Razorlight are back. After a long period as what could – though perhaps we’re being cruel – be described as the Johnny Borrell show, the London-meets-Sweden glory days line up returned in 2021. Early this year, the band launched a first new single since their 2018 record ‘Olympus Sleeping’, an album which in itself came after a stop-start hiatus, and a break from recording that dated back to 2008’s ‘Slipway Fires’.

Their fast-rising band history is something to behold, and features a heap of odd moments: Borrell’s own label mocking his solo record for selling only a few hundred copies in its first week; NME nominating Razorlight as ‘best new band’ and then ‘worst band’ only two years apart; a plucky little garage rock outfit at the heart of it all, producing hit after melodic hit.

New single ‘Call Me Junior’ feels like the Razorlight of old. It’s steeped in nostalgia, not least in the video, which features clips from an old tour of the US, but also in its sound: the new track has that jagged, melodic urgency and pace-changing guitar that always defined the backdrop to Borrell’s distinctive vocal. In fact, it could only be Razorlight.

The band for now are learning to be together again. Drummer Andy Burrows – later a member of We Are Scientists – had a fall out with Borrell and they didn’t speak for many years. Their reunion has been filmed for a documentary, its release date yet to be determined. When we speak to Bjorn Ågren, the founding guitarist, who returned from his own work with Lucy Rose to rejoin Razorlight in 2019, he insists the band are now in the best place they’ve been for some time. This is Razorlight’s essence: a return to their purest form.

There’s a new album on the way, though it will be preceded by a series of singles and, most likely, that documentary. Above all, though, Razorlight are enjoying being a band again, and their expectations are not all that high. Primarily, they’re just hoping to enjoy making music, and in hindsight, the whole experience of those flying early years, when ‘Up All Night’ and its self-titled follow up went, between them, nine times platinum, are all in the past.

“It seems to me that it was a very, very strange decade,” Ågren laughs. “It was indie chart music, which is a complete oxymoron. When indie turned up in the 80s, it was music for weird kids up in their bedrooms with no mates. It was before the internet so you can’t find other weirdos on Instagram or whatever. You used to think you were alone, and then you heard this song, and this guy called Robert Smith understood exactly what you felt.”

“It was never meant for the charts, that was the whole thing. It was meant to say to the popular kids, ‘this is not for you, you can have the radio’. And then that ended up being the kind of music that everyone listens to. The most popular game became guitar hero. It was this weird thing where being in a band was the coolest thing in all of culture. It was a world before Me Too, and before mental health really being a thing, especially for men.”

“The guy in The Vines was a tragic kind of example of that. He was going around trashing stuff and clearly something wasn’t quite right. You could see he was in distress, but the spectacle just carried on. People asked them to come and trash their TV studio. Nobody thought for a second about getting them to stop. It was a very strange decade, the end of lad culture and that drinking until you drop thing.” 

“For us, we were just a little squat band, and being in the charts was laughable. Our best scenario was finding a small loyal fanbase and making music for us and our fans. And all of a sudden we were in the charts at number… what? I guess we were surprised to learn it was possible. It was upside down, and nuts.”

“The indie thing was at the peak of celebrity culture, too. You had stuff like Preston out of the Ordinary Boys dating Chantelle, these weird kind of cultural crossover points. It was mad. I was lucky in a way because Johnny [Borrell] just got all of that, so I got away with it. It was really open season on celebrities, anyone who dared stick their head over the parapet you could call them an asshole to their face, pretty much.”

The focus today, though, is no longer on those days: Razorlight have put them aside, the early line up have had some time apart, and with the madness behind them, it feels like the right time to give things another glance.

“Everything’s happened quite nicely, very natural,” Ågren says of the return. “It feels like it was the right time for it to happen. Enough time had passed, so we can see the thing we had together for what it was, and what it is. It’s all very pure now, all about the music. Nobody’s talking about big hits or anything like that. We’re just trying with the four of us to see what we have.”

“I was already playing with Johnny, he reached out to Andy and I reached out to Carl. I think the biggest thing was a trust thing between Johnny and Andy. They fell out a bit when Andy left. That took a little while of gently reconnecting.”

“Carl and I are super good buddies from way back when, and me and Johnny are pretty much neighbours so we bump into each other here and there. I’ve been going out for pints with Carl and Johnny, the only estrangement really was Johnny and Andy.”

“When they ran into each other, they hadn’t talked after Andy left the band. Andy was super excited to see Johnny and had missed him. At the same time, he was worried he’d hate his guts. Things didn’t go too well for the band once Andy left. It was outside the Roundhouse about five years ago and it was a bit awkward, I think.”

“Funnily enough, the whole reconnection thing is on film. This guy wanted to do a documentary and he knew Andy. It was part of the catalyst, so they met, had a chat, and chilled for a bit. We went to France and filmed all that, and having that kind of frame to it all made it easier. It went well, anyway.”

“What took us by surprise is how much of the same thing it is, musically, how the instruments interact, what the songs sound like, how they’re arranged. The little unique Razorlight things, like if you’re going into a chorus you do this rubber band thing, where you slow down and then release quickly into the chorus. All those little things that make us musically distinct, they instantly appeared when we started jamming together.”

The new connection came very easily, almost like the band hadn’t been apart, and over time, the old Razorlight friendships and style emerged from the musicality of it all.

“It happened straight away, musically,” Ågren says. “We played the old stuff for a bit, but that was boring, so we worked on the new stuff. Of course, I can’t think like 23 year old me. There’s 15 years of extra experience gone in there, but the fear was we started playing together and it didn’t sound like Razorlight.”

“We thought ‘Call Me Junior’ is the ideal little taster single. It was a bit too scrappy for the label so we had to fight our way a little bit. We had four songs ready to go, and we picked the ‘most’ Razorlight one. We thought everyone would want to know what us playing together again sounds like.”

“I think it showed that we know what the core things are, too. We weren’t going to come back and try and be a The Killers-style pop behemoth or something more sophisticated like Keane. We know who we are.”

That identity extends right into the way that Razorlight work, the way they write, and even the way they record.

“We still have our steadfast refusal to trust any recording equipment made after 1983,” Ågren laughs, “so we record on the tape machine. It seems at this point that not a lot of people are doing it old school, so we just do it. It’s our natural way of doing things. We’ll never be that band that does lots of takes for weeks until we get it right. We’re a bit more chaotic, looser.”

The new album is progressing, though it’s not quite there.

“We’re probably about two third of the way through,” Ågren says. “We need a few more songs, but I’d be very surprised if it’s not released within a year. There’s going to be another single around mid-September. It’s a bit of an odd in-between year for us, the airport chaos and the petrol prices and all that have made touring difficult, everyone really wanted to get going, but we have to get through it all first.”

As for the live shows, which are slowly returning, largely in the form of a series of festival shows, the approach is going to be a straightforward one.

“We tend to throw in maybe two new ones,” Ågren explains, “we’re testing them out at the moment. But you want to give people the maximum entertainment, so it’s basically a greatest hits set with some band and fan favourites thrown in.”

“We feel like we’re 25 again. More than anything else, we just want to be in a band together again, with all that entails.”


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