Remember that tune ‘America’ from the noughties? Well after 10 years off Razorlight are back and touring their new album Olympus Sleeping. Having interviewed several artists before, I have learnt to control the anxiety before meeting them but waiting for front man Johnny Borrell was different. After all, this man was painted out to be on the same kind of egotistical rock star trip as Liam Gallagher. When comparing himself to Bob Dylan, He told The Independent in 2004, “If you’re comparing our debuts, Dylan’s making chips and I’m drinking champagne,” and on himself he told NME in the same year, “Firstly I’m a musical genius. Musically, culturally, everything,” as well as saying, “I’m the best songwriter of my generation.” How to compose yourself in the presence of such a ‘musical genius’?
After waiting an hour, the door opens. Expecting Borrell to strut into the room flailing his arms about, he instead walks in slowly, looking in any direction other than my eyes. He seems shy, dare I say nervous? “I didn’t realise how hungover I am until we just did that bloody sound check,” Borrell says. Makes more sense now.
Following a pleasant introduction and lying down with his legs up on the sofa, Johnny now seems a lot more relaxed. He’s a friendly soul with a warm smile, tired eyes and that trademark messy hair. Dressed in what can only be described as an understated fashion, Johnny wears an oversized unzipped grey hoodie with a creased white t-shirt underneath. Below, a pair of baggy used blue jeans and tatty black leather shoes. He definitely doesn’t give off the vibes of a rock star.
“I’m excited to be doing this all again and we’ll see where it goes but it’s not spinning me out,” Borrell explains, “I’ve learnt that every moment I was on tour in the past I was trying to make it that perfect moment. It felt like I was supposed to be famous every second because that’s what I dreamt. I put myself under a lot pressure, so when I was walking down Sheffield in the rain looking for some humus I realised it’s not exactly what it’s supposed to be…Hollywood doesn’t show you those bits.”
Slipway Fires, their last album, came out in 2008 and the band did a tour in 2011 but other than performing at a few small festivals they pretty much dropped off the face of the planet. “I didn’t feel I had it in me to make Razorlight records,” explains Borrell, “Sometimes you’ve got to ask yourself ‘am I feeling making a record?’ Well I’m not, so don’t fucking do it. I would have regretted it otherwise.” He admits the band did try recording an album in 2013 and got very near to completing it but realised it wasn’t right and scrapped the project.
This year Razorlight decided to make their big return with the same indie band sound from the past. Rather than focusing on themes and lyrics in their work they wanted to tune into their audience’s feet and get people dancing. Focusing on the sound of the album was their priority. Borrell says it was important the album was “leading from the body rather than from the head. Just bringing pleasure to the people.”
In the process of creating new music Johnny made a playlist of classic indie bangers for inspiration. “I put my headphones on and I’d just dance and just listen,” says the frontman, “By the time I’m 20 minutes in, I’m sweating, really going for it, I realised I’m not intellectualising it, it’s just the body responding to music. I was just like ‘fuck yeah, Mr Brightside, I love that song!’” Thank fully it’s not an album full of Mr. Brightsides, most of us have heard enough of that song.
After spending a good amount of time with Johnny I came to the conclusion he’s a lot more down to earth than the media have portrayed him to be. Maybe 10 years of living in the south of France has mellowed him, or maybe the media, as they have been known to do in the past, exaggerated his character. “I’m definitely crazy. Maybe not in the way that I’ve been painted out to be but I’ve always just done my thing,” Borrell explains, “Most people come into music with a chip on their shoulder in some way because that’s what gives you the fucking drive to do it. That either sorts you out or makes things a lot worse. For me it did both. I came into Razorlight just being honest.” A filter-less frontman can probably come across as arrogant but in reality, he’s just a sarcastic joker and thoroughly nice bloke.