“Luxury Stranger:” – interview
Luxury Stranger is a progressive post-punk/dark alternative/indie influenced UK band with the brilliant songwriting of Simon York. Recently the band released their third album “Darkness Falls Upon The Light”. Touring around UK and Europe Luxury Stranger played with Gary Numan at the Barbican in York, with Spear of Destiny in York and Nottingham, played shows in the UK with ChameleonsVox, TOY, O Children, Paul Gilmartin’s Danse Society, S.C.U.M, Motorama, Partly Faithful, the March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and toured in Europe with Levinhurst – which is a band featuring Lol Tolhurst and Michael Dempsey from The Cure. Last weekend, the band performed at the Official UK David Bowie Convention. Sophie Luchinsky (Louder Than War) talked to Simon York who is the main composer in Luxury Stranger.
“Louder Than War: Please tell me more about you, how did you start your musical career?”
“Simon York: Well, it depends on if you want me to start right from the beginning or not, really… Okay, I’m Simon York of Luxury Stranger and I started singing at a very early age – mainly solo and in choirs. From age eight I was a violinist – playing solo, in symphony orchestras and swing bands and it was around this time I started composing pieces of music etc. I then went on to teach myself various other instruments, starting with guitar, bass and piano / keyboard – in the meantime, I was doing a lot of acting and speech and drama type stuff in the theatre… I suppose I was developing my ‘on stage persona / confidence’ here. When I turned sixteen, I decided I wanted to get out of the classical side of music – sort of like, “I’ve had enough of this, I want to ‘rock'” and so I used my skills within the more contemporary field, and started a band.”
“Louder Than War: Why did you decide to start a band? Which bands had you played in before?”
“Simon York: Well, I suppose like anyone else who lived in a broken down mining town in the midlands – or similar situations, I wanted to get out. I wasn’t into football and I’d always been musically and artistically minded (a family trait, apparently) so it was likely to be a path in the arts for me I suppose.
At first it was regular rehearsals with old school friends playing covers by bands we all liked – which ranged from Rush to god knows what… after some time, a few of us realised that this was what we wanted to do and so we got a more serious about it and we picked the name Delirium from a dictionary and then started shoulder barging our way on to the bill at local school and college concerts. I always wore a red denim jacket that said “f**k it all!” on the back. I haven’t changed inside, even if the exterior has…
It then moved on to pub gigs – bear in mind it was still covers at this point. I soon thought “what’s the point of doing this and doing it well but playing someone else’s songs?” And so I took one of my own songs to rehearsal – Dual Carriageway, was the title and the song was eventually recorded on a farm in the middle of some woods in Nottinghamshire – and then we went from there straight on to BBC radio. After that, some of my songs were being used on TV shows, films and documentaries while we played more gigs across the UK. Like any band, there were line-up changes along the way as we got more and more serious about what we wanted to achieve. Even when we landed a decent recording contract with a major label – we had someone at more or less the last minute deciding that this wasn’t for them…
A massive load of non-Luxury Stranger related stuff happened from then on – in the meantime, I was mixing with various people who were seen as important at the time, living in various places, shaping my skill set, acting in film and TV, playing shows, picking up new tricks, and meeting various people who I still consider very important…
Luxury Stranger then came about in July 2006 when I wrote and recorded more than 60 songs and pieces of music, 10 of which were picked out to become the project’s debut album – Desolation. A live band was drawn together after a number of auditions and near misses… then – a load of what at times felt like non-stop gigging, deals with indie labels in Europe, critically acclaimed albums and singles released, support slots and tours with legends and influencers, let downs and delays, numerous line-up changes as members found the LS life wasn’t for them, disappointments, a series of solo releases, bouts with illness and mental health, a rebirth of sorts and getting a solid management team together… and then I think we’re about up to date and ready to release the third Luxury Stranger album.”
“Louder Than War: Please could you tell me more about your new album?”
“Simon York: Well, it’s called Darkness Falls Upon The Light and I seriously think it’s the best work to come out of Luxury Stranger. In my honest opinion, they’re songs which have been crafted with so much love and attention to detail. The amount of work that’s gone into this album is quite possibly indescribable…
Everyone involved in the recording of this album has enabled LS to produce something that I am wholly proud of and can’t wait to get out there and tour it – and the best bit about it is there’s so much more material to follow this album and I’m looking forward to working with some of the same people next time.
