It used to be that dating someone in your band could only lead to headaches, the type no amount of Vicodin could silence. Forming a band with a sibling was almost as volatile a combination too just ask Oasis. These days, though, sharing a bed or DNA with your bandmates seems the surest way to top the charts, from the Futureheads to Arcade Fire. But what about a band that has siblings and lovers... like British trio the Subways? Forget that two of the band members are still teenagers or that guitarist/vocalist Billy Lunn and drummer Josh Morgan grew up under the same roof ("Lunn" being their mother's maiden name). Lunn's been engaged to bassist Charlotte Cooper for the past four years. But, as Cooper recently told New Times, the Subways couldn't operate any other way.
"This is how we learned how to play," Cooper says on the phone from her home in Hertfordshire, semi-distracted by World Cup soccer (we know, football). "It couldn't be any other way. I don't think I could perform without Billy and Josh being there."
For the third time since December, the Subways are back in the States, touring to promote their debut disc, Young for Eternity, an album that revels in its equally diverse influences the mopey grunge-rock of Nirvana, the bluesy garage sounds of the White Stripes, and the plaintive Britpop of Oasis. For a first effort, it's a remarkable accomplishment, especially considering the band's origin.
Lunn was 15 at the time, while Cooper was only 13. (Lunn's now 21, Cooper and Morgan 19.) Suffering from love at first sight, the pair quickly became inseparable. "We've known we were going to be together forever, right from the start," Cooper says. Coming from her lips, it sounds more like a factual certainty than a mere case of childish abandon.
Like many a young, music-loving Brit, Lunn discovered Oasis' megahit "Supersonic" and wasted no time in picking up a guitar. Soon, he'd cajoled his brother into taking up the drums. All that was needed was someone to play bass. And because Lunn and Cooper spent all their time together anyway, Lunn decided to teach her a little something about rock 'n' roll.
"He played me the first rock song I ever heard, really," Cooper admits. Somehow, the wonders of classical flute and piano, both of which she grew up playing, had distracted her from what every other kid in the free world was listening to. "He sat me down and said, 'This is Nirvana's "About a Girl." This is the album check it out. '" It was the first song Cooper learned to play on the bass.
"It seemed like a whole new world to me," she says. "There's so much stuff I missed out on."
And just like that, the Subways were born in 2002. Not surprisingly, the early days proved an uphill battle for the young trio, none of whom were old enough to drink. Still in high school at the time, the band paid its dues playing around London, where it'd hit any shitty dive it could. That's not to say the band didn't have fun doing it. "We loved playing the small, dirty venues," Cooper says, "even if there were only ten people."
Slowly, the Subways' buzz grew louder thanks in part to their Arctic Monkeys-like Internet whoring and the shows grew bigger. And then, almost by accident, the Subways ended up becoming the first unsigned band ever to play the Glastonbury Festival. They went from playing rinky-dink bar shows to performing in front of 10,000 screaming fans.
Ironically, Cooper, who says she was "really, really shy" in high school, was anything but by the time she hit the stage. These days, she looks every bit the part of the "Rock & Roll Queen," as Lunn calls her on one of the album's most popular tracks.
"When we first started playing, it was Billy who talked me into getting on stage," Cooper says. "But after a while, you start getting comfortable. You start moving around then. Now I can't even stand still on stage. If I stand still, it's almost like I can't play. Rock completely changed me as a person."
But she's not the only one. At this point, the tight-knit trio seems inextricably bound the odd story of brothers and lovers making music and getting along. If Oasis is a dramatic tale of sibling rivalry, the Subways are a romantic comedy. "Hopefully, with a happy ending," Cooper says.
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