Simon York originates from Mansfield just North of Nottingham, but now resides in the County’s Capital after moving around for various different reasons. After dabbling in a couple of other groups, he set up a band in 2006 called Luxury Stranger. Luxury Stranger have now released two albums, the first being ‘Desolation’ which came out in 2008 and then a second album surfaced in 2010 called ‘Commitment and Discipline'. Since then they have issued a number of singles and EPs, including their recent ‘Face’ EP, but we wait in anticipation for a third offering to come out of the Luxury Stranger camp. By all accounts we won’t have to wait long as they are due into the studio early in the New Year.

Heavily influenced by the likes of Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk and even Michael Jackson, they are starting to pick up momentum and generate a lot of interest outside the confines of the East Midlands. Indeed, they have been hailed as the next big thing to come out of Nottingham. As anyone that has been fortunate to catch them live will verify, they are living up to a label that has also been bestowed to them as one of the best guitar bands around.

We caught up with the slightly elusive Simon over a couple of beers, and got a little deeper into the psyche of the man behind Luxury Stranger...

PB: Is Luxury Stranger your first project?

SY: Not the first project, no. It’s the current one. It’s actually been active since 2006 when I first wrote and recorded the ‘Desolation’ album. Shortly after that I got a live band together, and it went on and changed and grew and changed and grew a bit more.

PB: So, in that time you have written and recorded two albums of material?

SY: Yes, the first as we have said was ‘Desolation’, and then we had ‘Commitment & Discipline’. But in between that we did a single called ‘Precious for Evermore’. After ‘Commitment & Discipline’ we did the ‘Empty Man’ single, followed by the ‘Nothing Holy’ single and the ‘Face’ EP. Over the course of time I’ve been writing the third album. It’s now in its third version!

PB: It sounds like it has been hard work?

SY: Well, yeah. It’s weird really because around last April I moved into the city centre from living in West Bridgeford, in a little flat above a hairdresser’s. It was pretty cool, but a bit ironic really as I haven’t been to a hairdressers’ since 2001! I thought, “Sod it, I’ll just do it myself.”

Anyway, I moved into the centre last year into a much bigger place, and all of a sudden I got this writers’ block. And then it was like a tsunami. I was writing and chucking out songs left right and centre. This third album from Luxury Stranger has had one reincarnation, and then I’ve sort of moved away from those songs or the band didn’t have time to learn some of them or some other reason. The current version of the album has been a lot more within our timescale. We’ve had time to pick stuff up, and I’m feeling really energetic about it all. A lot of our fans have been on to Soundcloud, where we’ve put some demos up on there, and have been coming back with comments like, “We’re really feeling this.” So, times are good.

PB: So is Luxury Stranger your first, shall we say, serious project, your first band?

SY: Well...I used to be in a much as I like talking about music and I love it when people are interested in the band and the music and in what I’m doing.....sometimes people look at you like you are ‘gone out’ when you’re talking about stuff and you feel like you’ve got to sort of.....justify things. And it’s very rare that I actually like to tell people about the fact that I was in another band.

I was in another band, and we got picked up by Roadrunner Records. Now in this country they are a bit of a heavy metal outfit, but in Europe they were very big into electronica. They had a new Managing Director who used to work at Polydor, and he signed bands like Shed 7 and he wanted to bring in that kind of sound....that alternative Brit-Rock type of thing that was going on at that time. He picked us up along with a band called Drugstore, whose singer (Isabel Monteiro – Ed) was originally Brazilian, and a band called Bent. There was also another band called the Corelia who eventually became Franz Ferdinand. So, we were label mates with those bands.

During our stay a lot of industry nastiness went on. Eventually they kicked out the MD mainly because he was a go getter, and he was passionate and wasn’t a yes man. They basically got rid of all the bands he signed, and that was the end of that. The band was called Delirium, but we had to change the name a number of times due to the chap that took over. It was all cloak and dagger stuff. I think they thought that we were just a bunch of kids, but what they didn’t realise was that we actually knew a bit of stuff. Some of us had studied Music Business Law and such like. We had and still have a very good lawyer, and the advance that we got he made it non-returnable, and we walked away with a decent amount of money which kept us going for a while and it enabled me to move on.

