Let’s start with the harsh truth: The rock and roll lifestyle is on an all-time low during the ongoing pandemic reality. It’s the opposite of that glamorous jet set imagery some of us might still have in our mind. But it wouldn’t be the life of Andy Burrows and Tom Smith anyway who might be part of the international music scene for almost two decades now but aren’t well known for excessive and outrageous behaviour. These days there’s no room for that anyway. Of course, we meet up via Zoom as you do it these days. It’s late in the evening, the kids are finally at bed and both gentleman allow themselves a pint. Without Covid this encounter could have easily happened in a pub as we later analyze because that’s just the sort of down-to-earth mates they are. Ten years after their first joint album, the restless musical adventurer Burrows and Editors band leader Smith are back with a sequel nobody really had on the radar – well, except if you’ve been following their social media activities over the past years. Their paths regularly crossed but judging from these postings that could have also just been the result of two friends fooling around apart from their day jobs. And somehow that’s what Smith & Burrows is all about – the music is the common ground of two very close friends who managed to keep their love for each other alive over all these years, despite the countless changes that happened in their lives.
Andy Burrows and Tom Smith didn’t grow up together as kids but they did grow up together as musicians and adults, out of the legendary British indie rock wave of the Mid-00s into confident and established figures in different parts of the music scene. Following his departure from Razorlight Mr. Burows became a prolific solo artist and popular stand-in musician for artists like We Are Scientists and Tom Odell while also composing a few soundtracks like the one for Ricky Gervais’s brilliant Netflix series After Life. Mr. Smith, on the other hand, managed to lead Editors out of that infamous indie wave and into their own dark microcosm. The band’s popularity is still pretty high and they seem to have found a niche and dedicated fanbase all over the world. Both musicians got older, they married and became fathers. And in the midst of it, the Smith & Burrows project was still there, lurking in the background, fuelling its power from a friendship that seems to overcome changes and the difficult working schedules of modern day independent artists. So, here we are – over fifteen years after their initial meeting, having a pint on Zoom after a day of home schooling and after work promo interviews, reflecting on the power and importance of a good friendship. “Luckily we got the album done before Corona happened,” says Tom and Andy adds that the upcoming release of Only Smith & Burrows Is Good Enough marks a nice distraction from all the madness that’s happening right now. Obviously, we had to start at the beginning …
Can you recall the first time you two meet?
Andy: Yeah, these days we talk about it all the time. We met at Glastonbury Festival 2005.
Tom: Andy and Razorlight just headlined the other stage, we played there a bit earlier. It was Editors’ first Glastonbury. Yours as well?
Andy: No, we played the same stage the year before but at the earliest possible slot.
Tom: It was the first time I’ve been there as part of a band. Obviously, I’ve been there a lot as a teenager. So, it was an exciting day for me and many of us somehow started hanging out backstage. Andy knew my then girlfriend and now wife so we started chatting. Good old Glastonbury vibes. Spirits were high and excitement was in the air.
What was your first impression of the other?
Andy: Well, I don’t remember that day very much because it was after we played. But in my memory whenever I try to recall that moment I just remember him being an absolute diamond of a geezer. He’s one of the loveliest human beings you ever come across. I thought it back then and I still think that.
Tom: We both lived in similar parts of London and socially we started seeing each other every now and then. I remember there was one late night in that little Mexican/ Tequila bar …
Andy: Oh yeah!
Tom: Was that when Razorlight’s America just went to number one?
Andy: Yeah. Celebration times! (laughs) I was cruising the streets as a number one hit maker.
Tom: He was fucking big bollocks … the guy with the number one single. He was my celebrity friend. (laughs)
Andy, did you hear about this Now, That’s What I Call Dad Rock sampler that came out recently which also featured America and made a lot of people realize that mid-00s indie rock is now officially dad rock?
Andy: Haha, yeah I heard that. But I was comforted by the company we’re in. And if all these great tunes are now dad rock then I say ‘God bless the dads!’ Wheatus, Avril Lavigne…
Tom: Wow, this will be one of the biggest selling records of the year.
