Anfang des Monats hatte unsere Redakteurin Jacky die herausragende Ehre das erste Interview seit fünf Jahren mit dem Frontsänger der britischen Indierockband The Subways führen zu dürfen. Und was sollen wir sagen, es war ein Fest! Der sympathische Billy Lunn, der sich nach seinem Großvater mütterlicherseits James McQueen Lunn benannt hat, ist als Teil der typischen Working Class in einfachen Verhältnissen aufgewachsen. Die Möglichkeit für ihn Musik zu machen, gab es erst als seine staatliche Schule subventioniert wurde. Dadurch wuchs er schon immer mit Labor Party Flagge im Garten politisch links orientiert auf. Auch heute engagiert sich der 36-jährige, der einen Hang zum Spirituellen pflegt, politisch in der Partei sowie der Feminist Society und setzt sich aktiv für Tierrechte ein. Gemeinsam mit Bassistin und Sängerin Charlotte und seinem Bruder Josh gründete er 2003 The Subways. Seine Mutter, der der im Anschluss auch freudig von dem Interview erzählte, ist und war der größte Fan. Anhänger*innen der ersten Stunde können vielleicht sogar noch ihre Handschrift auf den ersten Demotapes der ersten Gigs entdecken. Im Interview erzählt Billy aber nicht nur frei von verschiedenen Perspektiven auf die Musik, sondern gewährt auch zahlreiche intensive Einblicke in persönliche Geschichten wie etwa Szenen seiner Therapie oder zeigt uns sein geheimes Talent. Ein unglaublich inspirierendes Gespräch begann mit der Entschuldigung unserer Redakteurin für ihren starken deutschen Akzent, welche Billy zum Anlass nimmt, um von seinen aktuellen Lernfreuden zu berichten:
Billy: I mean I went to university to read English because I just love books, which is why we’ve taken such a long time between our fourth and our fifth album. After I finished the degree, I’ve kind of been looking for something new to focus on and Charlotte can speak German wonderfully. I’m still learning a little bit of German as well as Italian and Russian. But it’s very slow. I’m not brilliant with languages.
Frontstage Magazine: In the end we are all doing it to understand each other.
Billy: That’s the main thing for me. I was talking to my mum, who is our biggest fan from our early stuff to the later, heavier stuff, the other day about how my song writing has changed over the years. She says: “One thing that hasn’t really changed is that you like to make things clear in the lyrics. There’s no point writing unless people can understand what you’ve written”. That stuck with me my whole life. Plus, my handwriting is stupidly neat now. It’s all about communication and creating enough space between me and the listener, so that they can apply their own lives to the music.
Frontstage Magazine: Music can be understood as a kind of communication. When I made up my mind for the interview I wondered, with regard to your new single “Fight”, if you would see music as a protest thing as well. Could you describe the meaning music for you?
Billy: I think music is so incredible and so many people love it, because it represents so many different things. I fell in love with music when I first heard Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tracks Of My Tears”. I was about five or six years old when I heard this sweet melody with this beautiful voice and wonderful lyrics and I never experienced love before. After that I wanted to fall in love to feel that. I was kind of taught how to feel loved. Ever since that moment I’ve always been fascinated by unrequited love. A lot of our songs, especially on the first and even more on the second album, when Charlotte and I broke up, deal with unrequited love. We wrote a lot of songs together. We were so honest with each other about what we were feeling. With albums three and four I wanted to become more political as I was standing as a counselor for the UK Labour Party in local elections.
Frontstage Magazine: Wow, that’s impressive. What is on your agenda?
Billy: For me democratic socialism is a big thing. It’s something I want to make more popular, because I believe in public health care for all and a decent education for everybody. I believe that nobody should be homeless. I was attending marches about decolonizing the curriculum consisting of just white male authors or academics. We should pluralize the societies worldwide. We’re more than just a group of white people with a lot of things to say. I think the discourse and our general ability to perceive the world could be vastly improved if we started listening to more diverse stories as it is now happening in the music industry for example stepwise. It’s creating some incredible art and it’s kind of derailing this whole idea of just like full white guys and leather jackets playing rock and roll music which we’ve done for half a century now.
Frontstage Magazine: Doesn’t it bring you to a conflict to be a white male singer in a rock and roll band?