When something like that happens and you’ve had this dream and you’ve worked at it, some people get disheartened and give up and go and find a proper job, but I found myself moving to Brighton and working on some solo work. I was working with the guy that managed the Levellers at the time, and I did a few showcases for record companies. I was doing a lot of soundtrack work as well. Shortly afterwards, I decided to take myself off to university for a bit.

PB: What were you studying?

SY: Contemporary Arts. Which was across-the-board stuff...Sonic, graphics, even sculpture. Whatever you wanted it to be. We did a 20 minute film. and I did the soundtrack to it, you know stuff like that. I met some very interesting people along the way. Some life-changing people too. It was not long after that that I thought, “I’ll get a band together.” I thought I couldn’t do it on my own, so I wrote and recorded 'Desolation' and got myself a band around it. It’s funny. We had a couple of rehearsals with the drummer and then with the bass player, and it soon became obvious that I was too organised for them.

PB: On your website it has a list of musicians that have played with Luxury Stranger, and there are quite a few there. I got to thinking that you must be either an awkward person to be with or very focused and organised?

SY: I think the problem is not so much being organised as being so driven. One of my old bass players said once that “Simon doesn’t drive. He is driven.” What he meant was was the fact that I have got so much to focus on that I don’t do the things that.....and I don’t mean to sound funny when I say this but...what ordinary people do. I never learnt to drive. I never learnt to swim. I didn’t do the little things because I was that focused on doing the big stuff.

Having said that the current line up we’ve got now is probably the most solid and secure we have ever had. The three of us are coming up now to around two years. I think they’ve got the understanding of what’s going on and this is what’s what. They actually like the fact that someone is there going, “Come on, lads. Let’s do this now” instead of going the “Ahh, in a minute” sort of thing. You do get bands where you get somebody that wants to do something but they are not necessarily outspoken or driven, and they sit there and think, “Well, he’s supposed to be the front man and shouldn’t he be pushing it? I get the feeling that the other Luxury Stranger members think, “This is great. We got someone who knows what they’re doing and gets on with it.”

PB: Do the band have anything to do with the song writing?

SY: If I’m honest I would say that I write about 90% of the material. But there are times when, say in rehearsal, that one of us will play something, and I’ll follow with a riff and will guide it in a Brian Eno sort of way. But most of it is just off the top of my head. I’ll have recorded it on my phone, and I’ll take it home, and lay it out and put some lyrics to it. We’ll probably bring it back and play it, and if it sounds right then that is okay, but if not then we’ll give it a miss. Don’t get me wrong! We’ve had times when I’ve written a song, and we’ve got together, and it doesn’t sound right.

PB: I was at a recent solo gig of yours at Spanky Van Dykes that you were enjoying yourself. You seemed a bit nervy at first, but soon got into it. Do you struggle to get to grips with playing solo when you’ve been with the band?

SY: If you’d have seen me two weeks before when I did my previous gig in Whitby with Miles Hunt, that would have been a completely different story. It was the first time I’d done a proper big show on my own without the band or anything, just me, for about ten years maybe. I realised how alone I was.

The weird thing was that our bass player was in the audience because we were out as Luxury Stranger the night afterwards. He came up because he likes the Wonder Stuff, and it is part of his back catalogue too. He was joking saying, “Why would I want to go and see Simon when I can just look over at him when he’s playing on stage?”. I think even he was surprised at how different it was, and it was a good exercise in a way because it meant me putting across exactly how much I do rely on the other guys. I think I came across more as how people see me off stage too. On stage the band is my release if you like, and people come and say, “Oh god, he’s really angry!”

PB: Would you say you become a different person with the band?

SY: The whole thing is theatre. I’m a character. Even sitting here talking to you I’m just playing a character. When I’m sitting at home I’m a different character. I don’t think there’s anybody ever actually themselves because if you were yourself you just wouldn’t be anything. You’re influenced by everything that’s going on around you, and you pick up on elements of people that you talk to. If you spend a lot of time with say, a best mate you pick up on their persona, and then when you talk to someone else sometimes you find yourself talking and behaving like them.