Andy: It will.
Tom: There’s probably a whole sub-culture here, a whole army of people buying every Now, That’s What I Call Music sampler.
Andy: It’s quite amazing that America got picked for these samplers. I always dreamt about it. (laughs)
Of course, you two fell for each other via music and it’s an important connection to you – but I was wondering if you two share other interests or hobbies?
Tom: Well, we go to the pub and talk about life. We’ve been through a lot at the same time, being in similar ages, same stages of our career. For example, having children was something we experienced at the same time… well, although not with each other. [Andy laughs] It’s just the things you share with your mates as you get older. But apart from that… I don’t think we ever played scrabble.
Andy: The thing is – Tom and I never had the opportunity to go on a proper tour together. The first album was festive so its lifespan was limited … although we had a very short tour which mostly featured Glühwein back then.
Tom: I mean, we went to the Christmas market…
Andy: You’re right. We have a shared love for Christmas markets. But we won’t tour this time as well.
Corona ruined your time window …
Andy: Exactly. But I reckon if we were ten years younger and this was our first band I think we would probably go jogging together.
Tom: Gym buddies. (laughs)
Andy: Yeah, something as ‘rock’n roll’ as this.
The question of timing is a crucial aspect of the duo’s little band. 2011’s Funny Looking Angels album was a Christmas album and – as Andy mentioned before – not suitable for a bigger lifespan although its legacy continues to live on and continue to touch people (just ask James Cordon about it). The follow-up really was almost ten years in the making (the first idea for its closing track Straight Up Like A Mohican was pitched to Tom by Andy two weeks after they released their debut LP). All the sketches and ideas were passed between the two musicians on a more or less regular basis. The songs had to compete with Burrow’s countless musical jobs and Editors’ touring and recording schedule but slowly and steady they took shape. In 2018 Andy supported Tom’s band and they live debuted the album’s uplifting opening track All The Best Moves in front of the audience and in the summer of 2019 their schedules finally matched to record the whole thing in Nashville along with producer Jacquire King (Kings Of Leon, Norah Jones). It might have arrived earlier but since 2020 took that well-know detour we had to wait a bit longer. Time is relative in the S&B cosmos and although it ruined the chance of a tour for now at least it gave us that second album after all.
The ghosts of Christmas past
Do you find it easy to artistically open up in front of other musicians, writing with others? How was it when you two first started working on music together over a decade ago?
Tom: Andy has more experience here. I’ve only done it with Editors and Andy.
Andy: Although that is true it doesn’t come natural. Writing with Tom is very free, comes very easily. It really is the dream co-writing scenario for me. And even if we never had an agenda it’s very special. It’s a vibe that feels almost like being in a band when your a teenager. We’re very chilled with each other when it’s in a writing mode.
Tom: Even the first things we wrote together for Funny Looking Angels never felt forced at all. The music comes as an extension of our friendship. Trying to make these things working if they didn’t work would be quite awful.
That brings me to a question that might be more important for Tom: What can you do in Smith & Burrows that you can’t do in Editors?
Tom: Oh, not much really. Collaborations are reflections of the people you’re working with. Obviously, Editors is the result of five of us. We also released more records so over the years we built this more dramatic and dark world our music lives in. That’s just who we are. With Andy I can explore different areas of my taste but ones that aren’t completely foreign. I mean, I spent twenty years talking about how much I like R.E.M. so there’s something of that in Smith & Burrows. Working with him takes something out of me and it’s the same for him. It’s a snowball effect.
While it’s possible to maintain a friendship over a decade through good communication I can assume that it’s quite challenging to keep the artistic spark alive over such a long time. Was it partly frustrating as well?
Andy: To be honest with you – having all the other projects going on only made this project more appealing to us. We both knew that we’re gonna make another musical thing together and the thing that it was hard to find the right time for it only made it more exciting for us. It’s good to have a bit time apart … although nine years might have been a bit too long. (laughs) It was quite healthy.
