The group’s frontman takes us inside the creation of a track that has nothing to do with Bavaria’s capital city
Back in October of this year Editors released Black Gold, a best-of album which brought together plenty of career highlights. Whether as the original quartet of Tom Smith, Russell Leetch, Ed Lay and Chris Urbanowicz, or (after Urbanowicz’s departure) with subsequent members Justin Lockey and Elliott Williams, the group have made brooding indie-rock of a consistently high standard. Starting with their Mercury Prize-shortlisted debut The Back Room, on to chart-topping albums An End Has A Start and In This Light And On This Everything right through to 2018’s Violence, their career is an example of how to balance chart success and evolving artistry.
Not just an album band, Smith and his gang also know how to condense their appeal into singles fit for both the indie clubs and to be played up loud at home. Dark and dazzling first single Bullets demonstrated this knack from the very off before follow-up Munich went one further – establishing itself as a timeless piece of post-punk ripe for the picking by video games, television shows and movies.
Here, Smith takes us through the song’s creation…
“The band were living in Kings Heath when we wrote Munich. We moved around Birmingham a bit during that period but I remember starting it sat on the floor of my bedroom in our house on Station Road. All four of us lived in that place, a house with its fair share or Brummie indie rock history; past inhabitants include members of Fields, Subaqwa and Delta too, I think. It was a shithole in reality, but cheap and near to the town centre and our rehearsal space.
“I’ve always loved the way Peter Buck uses guitar chords, lots of open strings ringing out, the chords kinda feel weird and familiar at the same time. I was exploring that way of playing when I stumbled on the verse chord progression, it wasn’t long until the repetitive verse lyrics and melodies started to come.
“I was feeling particularly rough that day, the previous night was a long one, my lonesome introspection fuelled by my recent misbehaviours! It was this that led me to the chorus lyric, my own fragility literally making its way on to the page; ‘People are fragile things you should know by now, be careful what you put them through’. It’s a lyric I’ve seen tattooed on fans of the band many times over the years, there’s an honesty to it, which I think is why it has resonated with people, it’s true I guess.
“There aren’t many lyrics in the song, I think it’s more powerful because of that, but I’d say the whole process of getting the chord progressions and complete lyrics down took less than five minutes, an explosion of hungover soul searching with a sprinkle of self-loathing.
“As is the way we always have worked, I start the ball rolling with the songwriting and then present my idea to the band for us to the work on collectively, to bring the tune to life and make it Editors. To start with, the band’s identity and sound hung on the relationship between my song ideas and Chris’s high guitar melodies. The way these two things interacted gave the band its character. We were on a roll back then, the songs that really spurred us on to get signed and that went on to form the bulk of the debut album, The Back Room, were coming thick and fast.
“The band’s rehearsal room was a productive place; Blood, Fingers In The Factories, Lights and Munich seemed to come together as band pieces in hours … it was electric. Chris’s melodies were incredible and Ed and Russ’s energetic rhythms just fused it all together. It’s a magic chapter in any bands career, when things start to really come together and it’s impossible to say why it does it like it does. I guess for us it was the energy of the city, a collision of certain influences at a certain time culturally, then the inspiration just comes outta the sky as far as I can tell. Luck, talent, hard work and magic. I dunno.
“Munich was a wow moment in our shows from day one, we weren’t signed at that point but we were playing lots of gigs, in pubs and supporting touring bands who came through town. We’d soundcheck the song and the bar staff setting up for the night would dance along or just stop and stare, it was obvious the song had something. People liked the energy. I think, its intensity and the immediacy of the guitar melodies before they noticed the melodrama of the lyrics.
“As the band’s success started to come, touring Europe and the rest of the world Munich was our calling card. Bullets blasted us out of the blocks but Munich endured and resonated with people in a longer-lasting deeper way. I think that has as much to do with the lyric as the tune. I still have the mental images of gangs of blokes, beered up, pogoing down the front of our shows during that time, singing, ‘People are fragile things …’ It is a striking image, not one I imagined coming down on my bedroom floor in Kings Heath a couple of years previously.
“Over the years we’ve evolved musically, done different things stylistically with every album, so now, pretty much 15 years later, Munich does sound like a different band to me, even feels like it a bit when we play it on stage. I still love the song though, and I couldn’t say that of everything we’ve done, it’s not our defining moment of danceable miserablism for many, and who am I to argue? No idea why it’s called Munich though.”