In February 2016, Amber Run were at their lowest ebb: dropped by their label, in a creative rut and one member down, following the departure of drummer Felix Archer. Cut to February 2017, and they’ll be releasing ‘For a Moment, I Was […]
In February 2016, Amber Run were at their lowest ebb: dropped by their label, in a creative rut and one member down, following the departure of drummer Felix Archer. Cut to February 2017, and they’ll be releasing ‘For a Moment, I Was Lost’, a second album documenting the struggle of their darkest moments, but also the triumph of emerging from the abyss.
The follow-up to 2015 debut ‘5AM’ is defined by torment, fear, anger and most crucially, progress. But to truly understand its themes, it’s important to revisit the band’s bleakest point, where they almost called it a day. Sitting down for the first time to inspect their wounds, Amber Run are more than forthcoming about the trials of their past two years. In fact, they don’t miss a beat. Nothing is off the record.
Frontman Joe Keogh recounts being knee-deep in the Brighton sea, “dazed”, on the brink of losing his mind, after suffering random anxiety attacks in the street. Pianist Henry Wyeth’s bandmates describe him as having been “as low as we’ve ever seen a human”. This partly stemmed from a struggle with their previous label. Following ‘5AM’, they were encouraged to “change perceptions”, to avoid the pitfalls of being an “inoffensive” band. But they weren’t given any guideline, just a vague brief. “These songs are great,” they were constantly told. But then interest began to wane, they stopped getting replies from those within the industry, and in January 2015 they received the inevitable phonecall from their manager, informing them that they’d been dropped. Straight after that, with “no warning signs whatsoever,” Archer quit the band. “We were in a desperate place,” admits Keogh. He remembers thinking, “‘Well, that’s the end of our band”.
But instead of caving in after receiving these huge bombshells, each remaining member asked themselves if they wanted to carry on. Individually, they came to the same conclusion: the songs they’d been working on were worth pursuing, and the band had a bigger purpose than ever. A eureka moment took place in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where all four decided to retreat as a means of rediscovering themselves. In this same remote spot, years back and shortly after forming, they used to write songs together. This time, music wasn’t even on the agenda. “We laughed solidly for four days, came back and started work,” says Keogh. “It was a clean slate.” From that point, they were reinvigorated. They knew they were going to make another record, regardless of label involvement and in spite of money troubles. For all the turmoil, a wave of bad events helped inspire Amber Run to take matters into their own hands.
Heading into 2017, addressing mental health issues is fortunately no longer a “taboo” subject. Bands are increasingly at ease with documenting their struggles, and there’s less of a general perception that life on the road is easy, all glitz and glamour. But that doesn’t mean this conversation doesn’t still have a long way to go. Amber Run are aware they don’t want to sound too despondent about their past. “Life could have been so much worse. We could have been doing the worst jobs on Earth,” Jones states. But at the same time, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the pressure and expectations heaped on bands, especially when – as in Amber Run’s case – they’re signed to a big money deal and promised the world on a plate. “If people actually knew that period, they wouldn’t see it as whinging,” Keogh says. “[But] people don’t wanna hear about
it. They don’t want to know about a struggle.” Jones agrees, joking: “They wanna see us having the time of our lives.” The truth is, everyone making music does it out of love and passion. And as soon as that process becomes plagued by false expectations, pressures and stresses, these feelings threaten to take over. “Everyone you meet wants to ask you what it’s like to be in a band,” begins Wyeth. “They expect that whole groupies, partying story. They don’t realise that you’re quite often sitting on a sofa, in your tracksuit bottoms, cold, alone, looking at the floor.”
What’s remarkable about ‘For a Moment, I Was Lost’ is how it documents those feelings without being overbearing. ‘Haze’ is a brilliantly crystallised example. Channelled through a vocoder, Keogh sings about being “carried on the back of a wave of gloom” and “staring at blank walls,” emotion lining every seam. ‘No Answers’ channels creative frustrations into a Mogwai-like wall of noise. ‘Stranger’ is the light at the other side, a hopeful antidote: “Sometimes you don’t get what you need, but sometimes loves comes easily.” By laying bare every hardship of the past few years, it’s a record that goes beyond the promise of ‘5AM’, telling its captivating story in grizzly detail.
Best of all, it’s the sound of a band still focused on their initial goal: building something significant and creating a career that will last. Bassist Tom Sperring cites Elbow and The National as bands who took time to truly reach their peak, while staying true to themselves. “There’s eloquence and there’s artistry,” he says. Keogh is in agreement. “That’s what we’re striving for now. We used to say it would take until our third or fourth album, but I don’t think we quite understood the gravitas of what we were saying. Only now, after seeing the turmoil… You can see where Guy Garvey and The National’s lyrics come from. You can hear that disappointment. And I feel like we can really tap into that as well. We can do it now.”
The clue is in ‘For a Moment, I Was Lost’’s title, but Amber Run’s struggles were a blip on the radar: a moment. Today’s agenda is all about next steps and progression. ““A moment” alludes to the next step, which is what this is,” states Keogh. “That’s literally how we felt. We were lost for months. And then we woke up.” Now, they’re on a label built from a foundation of mutual respect (“They give us their opinions. We give them ours”), chomping at the bit to finally get these songs on the road. “I cannot wait to jump into the crowd and windmill, man. Cut off my hair and start wearing basketball shorts,” jokes Keogh. But his exaggeration is indicative of where Amber Run are at today: full of renewed enthusiasm for what they do, at ease with the music they make and ready for the next step. Their current headspace is an inconceivable distance away from what it was a few months back. “This album is such an unbelieveable release of adrenaline and energy,” says Keogh. “And I still totally believe we’ll get to where we wanna be – selling loads of records, headlining festivals. The same ambition’s still there. But we understand the work that has to go into that. And we have a means of doing that, now.”
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