Amber Run: Interview
Amber Run enjoyed a rapid rise to success –signed by Sony Music they released a critically acclaimed debut album and the world seemed to be at their feet. However, what goes up must always come down and Amber Run were confronted by a severe reality check.
After the initial success of their debut album they ran into the infamous ‘difficult second album’ syndrome and they struggled to cope. The complications of creating the second album led to them leaving their record company and parting ways with their drummer - the murky world of self-doubt awaited them.
However, they found redemption in hard work and perseverance and eventually released their emotionally raw and nakedly honest second record, For a Moment I Was Lost. As a follow up, they are about to embark on a UK and European tour and we caught up with founding member, Joe Keogh to discuss the band’s journey so far, his struggles with depression, the importance of artistic integrity and his dream super-group.
Q. For a little colour, give us an insight into what you’ve been up to today.
Well, I’ve been looking at our tour budgets to make sure that we can afford to do the shows! I think it’s about time that that people realise that it’s not all fun and games. I’m kind of bored of just pretending to be happy to my family and friends and projecting a glamourous lifestyle. People need to know the truth! Haha
Q. Amber Run came together at university, how did you get involved with music and what influences did you have growing up?
I grew up in the suburbs of North west London and we had this unbelievable live music circuit in a place called High Wycombe so we’d just sit and play in the Nags Head and have all of these touring bands and local bands converging together. It was a hard-core scene with lots of heavy alternative rock. My background in music is nothing to do with being classically trained but through doing a disgusting amount of live shows!
I’d just go around that scene and watch and listen and participate with other people who just loved live music and it’s that live element which has such power – just a bunch of people in a room and just getting off on it. It’s a seductive energy – like a mob mentality but in a positive collective sense.
Q. You released your second album For a Moment I Was Lost earlier this year. You had left Sony Music and had expressed doubts about whether you would ever release a second record. Was this a case of ‘difficult second album’ syndrome and what can you tell us about this time?
The concept of the ‘difficult second album syndrome’ was something which I found kind of comforting because you realise that you’re not the first band to go through a difficult time and then you appreciate the certainty that you won’t be the last.
For me, initially, the whole time leading up to and including the writing and recording of the second album was a time filled with self-doubt. I was constantly looking over my shoulder asking why the first album did well and trying figure out whether we should copy that or change it and move onto something else?
Then we left our label and then the drummer left so then we had to ask whether we were good enough to continue. The thought process was like ‘if they’ve left us and don’t want to be a part of it then maybe we don’t have what it takes to be successful’. That doubt and that kind of uncertainty can be toxic to the creative process because you start second guessing integral things like the relationships you have with other band members and also the sound and the music you are making together.
Looking back now I realise that I was too bitter to see the woods for the trees in some of those situations. There are some things that I listen to lyrically on that second album that I wince to because it’s so so raw and so close to the bone. I really wanted to make a statement and not hide behind metaphor or symbolism and that was really exposing – especially at a time which was really difficult for us.
Q. Your songs are full of nakedly raw emotion - what is your approach to song-writing and do you find it to be a therapeutic process.
Song writing is definitely cathartic to me – especially in the moment. However, just as catharsis is a valuable consequence of expressing an emotion, it’s not a complete process. The emotion that led you to expressing yourself in song doesn’t disappear because you have written a song about it. It’s like a scab that you play with – the feelings are vented to a degree – healed to some extent but a scar remains.
However, what we do and what all music should do is to be enjoyed. Even if that means getting joy from someone expressing pain. Sometimes when you listen to someone else’s pain you can find perspective on your own.
Q. Lots of musicians have found there is pressure on them to be ‘commercially aware’ – especially when it concerns the second album. This must be difficult when all you want to do is write music and evolve as artists.
That feeling – the feeling of writing music and playing it together with your mates and (if you’re lucky enough) to travel the world doing just those things is what it’s all about. That buzz combined with the excitement of exploring the outer reaches of your own talent and capabilities is the only thing we wanted to consider. As soon as that process becomes muddied by other concerns is the time you run into difficulties. That’s why I look back and really appreciate the journey of the second album because it allowed us to come to terms with all of these issues and come out stronger and more united.
Q. Do you see these same the difficulties and pitfalls with friends in other bands that you grew up playing with?
There’s so many friends on the circuit that are in bands that haven’t ended up producing the second record. The pitfalls are manifold but you need to confront them – if you don’t, other problems start to emerge. Sadly, a lot of people I’ve been around end up gravitating towards the social side of the scene when really, they should be turning back into the music to find their way. Instead, they’ll turn to drugs or alcohol. I used to look at the ’27 club’ and think that they must have all been head cases but I can honestly see how that happens and how easily people get sucked into that world and become vulnerable to self-destruction.
Q. Your first album was acclaimed and with that comes a whole host of expectations about you as people. Musicians like Bill Ryder-Jones have expressed how early adult success contributed to feelings of anxiety and depression. What’s your personal take on this effect?
My immediate reaction to the early success was amazing. It was great getting attention, it was great having people blow smoke up your arse and saying we were the next big thing. That’s a lot of fun, I can’t lie to you.
However, after the initial reactions had all died down a bit, once the new buzz had slowed down and we were getting established and recognised - I have to be honest and say that we weren’t ready for it. Our trajectory was so quick and it all happened so seamlessly that we didn’t learn to be told ‘no’ until it was too late.
I did end up suffering from anxiety and depression and I know that whole situation contributed significantly to how I felt. I had this issue with the concept of being a failure and that has chased me for the last four years. I think that has a lot to do with how a (mild) success came very quickly and was taken away very quickly and you kind of get whiplash from that.
Q. Let’s finish up with something a little frivolous and light-hearted. You have one music related wish and you’re starting a five-member super-group - who is in your dream line up dead or alive?
I’d have Dave Grohl on the drums – I want Nirvana Grohl - proper grungy and trashy.
Then I reckon I’d have Paul McCartney because you just have to have a Beatle in their somewhere.
David Gilmour for the simple reason that it’s David Gilmour – I don’t think that requires any explanation.
Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead because he manages to do so much interesting stuff with all types of instruments and contraptions.
Frontman would have to be Freddie Mercury because he’s a legend and no one quite throws out a tune better than him.
Q. In an ideal world, what are Amber Run doing in five years’ time - what does the future hold?
I’d quite like a Mercury!
However, if we’re on our fourth or fifth record and playing to thousands of people around the world that would be great. I’d like to be happy in the fact that I’m making music and not go back to the anxious and depressive days I experienced writing the second record. I want to be happy and happy making music.
Autumn UK Tour
Friday 29th September – Bournemouth Old Fire Station
Saturday 30th September – Gloucester Guildhall
Monday 2nd October – Reading Sub 89
Tuesday 3rd October – Cambridge Junction
Wednesday 4th October – Brighton Concorde 2
Friday 6th October – Cardiff Tramshed
Saturday 7th October – Oxford O2 Academy
Sunday 8th October – Liverpool Hangar34
Tuesday 10th October – Wolverhampton Slade Rooms
Thursday 12th October – Edinburgh Liquid Room
Friday 13th October – Belfast Mandela Hall
Saturday 14th October – Dublin Whelans