Everything leading to this album fell into place at its own ‘right but painful time’ – sort of like ‘everything happens for a reason’. Certain things wouldn’t have occurred if a particular event hadn’t taken place etc… And it’s a Nottingham product from start to finish – recorded at Random Studios where bands like Lux Lisbon and Dog Is Dead have recorded, mastered at Formation Audio in Nottingham who have done work for Johnny Cash, Julian Cope, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cramps and many others… and the album’s being pressed using a Nottingham based company too.
Guy Elderfield, who engineered and produced the record, was an emotional crutch for me at the time of recording – we collaborated to deconstruct the songs and redevelop them in a way that at times I felt “wow, this is how some of my favourite records sound”. Guy’s had years of experience working with big names in the industry – he totally knows what he’s doing and how to work a mood or atmosphere and how to get some fantastic synthetic grooves going, to build around… we were able to try stuff, see if it worked and rejig it if needs be and I feel something really special happened in the studio because of that. I got the feeling he wanted it to be right – he’d push me, which is something I like from that ‘extra band member’ you get in the studio. He’d say “yeah, that was good but I think you’ve got a better one in there – let’s go again!”… and I massively recommend people who truly want to ‘work-work’ in music to go and work with him – I most certainly hope to again…
Kevin Bales, who drummed on the album, he’s drummed for Spiritualized and Dave Gahn – which in particular was very special for me because I’m a massive Depeche Mode fan (Martin Gore is a big influence on my writing style). Kevin’s such a lovely man and a phenomenal drummer – he plays for the song. He had the demos of the songs for something like a week or so and then we put the drums down in two sessions, he did it his way too… it’s his drum character on that record. It was a pleasure to work with a true hard working professional musician who was also a great person to be around…
Robert Squirrell – who is a great guy and a sound artist and musician who I know from a time when I was working on film and sonic art – he came in and put down some piano for me on the closing track. I wanted a style that I couldn’t play and he was the man for the job. He worked some magic on that track, helping it earn its place on the album, and he even dropped in some unplanned trumpet which just felt like it was meant to be, as we all thought independently how well it would work.
I personally feel the care that’s gone into the writing and recording of this album is kind of an apology of sorts as, if all had gone to plan, a third album should have been released years ago but there have been delays and ‘drama’… these songs in particular would probably have been the fifth or sixth record. But people move on, people lose sight, people let you down – either way, it’s been painful but fuelling. With every big loss, there has most certainly been a bigger gain and more of a reason to succeed – and I am forever humbled and grateful to the people who have helped me through the making of this record, be it being directly involved or just there to support me emotionally, as well as to the people who have stood by Luxury Stranger and believed in what it is and what it does because it means something to them in a certain way and they see the work going into it is worthy of… well, whatever it is that is seen as justice in this world.
I was chatting with a close friend about the album after they’d listened to it at the album playback event we did last year at the Chameleon in Nottingham and they felt that each song seems to have that “this could be a single” feel to it – even the slower tracks. And I enjoy listening to it too… not in a ‘yeah, this is me’ kind of way at all – if someone asks “what’re you listening to?” I don’t announce “me!”, I say proudly but casually “I’m listening to Luxury Stranger, check ’em out…” and this album truly is ‘Luxury Stranger’ – it’s like everything has led to this record and now the path is set for future material.”
“Louder Than War: How many tracks have you released before?”
“Simon York: Quite a few – some of which are no longer available. There are many songs that I’ve finished and forgotten about… There are also many many more to release in the future… I once went on a mission writing pieces and songs while I was living in a basement flat in an old Victorian building. It covered a massive amount of space – it was such a great working space and brilliant for parties too. In fact, I filmed the non-water parts of the video for Ripple (the b-side for Nothing Holy) in that space. I wanted to set up my screen printing stuff there but didn’t get ’round to it before having to move out… There are literally hundreds of songs and pieces of music in my ‘vault’ just from the time living and working there. I’ve worked on even more stuff since then…”
“Louder Than War: Do you write music/songs?”
