Money and Celebrity
Warner Bros. Records
Punk-rock and roll is still alive and well in the capable hands of UK indie hipsters The Subways. Nearly ten years old they return with the energetic Money and Celebrity and another furious 12-tracks that see the three-piece enthusiastically rocking out. After three years in the underground they burst on the scene in 2005 with their debut Young for Eternity and it’s hit “Rock & Roll Queen”. The big break came when the track was featured in the Guy Ritchie gangster film RocknRolla (2008) helping the record go gold in the UK. Three years later came the Butch Vig-produced All or Nothing and another run at the chart with freebie single “Boys & Girls”. Three seems to be the magic number here as they’ve now released Money and Celebrity their third album after three years which moves the band closer to pop and an observance (or obsession) with fame and not always fortune. Lead single “We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time” is catchy enough. It’s rough and ready with a slick chorus created in a moment of what bandleader Billy Lunn (guitar, vocals) called writers block.
The rest of the disc hinges on the party, or lack there of. Roaring opening track “It’s A Party” kicks off with a staccato riff, slamming bass and heart-bounding drum kick. Bassist Charlotte Cooper shouts her way in, teetering between duet and backing vocalist. Drummer Josh Morgan is up front and center when the laser hits “Celebrity” where his rat-tat-tat gives the song its driving beat leaving room for the bass to fill the gaps. Billy still hangs on to his favorite chords bashing away with his Green Day-meets-7 Seconds riffs. The other half of the record’s title, “Money” sparks a bit more adventure with its garage rock overtone. The guitar texture and delivery is something that could be explored in the future as it works very well in the threesome. The duel vocals of Charlotte and Billy creates a dynamic tension that, though predictable, has become an essential part of The Subways’ sound. That sort of call and response elevates “Rumour” to one the discs more clever pieces. It also gives Billy the opportunity to stretch out his signature scream.
It’s in the middle of the disc that the band becomes more power pop than punk rock. “I Wanna Dance With You” is Charlotte’s vocal spotlight. She makes the song her own as it begins with a chorus lead then to the verse. “Popdeath” captures an early Pleasure Seekers vibe with some nice 60s guitar-drum interplay and a tasty guitar solo. The record reaches its peak in the shout-along chorus of “Like I Love You” a high-energy time bomb that goes off at just the right moment. Coming in at under three minutes makes it the perfect radio-friendly hit. “Down Our Street” and “Friday” fall in a similar category but carry a bit more aggression and beefy guitar. Having seen The Subways live “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” certainly has the ability to work the crowd into frenzy. By the time the group sang, “She has a way of making me feel wild, she’s the devil with a kiss kiss bang bang” the place went nuts. Instantly enjoyable Money and Celebrity it a sweet guilty pleasure that packs a great pop punk punch.
The Cutting Edge: A real boost for you guys came early on in your career with when you got involved with Guy Ritchie and RocknRolla:
Billy Lunn: We were recording our second record in Los Angeles when one morning our manager called up and said, ‘Better get ready ‘cause Guy Ritchie’s going to be calling you in about 10-minutes.’ Now were big fans of movies, especially Guy Ritchie films like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Swept Away so we were pumped. So, Mr. Ritchie calls and we get to chatting, He says he’s doing a new movie called RocknRolla, seen us play live and wants to use our song ‘Rock & Roll Queen’. He says, ‘I think you’d be perfect for this one scene in the movie.’ When we had a break in recording, we booked a few shows to get ready for playing the Reading and Leeds Festivals. We had one show in Bournemouth packed with about 500 crazy fans. Ritchie came down, set up a bunch of cameras during sound check and filmed us basically rocking out. The crowd loved it even more because they were going to be in the movie too. We played ‘Rock & Roll Queen’ three times during the set and I was thinking, ‘We can’t play the same song three times during the show but our managers like, ‘You’re going to be in a movie - just do it!’ We got to go to the premier, free soda and popcorn and were immortalized in a Guy Ritchie film.
TCE: That movie is such a great gangster film. How much of the movie do your think you’ve lived.
BL: Well, defiantly the song writing part. There’s the part where the protagonist Michey (Record producer) it talking about song writing. He’s at the piano. Guy Ritchie has this great dialog that cuts to the quick. He’s talking about how chaotic it all is and then the organization comes from the characters. I connected with how you sort of channel chaos through your fingers, through your music. Music is such an abstract thing. It’s a series of sounds that can be totally different depending on the day or even the time of day. We’re the kind of rock and roll band that wakes up in the morning and starts right off. Except for our drummer Josh who may need a Heineken to get going. Drummers are a strange breed they’re like taxi drivers, a different kind of people. They need alcohol to keep time it like a metronome. (Billy and Josh are brothers despite different last names).
Rock and roll’s got a certain way now, the sharks have picked the little bits away from the bands. We really have to work hard to survive, buy bread, pay the bills and rent. For us, the most important thing is we go on stage and give everything we have, give the audience such a great time that they’ll want to come and see us again, buy our records, help support us so that we can continue doing what we love.
TCE: Let’s talk about the shift in the business of music and how it affects you as a band.
