Interview: Amber Run

On Wednesday I headed over to East London to meet Amber Run before their gig at the Sebright Arms. I arrived a bit early so I took the liberty of enjoying a pint of Camden Hells in the bar while I waited for Will Driscoll, Tour Manager, to appear. Most of the way through drinking it a guy emerged from the basement venue holding his phone like a divining rod and looking a bit lost.

“Will ?” I asked.

“Yeah man” came the surprised reply.

We agreed that I would come downstairs to meet the band and Will headed off to try and find a mobile signal while I returned to my pint. Then Will Driscoll turned up.

Downstairs I became reacquainted with the first Will, guitarist Will Jones, and was introduced to the rest of the group plus Manager Jonathan Morley. Confusion solved, we took advantage of the time before soundcheck to relax in a corner of the bar upstairs and made with the questions.

full line-up

At times I wondered if the audio would survive the restless energy of drummer Felix Archer, hands never still, hammering away at the candle wax on our table. And seated at the end, keyboardist Henry Wyeth was also diverting tension by rearranging the label on a ketchup bottle. It wasn’t an overwhelming feeling but you could sense a band in the early stages of preparing themselves for the gig to come, beginning to get fidgety, wanting to get on with doing the thing they love, impatient waiting for it. As Henry said later on when we headed into soundcheck, while he can recall clearly the nerves of taking on open mic nights on his own, there’s no fear when they’re together.

Amber Run are back in Hoxton for the second time in a week having already played at a Gold Dust night at the Bar & Grill. Having thought I’d never been here before, something singer Joshua (Joe) Keogh wryly gets “up in arms about”, I realise that I have, to see Voxtrot – their demise rued by Amber Run as much as me – at that very same venue.

The band have been living together since September, when “everything started kicking off”, moving into a house in Nottingham in Lenton, a heavily student area of the town, shortly before taking the decision to defer their degrees. As Joe explains, this was something they really felt they had to:

“We just thought, ‘we’ve been given a real opportunity’, to do something that we really want to do. So … [in not doing it] we’d be letting ourselves down and also kind of, loads of other bands that don’t get the same kind of [chance]. We’ve been given a real leg-up and to go in half-arsed, it wouldn’t be right.”

For Henry it’s “the time to do it. We might not be able to have this opportunity later on but you can go to uni anytime. It’s a no-brainer.”  Certainly signing to RCA Victor for the release of their next single “Heaven” is (we hope) going to be a major game-changer for them. “Heaven” is out on 1 December and you can catch the video here:

In some ways it’s a bewildering time to be trying to catch and assess new music with the ongoing proliferation of webzines, blogs, streaming sites, internet radio stations and the furious pace of social media. It’s also hard for the bands, trying to keep up with all the various avenues for promotion and paying attention to the extra and more-immediate demands for interaction that can be involved. But the voluble Will Jones is pretty upbeat about the advantages that all these means can offer a band:

“All of it gives easy access to fans. Twitter is definitely good for your public image, for building personality around the band because you can tweet about whatever you want. Facebook is sort of official news but with Twitter you can strike up a conversation with people.”

For Joe it’s an “amazing thing that so many people now have the opportunity to record music so cheaply. But when it comes to getting your music heard or being a band who are really trying to push for a career it’s possible to get lost in it.” He sees a major challenge for smaller bands when bigger acts are able to employ enough people to post “50 times a day or more and taking everyone’s eye” but even having signed a deal, Amber Run still believe it to be really important to be in control of it all.

I asked them how they think their rise has come about; they feel it has to have a certain amount to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time. That said, they are grateful for the opportunities that they have been given: for example the chance to play at Reading Festival, generated from the exposure given to them by Dean Jackson (BBC Radio Nottingham). Even the performance at Reading, which they “worked really, really hard for” Will says “could have been better” but the “vibe was right, the crowd was good, the day was nice, shit just [fell] into place really really well !” They do emphasise that whatever role luck might have played they, like so many others, are putting an enormous amount of effort into rehearsing and being as good as they can be. That hard work is underpinned by what Joe sees as “self-belief”. Getting to where they are now “was never not going to happen” it was always the next bit, “starting to connect with people, not just writing the songs” that was going to be the challenge, to take it a stage further.

Henry Wyeth as Ryan Gosling

The boys are also very complimentary about the roles played by their manager Jonathan Morley who “knows a lot of people…” and producer Sam Winfield, effectively the sixth member of the band.  Sam’s also the producer for As Elephants Are, who join Amber Run on tonight’s bill and provide a momentary interruption as they arrive. They’ve known Sam for some time, having met him when he was working as an intern at the first studios they used (in a previous band). They’ve been going back ever since because “they love the product.”

When it comes to songwriting and production, it might begin with Joe but they “all chip in and either [they’re] all there or none of [them] is there”. Everyone brings their individual strengths to the creation of their music and they all “build it together.” I wonder whether they tend to take the bones of the track away to work on it but Henry explains that it doesn’t quite work like that:

“What it is, for me anyway, is I listen to the track to the point where I’m singing it in my head, and it’s easier then (instead of listening to someone play it) to think about how it could sound. If I’m hearing it in my head then it’s easier to be able to see a huge bass part here, or a guitar there. And then we all come together [with our ideas.]”

We talked for a while then about how things might change for them over time, how the recording process might evolve as they learn more and know more about what they want, individually and collectively. But they’re also very consciously trying to change and very willing to experiment – not necessarily something outrageous, it might just be something as small as Will changing to metal plectrums. Bassist Tomas Sperring understands the compliments they have been getting through comparisons but it’s also misleading: “we get the whole Mumford & Sons link which is obviously very flattering but [people] also say ‘oh there’s harmonies, they’re like the Beach Boys’’; even if those descriptions might once have given a clue to their sound, already they listen back to single “Noah” and it “sounds nothing like what we’re writing now”.

On the possibility of recording an album I ask whether or not they even think a full-length recording is worthwhile in this day and age. Joe’s response is a very affirmative yes, “even if it’s just for us”, because “albums are the only way to record and do music.” That might be something that begins in January and for Tomas “it’s a hugely exciting chance to be the most creative you have been in your entire life.” Will says that although there are certain areas of music, like House, that don’t suit, or don’t work best in an album format, Amber Run “ are definitely an album band in that we write a lot of songs and write singles, but our favourite songs are album tracks.” They may already have mapped some of an album, according to Will. He compares tracklisting to set listing, describes the closing five songs of their live set as “perfection” together as a group of songs, and confidently pronounces “oh yeah, we’ve got an album closer.” “There’s a song called “See You Soon” that we have taken as far as we can go in terms of its massive sound” and which is proving a firm fan favourite on tour.

As the interview draws to a close Henry’s family arrive. It’s not necessarily a regular occurrence, family coming to see them perform, although there were folks-a-plenty at their orchestra-backed Theatre Royal concert earlier this year: “a good one for the parents, not very noisy” says Will; “all-seated, easy on the back” quips Tomas. It’s clear that they’re all very grateful for the support they’ve received, “they put their trust in me when I said, right I’m leaving Uni now”, says Henry. Joe finishes things off, grinning, “they brought us up on music, so if they didn’t want it to happen, they shouldn’t have done it !”


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