Sweet Valentine’s Day 2017. Normally a more traditional diary entry following a romantic day spent with a sweetheart, however Boys by Girls had the pleasure of being in the presence of the four charming boys that make up Reading band, The Amazons
. The boys are thriving. With the release of their latest single ‘Black Magic’, available here
, happening just hours before and claiming MistaJam’s ‘Hottest Record in the World’ instantly, there’s a lot to keep them animated. Photographer Vic Lentaigne takes the boys for a stroll in the park and along the river, the bitter day not doing much to diminish the high spirits emanating from the boys. Still reeling from the massive success of their single and hyped on the adrenaline of the following day's first show in the leg of their tour.
The intriguing world of fashion is unveiled before them - an editorial - an exciting first for them, so it seems nothing was to be disregarded. Not even that rubber trench coat. Stylist Becky Seager fashions together pieces from Agi and Sam, Topman and Levi’s, delivering a group of boys reflecting old-school cool; they’re the rock band all young boys aspire to be. They didn't always have the intense, non-stop, rock'n'roll lifestyle they do now though; spending their earlier days stacking shelves and working at the zoo alongside their graft to get them where they are now. It just makes them that much more appealing.
Matt, Joe, Elliot and Chris are humbling and down to earth, sharing stories from their lives before signing to Fiction Records and how their careers have catapulted since. The boys are woven very much into each others lives, intimate relationships constructed over years of devotion to one another and the music they produce. A passion driven by the end desire to play the biggest festival in their home town, their sights are set small in the grand scale of the magnitude of the success they have already seen.
The Amazons recently announced the release of their debut album 2nd of June 2017. The self-titled album is available to pre-order now
Let’s start with talking about the shoot today. How did you find it?
Elliot: Very cool. It’s our first time we’ve been in a big magazine like this, so was a good experience for us. Nice and cold outside as well.
Matt: It’s nice to be styled, trying on outfits that we wouldn’t usually. I tried on a rubber trench coat.
Elliot: We also got chased by dogs.
Matt: Run over by cyclists.
Elliot: Shouted at by construction workers.
Matt: I witnessed a massive duck/swan brawl. A lot of tension between the bird races there. It was eventful.
Joe: It’s nice to be involved in something that’s a bit different to the music orientated magazines.
Who are you boys?
Elliot: We all grew up in Reading, that’s our home town. We’ve known each other for many years now.
Matt: I’ve known Elliot for 10 years.
Elliot: We started playing together when we were kids. There was a charity event that we played at on Saturday's and we’d play a little show to the parents at the end of every term. We started making music from there. Chris was at school with Matthew and they used to play songs in their lunch breaks instead of playing football and getting vitamin D.
Matt: I don’t do vitamin D.
Elliot: And then Joe was a lone wanderer, a lone wolf out of the wilderness.
Matt: We met on the darkness on the edge of town.
Elliot: Only come out on a full moon.
Matt: We met Joe playing bass in another band and he came up to us and begged us for an audition - it was getting a little bit embarrassing and we just thought we might as well give him a go. Then he played so terribly in practice we gave him the sympathy vote and that was how he joined the band.
What three words would you use to describe yourselves? Or each other?
Matt: Each other, oh that’s good! Chris is the ‘prince of darkness’.
Elliot: That’s more than one word though?
Matt: Prince. Of. Darkness.
Elliot: Oh okay right, that’s like three descriptive words okay. ‘Black berry hair’? Joe can be… ’Drunken gambling fool’.
Matt: ‘Drunken gambling fool’, that’s good.
Joe: God, you think of me so highly, thanks guys. I’m in the band as a sympathy vote and I’m a gambling, drunken fool. Wow.
Matt: That’s quite poetic though.
Elliot: That can be the name of your new solo album. Matt; tortured - ‘ginger tortured artist’.
Matt: I was going to go for ‘total fucking mastermind’, actually.
Do you guys remember your first gig together?
Joe: Yes. In the back of my mind, far far away. I buried it.
Matt: Never forget it. That was the worst gig we’ve ever done, definitely the worst gig.
Elliot: I actually don’t remember the gig.
Joe: I do, I remember everything that happened. It’s a weird place.
Matt: It was in this place called the Rising Sun Art Centre, and it’s effectively a front room. We just sucked. There’s no two ways about it.
Joe: Matt broke two strings on his guitar in the first song, so then had to get all Freddie Mercury and just sing.
Matt: The support bands wouldn’t give me a guitar, and I forgot all the words. It really has never got worse than that, which is good.
What’s it like being on stage?
Elliot: It’s different for everyone I think. For us it’s an opportunity to show what we’ve been practicing. It’s not like a job, we practice so fucking much that it’s just an opportunity to showcase ourselves and show what we’re about.
Matt: I like playing - it’s what rock ’n’ roll’s about really.
Elliot: As a band that’s what we want to do, that’s why we joined a band in the first place.