BL: Most of our revenue comes from touring and merchandise. If a band has a hit the label can come in and get some money from publishing when it’s played on the radio. They will justify it by saying, ‘In order for us to have enough money to distribute your record we need to take money from your live show, merch sales and publishing. It’s got to the point now where if we’re not selling records, we’re to blame and we need to change. They never think it’s the record companies fault. That’s why I’m quite keen on the next record. In some ways I think we should just do away with the whole record label system. We’re lucky enough to have built up such a strong live reputation that every time we play, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Spain or Japan we can draw a crowd. I’d like to put the money in the band and use it to make the next record independently. Use the internet and tell everyone to download the songs and share it with their friends. They’re going to do it anyway. For years the record industry has said, ‘Don’t download the music, don’t share it with your friends and we’ll charge you a fortune to the show.’
TCE: Honestly is comes down to songs. If the band writes songs that the crowd relates to, that’s catchy, with a great beat, the fans will tell you they like it by the way they react to it.
BL: When we released Money and Celebrity in September it didn’t set the charts on fire. We thought it was a great record full of pop rock hits. One of the first shows after we released the record was in Hamburg, Germany. When we played ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ everyone new the words to the song. It wasn’t even the album’s single. It struck us that everyone singing along but no one has bought it.
Charlotte Cooper (bass player): We’ve played some really obscure places, in Russia for instances where you wander, ‘how do these people even know who we are?’ It absolutely amazing to us the power of word-of-mouth and how far reaching it can be. In that way the Internet has been really cool. It spreads the word differently than traditional media, press, radio play and in our case a movie but they all help get to word out there. People ask us, ‘how do we feel about your music being used in adverts and such’. We love it, we love that it happens. That’s what allows us to go places like Russia and play.
TCE: How was it to play Russia?
BL: It was amazing. We were wondering what it was going to be like. You only hear from people that have gone over there how crazy it is. It is completely different. I don’t think we’ve ever experienced anything quite like it. When we first flew over there we noticed a massive change, how people talk to each other how people relate to each other. We did a meet-and-greet in a restaurant eating this Russian food, something I’d never tried before. For us, it was such a different experience but the kids were great, loved us with all their heart. There was a line two hours long with kids bringing us flowers, chocolates, presents, drawings. We don’t get that in Birmingham. Ha. It was exactly what I thought Russia to be like it was in everything, the color, the buildings, the earth. When we played Moscow you could feel it in the air, like something big was gonna happen. It affected me ‘cause I played harder and even dove off the balcony. We went to Cologne after that and the second we landed we knew we were back in Europe. Just something about the way we interact as people.
Being in this band we’ve been exposed to so much culture. Things that can’t be faked. We’re stronger people because of it. We just did a show outside Constanta, Romania that was insane. The audience was just going nuts - a relaxed hedonism.
TCE: I think that is what every artist wants - is for their music to be accepted by a range of people.
BL: Absolutely. We’ve done shows were three generations are their kids, parents, grandparents. Bringing families to our show is pretty important to us. We feel we have a classic edge to our delivery from punk to pop to rock we cover a wide range of musical genres. We play the music that we would want to hear coming out of our stereo at home. That’s the most important thing. When we write a song it’s in the back our heads, saying, “If this came on the radio would we turn it up or off.’ We don’t try to force our sound one way or another we don’t want to be pretentious. We just do what we would want to dance to.
TCE: Are you happy with the new record.
BL: I actually forgot how to write a song for a bit. I had people shake me telling me I had to go listen to certain records. I would pick up a guitar and play but I was so sick and tired of the ‘C’ chord. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to say. In the end I decided to stop thinking about it so much and just pounded something out. I ended up writing “We don’t Need Money to Have a Good Time.” My friends had lost their jobs so we went for a night out to a local bar we had to cut the night sort because we’d run out of cash. I felt guilty ‘cause we cut it short. My friend says to me, “Don’t worry Billy, we don’t need money to have a good time.” I went back to the flat and wrote the song. The rest of the record came about from society. ‘It’s A Party’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Popdeath’, ‘Money’'.
With this record we basically set about making every song a possible single. Brandon Flowers of The Killers said that he holds everything up to their ‘Mr. Brightside’ or other big singles like ‘You’ve Really Got Me’ or ’Smells Like Teen Spirit’. My bar is Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tracks Of My tears’. I think that’s the most perfect pop song ever written. When I wrote ‘Mary’ off the first record I wanted a perfect combination of ‘Tears’ and ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis. When we write, Josh and I will work on structure he’s really good with that. When we hit on the right notes we know immediately ‘that’s it.’ Charlotte has her own philosophy and way of working.
CC: When I hear it (the song structure) then I can think in my head where I want my part to be. Sometime it takes me a while to figure out what that exactly is. Getting it from my head to my fingers takes a bit of doing. The guys will work on their parts, bring them to me and I’ll go with the feeling I get when I hear what their playing. It pretty seamless really. I like it best when they just play and I find the riff within that. Sometime all I need are the root notes. In this band it has to be palatable and strong. We keep it simple if anything we find ourselves taking parts away to open up more gaps in the music.
TCE: You’re live shows have their own reputation. What is it about your music that really gets the kids worked up?
BL: We feed off them as much as they do off of us. Say we have a 60-miunte set, we want to do these particular songs that will go over well. We usually do something to stretch it out and really get the crowd going, some kind of rally. Because were a three piece every little bit has to be clinical and important to the song. We pull back on the ego, allow everyone their own space and include the audience. We have fun and try to take the audience along with us. Isn’t that what rocknrolla’s all about?
Website: The Subways