There's no need to be an asshole
Once was a time that The Columbia Hotel was it – London’s premier rock’n’roll roadhouse. If you were a band and you weren’t staying here, in the five converted regency townhouses on Hyde Park’s northern perimeter, you were either doing something very wrong or so very right that you no longer needed to take advantage of the hotel’s scrimper rates. At The Columbia breakfast started at 10am. Alcohol was served around the clock. Oasis were eventually banned for throwing glasses out of the window and onto cars below, one of which happened to belong to the hotel manager. But that kind of behaviour doesn’t go on here anymore, and hasn’t done for some years. London’s rock’n’roll hotel now, if indeed it still has one, is K West, a couple of miles down the road in the far less lustrous area of Shepherd’s Bush.
The Columbia inverted, K West looks like a moulded concrete Wreck Centre with a branch of Foxton’s installed in the ground floor. But inside it’s no nonsense modernity: glass tops and glacial, white space that tells you your bottle of beer is going to cost £6 even before Sir is presented his bill on a miniature silver dish. On Lancaster Gate, a little off white from decades of London fumes, The Columbia still looks magnificent and grand, its entrance beneath thick, thrusting pillars. Of course where K West combines a council estate facade with such a high-end, luxurious interior, The Columbia’s frontage can only ever disappoint once inside. Foxygen arrived here an hour ago from Paris, and as a Californian band so happily inspired by the music of the late 1960s it seems fitting that they should choose to stay in a place as out of time and out of taste as this.
We wait for the lift but it never comes, nor looks like it ever will – the LCD screen flickers as it tries to spell out floor numbers but it never quite manages to muster a decipherable digit. On the sweeping stairs (threadbare, tears patched by gaffer tape, but sweeping nonetheless) there is a huge vase full of dried flowers that have seen better days. They might not have started off dried, in fact. When we finally reach room 304, having managed to pass not one single hotel guest (a trend that will continue for our entire visit), I half expect to be greeted by a rotting woman in the bathtub. “Hey, I’m Rado,” says the wire-haired, band-on-the-road-thin young man who answers the door. “It’s a bit Shining here, isn’t it?”
Rado (first name Jonathan) is one half of Foxygen, one fifth when performing on stage. Drummer Sam introduces himself while Rado puts in a call to band singer and other one half/one fifth Sam France who soon bounds into the greying suite with bassist Justin and backing singer Lizzy. France is straight to our photo shoot, offering sunglasses on or off and the same with his vintage yeti jacket. Rado looks a little more ill at ease with this side of things but comes alive in interview mode. The pair, close since a very young age and surely no older than 22 now, occasionally bicker, as if they’re working on a full-blown Mick’n’Keef affair. No doubt they’d love that. Rado might just be the band’s musical genius, while France – blasé in conversation and a pantomime drug casualty on stage – is definitely the group’s showman. At New York showcase CMJ last year France emptied a can of Coke on Rado’s curls after calling him a hipster, something of a major slight in the Foxygen camp. Our interview takes place the following morning in the back of two black cabs and on two cold pavements as I tow France and Rado from one BBC obligation to the next.