Q&A: Billy Lunn From The Subways

Stand a chance to win tickets to see the show in Johannesburg or in Cape Town

     
By William Welfare
Wednesday, 20 November 2013 13:59
The Subways [From left] Josh Morgan, Billy Lunn & Charlotte Cooper
The Subways [From left] Josh Morgan, Billy Lunn & Charlotte Cooper

The Fun Lovin' Criminals (Fast And Frank DJ set) and The Subways are set to perform in Johannesburg and Cape Town at the CuervoLution party this weekend. [Scroll down for ticket and venue details.]

To mark UK rockers The Subways' performances, Rolling Stone called the band's frontman, Billy Lunn, while they were touring Moscow last week to find out more about their upcoming fourth album, working with producers Butch Vig and Stephen Street, and whether Youtube and iTunes really contribute to a band's success.

RS: What was it like working with producer Butch Vig on All or Nothing and why did you decide to go with Stephan Street on Money and Celebrity?

Billy Lunn: Working with Butch Vig was one of the most amazing things we've ever done. He worked on our favourite records, mainly Nevermind by Nirvana, Gish and Siamese Dream by the [Smashing] Pumpkins...just to be in the same room as him and working with him, having his contribution on our songs was just absolutely incredible. We went out there for two-month portions in Los Angeles and we probably had the best time of our lives recording an album. It was the most relaxing it ever felt in studio, which is quite strange, really. Butch is probably the coolest man in the world...besides Dave Grohl. [Laughs]

How was the workflow?

It was totally relaxed, he made us feel very at ease – we could just totally crack on with the album and let the creative juices flow. He also really encouraged us to write well while we were in the studio. So Charlotte [Cooper] and I would turn up at the studio like an hour or two early, try and write a tune and then play it to Butch and he'd go: "Wow, maybe you should try this or take it to that direction." Or something like: "That's interesting, maybe we should lay it down." And we're really proud of that, because of Butch's enthusiasm for being creative whilst still being in studio. We usually write our songs while we're on the road; we can tour for maybe three years at a time and then we would come up with about 60 songs, then pick our favourite and then take them to the studio.

And then to answer the second part of the question about Stephen Street – that was really just like...I don't know, he made some records that we absolutely love.

Like The Smiths, Cranberries, Babyshambles...

Yeah, yeah! And with Morrissey and obviously Kaiser Chiefs [Employment, 2004], we just loved the sound of that record, it's so full and powerful. And also, he's English and from London as well – we're from North London, so it kind of felt nice because with the first record we worked with Ian Broudie so we went up to Liverpool; the second record was with Butch so we flew to Los Angeles and we figured it would be really nice doing a record in London this time, you know? With a London guy. We basically had that record sorted when we took it to Stephen [Street] and he added that really British touch. We really wanted a British-sounding record on Money And Celebrity.

You guys have millions of YouTube hits on your videos. Do those hits really translate into some sort of success – like getting better festival slots and selling more albums?

Definitely! Even when we first started out, one of the most of important things – as well as having songs, practicing regularly and going out gigging – was having a website and a forum and uploading our latest songs so that people from all over the world could hear the tunes. From the early days we had quite a European following like Belgium, France and Germany. And that's because we put so much effort into that part of the band.

Stuff like "Rock 'n' Roll Queen" on YouTube, with all the millions of hits that has – yeah, definitely. And also for festival bookings and that kind of thing people go on and look at footage of us playing and go: "Wow! Let's book those guys for Dubai or Australia or wherever."

That's definitely, definitely, definitely helped us – having that stuff on YouTube has only benefitted [us]. I wouldn't say this is a job – we get paid for doing a hobby. We're just doing exactly what we love – every single day. We're a live band, we love being on tour, love being on stage, we love being on the tour bus, we love getting out and seeing new places. We've never been to South Africa before. Just the prospect of getting onto a plane to South Africa is blowing our minds!

Stuff like YouTube means that we can come over to South Africa and play to a bunch of people we never played to before and hopefully have a really beautiful time and make people smile, dance and stage-dive. That's incredible for us.

While we're on the topic of coming to South Africa – did you guys test the waters online to see if you have a following here? Or did you decide to come and conquer South Africa, booked the dates blindly and then try to create hype around the band leading up to the shows? What's the process?

