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The enemy within
7:00am Saturday 26th May 2012 in NewsXtra
Coventry's finest The Enemy are back with a new album Streets In The Sky, released on Monday, May 21, the same day they begin a UK tour. The trio Tom, Andy and Liam talk to Andy Welch about their fourth album, why they took time off before recording it and reflect on the state of guitar music.
The proverb says a change is as good as a rest. That suggests, then, that there's nothing better than an actual rest when you've been working too hard.
Tom Clarke, Liam Watts and Andy Hopkins of The Enemy were all too aware of that fact when it came to writing and recording their third album. After almost five years of hectic performing and touring, the Coventry trio decided they had to take a break.
"We knew we didn't want to rush things," begins Clarke.
"And after such a busy time we really needed to stop and have a look where we were up to."
There was plenty to reflect on, too. Namely two albums selling well over half a million copies between them, support slots with Oasis and Kasabian, and a record-breaking six-night stint at London's now demolished Astoria.
"I think the songs on the first album (2007's We'll Live And Die In These Towns) were perfect, but the production wasn't great. On the second album it was the other way around, with the sound being right but the songs needing some more work. I knew whatever third album we came up with had to have both factors just right."
To clear his head Clarke retreated to the farmhouse he bought in the countryside outside Coventry and set about renovating the property. He's since realised, however, that appealing as the rural life might be, it's not really for him.
"I'm selling it," he says.
"I grew up in Birmingham, a well-known city, then I moved to Coventry, another decent-sized city. At some point I decided to move to the country. I'd become reliant on hot water, the internet, and shops, yet for some reason I decided to buy a house in the middle of nowhere.
"It's beautiful, I've watched rabbits being born, and Red Kites and buzzards flying, but I can't hack it. Ultimately, I just want a Greggs within walking distance so I can go and buy a sausage roll when I want one."
As the band's main songwriter, he did keep things ticking over while he was there, but wasn't particularly happy with anything he was coming up with.
"I suppose I was out of practice. All that time off, just not being in the habit of writing every day," he says, before bass player Hopkins admits feeling lost and unsure about the band's direction at the time.
"We really had to take a step back from it all," he says.
"I don't think we knew what we were supposed to sound like."
There are no such doubts now. A secret performance at last summer's V Festival seemed to re-galvanise the trio - the fact thousands of fans were turned away from the 5,000-capacity tent reaffirming the band's belief that there were still people out there that wanted to hear them.
"We're a rock band that plays pop songs, and we always have been," says Clarke.
"I know that now, but I couldn't have described our sound this time last year."
Joby Ford deserves a great amount of credit for The Enemy's newfound confidence. Ford produced Streets In The Sky during time off from playing guitar in LA punk band The Bronx and spin-off Mariachi El Bronx.
"Joby came in and before we recorded anything we spent loads of time addressing the writing," says Clarke.
"There were things he thought needed changing, making tighter and so on, and he was really diplomatic in telling us. He was so careful not to offend anyone, but it worked.
"We'd never done pre-production before, but just spending a day per song before even going into the studio made everything clear in our minds."
As a result, the recording process, following on from slightly laborious writing sessions, was quick and easy.
"Joby's a classically trained musician," says drummer Watts. "It means he can express himself properly, and he really understands drums and what they should be doing, which is great for me. He believes drums are part of the songwriting process, rather than something that just happens in the background as a lot of other producers do."
Streets In The Sky is, by the band's reckoning at least, a "brilliant" album, their best yet, and the first time they've sounded exactly as they want to.
Clarke believes it's the beginning of a new phase in the life of The Enemy.
"Well now I know how to make an album properly I just want to do it again," he says.
There is, of course, the small matter of a tour to get out of the way before that can happen. The band had originally booked to play in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, and enthused about how they'd overcome health and safety regulations to organise two special nights in their hometown.
Unfortunately, since our conversation, red tape has curtailed their plans so they've moved the event to an intimate venue elsewhere in the city.
The three-piece are understandably excited, but it's difficult to imagine whatever happens topping their most-recent performance - on the roof of Wembley Stadium before the FA Cup Final.
"We were already booked to play a festival in Leeds that day, but there was no way we were going to turn down playing on the roof," says Clarke. "The only way we could do both was getting a helicopter from London to Leeds. That's proper rock'n'roll, that."
In terms of exposure and radio play, it's not a particularly great time to be a British guitar band, but The Enemy have such belief in their music and fans, they're not too worried.
"Neil Young sang 'Rock'n'roll will never die' and I don't think whoever decides not to play guitar bands on the radio is more important than him," says Clarke.
"This country has made the best rock'n'roll there is, it's one of our best exports, so if someone thinks they can kill guitar bands, then good luck to them.
"Whether it gets played on the radio or not, we've just made a brilliant album. That's all that counts."
Extra time - The Enemy :: The Enemy formed in 2006. That year they performed at Coventry's Godiva Festival. Two years later they headlined the event.
:: In 2007, iconic punk label Stiff Records reactivated to put out The Enemy's debut single. They later signed to Warner Brothers.
:: Their debut We'll Live And Die In These Towns was released in 2007, winning praise across the music press and from the likes of Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher.
:: A number of The Enemy's songs have been used in video games and adverts, most notably Be Somebody, which featured on adverts for FIFA 10, and We'll Live And Die In These Towns, which was used extensively during the 2012 World Cup.
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