“Simon York: Yes. I’m the main composer in Luxury Stranger, although I do enjoy what I refer to as a ‘Verve Jam’ where something special comes out of a ‘fuelled’ rehearsal – songs like Elements and On+On&OnandOn came from times like that. However, I think my own style of working / writing tends not to lend itself to the ‘natural organic progression’ of a song – I tend to be very ‘mad scientist’ about it and lock it all in before presenting it to the band for them to then help arrange it and develop their own parts. If I’m not happy with it, it goes in the ‘save for later’ box and never sees the light of day. At the end of the day, it’s got to be right – you’ve got to be fighting fit – you’re presenting yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your art, your work to people and some of those people purposely WANT to be impressed and WON’T be on purpose. It isn’t a big constant party, it’s a lot of hard work and I think that if you’re not prepared to fly right then you shouldn’t bother trying to spread your wings.”
“Louder Than War: Could you tell me about your songs, their meaning and the main idea of the album?”
“Simon York: I think the typical ‘trendy’ comeback to that question these days is “I like the songs to speak for themselves” or something along those lines – but to be honest, yes as much as I do love people listening to the songs and having their own interpretation of them (and that’s great for older LS material), I feel with the new album it is something very much where I’d like people to know what the songs are generally about… I don’t necessarily want to be ‘mis-quoted’ as such…
I think the key thing to consider is that in one way or another they’re all love songs. Some are about loss of love, some are about perversions or fetishes within love and some are about the love within a one-sided relationship, where one feels safe and trust someone with their life or lifeline but that safety or trust isn’t held in such high regard by the other party.
The title of the album – and the artwork – is one of my interpretations of living with depression and the negative and long-lasting effects that other people’s thoughtless actions can have in one foul swoop. But you have to carry on, don’t you..? Or else you’re letting other people down – or you might miss out on ‘winning’ or just things being better… there are so many people who don’t think – they miss those odd gazes into nothing or subtle ‘ticks’ or constant need for order in just the little things. Then the penny drops one day – by which time it may be too late.”
“Louder Than War: Please tell me about your single.”
“Simon York: The main single from Darkness Falls Upon The Light was a special version of When The Lady Takes The Blame. This is a song which for some reason seems to work in various formats – be it a rock song, an acoustic ballad, a melancholic dance track or a dark brooding piece best suited for a film soundtrack. The song deals with a sarcastic look on a fictional relationship where ‘he’ is always right but ‘she’ is actually the one saving the day and is the most brilliant person ever… I like to create people in songs – not quite telling stories – but create an environment where maybe it is true, maybe it isn’t… it’s all theatre!”
“Louder Than War: Could you tell me about the most definitive songs on your last album? What did you mean by them?”
“Simon York: Do you mean the second album, ‘Commitment and Discipline’ (with intentional inverted commas as part of the title)? That’s an album that, with hind sight, I wish the band had taken more time to record – we even played some songs way too fast, for example Where You’ve Gone is way too fast on the record. When we play it live now there’s certainly a more majestic slower pace to it. It’s matured… Also, Making Becci Laugh is a song I wish had remained in the life set for longer.
I think that second album was definitely a ‘finding the sound’ album but it wasn’t until the Nothing Holy single and its b-side Ripple were recorded that I think Luxury Stranger found the balance between a dark sound and commercial songs. And we had a European hit off of the back of it…”
“Louder Than War: What would you call your style of music? Why?”
“Simon York: That’s a tricky one really, as my opinion could determine whether or not someone gives it a listen. I tend to view it stylistically as being influenced by post-punk or indie rock music – and yet the two artists I’m mainly influenced or inspired by are not really writing those genres. I don’t see that we’re part of any specific genre or scene if I’m honest – I could probably play these songs with the band at a rock venue to ‘crowd a’ and then play them acoustically in a bar to ‘crowd z’ and they would sit well in either. Cross-genre is the term I think is used around when people talk about Luxury Stranger. I mean – what genre is Bowie? Rock? Folk? Electronic? Art rock? Post-punk? Glam? Pop? Dance?
It’s music… go listen, make your own mind up. Ha ha ha…”
“Louder Than War: Please could you tell more about bands that influenced you? What you think about them?”
“Simon York: Again, it’s a tricky one as I think nowadays people don’t always see that as a leading ‘for fans of’ question and more of a ‘what do you sound like’ question. I don’t think Luxury Stranger really sounds like anyone else – it sounds like me and whoever is in the band at the time. But if I had to give a ‘who and what’ answer, I’d have to say that I think the inspirations of Luxury Stranger are pretty numerous – changing and developing all the time, and it’s not just other music. Books, films, paintings, photographs have all in some way given a feeling of inspiration within the music.
