Profile: The Subways
Words: Niall Doherty
Billy Lunn is roaming round Koko’s stage like a beastly rock behemoth, spitting out Grohl-like growls from the pit of his belly – “London, are you ready to raaaawwwwwwwwKKK!” – in the sort of holler that suggests he’s not so much posing a question to the crowd, more firing out a warning. Y’see, live, The Subways have built on their youthful, wide-eyed vigour and turned into a devastating, ferocious – not to mention uber-confident – rock band. Tonight, just like when The Fly saw them tear ULU a new arse a few months back, they play like Koko is Wembley Stadium incognito, their amped-up anthems threatening to bulldoze down the brickwork and breakout onto Camden High Street, terrorising passer-bys and getting asked if they wanna buy weed on their way to Rock Valhalla. It’s overblown, eardrum-disdaining and utterly, utterly thrilling.
“I think we’re a live band. That’s really our identity,” says bassist Charlotte Cooper, speaking to The Fly the day before. “After ‘Young For Eternity’ was released, we toured for two and a half years and got to play all these amazing places on huge stages with bands we’ve looked up to since we were kids. That’s where we see ourselves as a band, on tour. I think definitely this time round, it was really important that energy came across in the album.” “With these crazy audiences,” interjects Billy, sat next to her, “it was hard not to amp it up.”
Such is the feral, primal enthusiasm of the trio – made up by Billy’s younger brother Josh on drums – that there’s the distinct feeling that on the eve of the release of ‘All Or Nothing’, coming three years after the release of their debut, via Billy having to have a possibly voice-wrecking operation and him and Charlotte splitting up two years after he’d proposed to her onstage, The Subways are a band determined to make up for lost time. “I think so,” nods Billy, who, in conversation, is a polite, if very fast-talking, contrast to his stage persona. “There was a point where we thought no-one was gonna come to these shows, so when the tour sold out and we’re playing to these crazy audiences, our pent-up energy was evident. When we got out there it felt so cathartic, like an expulsion, just like the record felt, an expulsion of all these emotions, of everything we’d that we’d been through and everything that we’d seen and all the experience we’d gained and all the growth, not just as musicians but as people, dealing with the sort of dynamics within the band… We are, pretty much, the happiest we’ve been for a long time.”
Ah… the dynamics of the band. Halfway through the recording of the album, The Subways were presented with the sort of dilemma that would have Dr Pamela Connolly scratching her noggin’ for answers. It’s not too often that a boyfriend and girlfriend break off their engagement and still have to spend every day with other and the boyfriend’s little brother, after all. “It wasn’t calculated at all,” says Charlotte of how they carried on without the recording sessions turning a bit Mr & Mrs Smith. “Music’s always been number one so that was always the main focus anyway,” says Billy. “And cos we were doing a record,” continues Charlotte, “we were like, “we need to be concentrating on this,” there was no discussion on how it would work… it just, sort of, did.” “Music means so much to us,” states Billy, “this is what we have to do, we’ve waited so long for this opportunity and we’re gonna make the best fucking record we could possibly make. And we felt like we had the songs. When Butch Vig says the song’s good, you kinda gotta trust it…”
Indeed, the producer, famed for his work with Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, lends ‘All Or Nothing’ a righteous rock judder that ensures that when their magic touch deserts them on some of the album’s schmaltzy mid-paced songs, an ear-blasting explosion is always just around the corner. So, even if there’s still a few rungs on rock’s evolutionary ladder to make up before they mutate into the fully-formed rock monster they’ve always threatened to be, The Subways still blow the cobwebs of indie schmindie into the abyss – reason enough to make their return a startling, welcome addition to the year.
‘All Or Nothing’ is out now on Warners.