Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t dead, so The Amazons don’t need to save it
In a year where rock’s status is as contested as ever, The Amazons put out one of the genre’s best albums - and proving that the light is still shining.
Header photo and all in-article photos by Jeff Andersen Jr.
Rock music’s place in commercial pop culture is complicated, and it has been for years. In the UK, the closest to a rock song within the year’s highest-selling singles thus far is from Panic! At The Disco - at number 28, no less - and scanning through end-of-year charts for the last decade wields similar results. At festivals like Reading & Leeds - once-institutions for born-and-bred UK rock - headliners like Foo Fighters and Kasabian and gradually being phased out in favour of your Post Malone’s and Billie Eilish’s, while at Glastonbury, The Killers and The Cure - two bands rock-adjacent, although not definitively ‘rock’ per-say - were outnumbered by Kylie, Janet Jackson and Stormzy.
In music media, the sensationalism of rock’s dying breath plagues artists who are even proving the exact opposite. When a musician - regardless of their native genre - shares a throwaway comment that rock isn’t as popular as it used to be, music magazines - especially those who built extensive audiences from the genre’s once-dominance - splash it across their social media platforms: ‘“Rock is dead,” declares mid-tier dance music act!’. Or, when a musician - most likely an intelligent one - shares a nuanced take on changing commercial taste, they bark up another tree: ‘We asked this rock band from the 90s what they think of rap music!’
The Amazons are a group being caught right in the middle of the madness, being a rock band birthed out of an area - Reading - where rock music has always proved its dominance. Their debut album, 2017’s self-titled, brought questions of whether The Amazons could reignite the fire beneath rock music, and when the album became somewhat of a commercial success (it’s a top ten-charting record in the UK), the conversation quickly steered into headlines like “Meet The Amazons, the band saving rock music one song at a time.”
As bands including Fleetwood Mac blare through the speakers of Brisbane pub The Wickham, The Amazons - lead vocalist Matt Thomson, guitarist Chris Alderton, bassist Elliot Briggs and drummer Joe Emmett - wonder if rock music is actually ‘dead’. After all, it is something that brought the group all the way to Australia for a tour which shortly after its quick run of dates, will take the group through the US - including Austin City Limits - and then into Europe. We speak over beers and burgers for almost an hour, and an absolutely no point does it sound like rock music is dying. In fact, it begins to sound like anything but.
On their second album, May’s Future Dust, The Amazons embraced their rock bloodlines (“No Reading Festival, no Amazons,” is a quote that’s come to define the band) and the shadings of which was presented across their debut album’s heavier moments. On Future Dust, the stand-out sounds of their debut album - In My Mind, Black Magic - are spread across an entire eleven tracks that sees their ‘indie-rock’ labelling reduced to nothing but a glimpse in the past; a glimpse they’re wanting to shake off. “I think we were bothered by being called an indie band, it just didn't feel like us,” says Matt, asked what brought on the album’s heavier pace. “There's a lot of indie bands around and we like a lot of indie bands, but we don't feel any kind of commonality with them really, aside from the fact that we all base our music off the guitar.”
Take Mother, for example, the album-opening highlight that brings stadium-sized drum breaks plucked straight from the great rockers of the 70s - albeit brought forward into 2019 - together with bluesy twangs that on Doubt It, take a turn into the darker side; The Amazons spreading their maximalist rock over a slow-burning, stomping beat. While touches of their debut album shine through Future Dust’s most subtle moments, it’s an entirely different beast - and one they’re likely to look back on a bit more strongly. “I think we had a healthy disrespect for our first record. We were very grateful for how far we got with it, but in terms of listening back to it, there's a lot of grimacing and eye-rolling,” explains Matt. “It's your first crack at something and you don't want that to represent the band for its life.”
So what do The Amazons want to be represented by? Here, in our latest feature interview, we talk to The Amazons about the lessons learned from their debut album, how they applied it to album number two – Future Dust – and how it’s defining their ideas for the future. Revisit Future Dust below, and dive in:
I know recording your debut album can bring a lot of challenges, and I know it's a thing a lot of people learn from. For you guys, however, it feels like it was a grand success that was quite critically and commercially well-received. Did you feel any pressure to replicate that moving into a second album?
Matt: I think we had a healthy disrespect for our first record. We were very grateful for how far we got with it, but in terms of listening back to it, there's a lot of grimacing and eye-rolling. It's your first crack at something and you don't want that to represent us as a band, especially because we toured for a couple of years afterwards and had some new experiences and became open to more things, and we've changed - grown - as people and musicians. In retrospect, we had ideas of what we wanted to do differently. The pressure that we put on ourselves was the major driver of pressure for this record, in that we wanted to make a better album - for ourselves, really.
It's hard to kind of have a gist of external pressures, when really it's just us and Catherine Marks, the producer, in a room for like three weeks making an album. It's hard to have any real awareness of the outside world and how it's going to be received because you've got so many immediate obstacles in front of you to worry about the big picture. This time around, however, we didn't have the three or four years writing sporadically that we did for the first record, nor all the stuff that came with having that - live testing, for example. This was a real shot in the dark - we just had to trust our instincts
Joe: We had an ethos when we started the band – and the whole reason we started the band – is that we wanted to make music that excited us, or what we got excited about that practice room. I think we carried that ethos definitely into the second album. What was exciting? What sonics? What different production techniques? What rhythms? All this kind of stuff. If that was exciting us then you hope that becomes infectious to the fans that have already been invested in the first record. That's been our ethos throughout.
It seems like the second album was definitely something you made on your own terms, versus what was expected of you.
Matt: Oh, for sure.
How did having that mindset affect the way that you created the album and what it sounds like?