Matt: I was talking to someone the other day about the process of what you do rather than the end game. Even when you play to 10 people, it’s still a gig - we love playing gigs. The adrenaline you get before a show, it’s why people jump off planes and that’s why the Rolling Stones are still playing 50/60 years on - you don’t get the buzz anywhere else.
Elliot: We saw Bruce Springsteen last year at Wembley stadium and the guy is 70 years old, but he looks like he enjoys it as much as he did when he was 25.
Matt: If not, more.
Elliot: Still playing with his old band, these guys on this stage with him who’ve been there since the beginning, it’s like being with your best mates all the time. You’re more than mates, kind of blood brothers. Something you can’t replicate anywhere else.
Where are you guys drawing your inspiration and artistic influences from?
Elliot: All over the place I think.
Joe: I always get inspired by watching drummers drum. It sounds ridiculous ‘cause I play drums, but I like watching other drummers.
Matt: I think bands that we all like are; Queens of the Stone Age, Nirvana, Arcade Fire, Jane’s Addiction, Rage Against the Machine and all these bands that we were listening to at 11 and 12 when picking up guitars for the first time. It’s what you truly like, rather than what we thought was cool maybe 2 or 3 years ago.
Elliot: We started out listening to rock music, but then we went on to electronic music - we’ve gone through some phases. There’s a big club scene in Reading and we were convinced for a short few years that dance music was the coolest thing in the world.
Matt: There’s a good two years lost in the wilderness of that house scene in Reading. Our evolution musically, the band and our influences, has changed loads, but I think when I’m sitting down and first writing a song, it’s usually just ‘what do I want to say?' I think of memories and what has moved me - positively or negatively. It’s even more subconscious than that, you just kind of go with it.
Is there anything in particular you want to say with your music?
Matt: I don’t think there’s any one message, because we don’t think the same thing every single time. Sometimes I’m hurt, sometimes I’m really happy, sometimes I’m sad, and I don’t see why our music can’t reflect that. I think over this new album there is a message - there aren’t any real answers to any of the questions we have. ‘Black Magic’ is a song we started three years ago and the lyrics resonate with me now in a situation that happened recently, all this stuff just keeps coming back around, maybe that’s the message; there’s no answers, some things don’t change. Maybe that’s the second record, the same thing.
Elliot: The answers! We’ve finally found the answers.
Matt: Between 18 and 22, you don’t really have a clue what’s going on.
Talking about ‘Black Magic’, it looks like it’s going down quite well - you were MistaJam’s 'Hottest Record in the World’ last night. Tell me about the song.
Matt: It started 3 years ago. There’s a lot of songs we write that kind of wallow around for a while before we find a purpose for it and a reason for it to exist. We had all of these parts that you hear in the song floating around, and about a year ago I wrote the chorus and that really focused the whole song.
Elliot: It’s like you’re picking at pieces.
Matt: We’ve never really sat down and wrote a - whatever you think of as ‘finished’ - single.
Elliot: Writing is a long process for us. It depends on which song it is, but some songs take three years, some songs take two weeks, and we have some that take two hours - it’s all over the place.
Matt: We have to not force it. I’ve been in writing sessions before and you just come up with bollocks. We always wanted our music to be honest. It’s not a big manifesto, otherwise for us it’s a bit like; ‘what’s the point?’
Joe: I also feel that if you’re forcing stuff it just becomes false. You can’t be convincingly playing a song live to people when you don’t believe in it either.
Matt: Especially with this band, I don’t think we can half-arse this thing. We have to be 100% committed, because at the end of the day we’d still be doing this if we didn’t have success. You don’t do it for success, you do it because you want to express yourself and then the success is secondary. If you just chase success, you won’t get it, it’s so counter-intuitive. The whole thing is that you have to write for yourself and then people will get it. As soon as you stop writing for yourself, people don’t get it. You don’t know what ten thousand people want, they don’t know what they want, until you give it to them.
Fiction Records are quite prestigious with the bands that they have, how does it feel being signed with them? What’s changed since you have been?
Matt: We’ve been successful.
Joe: They’ve given us opportunities that we could have never gotten on our own.
Matt: It was always important for us to go as far as possible before we got signed, rather than be defined by a label. You want to be on the path and they come in and shift you into the next gear.
Joe: To be fair to Fiction, they did sign us at quite an early stage and have helped with our development, but a lot of labels won’t come in until you’re literally smashing your figures on Spotify and socials - they did it quite old school with us.
Elliot: There’s also cases with artists like Chance the Rapper who never signed a deal in his life, but he got a Grammy this weekend - which is fucking insane. People don’t rely on records any more to get money and to get big. You get a fan base, go live and do it on the internet.
Matt: With Fiction, it’s kind of a support network really, they give you financial support. There are loads of tours we wouldn’t be able to do ‘cause we just can’t afford losing that amount of money.
Elliot: We rely so much on touring and people don’t realise how much it costs - it’s fucking expensive shit.
Matt: But if you’re a dude with a laptop…
Elliot: It’s a different world, but it is quite interesting to see how it is now.
