In Conversation with The Amazons
The Amazons are having a great few weeks, supporting rock giants Royal Blood on their UK-wide arena tour, dropping their new single, ‘Bloodrush’, from their upcoming album, and announcing their own headline tour later on this year.
Fresh from playing Leeds First Direct Arena the night before, Matt Thomson, the lead singer, spoke to the Mancunion.
He answers the Zoom call in large-framed glasses and what looks like, from the shoulders up, a signature cool jacket. You can’t tell that he’s feeling “battered and bruised” from last night’s gig, one of three in Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds that he says were the “three rowdiest” shows in the tour.
The band included two songs from their upcoming album How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? in their set, which has a lighter sound than their previous discography. I’m keen to hear about the fact that it’s set to be their “most joyous album” yet, and what’s brought about this shift.
“We loved making our last record, but I felt there was something missing at the end of the process. And we started 2020 with a lot of music that we cut because it just didn’t work sonically.
“I had a couple of moments, little epiphanies, when me and my girlfriend were driving through the desert on a road trip and screaming at the top of our lungs to U2 or Coldplay or whatever the f*ck it was. And I was thinking, dude, this is it. It doesn’t matter about being cool or trends or whatever – it’s about music that connects with people and makes you want to sing at the top of your lungs whilst you’re driving.
“I wanted to channel that through our song writing a little bit more, and just create something that was sonically and lyrically a little bit more hopeful and uplifting. The best songs that are the most euphoric, the ones that acknowledge the darkness in the human experience. I felt, after the last two years, that instead of wallowing in the darkness, I wanted us to make a record that kind of just fought against it. It was cathartic in that it was uplifting, even though it all seemed a little bit hopeless at times.”
So the pandemic, it seems, has inspired or maybe forced the band’s new sound. But what inspired the lyrics?
It’s quite sweet really. Matt, who lives in Brighton, and his Los Angeles-based girlfriend have been navigating a long-distance relationship for the last few years, and with the onset of the pandemic that only got harder, separating them for up to seven months at times.
“I was writing songs on the side just to communicate with my girlfriend. After a while, WhatsApps and Facetime and letters can only go so far, and I was wondering what I could do to bridge the gap and communicate stuff that I find hard to put in words. And what I do is write songs. So these songs started emerging.
“We made this record based on navigating how you love someone when they’re physically not with you, when they’re absent – whether they’re six thousand miles away, or they’ve passed on, or they’re just down the street.”
Geography seems to play a big part in inspiring The Amazons music, then – their last album, Future Dust, was written when the band were holed up at Tree Tops in Three Cliffs Bay, Wales, and it sounds like How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? wouldn’t exist without the 5,500 miles between Brighton and Los Angeles. It’s not something Matt has considered before, but it turns out he has a penchant for the geographical.
“I started collecting maps in lockdown. In Brighton there’s an amazing vintage ‘bits and bobs’ shop called Snoopers Paradise, where they have all of these incredible vintage maps. And while everyone was in quarantine, locked down, my fascination for maps and planning adventures and journeys only grew. Literally the last thing we did as a band before going into lockdown was a seven/ eight week US tour where we went across the entire country – long, long drives; open roads; big expanses. I think that really influenced us a lot musically.”
That’s not the only US influence on the new album; one of the songs on How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? is co-written by American singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers.
“That was definitely the best kind of happy accident. We were hanging out at the end of 2020, in Los Angeles, at her house. I had had this verse for a song called ‘Say It Again’ for years – I’m telling you, years – just a verse and this acoustic guitar thing. And when we hang out we just talk music and inspirations and play each other music. There was a guitar on the side while we were hanging out, while we were vibing off Daniel Lanois-produced records – U2, Emmylou Harris, [Bob] Dylan – and I just got this idea.
“Sometimes I get to dead ends on my own with writing. Sometimes I need the boys in the band to help me unlock the next room, open the door. This time, it was Maggie – I played the kind-of verse I had, and I got to the end, but I didn’t know where to go for the chorus. And she just started singing. So I got my phone out and immediately started recording, because it was instant, just beautiful and catchy and melodic and very emotive.”
Rogers isn’t the only music star The Amazons have been cavorting with; the last few weeks have been spent on tour with rock two piece Royal Blood. I’m not sure if he’s just saying this because I’m from The Mancunion, but Matt immediately gushes about Manchester when I ask about tour highlights.
“We’ve always had a real relationship with Manchester as a band. They’ve taken us under their wing really and we’ve never felt like outsiders in Manchester. To be able to play Night and Day Cafe, to Soup Kitchen to The Deaf Institute (that was incredible!) – to now playing the arena… We’ve been incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity by Royal Blood. It’s been a real ride.
“It’s definitely also been a challenge at times to adjust to the groove of touring. We’ve not done this for two and a half years, and then we have to jump in a tour bus and do these arenas and act like nothing’s happened! We’re just trying to get into the groove and remember how to do it. Only thing is that you’re remembering how to do it in front of 15,000 people every night, so we knew it was going to be a thrill – all good adventures have highs and lows, really. And it certainly has had that. But ultimately, it’s been one of the best tours that we’ve been on as The Amazons. As I said, Royal Blood have been the most friendly, welcoming, warm dudes, so yeah, we’re incredibly lucky.”
