[Interview] The Subways
Added on 30th October 2004
The Subways - Billy, Mary-Charlotte and Josh
Over the past 6 months The Subways have been making their mark on the indie live circuit through supporting bands such as The Von Bondies, Stellastarr*, The Datsuns and Charlotte Hatherley. They recently released a very limited edition single (only 500 copies were pressed), and these have been going on eBay for up to £50! They are also in the middle of their first headlining tour of the UK. Not bad for a band who started out when singer/guitarist Billy Lunn taught his brother (Josh Morgan - drums) and girlfriend (Mary-Charlotte Cooper - bass and vocals) to play their instruments in order to enter a local bands competition. I interviewed Billy and Charlotte before they played in Leeds. Josh had "prior engagements" (he was talking on the phone to his girlfriend!), but apparently he hardly ever talks in interviews anyway.
First things first, who are you, and where do you come from?
Billy: I'm Billy, I'm the guitarist and singer, and I come from Welwyn Garden City.
Charlotte: I'm Charlotte, I'm the bassist and singer, and I come from Essex.
When did the band first start?
Billy: We first started when I entered a local rock competition. I had just taught myself the guitar and I was playing a few of my own songs, and I really needed people to work with. So I asked Josh who is my brother to do the drums, and Charlotte who was my then girlfriend to play bass, and I taught them how to play their instruments within about a week, and we entered and got to the semi finals.
If you weren't in the band what would you be doing?
Charlotte: I'd probably be at university by now, because I've just finished my A-Levels, and that was the plan before all this kicked off.
Billy: I'd still be doing my job, cleaning. I used to work in a hotel, collecting dirty sheets and packing them away and delivering them. If I wasn't doing this I would probably be cleaning office blocks, or whatever. And I'd be reading during the day, because reading is such a big pastime of mine. It's so important.
Who are your favourite authors?
Billy: Bukowski at the moment, and Luke Rhinehart who wrote The Dice Man. I'm actually really getting into Sci-Fi Fantasy at the moment, and I never thought I would. I'm more of a realist kind of guy, and I like my psycho-analytic novels.
What would you say to people who might dismiss you as another "The..." band?
Billy: I'd have to say that if anyone does dismiss us purely because of our name then they shouldn't be listening to our music anyway. They don't deserve to listen!
Charlotte: There's nothing wrong with "The" bands, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. There's some great "The" bands!
Billy: Its happened since the beginning of rock music.
Your limited edition single 1am sold out even before it went on sale. Were you surprised at how well it did?
Billy: [After a few seconds of thought] No, I don't think so.
Charlotte: The song has been around for a while in our set, and on our website there were a lot of people asking about it, so we knew that it was going to go quickly, but we didn't realise that it would go that quickly!
Billy: That's the thing, we thought that once it was on sale it would go, but having sold out before it was even released was just amazing. A big shock.
What was it like when you first heard 1am on the radio?
Charlotte: The first time was actually on Claire Sturgess's unsigned session so we had all our families listening. It was really exciting!
Billy: We recorded it at home in our living room and it meant so much more with it being all our own work, because I produced it and we all contributed to the mixing, so it meant so much more.
Are there any plans for a standard single release?
Billy: Yeah, we are looking to release a single off our album around January time as a general release to kick off, and then release an album in about May time.
Which producers are you looking at working with for the album?
Billy: We're just looking around at the moment. We've just had a barrage of producers put their names forward, which is fantastic. We had one wannabe producer down in Newport who came and watched us. He got so excited, all he kept shouting between the songs was "You rock and roll motherfuckers! Lets get in the studio!"
Charlotte: He was very cool!
I first heard of you when you had won the Glastonbury New Bands competition. How did that come about?
Billy: Well, I was producing a local band, because in our hometown I produce a lot of local acts that are up and coming, and I asked them what they were going to do with their CD once we had finished mastering it, and they said they were going to send it off to Michael Eavis for Glastonbury. So I basically just photocopied the forms that they were going use, sent one of our newest demos in, got a call back saying they wanted us for the New Bands tent, and then got a call 2 weeks later from Michael Eavis saying that he wanted us on The Other Stage.
Did you watch the other bands from in the field, or did you do the showbiz thing and watch them from the side of the stage?
Charlotte: We were only allowed behind The Other Stage on the Saturday. We saw the Von Bondies from backstage, and we saw all the other bands from out the front. It's still nice to see them from out the front, because you don't get the same energy [from the side of the stage]
Was it as a response to you playing at Glastonbury that you were booked for Leeds and Reading and the other festivals you played over the summer?
Billy: Well, our agent put us forward [for Leeds and Reading] and I don't think Mean Fiddler had any spaces left, and at the last minute I think someone pulled out and someone said The Subways straight away. That was amazing.
Which has been the most enjoyable festival that you've played?