Billy: After I attended the Black Lives Matter marches last year, I realized that I absolutely had to use my voice as a white male in society of a very particular kind of privilege to speak about this incredibly important issue that has to be solved right now. I was very impressed by a situation with a black friend of mine who attended the marches secretly. When we were talking towards the US embassy with our placards she said: “Today I finally found the language to articulate how I felt as a mixed-race person for my entire life” and that just really affected me. I started to cry, because I thought she has not been comfortable in our society to be who she really is and that hurts my feelings so hard. At that point I realized that music for me now was more than a vehicle to talk about love, friendship and those various things, but that it was also a vehicle to talk about incredibly potent and probably divisive situations.
Frontstage Magazine: Was it always like that or did you notice it especially at that moment?
Billy: Before I started university, I had these political feelings inside me. I really want to start having a political voice in my songs, but I don’t know how to do that. I know how to write about love or drinking on nights out, but I don’t know how I can write about this. Even though I’m a huge fan of political music like Rage Against the Machine, Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan.
Frontstage Magazine: I can understand your struggle of finding your political perspective. Did you study politics or another subject?
Billy: I studied English literature, which such a nebulous obscure subject, because you’re reading books written by people, but at the same time these books are all woven into history and time in which they’re written. A lot of them are written by white men of a particular class and are also very political. I always considered my studies to be political.
Frontstage Magazine: So, your music is political as well?
Billy: The song I felt in love with was written during a time of great political upheaval in America. It was written by a poor black man, who lived in huge suppression of racial minorities. All great Motown artists from Hitsville, Detroit like Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder were walking down the street and being abused white persons and police forces. They weren’t given the opportunities of an education in the same way that white members had. I never thought of that when I was a kid. I fell in love with the music and had no idea of the background and the fight he had to go through every single day just to live. That changed now and is the reason why I want to make sure that fellow members of my white community understand the oppressions that members of the black community are facing every single day.
Frontstage Magazine: And it is heart breaking that PoC are still getting abused, and racism is still a major problem. Then you remember that we are writing the year 2021 and wonder why we still need to learn.
Billy: Yes, especially people in Great Britain needs to see that we are not the emperors of the seas anymore and colonialism is a bad thing. We made ourselves rich out of it with all the beneficiaries that came a long and now we need to see things we never learnt in school like the great Winston Churchill starved four million Bengals to death. Some people educate themselves and the other half doesn’t. A lot of it is to do with the idea that they’ve tied themselves up with a nation and a flag. That’s how they identify themselves. But it’s such an odd way to identify yourself.
Frontstage Magazine: I feel like the next question needs to be: What do you identify yourself?
Billy: I went to therapy because I suffered some trauma in early childhood. A lot of time in the therapy sessions I would be tusseling with the idea of identity. At one point my therapist just got really frustrated and said: “But you’re not this one thing that happened to you here. You’re not this person you thought of yourself at this time. You are fluid thing made up of all these various people that you’ve met along the way, these various situations that have happened in your life. You’re not one thing.” And my mind was blown. We’re constantly changing every single day and re-addressing how we see ourselves. As British people our identity is more than our flag or the Brexit. Britan is a melting pot of cultures that have come and gone over the last millennia. If you wanted to find yourself as British, then you are associating yourself with oppression of abroad as well.
Frontstage Magazine: Did you voted positive for the Brexit or negative?
Billy: I voted remain because for me access to Europe means access to my friends, our fans and different cultures, which is incredibly important to me. It not only informs and educates me, but it also just makes me happy. Getting off the tour bus and being in Hanover or in Brussels.
Frontstage Magazine: In Hanover?! (laughs) You could have named every big German city and you choose Hanover?
Billy: It was one of the last places we went to. Every time we get off the bus in a European city my heart breaks a little bit, because it’s getting harder and harder for this to happen. When I got off the bus in Hanover, I just text my wife how much we are missing. I think a part of this whole national identity and wanting things to be uniform is a form of laziness. I think that’s what we wanted to do also with “Fight”. It was kind of break out of the norm of what we’ve done before and search for something different at least for us. There’s a point of pride in it to know that we’ve written a political song and even though it’s very important for us that we’re not the centre of this narrative that this song isn’t about us, that it’s actually about a group of people who are suffering oppression which we will never know as white people.
