JB: Yep, we've played there before, meeting up with people we haven't seen. It's been a good time...getting lost in Brooklyn on my own at four in the morning, which was fun. Getting outside of New York for the first time was great. Gosh, um, we've been all over, seen lots of things. Seen lots of baseball stadiums. Loads of places. Getting into San Francisco was amazing. It was really exciting. I've always wanted to come here.

VW: What did you expect of San Francisco, the crowd, the city?

JB: Well, I didn't know what I expected because it's kind of been at the back of my mind. I don't know why, because I've been to New York and I've been to L.A. I actually quite liked L.A, which everybody doesn't understand. I actually liked it more than New York in a way. Yeah, you know, and then, um, I got to San Francisco and thought, "Ah yes! Fucking San Francisco! It's fucking brilliant, innit? It's gorgeous. Yeah, and the weather's great, and it's a very beautiful city. It feels like you've got all the good things that you've got in America, but none of the shit things, and you've got stuff that nowhere else has got.

VW: How are the crowds in the U.S., as opposed to the crowds in the U.K.?

JB: Well, in the U.K. we've got 5 or 6,000 people in the crowd.

VW: Was it a big shock to you coming here and playing on a twelve inch stage?

JB: Well, no because it was only a year ago that we were playing shows like this in England. It's a different kind of gig. I think for a gig like tonight you have to really be really, really on it to do it, you know? And I was almost not on it. I had a quite busy day today, running around doing lots of stuff. But I enjoyed it.

VW: What have you been doing on the tour bus for fun?

JB: I've been watching a lot of films. I'm obsessed with Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, they're German filmmakers and I'm absolutely obsessed with 'em. I've been watching loads of DVDs that I've bought since I've been in America. I've got a little laptop that I watch them on, so I'm quite happy with that. And I've been doing some writing, a little bit, as well.

VW: As far as songwriting goes, what inspires you to write?

JB: Every experience. Usually, usually, to be honest, it's intense emotions, innit? But, you know, generally when the wheels fall off and you're looking and you're talking to yourself and going, "I don't even know how I can bloody do this any more." You can't understand your life or why you're living it. You know, you tumble into that depression. That's usually when you have to...there's nothing else for it...so you write your way out of it really, and that's when you really start looking at your life and trying to write about it. Trying to write as honestly as you can. It's just the way you write. Sometimes you write to...sometimes you're writing to really say something you really need to say. Sometimes you're writing to...sometimes you write for the wrong reasons. Sometimes you write just to prove you can write or 'cause you're bored, or 'cause you feel like you have to write. And I've done that all before, you know, but hopefully I'm getting to a point where I don't have to just write when I feel like I have to.

VW: You've been compared to the greats such as The Jam, The Kinks, and Gang of Four. How do you feel about that?

JB: That's great. I've got a big box that I fill with comparisons and I stick 'em in there and forget about it (laughs). I like what Mick Rock said. He said, "A little bit Iggy, a little Mick Jagger, but a lot of Johnny Borrell."

VW: You've just turned 24 recently. How does it feel to be this young in this industry? Is it hard or a lot of fun?

JB: It's both, you know. It's hard stacking shelves in a supermarket because you don't get any reward. Of course doing a gig every night is hard. To talk about yourself is hard. All this is hard. But at least in this job you do get a pay off when you walk onstage for a second encore and you go, "wow", you know?

VW: Some of us inside were saying how agile you are (laughs). Have you always been so agile, or did you have to work at it?

JB: (laughs) Well, in Chicago I wasn't wearing these jeans (points to pants). I was wearing these Dior trousers that were so fucking tight that I couldn't even fucking move my legs past here (raises leg slightly). It was really quite embarrassing.

VW: (laughs) Was that one of your most embarrassing moments on tour?

JB: Um, well I never get embarrassed on stage. Never. Never, because if you fall right on your ass it doesn't matter. I've fallen over onstage numerous times, and you always just kind of go, "oh well" and get back up.

VW: So your album was recently released in the U.S. on October 26th. You guys are huge in the U.K., so how do you plan on breaking ground in the U.S? Do you plan on gigging more?

JB: Yeah, I mean, you don't really want to spend the rest of your life in a van killing yourself every night for 60 people. The next sixth months we're gonna be here. Might give it a good crack.

VW: I think after this tour your band will receive more press.

JB: Well, I hope in January it'll be good. Actually, when I think about my band, I try to compare my band to other bands. You start to compare it to the great bands that resisted like The Stones, The Beatles, and you get quite depressed. And then you start to compare it to the other bands that were around and you think, "wow it's just like that."

VW: Yeah, I think out of a lot of bands out there today, you guys are one of the greatest. And after seeing you live, it definitely made an impact.

JB: Well, all we want is to get better and better.

VW: It's really excellent so far. Thank you.

JB: Cool, it's great.


Razorlight's debut record "Up All Night" is available through their website or your local record store. Look for a followup tour in North America in the new year. In the meantime you can find some tunes on razorlight.co.uk.