Interview With The Subways' Billy Lunn

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride for The Subways of late. Debut album ‘Youth and Eternity’ thrust them into the limelight in their late teens and they took the UK by storm with their vivacious live shows. Only for a hugely traumatic time to follow; lead singer Billy Lunn would have to undergo surgery to cure nodules on his vocal chords sparking fears he may never sing again and the bands drummer, Josh Morgan, was diagnosed with aspergers syndrome.

With this in mind it's fair to say the very existence itself of the new Subways album; out later in the year is an achievement in itself. Events that would have led many to call it a day have only served to make the band stronger and more determined. Now there’s no stopping them, they're back touring again with the rigorous enthusiasm that their fans grew to love and a new album under the wings that they'll be debuting material from on their upcoming tour. Lead singer Billy Lunn shed some light on the bands tumultuous recent events. From being cooped up at home with the fear of not speaking again to being approached by a certain Paul Weller for his autograph it's certainly been an eventful ride.

You had a bit of a break for a while whilst you had an operation on your vocals chords, is it a relief to be playing shows and recording again?

Yeah, it’s a huge weight of my shoulders. After the surgery the doctor said I couldn’t talk for three weeks and couldn’t sing for two months. When we went back into the rehearsal studio after the surgery it purged me of the struggle that id been through. So playing live again now I just don’t know how I coped without doing it, I think it’s why we all went a little bit crazy to be honest.

I guess it’s similar reasons to why you started the band in the first place then?

Yeah. We find playing in a band a really cathartic thing, a way for us to really express ourselves. Plus I don’t think I’m any good at anything else really. Charlotte went a bit crazy as well and we were all on edge. My brother Josh the drummer has got aspergers syndrome and uses drumming as a way of speaking and communicating so because we couldn’t play at all we all felt something was lacking.

Did you ever fear you might not be able to make a return to music?

Yeah. The doctor said that if the surgery didn’t go well I might never talk again, let alone sing. There were periods before the surgery when we were quaking our boots. I honestly don’t know what we would do without the band. I live for it, for he past four years it’s been everything to me.

It certainly shows in the live performance…

Yeah we live it on stage, we enjoy every second we’re given on stage; the opportunity to create something and speak to people is incredible. And I guess if I can’t sing to people it’s almost like I can’t speak.

So the band is your main form of expression?

Yeah completely I love discussion and learning new things and talking about things. Obviously discussion would have been completely out the window if the recovery went bad. We almost broke up at one point; we never thought this second album would come about.

Yeah it’s been quite a long break between the two albums?

Yeah the record is going to be released one month before it would have been three years since the first album came out. So it’s certainly been a long time. Although over that time we were still constantly writing songs and because we did have that break with the surgery we gained a lot of perspective and this in itself gave us a lot of opportunity that other bands don’t have. I think we’re quite thankful as well as maybe a little bit resentful of having so long away

Your second album is out later in the year, any signs of it being ‘the difficult second album’ or have things gone to plan?

It completely blows the first record out of the water. I think with the time we were given it was a really good opportunity for us because we had that perspective which a lot of bands don’t get when they’re caught in that whirlwind of touring and the press. Plus I can do so much more with my voice now I haven’t got the nodules on my vocal chords. It’s not just what I sing it’s how I sing it. When we went into the studio for the first album we were basically kids being thrown into this really professional studio, all we really wanted to do then was play live. Whereas when we went into the studio for this album we were way more assertive. We honed our craft in really structuring songs and putting across messages with as much impact as possible. Plus we had Butch Vig (Nirvana) on board.

That must have been pretty inspirational, has he made much of a difference to your recording process?

Yeah he’s made a huge difference. We went into pre production two weeks before we started recording to run through the songs and Butch would question us about the songs, “what do you want from this song? What are you saying? What do the drums mean? What do you want to do when you go into this break? We discovered more about ourselves, which added this sense of delivery and approach. On top of this Butch really gave us an edge and he’s just a genius he’s so meticulous with sound.