Joe: Amazing label.
Elliot: More than friendly.
Joe: Almost too friendly.
Elliot: Sexual relationships with all four members.
Matt: We’ve known some of them for almost seven years and we’ve been together throughout the whole process. We just used to trade demos and stuff. I heard 'Loveblood' before it was 'Loveblood'.
Joe: We haven’t seen them for ages, ‘cause we’ve all been so busy, but we’ll see them at loads of festivals. It’s always nice when you see bands at festivals, that’s like the best time to catch up.
What’s it like being so close to people that are on such a similar path to you?
Matt: Really good. It’s cool ‘cause they’re a bit ahead of us, so it’s good to see where their album went and stuff like that.
Joe: It’s healthy competition, but I also think we both very much have our own paths; they do their thing and we’re doing our thing, which is a bit more on the rocky side.
Elliot: It’s cool ‘cause in the history of Reading, there’s never been two bands signed.
Matt: I don’t care about controversial, I think Reading should be way more recognised. Two bands from Reading on the playlist, it’s a joke.
Elliot: Reading and ‘reading’ at the same time - what other town does that? Two names.
Joe: And Reading FC are third in the league, I mean this is a good year.
Matt: This is a great year. Reading Festival is going to be great as well.
How do you think your experience of being young and in this scene is different to other people your age?
Matt: Our lives are 10 times more interesting now; me and Elliot used to work in a supermarket for two years stacking shelves.
Joe: Chris worked in a zoo.
Elliot: We used to get money and spend it on guitars, equipment and petrol going to the next gig, and we’d have to book time off work.
Matt: We walked into work on a day off and we were like; ‘we’re so sorry, but we got offered a week with The Kooks in Germany. We haven’t got any holiday left, but we’re not coming in’.
Joe: Our life now is polar opposite in the fact that we are away a lot, and although you’re working it’s also really fun.
Matt: It is fun, but I haven’t seen my two best mates outside of the band for a long time.
Joe: You have to leave everyone behind. It’s so hard to keep in contact with people and you wonder why you come back and you have no friends. You’re on the road all the time.
Elliot: Never in one place for more than one night. We've had three days at home in three months, it’s stupid.
Matt: I wouldn’t change it.
We are curious about what helps shape our identities growing up. What do you think shapes the identity of youth today?
Matt: Social media. That’s a big shaper I think - in positive and negative ways, it’s so ingrained in young people today. It might just be me sounding old, but I think the age that people are getting more conscious about the way they look is getting younger. I don’t think anything is bigger than whatever’s on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Everything stems from the internet; music, fashion - what was life like without it? However, there’s much more out there for kids that feel marginalised for whatever reason too, there are some positives. But then there are always negatives to those positives; you get horrendous bullying and trolling like you never have before.
Would you say that young men are more vulnerable than previous generations?
Chris: Yeah probably. I know quite a lot of young people who are worried about how their body looks.
Matt: I don’t know if maybe it’s ‘cause there’s more of a spotlight on men’s mental health or whether it’s got worse. There are lots of situations that are recognised and acknowledged for what they are now, and people are a lot more liberal. I read a great article in this nature magazine about a correlation between mental health and people's lifestyles and where they lived. People living in cities and on the computer all the time were so much more anxious and prone to depression, compared to people who lived out in the countryside, up at the crack of dawn on their tractor. It makes a lot of sense. I feel like we’re going toward this artificial world that we weren’t really designed to live in.
Aside from music, what other things do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I saw you with a camera earlier.
Chris: I’ve never really massively been into photography, but about 2/3 years ago when we were just starting the band, we were trying to create the identity around us and it coincided with me finding my dad’s camera under the stairs. It’s an old film camera and I’ve just started carrying it around and taking snaps.
Matt: It’s good to document the band as well.
Yeah you’re gonna really love looking back on that!
Matt: Nice hobby.
Chris: Other than that, still kind of in music. I record and produce other bands in my bedroom.
Matt: I like sports and shit? I go to Reading football club and I love history, I’m a little history nerd. I have rock memoirs or really dense factual books about history patterns.
Chris: Should probably not leave out the others.
Matt: Elliot is obsessed with Manga.
Chris: Maybe not obsessed. He’s just really into the cultures of South Korea and Japan.
Matt: And we’re going to Japan as well.
Chris: He’s really excited. And Joe loves gambling.
Matt: Joe loves gambling and drinking and smoking.
Chris: He’s got a gambling blog. We said ultimately what we want is him to have a section in a gambling magazine.
Matt: We’re quite well-rounded individuals to be fair.
What would you say was your ultimate goal?
Chris: It kind of moves a lot, we were talking about this the other day.
: Yeah! It was always; ‘imagine if we played Reading Festival, the NME Stage at 6pm or main stage’’, that was the big thing. It was never; ‘imagine if we sold 10 thousand records’. The ultimate goal would probably be to headline Reading Festival. It’s not that we need to headline it now, it’s if we write good music and are successful I would like to do that in the future.