Last updated: 01/03/2012 10:00:00 AM
Every once in a while a band emerges fully formed, that fulfils a dream no-one even realised they had. A band who are spookily, synchronically of the moment, but who also transcend it, slightly glazed eyes already on where they're going next. A band who simply strap on, plug in and give out but manage to do so with an uncanny pop universalism. A band whose musical Esperanto is, in this case, comprised of equal parts American, English and Swedish - a transatlantic/North Sea meeting of angular, electric wire guitars here, a voice as English as cricket there. A band whose tunes make grown men go weak at the knees, and yes, whose looks make young girls' knees tremble too. That band, right now, is Razorlight.
And it's all happened very, very fast. Formed in the Summer of 2002 by Londoner Johnny Borrell and Swedish ex-pat' Björn Ågren, rehearsals produced immediate sparks, and with the addition of drummer Christian Smith-Pancorvo and Ågren's old pal Carl Dalemo on bass, their first recordings were made by their manager on a video camera. This proved enough to pique label interest sufficiently to front some cash, so by October Razorlight were recording their demos at Hackney's Toerag Studios, hot on the heels of the White Stripes. So impressed was (London indie rock radio station) Xfm's John Kennedy that he took the unusual step of playing the demos - of 'Rock'n'Roll Lies', 'Rip It Up' and fast-becoming-anthemic set-closer 'In The City' on his show.
As fans started to devote head and web space to "Dreams of Razorlight", and trading bootleg versions of the Xfm sessions, Razorlight were recording a new batch of demos at Westside studios during the summer of 2003, sufficient to start a serious bidding war. Mercury Records won. On the basis of reputation - and some dodgy MP3s - alone, Razorlight were invited to Japan's Summer Sonic festival in August 2003, even before releasing one of the Toerag demos, 'Rock'n'Roll Lies' as their first single. A limited edition, 'Rock'n'Roll Lies' nevertheless only just missed the UK Top 40. An event celebrated by the completion of a UK tour with The Hiss and a triumphant London single launch party at the Kings Cross Pool Hall. A notable event due to the theft of the tickets, which were then found being sold on E-Bay for extortionate sums.
Razorlight continued to shine when, as a gesture of supreme confidence in his new charges, Mercury UK's Managing Director, famed producer Steve Lillywhite (Ultravox, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Psychedelic Furs, XTC, U2, Pogues, Talking Heads, Morrissey), took a month off to concentrate on producing their debut abum. The first fruit, a fierce version of 'Rip It Up' was chosen as the next single. An intense tour schedule (playing UK tours with The Hope of the States, Bellrays and The Raveonettes) combined with holing themselves away in RAK studios (when Paul McCartney's not in attendance), finessing their first album, with basic tracks cut live in the studio to preserve their onstage dynamic. As yet unnamed, the album is set for release on 21st June 2004 and will include live favourites like the in-your-face 'Leave Me Alone' and 'Bright Lights', the more introspective pop rush of 'Stumble And Fall', which went top 20 on release late January. 'Up All Night', will also feature and the intricate 'To The Sea'. Future single the warm'n'bouncy 'Golden Touch' (out June 7th) and the the epic, melancholic 'Which Way Is Out', spanning a range of styles most of their contemporaries can only dream about, while remaining uniquely and resolutely Razorlight.
Collectively then, Razorlight are the best new band in Britain. Individually they are:
Johnny Borrell (vocals, guitar)
Just turned 22, Borrell has been turning up as a support act to bands in pubs in North London since he was 14. Even then people were saying he was a star in the making. The rest of the time you might see him wandering around the city in a pair of ripped-to-shreds jeans, a bag of laundry in one hand, a notebook in the other, a guitar slung over his shoulder. Exploring disciplines one by one, taking them apart to see how they worked and putting them back together his own way, in the Summer of 2002 Johnny started writing songs that needed the spar of another guitar, the ballast of bass and drums. The songs started coming in a rush, so much of a rush that he'd have to ring his answerphone and get them down before he forgot them. His songs, like his personality, are simultaneously innocent and savvy, peculiarly English in delivery without resorting to 'Cockernee' geezerishness, thoughtful and intelligent but also visceral and heartfelt.
Björn Ågren (guitar, backing vocals)
Steve McQueen lookalike Ågren (pronounced 'Orgren') was the first to gang up with Borrell. A dreamy, thoughtful character, he grew up on an isolated Swedish farm obsessively refining his guitar style. A sudden crisis of direction led to him abandoning a media course and lighting out for London, supposedly en route for Australia, sharing a house with ten other Swedes. He hadn't played guitar in years when he spotted an ad in NME. A five minute meeting in a Shoreditch pub led to rehearsals at Johnny's Holloway flat, and immediately Ågren's angular but melodic guitar chops chimed perfectly with Borrell's own staccato style. As well as melodic foil to Borrell, Ågren is a dynamic counter-presence onstage to Borrell's insular imaginative bubble, bouncing around like he's on springs, throwing shapes and attacking the songs like they're getting away. Razorlight's most amiable member, open, honest, and without attitude, he seems much older than his 23 years.
Carl Dalemo (bass, backing vocals)
Blond dynamo Dalemo was the last to join the band. Back in his native Lidköping, Sweden, he'd been singing and playing guitar for over five years with his beloved punk-pop-lo-fi outfit Spiral Stairs, but shortly after arriving in London, he was called by his old friend Björn who suggested he try out for the band he was playing in. Carl had never played bass until he arrived at a Razorlight rehearsal, but his rock-solid playing immediately provided an anchor for the band, allowing Ågren, Smith-Pancorvo and Borrell an unusual rhythmic and melodic freedom. Shy in person, give the boy a few drinks and he undergoes an astonishing Mr Hyde transformation, with an impressive ability to get himself on the wrong side of custodians of authority, be they bouncers, doormen, or indeed police, once being famously arrested during a Mayday demonstration for urinating on Whitehall.
Christian Smith-Pancorvo (drums)
Borrell had been wanting to play with half Peruvian, half English Smith-Pancorvo (22) since they were at school together. But Christian was busy with his brother's band, the hotly tipped Stony Sleep, its members now dispersed amongst the likes of Serafin. Smith-Pancorvo then spent a year travelling around Africa, drumming with tribes, and this experience, combined with his distinctive sartorial look (part Inca, part Goth, part Adam and the Ants) brings both a unique visual and sonic dynamic to Razorlight. Rarely has a Christian looked more Pagan. Even dressing in full makeup for rehearsals, Christian's drum style never plays the obvious beat or the easy fill, managing to combine jazz accents, reggae rolls and an aggressive tribal pounding that sees him getting through more drum skins than Dave Grohl.
Four personalities, four corners, four walls, Razorlight are a structure built to last.