Tom: We also have a yearly reminder of what we’ve done in the past. Once a year we got these messages of people saying things like “Oh, we just worked on the Christmas decorations and put the album on” and it’s great feeling this love. We did get a little kick in the arse when that happened. Maybe without that it would have taken us twenty years. (laughs)
Andy: Very good point, indeed.
Good friendships need to be fostered like any good relationship … well, or a flower. Did one of you need to push the other a bit more when it came to making this record?
Tom: Our motivation is quite similar although we got different ways of working, right?
Andy: Yeah, it is. We might get excited about different things along the working progress but that’s also really good. I have to take my head off to Tom during this whole lockdown year. He has stepped up in an incredibly technical capacity recording and mixing every single online session we’ve done. I can’t take any credit for it at all ’cause I’m shit at that.
Andy, apart from his newly found session recording skills – what do you like most about Tom?
Andy: I like everything about him. He’s a wonderful friend and I’m very inspired by his writing and musical talent. I’m very lucky to do this for a living – and even luckier to do this with him. I think we would still be hanging around with each other even if it wasn’t for the music. Professionally, he works in a very different way than me and I find that inspiring.
Tom, same question to you …
Tom: I feel all those things Andy just said. With him in the studio there’s a special energy that’s very different to my energy. It’s not about blind positivity here.
Yeah, over the years I found out that dealing with conflicts is an essential part of keeping a friendship alive. Do you guys argue a lot?
Andy: We don’t argue that often but I think neither of us is afraid to have a frosty moment. We’re not scared of having an argument.
Tom: Usually, when you’re with your closest mates you have understanding about the context in which a conflict happens.
I was wondering whether friendships in the music scene are really a thing or whether they are usually more like ‘colleagues’ from the same field?
Tom: That scene is basically the tracklist of Now, That’s What I Call Dad Rock.
Andy: Haha. My actual social life is quite close to that sampler. But I’m very proud of it.
I mean, one might assume that there are a lot of friendships here since you have similar lives, interests etc.
Andy: Tom and I are both mates with old school friends and our band mates and yeah, we got a few friends in bands as well. When it comes to mates it’s always down to who you like the most and not about whether they are part of a certain band. At least not when you’re in your forties. But yeah, I’m still dreaming of having a “pooper group” with all my besties like Tom or Dom (editor’s note: aka Don Howard of Muse who’s also a close friend to Andy).
Andy, what’s your favourite Editors song?
Andy: People ask me that a lot and my answer should come quicker by now… [thinks] … The song that gives me real goosebumps when I’m watching it live is Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool. It’s not my favourite song to play at home but I always enjoy it live and I’m always texting Tom that they should play it.
Tom: That’s quite an obscure choice for a favourite.
Andy: Yeah, but we’ve been ask a lot to make lists lately so I’m trusting my guts with the answer I give the most. There’s a lot of Tom’s songs I love to listen and have a good cry to but this is the tune I get the biggest buzz out.
You’re not so far out here. I think it’s been part of every Editors gig I’ve seen since it was released in 2009.
Tom: But it won’t be on the dad rock sampler …
Maybe if they put out an ‘industrial dad rock’ sampler.
Andy: For all the goth dads!
Tom, what been your favourite musical adventure of Andy?
Tom: I really do love America, it’s a brilliant song but also quite an obvious choice. I do like If I Had A Heart a lot. And a song from his follow up record … what’s it called … City To Coast?
Andy: Yeah. You and Ed from Editors texted me one night back then and say you were blasting it in your backstage room. I mean, nobody knows this song.
Tom: And on Christmas we always watch The Snowman and the Snowdog and your song is always quite a tear jerker. [editors note: it’s an animated movie from 2012 for which Andy wrote the song Light The Night]
Okay, we’ve been bragging a lot but is there something you don’t like about each other? Tom, is Andy maybe bad at texting?
Tom: Nah, we’re always on our phones.
Andy: I’m a bad e-mail replier.