Well, it's really a mixture of several things. Charlotte and I, we're the ones who run the Facebook accounts, so if anyone leaves anything on The Subways Facebook wall, we'll try to respond as much as we can – the same with the band's account on Twitter. So we'll see some people from Argentina for instance wanting us to come over and we'll mention this to our manager and our agent and they'll go: "Well, we'll see what we can do and see if it will work out." And sometimes the manager would just say: "Do you fancy playing here?" And we'll go: "We've never played here before. So why not?" [Laughs]

If anything else, we love a challenge. We love being the underdogs, going on stage and testing the water, seeing what can happen; turning up on stage in front of a bunch of people who've got no idea what's going to happen or who we are. They'll probably just look at us and go: "Ah, I wonder what these three English kids are going to do." [Laughs]

Did you guys get some responses from South Africa?

We've actually been really astonished by the responses we've got from South Africa. I believe that yesterday, for the first time in our career, we were trending – and that was in South Africa! Everyone was re-tweeting about the shows and ever since we've announced the dates it feels like everything's been building. [Laughs] It feels like this big pressure-cooker. So, yeah, we've been totally blown away by the response. Each time I check The Subways Twitter account, we'll have like 30 more followers and re-tweets from people in South Africa – which is excellent.

Apart from the hard copy LPs, you also released a series of EPs on iTunes only. How does that digital model work for you and why aren't those EPs getting printed?

For us, it's just a new and interesting way to put tracks out there. The 12-track LP is something we absolutely love doing and it's the formula we usually stick with. But if we have three tracks that we don't think is necessarily going to work on the record, or we are trying to bridge a gap between albums, we'll put those tracks out on an EP and go and tour it. We love touring, so when we're bored we'd ask our manager: "Please book a bunch of dates." And he'll go: "Well, we have to tour something." And we'll go: "All right, let's get into the studio and record three songs and then we can go and tour it." Just because we hate not touring.

It's just a great way for us to give something to the fans and it's a great way for us to gather people together for another show – wherever it's going to be. We just want excuses to go out and play basically. [Laughs]

How are those iTunes sales doing? Any good?

I have no idea. All I know is that we put them up and then we just go out and tour them and we get to see our fans smiling and jumping up and down and that's for us the most important thing. Charlotte might know, I don't know. I'm way too concerned about writing songs and getting on stage to lose my mind.

Any material ready for that fourth LP?

Yes! We actually got six songs fully recorded now. I'm currently recording, producing and mixing it all. It's both a blessing and kind of a nightmare. It's going really well. We're going to play the new songs on tour and I'm shaking at the prospect. Hopefully, before the end of year we'll have 10 tracks fully recorded and mixed and we'll probably have an album to release hopefully by April next year.

Thanks for the chat Billy, we're looking forward to your shows.

Thank you William, was so good to talk to you. Take care and hopefully we can meet you in Cape Town.

Event details:

Johannesburg – Friday 22 November – Town Hall and Mills Parking Lot

Cape Town – Saturday 23 November – The Assembly and Harrington Street

For more event info check out the Jose Cuervo Facebook page.

Win Tickets:

Rolling Stone is giving away two sets of double ticktes for JHB and CPT. Send us an email with your name, surname, ID and cell number to competitions@rollingstone.co.za with "CuervoLution-JHB" or "CuervoLution-Cape Town" (depending in which city you live) as the subject line. All emails need to be submitted by Friday the 22nd of November 2013 before 08:00am.  The winners will be announced and contacted on Friday the 22nd of November 2013.  Terms and conditions apply.

Tickets:

R100 – available at Webtickets – no under 18′

Johannesburg Line up:

MAIN STAGE

19h00 - Vampire 9000

20h00 - Shortstraw

21h00 - Kidofdoom

22h00 - Desmond & The Tutus

23h00 – The Subways

LA HACIENDA STAGE

21h00 - Half n Half

22h30 - Weasel

00h30 - Fun Lovin' Criminals DJ Set

THE BACKROOM STAGE

21h00 - Lil Bow

22h00 - Sasquatch

23h00 - Yo Grapes

00h00 - Moe Joe

01h00 - Doctor Khumalo

Cape Town Line Up:

MAIN STAGE

18h00 - The Future Primitives

19h00 - Beach Party

20h00 - Beast

21h00 - Taxi Violence

22h00 - aKING

23h00 - The Subways

LA HACIENDA STAGE

21h00 - Robfather

22h00 - Gateway Drugs

23h30 - Big Exit

00h30 - Fun Lovin' Criminals DJ Set

01h30 - Sideshow

THE BACKROOM STAGE

21h00 - Battle Beyond The Stars

23h00 - YOH! DJ Set

00h00 - Naas

01h00 - 4th

02h00 - Ryan Gosli

 

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