“The day we headlined Reading & Leeds Festival in 2007, we had our own private dressing rooms and none of us wanted to speak to each other,” says Johnny Borrell.
“I didn’t have anywhere to live as we’d been touring constantly and it was just a really fucking strange time.”
It’s a sunny afternoon in mid-November and Johnny Borrell is telling Rolling Stone UK how things first began to go wrong for Razorlight. For a brief period in the mid-noughties, they were one of Britain’s biggest bands. They were the youngest group to appear at the Live8 charity concert in 2005, festival headliners and songs such as ‘America’ – written by Borrell and bandmate Burrows – saw them scoring chart number ones.
Borrell, in part, helped elevate the band’s reputation too, by becoming a dream quote machine for tabloid and music journalists alike. He famously proclaimed himself to be “the greatest songwriter of my generation” and even dared to trash talk Bob Dylan.
“I wanted more attention and had this great idea of going to an NME interview with a stack of quotes that were deliberately provocative and thought I’d use one or two,” Borrell says of his famously big mouth.
“I put them in my back pocket and suddenly thought ‘fuck it, I’ll say them all’. It felt like Lou Reed. I’d created this guy. The slight problem was trying to turn it off. I thought I’d play it for six months, but that was when I learnt it’s not so easy to kill. I’d walk out of a room having told someone to go fuck themselves and just think ‘why did I say that?'”
While Borrell’s memorable quotes and high profile girlfriends such as Kirsten Dunst saw him attracting attention, the cracks in the group had been showing for a long time before. Borrell memorably punched Burrows during a late night scrap at The Hawley Arms – the very epicentre of London’s indie scene.
“There was lot of trying to figure out who was in the right with me and Andy at the time,” Borrell recalls. “Which is never going to end well. No one can win that fight.”
By the time the group released third album Slipway Fires a year after that Reading & Leeds slot in 2008, it became clear that the band itself was facing a crisis. The record debuted at number four and failed to produce any memorable singles. Burrows then quit in 2009, before the departures of Swedish bassist Carl Dalemo and Björn Ågren in 2011 left Borrell as the only remaining member.
Remarkably, Borrell opted to continue with the group in the intervening years, bringing in a revolving line-up of musicians and releasing the 2018 album Olympus Sleeping – with one review praising its “unashamed guitar pop”. Burrows also spread his wings, scoring Ricky Gervais’ After Life and collaborating with We Are Scientists.
Now, Razorlight’s classic line-up of Borrell, Burrows, Dalemo and Ågren is back. A greatest hits album Razorwhat? arrives tomorrow, featuring two new songs You Are Entering the Human Heart, and Violence Forever, which fans will lap up.
The reunion comes accompanied by recent documentary Razorlight: Fall to Pieces, which traces the steps it took to get the band back on speaking terms again. Given that Burrows hadn’t talked to Borrell since leaving the group, the film reveals that he was the toughest nut to crack of the reuniting bandmates.
It traces the pair’s journey to date and documents the moment they had an emotional reunion in the South of France. Filmed last year, it marked the first time the pair had spoken in 11 years.
“I honestly thought this would never happen,” admits Burrows on a separate Zoom call to Borrell.
“I was completely convinced that our scenario was completely different to every band that had got back together. The breakdown of mine and Johnny’s relationship wasn’t just a row or a drugs bust-up, it was way more complicated than that. Because he just wouldn’t talk to me. I wrote to him, I got in touch through other people and there was never any ounce of interest in hearing from me.”
The pair’s relationship had also been weakened by a “bizarre meeting” as Burrows put it, when they bumped into each other years before at a solo album launch for Supergrass drummer Danny Goffey.
“It felt like seeing a ghost. We’d been out of each other’s lives for so long and it felt surreal. I suggested we go off for a drink and a chat and he had no interest in that. It was odd.”
Asked about the initial breakdown of their relationship, Borrell says he was often more confrontational than the laid-back Burrows, which led them to knock heads.
“We’ve always had this deep personal connection, but I’ve also felt so distant from him at times too,” Burrows admits.
“Still, I wound him up at times. The respect for each other is huge and I honestly think he’s one of the greatest this country has ever produced. He’s a proper old-school rock and roll star. Even now I don’t understand him, almost in this weird magical way.
He adds: “When you have these two characters in such a high-octane scenario as those five years when we were pretty huge, it was always going to come to blows. Sometimes that makes me really sad. It would’ve been nice to be more united for more of the time.”
For his part, Borrell admits to having “zero trust” in Burrows during some of Razorlight’s tougher moments and says their relationship still remains a work in progress.
“Look, it’s not entirely unchallenging and I don’t always understand him, but I think that’s the nature of being in a band. It’s much better than it was.”
Burrows, meanwhile, admits he had always been keen on a reunion, but says a lack of key understanding with Borrell on the reason for his departure, months after becoming a father, had always been a hindrance.
“One of the reasons I’d write to him over the years is because I really did feel like he hadn’t understood me when I left. I talked about not wanting to go around the world drinking, but it was so much more complicated than that. I’d just become a new dad when the band were massive and I felt overwhelmed and burnt out, but reluctant to cry out.
“When you have children you want to feel strong and stable and like you’re bringing someone into the world that you can look after. At that point, I was just really frightened of the fact I didn’t feel like that. I had to sort that out, but I needed to do it privately. I really needed to explain to Johnny that it was way more complicated, but he had no interest in having that conversation. What followed was a decade of us not talking.”
Even if the pair’s relationship clearly still remains a work in progress, there’s no doubt that the reunion of Razorlight’s classic line-up marks the start of an unlikely and exciting next chapter for a group that imploded in spectacular fashion.
“Razorlight felt like this unfinished book, but now we’re here it’d be amazing if we can come to it every few years and do some shows,” Burrows surmises.
“How lucky we were and how lucky we are to have had this. That’s never gone away. I’ve had a huge amount of gratitude because it’s easy to forget the amount of musicians that don’t get this recognition. The fact I still get to do this for a living is ridiculous. We’re so lucky. I think there was a lot of that that came into play about having this back in our lives. That we’ve been able to get back together and sort it out, if just to a degree, is just fucking awesome.”
Razorwhat? The Best Of Razorlight is out 9th Dec.