Charlotte: I think I would have to say Reading, because me and Billy have been going there as punters for about three years now, with our friends. We always go to the Carling Stage. I think the Carling stage is wicked! So to actually be there playing, on the other side of it all, was amazing.
You've supported many bands, who were the best band to support?
Billy: Charlotte Hatherley was great. Its really hard because we've supported some really fantastic local bands, which I have to say are a lot better than the really big mainstream bands that we've played with.
Charlotte: With Charlotte [Hatherley], we had such a great time on that tour. It was really cool. All the rest of her band were lovely as well. That was really cool.
Billy: Yeah, Charlotte Hatherley was probably the most enjoyable.
How different is it touring in your own right compared to following other bands around?
Charlotte: Its a lot nicer! Its great to support, but doing a headline show is special.
And you get bigger dressing rooms too?
Billy: And more beer!
If you could support any band, past or present, at any point in their career, who would it be?
Charlotte: Muse at Earl's Court in a few weeks time!
Billy: For me it would have to be...
Charlotte: It's a very hard question! Even though I answered it just like that, I was thinking about that gig earlier today.
Billy: I think it would have to be Nirvana's first show in the UK in Newcastle.
Charlotte: Are you sure it wasn't in Newport?
Billy: No, Kurt Cobain proposed to Courtney Love in Newport, they came over to Newcastle and they played with Tad. So yeah, Nirvana in Newcastle, their first UK tour date.
You seem to know quite a lot about Nirvana! Are you big fans?
Billy: Yeah! I tend to look up a lot about bands. If I feel a real association with a band I'll learn everything I can about them. I'll learn all the stories, you know, The Doors, Nirvana, Oasis, Blur, The Beatles, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads. I really do get into bands, and I find that if I associate with them I might as well go the whole hog and learn the whole history.
Charlotte: There's some great books out there, like Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman, who managed The Doors and Iggy Pop, and hear about all of that. Theres some fantastic stories out there.
If you could play a gig at any venue which would it be?
Charlotte: The Viper Rooms [in Los Angeles] would be quite cool.
Billy: Owned by Johnny Depp!
Charlotte: Just because Johnny Depp might come down and say hello!
Billy: I'd love to meet him, because he's such a fantastic actor, and he seems like a great personality and I'd love to learn about him.
What's the most Rock and Roll thing you've ever done?
Charlotte: Play a gig I think!
Billy: Yeah, every member of a band gets up to something silly or stupid or drunken and I think it's not rock and roll, its just having fun.
Charlotte: It's just what happens at a gig really.
Billy: And people like to sensationalise all the wrong doings of people. I think the most rock and roll thing a band can do is play an awesome show.
So you haven't trashed any hotel rooms yet?
Billy: Yet! [laughter] We haven't come across any really annoying receptionists at our hotels yet!
Charlotte: That's because we're not supposed to be in the rooms, we're all supposed to be children!
Billy: So we all have to leg it past!
Who are the most famous people you've got in your phonebooks?
Charlotte: I don't have anyone famous at all!
Billy: Imran Ahmed for me. The new bands editor from the NME. I was going to call him up and really drunkenly shout profanity down the phone!
Would you ever change the type of music that you do in order to get more fame or more money?
Charlotte: Not to get more fame. I think our music will change, but just as a natural artistic progression.
Billy: Even now our artistic development is ongoing, we're writing newer songs that we've never really played before. Each song we play has its own personality, is the way I look at it, and we write songs and play them because we love the way they sound and the way we play them. If people then like it then it's great, it's a bonus.
Would you ever bow down to record company pressure to write a "hit"?
Billy: I've already written a hit! I've already got a load of hits up my sleeve. It's them [record companies] who are trying to persuade us to sell them on their record label.
Where do you see yourselves in 12 months time?
Charlotte: Coming off the back of the festivals, probably thinking about second album by then. Hopefully embarking on a bigger UK tour, maybe Europe as well.
Billy: I'd like to have toured Japan by this time next year.
Charlotte: Yeah, I'd like to have been to Japan.
Can you see yourselves rocking into your forties and fifties like U2 and The Who?
Charlotte: Yeah! I want to play forever!
Billy: I can seriously see myself fading away. Probably after the third album, getting out of this place!
Charlotte: If we're not in the spotlight though, we'll still be playing our instruments until our fingers stop working.
Billy: More playing for ourselves.
Charlotte: Even if its not playing under the fame or whatever, we'll still be playing.
And finally, your current single is called 1am. What were you doing at 1am last night?
Billy: We were in the hotel.
Charlotte: We were watching a re-run of Frank Skinner with Graham Coxon on it, weren't we?
Billy: Yeah, and we think that Graham Coxon is probably the sweetest being on this earth!
Charlotte: He's so cute!
Billy: He's brilliant!
The Subways are definitely a band to look out for in the near future, and the energy they have on stage is second to none. They are definitely on their way up in the world, and their infectious mix of blues-punk-rock will set radio, and your CD collection, alight.
The Subways were interviewed by: Jack