When I say that I’m not saying that I’m not being dishonest because every time I do a performance its complete honesty. With Luxury Stranger, that side of it is my release. The darkness and the anger and things that build up over, say, a week or a month or whatever. There have been times when I’ve got up and done a show and been in a very dark place, and people have come away thinking that it was going to be our last show, but it was just a case of me getting it all out. There’s even people that wouldn’t come and talk to me after a show because they thought i was this ogre or angst-up kind of freak. And then on the flip there’s people that come up and expect me to be all gung ho, and I’m right quiet because that is how I can be at times, and they have taken it that I’ve been a bit rude. I have had to have people around to say, "No, that’s what he’s like." I think I proper upset one of our bookers at one time until someone explained things.

PB: You mentioned earlier you had a bit of writers' block. How do you get into that situation and for someone that is so driven how did you deal with it?

SY: You find yourself coming up with utter drivel or you find yourself writing about things you know you’ve listened to before.

PB: What? Your stuff or other bands?

SY: Well, both sometimes. You end up playing the same riff over and over again from various songs that you have written. At that point I start thinking to myself, "Should I start getting in another guitarist to write the ‘flowery’ stuff, and so that I can concentrate more on the lyrics and the performance?" Then you start to think, "Well, that’s another ego to deal with."

PB: How long did you suffer with it?

'Nothing Holy' was written in 2011, and I remember it was the start of something happening. Luckily both of the songs on that I was able to co-write them with one of the band members which really helped to drive it. I think that’s why around that period we just put out singles, to be honest.

I also think another problem that did create that part of my life was that I wanted the band to be out there gigging so much that I didn’t have time to absorb things and translate feelings and stuff. I went through a period where I tried to create scenarios in order to get something interesting to write about. What I didn’t realise was the interesting stuff was already there. I am not saying that I am some boring halfwit that sits rokcing at home or anything like that. There was a lot of things going on but bizarrely I thought everybody does that, and looking back I think there is a lot of people that don’t do what I did, and I realised that there was some really silly things I was doing at that time. This year I’ve properly come right out of that period.

PB: After your sojourn to Brighton what was it that drove you to come back to Nottingham?

SY: Primarily the fact that I went back to university. So, it turned into a base for operations. I was living in Birmingham after I left Brighton and London for a little while.

Despite being born fourteen miles north and living up there, there has always been a massive thing going on in Nottingham, a great vibe. My dad had a record shop, and I grew up listening to all sorts of music, and I used to come into Nottingham and see all the different types of people knocking around that reflected that vibe.

PB: What sort of music were you listening to as a kid? I know you have done some performance art as well in the past.

SY: I did actually like Kraftwerk. I liked bits and bobs of Bowie. I was a very big Depeche Mode fan. I used to like Michael Jackson. I think everybody did at school. You were either a Michael Jackson fan or into Madonna. I liked a lot of the Doors stuff. As a little lad, I used to stand in front of the family and do shows like probably all kids did. I had a good knack of picking things up dead quick. At school they used to do a session when a peripatetic teacher would come round, and take a cross section of kids into another room, and do things to see what their reaction was like. I scored highly in that, and from that I decided to learn the violin. I started to learn from about eight years old. I wanted to start on grade one, but they said I was too advanced for it, so I started on grade two and before I knew it I was up to teaching standard. So from there I went on to study piano, drums and guitar. Although I can read and write music, I always learnt by ear and memory.

PB: What did you grow up listening to with your old man having a record shop?

SY: He was a big, big Bowie fan. There’d be some Earth, Wind and Fire. Stevie Wonder, 10CC, Kate Bush. I love Kate Bush. My dad’s got photos with her! He used to get a lot of tickets for gigs and backstage passes because he owned the record shop. My dad played piano. He used to stay at his aunties, and because he got bored he would play her piano. My great great grandfather was also a concert pianist.