The tour with Royal Blood seems a good omen for things to come; the crowd at the AO Arena in Manchester already knew the words to ‘Bloodrush’, and there was a good reaction when the band played ‘Ready For Something’, an as-yet-unreleased tune from the new album.
“The response to ‘Bloodrush’ has been awesome. We saw some people singing it, especially over the last three days in Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester, which is a real thrill.”
Fans are already loving the new songs, then, but Matt doesn’t want to rush releasing singles from How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? before its September release.
“I think it’s important that we give a bit of time to set the scene and the context for the record to arrive. As you said at the beginning, it is a little bit of a departure from our previous sound. And we’re aware of that – ‘Bloodrush’ as the first thing from this record and ‘Mother’ from the last record are really different. But I think they’re both definitely identifiable as us, and I think people who listen to us can see that it’s genuine and it comes from the heart.
It seems like he wants to draw the whole process out, to really enjoy the build up of festival season, and teasing the album before its eventual release and subsequent tour.
“The record in September, our tour, returning to the cities that we’ve just played [in April] in October and doing it on our own with a whole new album to play is really, really, really exciting. And then we’re doing a bunch of festivals over the summer – more locally to Manchester, we’re doing Neighbourhood Festival in Warrington, which we’ve always had great times at.
“Basically when it comes to being in a band, touring and putting out music is what you live for!”
It appears they will be releasing some exciting music videos over the next few months too, having posted behind the scenes snaps from a shoot on Instagram recently in which bass guitarist Elliot is brandishing a knife on one slide, and slow dances with guitarist Chris in a ring of fire on another.
“We had an epiphany. We’ve realised that [making a music video] should from now on definitely involve fire and knives.”
He’s joking, of course.
“I don’t want to give too much away, but we worked with a great director called James Slater. He’s done some incredible videos for Jamie T and The Coral – music videos that don’t necessarily take themselves too seriously but are still cool and cinematic. We had a good few treatments for this one because so many directors interpreted ‘Bloodrush’ in so many different ways, which was really exciting. But it was James Slater’s idea that just got us laughing, it was just basically putting the band in weird situations, which I love. I haven’t seen an edit yet, but I’m really excited.
“Our relationship with the music videos has always evolved as the band’s grown, and I think now we ultimately just want to have fun, because when we do it’s contagious, and it comes through the screen and the audience will have fun too!”
And it seems that the band do have fun, even after being together for almost a decade now. What’s their secret to making a band last, and keeping the spark alive after all these years?
“That’s also been a process. We’ve grown into recognising what’s important and what isn’t. There’s definitely tours where you get out of the van and you just don’t talk to each other. You just go in completely separate directions. And it’s always a challenge, because you’re trying to conduct functional relationships with no sleep, probably hungover, stressed, because the gig needs to be awesome.
“Sometimes it gets to the point on tours where even someone’s breathing annoys you, and you’re like, can you not? Or, like, the way you’re looking at your potatoes mate, that’s f*cking pissing me off. So that’s hard to navigate!
“I think we’ve been on our own personal journeys too. The last two years of not seeing each other has meant we’ve grown as people, and we’ve recognised that – this is us, and we’re in this together. And we hug each other more now. I think the chemicals that are involved with skin contact get into our psyches and make us like each other more.”
It’s just like marriage, then.
Speaking of personal development, the band’s style has evolved over the years, and they seem to have developed a bit of a uniform of jeans and cool customised jackets for their gigs. Apart from Joe, the drummer, who has sported a customised The Amazons boilersuit during their tour with Royal Blood.
“Every part and every facet of this band has developed and been on a journey – we most certainly haven’t nailed it from the beginning. I remember when Joe joined the band, when it was me, Elliot and Chris, in like 2013 or 2014. And we were like, dude, you can join the band, but you’ve got to get some black skinny jeans, and you’ve got to get a jacket that looks like this buddy, because you’re this ain’t working, and in band pictures we need to look cohesive.
“I’ve always loved bands that tell the story of the record and their music and the era that they’re in – the creative journey – in lots of different ways, whether it’s music videos, the music of course, the artwork, and also what they wear onstage. Bands like Arcade Fire or Coldplay!
“The How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? wardrobe is still in creative mode at the moment. We’re creating it as we go. There’s this jacket, actually, that I wore over the tour, this blue workwear jacket that I put loads of patches on. All the patches that I put on it were all sourced from America and Europe, from the last two tours we did before COVID, because for the first tour back I wanted to have a tribute to the return to live music, just to tell the story of the band.”
The Amazons have a great few months ahead of them, and, aside from the release of How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me?, it seems that we should be anticipating the coolest jackets yet.
How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? is out on the 2nd September 2022 on Fiction Records. You can preorder the album here, listen to ‘Bloodrush’ here, and find them on Instagram here.
Matt’s words have been edited for clarity.