Your first album drew comparisons to Nirvana, do you think this accolade will stick with the band?

Were always open to experimentation and we consider ourselves quite dynamic, because there are only three of us we have to play on the sense of dynamics in the songs. If we really want something to be loud it has to really rock. I guess this in itself naturally draws a lot of comparisons to Nirvana. I do have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Nirvana as well, we all love that band and their sound and I suppose we really aspire to that. Having said this though we still wear our pop band badge with pride; I’ve always had this urge to write the perfect pop song.
Overall we just try and integrate everything that interests us in life be that film music or anything. But Nirvana is definitely a core influence.

The title of the album is ‘all or nothing’, any particular meaning behind this?

I really like albums that are named after a song on that album, and so this song is on the album about half way through. But because of all the struggle that we’d gone through and coming very close to the edge of completely imploding and not being a band anymore it felt very relevant. We found out a piece of particularly bad news as we were about to board the plane to go to America and record the album and said to each other we can just stop now and go home and not get on the plane or we can go there and make it the best record we could possibly make and put our all into this, so it was essentially a case of ‘all or nothing’.

John Peel was a big factor in you guys getting your first break, playing your early singles on his show, what did this feel like?

When you get those sorts of things happening to you, you don’t quite believe it, you don’t quite feel worthy either. It’s surreal when big moments like that happen. While it was happening we just got on with it, it was like ‘ah cool man John Peel likes our music’ but now in hindsight it feels really special.
It’s like when I met Paul Weller at a festival and he was like ‘alright how’s it going?’ and the next thing I know he’s coming over with a piece of paper going ‘can you sign this piece of paper for my daughter please?’ at the time I was just like ‘yeah sure man’ then I got on the bus to leave and just turned to someone and went ‘Paul Weller just asked for my autograph for his daughter, how crazy is that?

You manage to create a lot of racket considering you’re only a three piece, what’s your secret?

Well I think we’ve probably got the loudest drummer since Keith Moon, so Charlotte and I automatically have to have our amps really loud and our vocals would have to be really loud just to match Josh. Then it’s just working with dynamics. I think what’s really lacking in British music at the moment is a sense of dynamic, you listen to the radio or you hear a song on TV and it’s the same pretty much all the way through and we like to work with the idea of emphasising and creating texture within a piece of music. There’s no point in something being loud all the way through because you lose its sense of impact.

What inspired you to start making music?

I can give you the exact moment; when I first heard ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis. I remember as soon as I heard that I turned to my mum and said “I have to learn how to play this song, I have to learn to play the guitar”. The opening riff is unbelievable, I still play it all the time every time I pick up an acoustic guitar it’s one of the first things I mess around with. Around the age I was when it first came out your turning into a thoughtful person and analysing everything around you and forming opinions and the first lyric ‘I need to be myself I can’t be no one else’ is just amazing it really struck a chord with me and lit a fire in my heart.

You achieved fame at quite a young age, was this difficult in anyway?

Yeah it was at the time we got quite a lot of stick for being so young, and then two years after we got through that all these other young bands have started coming through and have breezed it, it’s unbelievable. At the time it was a mixed bag of emotions for us, it was intense, fun, exciting and there was also a hell of a lot of pressure; playing in front of 40,000 people at 20 years old is a bit crazy. It was amazing though, it’s shaped me and it’s made me more aware and given me a lust for life and a sense of reasoning that I don’t think I would have got elsewhere. I’ve seen all sorts of cultures and met all sorts of people, heard all sorts of opinions, got to see all these amazing bands that I never would have seen otherwise. I just feel blessed because of the opportunity that I’ve been given.

And finally do you ever consider what you would be doing if the band hadn’t taken off?

Id still be playing music, different band, don’t know where id be but I wouldn’t really care as long as I was playing music. Id still be making demos at home sending them out, playing gigs in London, or possibly just trying to start a tour, Nothing would have stopped me from doing this it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do.

The Subways begin their UK tour on 26th March. Their new album ‘all or nothing’ will be out in June.

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