Tom: I can’t say.
Andy: Neither can I. I mean, you can’t do this to your mates. He’s a marvellous friend. Anything that pisses me of about him turns into insignificance when I think about all the good stuff. So, we might have tiny things that bother us …
Tom: And we know that the other would think about it for two weeks if we mention them.
Andy: Exactly. (laughs) We both know the things that annoy the other and we’re wise enough to not mention them right here. Well, they don’t matter anyway.
Life beyond the lockdown
I didn’t even dare to dig deeper for any gossip here because one thing becomes clear quite quickly: nothing can come between these two mates; they stand in for each other, they know each other, they really sell that ‘best buds’ spirit and it’s a joy witnessing them together doing that, even as we’re separated in virtual rooms. Only Smiths & Burrows Is Good Enough is a record that transports that feeling pretty good. The light-hearted notion of their music was already sensible on Funny Looking Angels but it obviously had to exist next to the cover versions and the festive Christmas mood. This time, it’s 100% Smiths & Burrows and although their are a few mellow moments on it, this is an album that really spreads joy and playfulness. Loaded with references to 90s Britpop, 70s rock and nods to their mutual musical love of artists like Elton John and R.E.M. it really is a step up from the debut. Almost ten years of shaping the songs, its structures, harmonies and production turned the record into a mighty pop beast. Despite it all being original compositions these songs really feel like old friends and transport a strange feeling of instant nostalgia… so that’s something that connects it with its predecessor. It doesn’t want to sell anything aside of its music, it doesn’t come with a five-year-band-plan, it’s just the result of two really close friends who happen to be quite profound musicians as well. And throughout our little video hangout they continue to emphasize that fact in a very charming way.
What did you learn from each other musically over the past years?
Andy: I learned so much from him, I can’t possibly list it in the form of a scale. I might have learned more from him than the other way around. It has given me lots of confidence being in a room with somebody else writing.
Tom: I get to use a lot more major chords than in my day job with Editors. Something like harmonic backing vocals is also something I rarely do. I learned from the master here. (laughs) When we did Funny Looking Angels it was at a time when Editors were in a really bad place; it was the opposite of fun. And doing an album with Andy was a lot of fun for me and lifted my mood and creativity. The contrast to the bad situation in my main band made our album even better. The new album had the exact same feeling although Editors are in a way better place right now.
You really sense the fun and positive spirit on the new album and maybe we can all use a record like that right now. And hopefully more in the future. I mean these days it’s impossible to do any planning at all. Still, I have to ask what’s next for Smith & Burrows?
Andy: You’re right, planning is a bit pointless right now. Smith & Burrows is a great thing that exists in the wings, freed from our main projects and I think it will continue to be.
Tom: It’s really sad that we didn’t get the chance to do more sessions and play gigs since that’s the fun side of it all. But on the other hand we’re also happy to get the music out at all. We already started throwing new song ideas around but that doesn’t mean they come out anytime soon.
These are challenging times for artists and their creativity. A lack of inspiration is not unusual in the pandemic. How easy is it for you to remain creative in these days?
Andy: Actually, it’s been quite creative for me personally. I’ve never written so much music, to be honestly.
Andy: Yeah, I’m not her and while she did music everybody wanted to hear I’ve written seven albums nobody wants to hear. (laughs)
And what about you, Tom?
Tom: Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, right now with home schooling and a hard lockdown it’s tough but apart from that it’s been quite a fertile time. I’ve written new Editors songs but with the current circumstances working on them as a group will be quite difficult compared to how we usually do things. I also recorded a lockdown album with a couple of people. Well, it’s doesn’t sound like a lockdown album but it was recorded in that time. That’s kind of a secret and I can’t tell more about it for now. But yeah it’s been creative times.
It helps you to remain your sanity.
Tom: Just imagine if I didn’t have songwriting this year. That would have been fucked.
Andy: Totally agree.
Cheers to that.
Only Smith & Burrows Is Good Enough is out on February 19 via Play It Again Sam