Matt: It's definitely a mindset we've had a lot over time, with the first record as well. Even naturally, us being in a band in 2019 and the current state of the music scene - if you're not doing it for the love of the music, then there's not a huge list of reasons to do it in terms of like, there's no real financial gains or anything like that.
You can kind of distil and really work out why you want to do it. It's just informed by the kind of music that we were enjoying. When we were writing the record, we took a month out to get back into the groove of writing stuff. We went to this place called Three Cliffs Bay in Wales, and that was all about just getting the ball rolling, hanging out together and listen to loads of music and stuff. We were listening to early-blues, and early-rock and roll and that was the stuff that was exciting us really – I think you can really hear that on the record.
It kind of comes back to this question of authenticity, because like you said - there's really no reason to be a band right now unless you love music.
Matt: Unless you love rock and roll. We're young people, we know where music is at and it's not like we're fighting with thousands of other bands for people's attention. We're almost in a class of one in terms of what we're doing musically. That's how I feel. You go into the record and releasing the record thinking either, 1) no one's going to get this; or 2) the music that we're making is going to connect with people. The way we do music, especially with this record, was that we were trying to create what you want to hear.
There's a certain energy that you can only get from bands - live bands, with a real drum sound. It feels like you're sitting in a room with a palpable human energy that you can't replicate. That's what unique to rock and roll and what's unique to bands. It's definitely the hard way around of doing things, because you have to organize a band, and people drop out. Then you have to learn the fucking instruments and that takes fucking years because it's so boring and it takes ages and blah, blah, blah. But you get that longevity from like that fifth element of like human energy that you don't probably get from stuff that's more programmed and built laptops and stuff. There's a different energy than that which is still great - we were at a Chemical Brothers show the other week which was amazing - but it's different.
Oh, here's a tangent for you - longbows, versus crossbows. In terms of medieval warfare, crossbows are something that any fucker can use - but they don't have the range, and they're not as effective and they don't have the thought behind them. Longbows, meanwhile, take fucking years and years to learn, but they're ultimately more effective to use.
That's definitely the first time I've talked about crossbows in an interview.
Matt: That's just my fucking brain man and how it works. But yeah, just because it's more accessible and it's easier to do, doesn't mean that it's a more effective weapon in any way.
It comes down to having a skillset and this sense of musicianship, which I know is something you guys are very attracted to in the form of people like Jimmy Page. It's very authentic and it's not something you can pull out your ass.
Matt: A lot of the processes of this record was just revisiting those bands that we were into in our formative years, that we were introduced to probably by parents, like Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton; The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones - you're looking at these players, man, you know? Like, we're a fucking band so we're going to aspire to be the best band we can be. I'm not saying big commercial success and singles, I'm talking about being a fucking good band – a live band that can display some real musicianship or can go off on improvisation or tangents; something that you can only do in the moment, a flexibility that we don't see a lot of in those big festivals or live shows.
We're looking at those players like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton who have very different draw cards but they're united in just being fucking brilliant. Jimmy Page, for example, can come up with like the best hard rock riffs ever, but he can also do the blues with his own kind of style, and he can also dip into this folky stuff – he is a really great acoustic guitar, finger-picking kind of folk artist. He's a very rich and rounded character that has many different dimensions to their playing. Why don't we see people like that anymore?
That naturally brought us through the joys and delights of streaming services on the internet. It's so fucking easy to trace back who they were listening to. What was that diet like? What were they listening to? We naturally get ourselves to Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and these really rich and raw characters. Elvis is another one. What those guys possessed that I don't feel like we are seeing today was just this raw energy and spirit. That's why we were listening to that kind of music. This is something that I don't see now that I'd like to see, so can we do anything about that? We almost unconsciously tap into that energy and the spirit.
Was that desire to present something raw what gave the album its heavier side?
It's just what we were getting off on in the rehearsal room and it was just definitely very much informed by songs that we were enjoying playing live on the first album tour. In My Mind, Black Magic, Look Something: those were the heavier songs the first record, and we just felt like that's us at the moment. I think we were also bothered by being called an indie band, it just didn't feel like us. There's a lot of indie bands around and we like a lot of indie bands, but we don't feel any kind of commonality with them really, aside from the fact that we all kinda base our music off guitar, but that's... a lot.
Now that this album is done, how do you see The Amazons evolving in the future?
Matt: I think we definitely wanted to go somewhere with Future Dust in terms of the sonics and aesthetics of it, we feel like we're going somewhere to go somewhere else - you can't keep doing the same thing.
Joe: It needs to be a whole new body of work.
Matt: We just need the music to reflect where we are as people really.
Joe: Future Dust felt like a very nice natural progression of the first album, because, like Matt said, with In My Mind and Black Magic - those heavier types of songs - they were the songs that were written later. So that informed that album, and there may be stuff on the second album that might potentially inform what happens in the third one, I don't know. We still want the progression, and we'll grow as a band. We've got a lot of touring to do with this record - immersing yourself in the culture is something that really influences us. Rather than just sitting in our hotel rooms and doing boring shit. We want to be informed by the places that we go to and hopefully that influences where we go.
Matt: I think maybe next year when we release more music, we want to just try different things. Just to challenge ourselves a little bit. I think the next music may be slightly more optimistic; there's a definite darkness to this record that we don't want to bring with us I think. The goal is definitely the same, in terms of what kind of band we want to be, we're just going to attack it from a slightly different angle that's a bit lighter, a bit more fun.
I love the idea of condensing a whole world of themes, ideas and melodies three four and a half minutes - I think that's a really special thing. That's how I want to look at whatever we do next.
The Amazons' second album Future Dust is out now via Fiction Records / Caroline Music Australia.
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