PB: Do you draw influence from that kind of music in your own music?

SY: Yeah, I suppose so. As a writer and vocalist, I am heavily influenced by Martin Gore and David Bowie. As a guitarist, I am influenced by Will Sergeant of Echo and the Bunnymen and Robert Fripp, and I’m also into a lot of Pearl Jam stuff too along with Nirvana and Sonic Youth.

PB: That’s quite a broad spectrum really, then?

SY: It is but when you look at stuff you can sort of tie things back - Echo and the Bunnymen, for example, and Bowie and the Doors with a bit of psychedelia, and you can drag things over. Can you remember the family tree that John Peel used to do? It’s sort of like that, and I think that’s what I try to do. We had someone come to a gig once, and they said, "You sound like Editors." I remember saying, "I think you’ll find I’ve been doing this a bit longer than Editors, plus I’m more influenced by Joy Division." It's people’s perceptions of things.

PB: I know you are starting to get more and more bookings, and I noticed you are off to Europe and going to Germany.

SY: Yeah, Luxury Stranger are off to Germany and Belgium. It’s something I’ve been trying to get going with this current line up. We’ve done Europe a few times, and we’ve built a healthy following over there. I wouldn’t say its massive but its healthy. No disrespect to the English following, but it seems that in Europe they are a bit more receptive to our kind of music. They seem a little less spoon fed.

We had a guy come along because he came to see the main band. He used to follow them as a kid, and he took his daughter to show her a band that he used to like as a kid. They both ended up liking what we did and the next time we went over he was there, but his daughter couldn’t make it as she had got an au pair's job in the States, but he came and shook our hands and thanked us again and again because he said that what we did opened his eyes to other stuff out of the field of his work.

I kind of understood what he meant, and you do get a lot of people taking music that seriously. and it is their release. We have a guy here that comes from Louth, I think, and he follows us everywhere and said that doing that was his release, and he came to thank us and I said, "No, thank you."

PB: So, when can we listen to the new album then?

SY: (Laughs) Well, when it's recorded. I wanted to get the third album out this year. But songs weren’t learnt and some were discarded. I want to it get recorded early next year. I have spoken to the studio that I want to work in. But we got an offer from the people that work with Spear of Destiny. I’ve got the songs for it all ready to go. It’s just getting them learnt and recorded in some cases. There’s some stuff in there that’s quite dark, and then there’s some stuff that’s very very very commercial sounding, but when I say commercial I don’t mean poppy. It's radio friendly if you like. Personally I put it on the same level as when the Smiths first played Radio 1.

PB: Do you feel like you have to put that sort of element into it for it to be saleable or for it to be heard on radio?

SY: Didn’t the Cure do that? And that’s about the time they went pants! Well, in my mind anyway. That’s when you need to sit and take a real look at the band. It’s something I’ve dabbled in, but it’s not really relevant to this band. If you are good at what you do, you might have the ability to pull back your alternativeness of it and put in something a little more mainstream, but still knowing that you have the power to bring it back on the next track.

That is something that Depeche Mode are very good at. When you think about it, Depeche Mode were a boy band. When you look at the songs they were doing, they were a pop band. But then all of a sudden out of the blue they suddenly went all dark, but what the people who weren’t real fans didn’t know was that actually they were quite dark in the first place. The subject matter was already there. Even if you go back to ‘Speak and Spell’, which was written by Vince Clarke, there’s some very dark stuff in there, but it’s poppy stuff people dance to.

I think that’s the sort of stuff I’ve brought into what we are doing now. Like 'When the Lady Takes the Blame” for instance, we’ve played that a few times live and it's brought a smile to my face because people are dancing to the beat, and I’m thinking you really don’t know what this song's about! It’s the Lou Reed side coming out. It’s all nice and jolly, but hidden inside there’s a bit of nastiness in there. There’s a song I’ve just written for the album that’s very Buddy Holly and all sweet vocals, but when you hear the lyrics it’s quite dark in there. It’s very naughty.

PB: Thank you.

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