The Subways Biography
Hailed by NME as “the sexiest thing to sweep rock ‘n’ roll off its feet in years,” the Subways have quickly established themselves as one of Britain’s most undeniably exhilarating new bands. Young For Eternity, the London-based trio’s Sire Records debut, is alive with teenage kicks and manic pop thrills, veering from rambunctious punk thrash and tender acoustic pop to grungy blues-infected dynamos like the addictive first single, “Rock & Roll Queen.” Though the Subways’ full-bore sonic momentum is fired by raw power riffing and Billy Lunn’s primal rock yowp, tracks such as “Oh Yeah” and “No Goodbyes” also display a melodic maturity far beyond the band’s tender years. Throughout Young For Eternity, Lunn’s songs relay a remarkable span of powerful emotions, of love and lust and fear and frustration – in short, the entire delirious, hormone-addled, adolescent experience writ into rock.
“These songs are my life,” Lunn says. “The album is the first chapter of hopefully a very long book about the Subways.”
While Billy and younger brother Josh Morgan grew up on their parents’ record collection, absorbing a broad spectrum of sounds that included Smokey Robinson, AC/DC, the Carpenters, T Rex, the Beatles, and the Ramones, it wasn’t until seeing Oasis perform “Supersonic” on Top Of The Pops that Lunn first strapped on the six-string. Profoundly inspired, he took his dad’s battered old acoustic out of the attic and began to teach himself the instrument by mimicking videos and songs on the radio.
“I finally was able to express myself in a really creative way,” Lunn says. “I just played all day every day, writing songs, playing covers. That was the fun of it, working out how the guitar works and working out things that I had to say.” Billy also began following the musical path laid out for him by bands like Oasis and Nirvana, listening to the Sex Pistols and the Jam, Mudhoney and Pixies. His love of music was matched only by his first-sight affection for schoolmate Charlotte Cooper.
When their parents presented Josh with a drum kit – “I was a bit nutty,” he says, “and they thought it might calm me down” – the two siblings logically began jamming together. From there, it seemed only natural for Billy to teach Charlotte the bass guitar and begin making music with the two people he felt closest to.
Adopting his mum’s maiden name, “Lunn,” as his nom de rock, honoring his artist/writer grandfather, Billy left school at 16 and took a series of dead-end jobs in order to fully devote himself to writing music. The band began performing Billy’s escapist anthems wherever and whenever possible, unleashing all their adolescent energy in deliriously short, sharp sets.
Energized by the response they were receiving, the Subways recorded a fistful of demos, tracks that led to their winning 2004’s Glastonbury Festival Unsigned Performers Competition. The victory saw the band going from gigs in half-full pubs to playing before an audience of 10,000 at the world-famous musical gathering.
“It was a great platform for us for the year that followed,” Cooper says. “It was the start of an amazing, crazy year.”
The Subways followed Glastonbury by building their fanbase via constant roadwork, as well as through their website www.thesubways.net. The band’s aggressive use of the Internet enabled them to spread their sound and make a lasting connection with their audience.
“The internet was an integral part of how we established a foundation,” Lunn says, “making sure that we had a forum so that people could come together and talk about the demos and the live shows and really become part of a community.”
When time came to record a proper debut album, the Subways headed to Liverpool to work with producer Ian Broudie (the Coral, the Zutons, I Am Kloot). The erstwhile Lightning Seeds star proved the ideal studio guide for the trio, enabling them to take full artistic advantage of the recording process. “Ian was a great mentor to have in there with us,” Cooper says. “He was really encouraging and guided us through, not only musically but emotionally as well.”
“Ian allowed us to feel free in the studio,” Lunn says. “We felt no pressure, and that calming atmosphere allowed us to have fun and search for the true character of each song.”
Opening with the winsome “I Want To Hear What You Have Got To Say,” Young For Eternity displays a remarkable daring and ambition as it spins off into blazing punk rave-ups (“Rock & Roll Queen,” “City Pavement”), atmospheric dream-pop (“No Goodbyes,” “Lines Of Light”) and the metallic KO of “Holiday” and the blistering title track. The diversity of the material is driven as much by the band’s wide-ranging musical tastes as it is by their mischievous desire to confound expectation.
“I suppose I do like to mess with convention and what people expect,” Lunn says. “If people knew what was coming, why would they continue to listen?”
“We really wanted to create an emotional journey with this record,” Cooper notes, “which is why each song is very different. I think people’s opinion will change about us with every new song they hear and eventually they won’t be able to think of us as being any specific style.”
With the release of Young For Eternity, the Subways climbed out of the underground into the spotlight, drawing rave reviews across the board. The band’s live show – a rollicking blast of raucous riff rock and pogoing pop sing-alongs – made them a must-see on the summer’s festival circuit, which they followed with a sold-out headlining tour of the UK.
Having taken the UK by storm, the Subways are now gearing up for a full-scale assault on the former Colonies. The band recently hit California for their long-awaited US debut, performing at the Bait Shop, the fictional rock club on Fox’s The OC. The adrenaline-fuelled appearance – as well as the inclusion of “Rock & Roll Queen” as the lead track on the Music From The OC: Mix 5 soundtrack companion – places the band in the footsteps of such indie superstars as Death Cab For Cutie, the Killers and Modest Mouse.
“The way the audience reacted was just phenomenal,” Lunn says. “The director actually had to get on the stage and calm the audience down because they wouldn’t stop clapping. He said he’d never seen a reaction like that before on the show.”
The Subways’ plan for America is much the same as their initial strategy at home – that is, playing as many gigs as humanly possible, winning over new fans one by one.
“We’re really dedicated to playing live,” Morgan says. “We want people to come to have a great time because that gives us confidence to put on a more rocking show.”
“We’re going to work hard and make sure that the people who come out to hear our music really have a great time,” Lunn says, admitting to a mix of trepidation and excitement. “We’re coming there to prove ourselves and the only way to do it is to start from square one and build a foundation, build a community. We can hardly wait.”