“I’m still a part of ‘the scene’, and so I’ll give interviews and things like that. I don’t feel like I have a music career, though,” says Borrell

JOHNNY Borrell, frontman of Razorlight and now Zazou, can’t quite understand the level of interest in things he’s supposedly said and things he’s supposedly done.
Of course, on the release of Razorlight’s first album, Up All Night, Borrell supposedly said that if one were to compare the band’s debut with Bob Dylan’s, it was clear that while Dylan was “making the chips”, he was “drinking champagne”.
He’s supposedly ridden a Triumph motorbike through the London home he once shared with former girlfriend Kirsten Dunst.
He was supposedly an early member of The Libertines, before being kicked out for being too unreliable for a band that counted Pete Doherty as a member.
While there’s always been a touch of the rockstar to Borrell, he just can’t understand why people are interested: “Gosh, I don’t know. Space in newspapers has to be filled, I suppose.
“That’s the least egotistical way I can put it,” he says, speaking ahead of his Grand Social gig on Saturday, June 20.
Last year marked the tenth anniversary of Up All Night: a record which, combined with its self-titled follow-up, lifted Borrell and band from the indie pubs of Camden to sold-out arena shows and true crossover, mainstream success.
Along the way, Borrell became something of a divisive character. Appearing shirtless on the front cover of Vogue in his trademark skinny white jeans, dating Hollywood A-listers, and being known as having a bit of a mouth, gave journalists an easy caricature to play with.
He says, however, that his depiction in the press never concerned him: “When we first started, I was really excited for people to write about the band, and I remember that we had just played the Brixton Academy. That was a real dream of mine.
“The next day, there were reviews in The Independent and The Times. One said I was ‘diminutive’; the other said ‘lanky’. Neither was right – I’m 5’10”.
“From then, I said: ‘That’s [the press] not going to be a mirror for me’.”
Following the disappointing reaction to third album, Slipway Fires, Razorlight ultimately went on hiatus, with Borrell moving to France to work on material that formed the basis of solo debut, Borrell 1.
He was joined on the record by band, Zazou, a loose collective of French musicians who wouldn’t sound out of place backing Ry Cooder, or Dr John.
On Joshua Amrit, a bouncy pop song with a Shirelles-like melody, Borrell sings: “I got the money I need; I just need a train to hop”, almost pre-empting the record’s poor commercial performance – it sold 549 copies in its first week: “If I heard someone else sing that line, I’d despise it. I had to write it, though, because it was the truth.
“I was going down the motorway in France, driving an old car that I’d fixed up. Someone was going to scrap it. I didn’t have to answer to anyone; I had no debts, no commitments, no obligations.
“It was the first time I felt like that since I was 16,” he says.
He’s brought Zazou to Ireland for a mini-tour that, aside from his Grand Social date, also included stops in Cork and Newbridge.
He says that he’s “completely at ease with playing and existing”, and that the continued interest in his life continues to bemuse him: “Somehow, because I was in a band that made it big, I’m still a part of ‘the scene’, and so I’ll give interviews and things like that. I don’t feel like I have a music career, though.
“For me, I’m just in a band, and we just love playing. It makes no difference to me whether I ever sell another record. I don’t care,” says Borrell.
While commercial success is no longer a priority, he nevertheless enjoyed the peak of Razorlight’s fame, and the trappings it brought: “’Making it’ was a massive learning experience. I definitely don’t look back on it negatively.
“It was like being handed a golden key that opened a lot of doors, some of which had things I enjoyed inside. Until the age of 25 or 26, I think it’s right to not be too introspective, and just enjoy yourself.
“If at some stage, you don’t ask yourself where you’re going, you’ll flounder, though,” he says.
Borrell, now 35, with perhaps a brief, minor “flounder” behind him, is set to reform Razorlight this summer for a series of UK gigs.
He says that the proceeds will help fund a record label he’s establishing, and that he’s unlikely to get caught up in the indulgences of the band’s early days.
No more motorbikes in Hollywood stars’ living rooms: “I’ve actually got a motorbike in my living room now. I’m fixing it up; it’s in pieces. Well, it’s just a carburettor. Does that count?”