Charlotte Cooper: “We Were Just Three Really Young, Bored, Suburban Kids.”
Their loud, brash music was part of the British garage rock revival, which included acts like Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines and Kaiser Chiefs, among many others. The genre may have lost its luster but the acts, including The Subways, have become staples of summer festivals, especially around Europe.
The Subways haven’t played in the United States for a long time, even though they’ve released four well-received studio albums, including a self-titled album in 2015. They have finally returned, with a brief North America tour that has them performing at Milkboy on Wednesday. It should be an amazing show given the energy of the band and the size of the intimate room.
Our G.W. Miller III spoke with the band’s bass player/vocalist, Charlotte Cooper, about life in music and the inspirations for the band that hails from Welwyn Garden City, a lovely, suburban oasis due north of London.
You guys haven’t toured the States for about 8 years.
Yeah, it’s been far, far too long. I’m so happy that we’ve managed to get some things sorted so we can come back. We had tried a few times but nothing quite worked out. I’m really glad we could make this happen.
What didn’t work out in the past?
We’ve been touring a lot across Europe, particularly in England and Germany. Our summers are always booked with the festivals. Getting blocks of time to go to the States hasn’t quite worked. It’s quite difficult to fund that. It’s quite an expensive process. We’ve been working out a way to do it and we’re really glad that we’ve found a way to make it happen.
You spend so much time in Germany! Why do you all speak German so well?
I speak a little bit of German because I learned it at school. That was a very long time ago now. I tend to get more confident after a couple glasses of wine.
I’ve seen you guys do full interviews in German. It’s really impressive.
Billy (lead singer Billy Lunn) likes to learn a little bit of the language everywhere we go. He always sings the chorus to “Rock & Roll Queen” in the language of wherever we are.
How did The Subways first form?
We were just three, really young, bored, suburban kids. Billy and Josh (drummer Josh Morgan) are brothers. They kind of introduced me to rock music, like Nirvana and Oasis. They were already playing together. We thought it’d be really cool to form a band and they asked me if I wanted to learn. Billy taught me how to play.
We started playing local venues and we found out there was a music competition happening, so we entered that. We made a few demos and played, literally, wherever anyone would have us.
A subway in America is different from a subway in the UK. Are the subways in the UK places where kids hang out?
They are mainly in newly built towns, mainly, like, underneath roundabouts or big roads. It’s a tunnel underneath the road. Sometimes they make them quite nice, with green areas within them. The one we used to hang out at? I haven’t been there in years, actually. I assume people still hang out there because people skate there and things like that. It was a cool place for kids to hang out.
Your music is loud and fun and a little rebellious. But you guys grew up in a fairly nice, bucolic neighborhood in the suburbs.
I grew up in a really small village. There was nothing going on. By the time I met Billy and Josh, they weren’t living in a town. It was really a small collection of houses. That drives a level of boredom. It makes you want to look outside of where you are, start listening to music, start playing music. I think that’s where the inspiration comes from.
And you’ve parlayed that into touring the world.
We feel so, so lucky to have traveled to all the places we’ve been to. The thing I’m most proud of is all the places we’ve been to. I feel lucky every day. I made a big map that’s in my living room with little pins for all the places I’ve been. I feel so lucky when I’m looking at that. Wow. I’ve been to all those places! There are still a lot of places to go though.
What are you excited about on this tour to the States?
It’s just everything for me. I can’t wait to explore and see the places I love. And I’m excited to play over there again. It’s been 8 years since we played the States. It’s a big celebration for us, finally being able to come back over there. It’ll be a huge adventure for the four weeks that we’re there.
Your husband has filled in for Josh on drums and you guys have toured in the past with your husband and his band. You were engaged to Billy for a while. Josh is Billy’s brother. You have an interesting dynamic to the band.
On paper, our band situation sounds like a nightmare. But somehow we kind of make it work.
Billy and I have always been really, really good friends. I think the music has always been the thing that drew us together. I’m lucky to have a husband that does the same thing. Sometimes we may not see each other all that much because he’s touring or we’re touring. I think he’s going to make it to some of the tour but he’s really busy at the moment with his own band.
Does he do the triathlon training with you?
He does a little bit. He likes cycling. He’s a good training partner.
When you tour, are you able to run and bicycle?
When we tour around Europe, normally I do take my bike. Our trip to the States is only four weeks and the space in the van is not that big, so if I brought a bike, I think I’d be quite unpopular. I’m just going to run. For me, it’s always a fun way to see new places. I can always nip out for a 30 minute run.
Do you know much about Philadelphia?
I need to know more. We’ve really been in-and-out every time we’ve played there. I’m really looking forward to exploring and seeing more of the city.