The Subways: coming back, coming out, and why the music industry is better than it used to be

The Subways studio portrait
(Image credit: Laura Lewis)

Since their last album (2015’s The Subways), singer/guitarist Billy Lunn has gone to university, been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, grappled with alcohol problems and come out as bisexual. 

Together with bassist/singer Charlotte Cooper and new drummer Camille Phillips, he’s poured much of this into the band’s new album Uncertain Joys, a kaleidoscope of complex subjects wrapped in riffy rock and synth and pop textures.


You stepped away from band life to study English at Cambridge. What was it like swapping tour buses for libraries? 

I did start to go a little stir-crazy. I think I realised how necessary it is for me being in a band, making music, being on tour and going through this very carnivalesque experience every night. But it was time that I relished as well; I could fully immerse myself in the appreciation of music. I decided to experiment with instrumentation and fell deeply in love with the Roland Juno-60 [synthesiser]. 

Black Wax was recorded with a guitar made of wood from the bar at The Square in Harlow, where The Subways played their first gig

We had so many incredible nights there, both playing and as audience members. It was reduced to a pile of rubble so the council could build luxury flats which, notably, have not yet been built. So I’m proud of that song, but every time I start that riff my heart breaks a little. 

There are some big personal truths in Uncertain Joys

That’s something pop and rock is so exceptional at doing, finding difficult subjects and packaging them so other people will be hooked. While it [coming out] was a liberating experience, it was also really difficult because I didn’t know how to talk about it to my family, my wife, my friends. So music felt like the right vehicle for me to explore that. I decided to look back at those moments where I was tussling with a sense of my bisexuality.

You’ve talked about how very masculine the industry was when the band started. What was it like for you? 

It was so toxic. Until a couple of years ago, Charlotte sometimes would be the only woman on stage for the whole festival. She was surrounded by a mind-set that was so archaic. The fact that so many women, people of colour and LGBTQIA+ community members are now flourishing in the music industry, it’s so beautiful, but at the same time I’m so unhappy it didn’t happen during my formative years. 

And that was happening at the height of the 00s guitar wave, one of rock’s last mainstream moments. 

I remember hearing guitars everywhere. Rock was so prevalent. It was a big, beautiful tumultuous wave. 

Charlotte has been your bandmate for twenty years, she was your girlfriend in The Subways’ early days. 

We split up between two sessions for our second record, All Or Nothing. Both of us were struggling with the prospect of breaking up, but knowing it had to happen. By the time we finished that record we were very happy, in happy relationships apart from each other, but so in love with what we still had together – which was making music together.

Uncertain Joys is out now via Alcopop!

Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.