If I had to select specific sounds / scenes, artistes or bands then I’d say David Bowie, Brian Eno, the 90s indie and grunge scenes, maybe Chameleons, and Depeche Mode – or more precise, Martin Gore. But ask me another day and I might drop in Bobby Womack or Marvin Gaye, the Police, Lou Reed, the Sound, T-Rex, Joy Division or Kraftwerk… I was brought up constantly listening to music and I sometimes used to sit in my room playing against all styles of albums working out all the bass or guitar parts, or sometimes singing out loud against albums, building my strength and finding and developing my range – and I think that’s how you develop a style, whether it’s singing, playing or writing. You deconstruct, work out the parts and what they accomplish and then put it back together and make it work again in your way – it’s like an old watch, you sit there and take it apart while memorising what achieves what goal and then you put it back together again.
I suppose, if I’m technical about it, Lou Reed is the biggest influence on me as without him – or rather his Transformer record – my mum and dad wouldn’t have got together and I wouldn’t be here… I do love that record. But Berlin is better…”
“Louder Than War: Tell me please about gigs you played live.”
“Simon York: Luxury Stranger has played with Gary Numan at the Barbican in York, played with Spear of Destiny in York and Nottingham on several occasions, we’ve toured in Europe and played shows in the UK with ChameleonsVox both when John Lever was playing drums and after he’d left, we’ve also played shows with bands like TOY, O Children, Paul Gilmartin’s Danse Society, S.C.U.M, Motorama, Partly Faithful, the March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and we toured in Europe with Levinhurst – which is a band featuring Lol Tolhurst and Michael Dempsey from the Cure. We’ve also been supported by bands who are now starting to make names for themselves in their own way… In a past life, I’ve played shows with 10cc, toured with Mansun and even played a University show with actor Sean McGuire when he was a pop star for a bit! But let’s stick to Luxury Stranger, eh?”
“Louder Than War: What’s coming up next for Luxury Stranger?”
“Simon York: We’re auditioning for some new musicians too. I want to make that big sound for our fans and for people seeing us for the first time… I want to take people with me to where Luxury Stranger can potentially go. I’m looking forward to returning to play shows in Europe – hopefully for longer stretches or with returns being closer together. I think the ‘delays’ that have happened in the life of Luxury Stranger have forced the band to neglect where we have a lot of support – and I’m not happy about that. Luckily, the internet – or rather social media – has helped us keep in touch with fans and bookers so they know the situations LS has been in and these people have carried on to give us the love and support. It’s a fantastic blessing… and humbling.”
“Louder Than War: Are you planning to release new album, singles?”
“Simon York: The third album, Darkness Falls Upon The Light was out in April through Cold Insanity Music (a German label which has been very supportive and patient through some hard and painful times for LS). In the lead up to release, a series of mini teaser films showcasing edited clips of album tracks are being released through social media.
The album is made up of nine tracks:
- Another Intoxicated Release
- A Triumph Of The Heart
- When The Lady Takes The Blame
- The Real Is Done
- Side Of The Road
- Darkness Falls Upon The Light
Like I said earlier, when people listen to the album, they’ve come to me saying it feels like each track is a single – perhaps from different periods of a band’s life, maybe. I think it’s likely we’ll put out A Triumph Of The Heart and Dismissal to radio stations and I’m currently prepping work for a video for Dismissal which came from ideas I had in a very ‘dark’ dream. It’s going to be fun shooting that… Saying that, if a radio station wants to play one of the other tracks – then hey, that’s great and very much appreciated!”
“Louder Than War: When are your next gigs?”
“Simon York: We have a couple of shows in June which at time of this interview, one is on 3rd at Carpe Noctum, at the Library in Leeds – which is always an absolute pleasure to play and be involved in. And we have more still to be announced and confirmed.
After that, we aim to begin work on touring the new album. We have a bit of work to do on the line up first but behind the scenes everything is falling into place and waiting for the right moment. I’m looking forward to getting back into almost constant gigging again and continuing the path with fantastic people who truly care about Luxury Stranger and what it can potentially be.”
“Louder Than War: Thank you.”
All words by Sophie Luchinsky. More writing by Sophie can be
found at her Louder Than War author’s