It’s three years since teenagers Billy Lunn, Charlotte Cooper and Josh Morgan released their debut album as The Subways.
Back in 2003 the trio broke out of Harlow, Essex, after John Peel played one of their early songs, and they won a competition to play at Glastonbury festival. But after the success of ‘Young for Eternity’, the next step of their career would be fraught with peril and the future of the band was brought into question .
Billy suffered problems with his voice and had to have surgery, leaving him unable to speak for two weeks and banned from singing by doctors for six weeks. “I was worried for my future, I was worried for my life!” says Billy, reflecting on the tough period.
Then the band lost someone part of the Subways family, their A&R man, the man that had helped them get their record contract and remained a friend of the band through their fledgling career.
And as if all this trauma wasn’t enough for the band to cope with, Billy and Charlotte, who had been a couple for the entire lifespan of the band, split up. But incredibly they seem as close as ever. The sexual tension once present at their live shows may have fizzled but they’ve remained great friends – they had to to keep the band alive.
The pair are as you would expect from their on-stage personas. Billy is passionate, excitable, fidgety and full of perfect soundbites, Charlotte more reserved and thoughtful. It is this balance that frames their writing process and gives the band their shape.
But when asked about their influences, the answer is surprising. Alongside obvious choices like Arctic Monkeys, Nirvana and Biffy Clyro, names like Johnny Cash, Neil Young, The Carpenters and Bob Dylanare mentioned. “Mary’s the perfect combination between Oasis and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles”, states Billy.
And when I ask about current music the pair are enthusiastic about Future of the Left, and surprisingly, The Enemy. But when prodded about the current indie scene Billy is typically forthright, “There are good bands, and there are shit bands with a little bit of grey in between. Obviously Scouting For Girls and The Hoosiers are just shit”.
“I’d rather watch a bad band than a band that’s just completely boring” counters Charlotte.
So then, the album. ‘All or Nothing’ splutters along at a million miles an hour, a sign of the desperation they felt to get the record made and out there after such a long wait. The album title itself points to the situation the band found themselves in. It literally was, as cheesy as it sounds, all or nothing for the band.
And they seem to have pulled it off. The live show is as frenetic as ever - “These songs from ‘All or Nothing’ are made to be played live” – claims Billy, and you believe him. The riffs are thicker, and drum rolls pounded even harder, the vocals screamed louder than ever, the crowd going as mental for the new tracks like ‘Alright’ and ‘Girls and Boys’ just as much as the classics ‘With You’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen’, which closes tonight’s set,.
And the lyrics have moved away from the tales of small town life from their debut album. “I just wrote lyrics that I felt compelled to say, that I felt I had to say, more analytical, more observant, because we’re growing up, we’re seeing the world” says Billy.
But the band still feel they have places to go. Billy is open about his desire to write what he describes as a ‘megahit’, citing ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Everlong’ as the kind of musical legacy they want to leave. “We have an obligation to sing out to the world. Fucking hell, I sound like Bono, how sucky is that!” says Billy.
But despite all the Big Statements, the band are just three young people having the time of their lives. “We’re used to having to prove ourselves and being the underdog. I don’t think people realise how astonished we are that people still come to the shows” half-jokes Billy.
But while The Subways are still writing the big choruses, still giving crowds a great time and generally being one of Britain’s best young rock bands, the fanbase will keep on growing. Let’s hope, for their sake, that the third album is a bit more straightforward.
[This feature was written for Degrees North]