Frontstage Magazine: That’s a very big point: to be an ally who supports the minorities instead of taking their voice away from them. Because they are facing problems I cannot even imagine as a white woman.
Billy: I agree, and in university I made the experience to sat back and be receptive to the people from very deprived and politically unstable areas like Somalia. For white people stop talking and allow others to speak is a difficulty nowadays. A lot of the time it’s when marginalized members of the community decide to step forward. What is important to do is stand beside them and show your solidarity but to not speak over them. But when it comes to speaking to another white person, it’s time for us and our responsibility to tell our fellow white community members that racism does exist.
Frontstage Magazine: Do you see „Fight“ as an act of solidarity? Like not speaking and stand aside?
Billy: It’s not about us. It’s not about me or Charlotte or Josh or who our new drummer is. I tried to keep the writing as close to facts as possible. I was talking to white people as a member of society that is an allyship with marginalized communities. I didn’t want to speak for black people. It’s about the movement. That’s why we wanted to give them our platform to the Nova Twins, incredible black artists from southeast London who are making music on a par with nirvana for my opinion. We’re passing the microphone over to these two women and they’re gonna talk about their experiences. It’s a thin tie rope to walk but it’s one that I wanted to walk nevertheless, because I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t make this gesture.
Frontstage Magazine: When you understand what it is this really about, it’s very hard to stand just aside. Will the rest of the upcoming album be the same? Will it be a political album, or will it contain songs about love again?
Billy: I am obsessed with love. Hope and love are so much more than all of us combined. They are unified unifying forces in this universe. I think love is a worthy reason to keep breathing. Love is a powerful thing and anytime I sit down at a piano or I pick up my guitar I’m constantly falling in and out of love at various stages. Moreover, there are some songs on the new album that deal with being online. It’s so strange that how being online is so dominant in our daily lifestyles. There are so few songs about it. There is a song about influences and a song about what it means to be a rock and roll dude. I find this whole idea tiresome that we’re mysterious, sexy and intelligent. We’re all so deeply insecure, it’s hilarious. Furthermore, I wrote a song about my maternal grandfather. He taught me how to write my first story which led to writing my first song. It is the best album we’ve ever made by far. I’m just so excited for everyone to hear.
Frontstage Magazine: I cannot wait to hear it! It sounds amazing.
Billy: I hope it lives up to it now. There’s a song on it, which it’s the best song I’ve ever written in my whole life. People are gonna listen to and will say that’s not The Subways. I felt like it was a fusion of all my all my huge loves, like Outcast and Abba and there’s a bit Fleetwood Mac in it and a bit of Nirvana and a bit of Missy Elliott. I hope people get it and it communicates to them.
Frontstage Magazine: It sounds so amazing like you create an album which puts I all together and makes sense.
Billy: I think we’ve been very lucky on this album, because we thought we were finished last year. Then Corona virus happened, and I had still access to the studio and I kept working on this album. We all worked really hard on the album. Charlotte recorded her vocals in isolation and took these songs to new heights, I was overwhelmed. The last song Josh recorded for this album is his greatest achievement in drumming. It is sublime. I got my friend Adrian Bushby to mix it. He already mixed Foo Fighters, Muse, Kylie Minogue and Spice Girls. I thought his interpretations gonna be great. All in all, we spent quite some time in 2019 to record ideas and during 2020 we were finessing them. Now we’ve completed this album, Charlotte and I are writing the next already (smiles).
Frontstage Magazine: Sounds like exciting times for The Subways Fans to come. Here is our last question for a wonderful interview: What is your secret talent?
Billy: Oh, wow, my secret talent? (long thinking) I can do the worm, that thing on the floor yeah (signs waves with his arm). But it really hurts, so I try to do it as little as possible. But I can also do this belly roll. I’ll show you (he stood up and showed it to me). I’ve been able to do this since I was a child so. When I was much fitter, it used to be much better.
Frontstage Magazine: (laughs) That’s the best secret talent I heard so far. Thank you so much for this wonderful and inspiring interview! Stay healthy!
Billy: It is my pleasure, you have been a wonderful interviewer, so thank you so much! Take care.
Fotocredit: Sarah Louise Bennett