Nottingham based four-piece band Amber Run mess around, teasing each other childishly like old friends do. They’ve been through a lot and we got the pleasure to capture them on an absolute high. Agata Wolanska photographs the boys during their sound check, getting themselves prepped and ready for the last and biggest gig of their run of shows to date. Playing at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, the boys reminisce on their life since we last spoke to them two years ago, how far they’ve come and the challenges they faced. Following the release of their second album, available here, and successive four-week tour, we sat down for a quick chat with the boys prior to their last show.
They’re close. There isn’t a doubt about it. They’ve been through a torrent of diminishing self-doubt, but have learnt to lean on each other to support themselves through. It was only for a moment. Losing count of the beers that get passed around the room, the mood is light hearted, carefree and fun. This is why they do what they do - the pure love, enjoyment and excitement. They’re anticipating the future, keen for what comes next. Steering themselves down a path that is their own vision, driven by their ambitions, surrounded by the right people. The immediate future already holds an intense journey of activity, playing Dot to Dot festival in May and another UK tour due to begin in autumn - the boys show no signs of slowing now.
Bound together by a relationship that has undoubtedly made them stronger than ever; they are a band of brothers more than anything. Their charismatic charm is engaging both in person and on stage. Audiences hang on every lyric sung from Joe’s melodic voice, there’s passion everywhere. There was a private moment shared at the end of their show; phones away, only those there during that night will know. A moment of intimacy and connection. The boys have no boarders, there’s nothing to hide and they’re proud of where they’ve made it to now.
Can you guys introduce yourselves?
Will: My name is Will, but people call me ‘Chillis’. 'Big daddy Chillis’.
Henry: My name’s Henry Wyeth, I’m the keys player in Amber Run, and also Will’s primary care giver.
Will: How about an actual fact about yourself, stop trying to be funny mate, ‘cause it’s just not.
Henry: Of the four of us, I’m the least popular. That is an actual fact. With our fans, there are queues for everyone else, but never for me.
Tom: There was once!
Henry: Yeah, once.
Tom: My name is Tom, I play bass and I have a Canadian passport.
Joe: My name’s Joe and and I was born in Milan.
Henry: He likes to sigh, twiddle his hair.
Interesting. Sound check sounded really good, how are you feeling about tonight?
Joe: It’s gonna be really really fun. We’ve worked real hard to get here, so it’s gonna be a real night for us.
Tom: We were talking about it the other day, you kind of have to toe the line between absolutely buzzing off the adrenaline for it, the biggest show that you’ve played and getting absolutely up for it and then just not concentrating too much on what I’m doing, it’s a weird one. You have to be in the moment, but not lose yourself in it.
It must have been pretty full on the last couple of weeks. What have you been doing to try and keep the energy flowing?
Will: Pretty much just slogging through, dwindling slowly.
Henry: A couple of naps in the van.
Joe: Honestly, before you go on stage and do all the big stuff, the adrenaline starts flowing so intensely that there’s just no way you’re not gonna be up for it. Even if you’re feeling really naff all day, 10 minutes before stage time or you can start hearing the crowd, there’s no way you’re not up for it. I don’t know can’t really explain it other than just there’s no way that you’re not just going to be buzzing.
Your album was out earlier this month, do you want to tell us a bit about that?
Henry: It was forged in the fires of Mordor in a pretty dark time for us when we weren’t really sure. It was actually written before we got dropped by RCA, we weren’t sure whether or not we would be able to reconvince them to let us do it and it was a time where we were essentially being rejected by people that we were supposed to be working with constantly. It’s not a happy album. It’s one where we were lost. We couldn’t be in a room with each other, because as soon as those sorts of doubts start to creep in, you start questioning each other more than you are questioning yourself and it got really quite bad, to be honest. All of us were really low, and then D-Day did come and we got dropped by the label and it turned on its head. Then we said straight away; ‘right, we’re gonna do this’. We sifted through the 30 tracks or whatever we had, chose the best and came out with a quality album in my eyes.
What sort of music have you guys been listening to recently?
Will: I started listening to Stormzy yesterday, ‘cause he had his new album out. I don’t normally listen to grime, but I thought I’d check it out. It was quite good actually, quite enjoyed it. And listening to Skepta today, think I’ve developed a taste for grime. It’s quite aggressive, quite nice. We all listen to our own individual things. I’ve been listening to a little bit of Lisa Hannigan, a bit of Warpaint.
Joe: When we were writing stuff for the album I was listening to a lot of Radiohead and The National, haven’t really got out of that phase yet, still kind of listening to the same six albums on repeat.
Henry: I’m currently listening to a lot of that neo-soul, R&B, hip-hop that’s out at the moment like Childish Gambino and Frank Ocean.
Will: Tom’s just been listening to Amber Run.
Tom: I haven’t. I hate those guys. I have been listening to the bands we’ve been touring with actually, just seeing them live every night makes you fall in love with them more and more. Island are incredible, just amazing - I absolutely adore that band.
Henry: Great kissers as well.
Tom: Yeah, I kiss them so much more than I kiss anyone else.
Henry: It’s not even a joke.
Tom: It’s not.
Joe: I definitely have kissed a Wolfe more this last few weeks than I have my girlfriend or my mum in the last 6 months.
Tom: I kiss your mum quite a lot.
Where do you find your inspiration and kind of influences from?
Joe: It sort of follow on from what we listen to. It’s impossible to listen to music and not bring in those into the influences from what you were listening too at the time. On the album, we did want to have an early Radiohead, Foals, a rock or more honest vibe live sounding, but we didn’t sit down and say it has to sound like this, so I think it’s just a continuation of what you’re listening to when you write the songs when they’re sort of forming.
We last spoke to you about two years ago. What have been the most significant changes in this time?
Tom: Will’s wearing shoes with bigger heels to try and compensate for the height thing.
Henry: And nappies.
Will: Yeah, nappies changed my life man.
Joe: Obviously the label changing, that was a big thing. We went through a real cycle during those two years where there were moments of just horrific self doubt and real uncertainty on whether we wanted to carry on or not, and I guess in that two year period that happened and then we came back around, found a new momentum and found a new love for what we’re doing. Two years is a long time, things change in hours.
Will: Do you know when it was that we were last with you guys.
I think it was March two years ago.
Will: Really? Well, the tail end of that year was when the label got to the point of asking us to write some more songs for the second album, so I think everything kind of kicked off and also our album may not have even been out at that point, it came out in April. Yeah, quite a lot’s changed. Like Joe said, the mood in the camp now is like it’s a different band just in how we’re spending time together and how we’re loving everything - there’sso much positivity. Before, if one person was in a bad mood or something, any hint of negativity, it would set us all off and be like poison. The mindset now is just so much better.
Henry: It’s a sense of control I think. Nobody likes the feeling of not being in control and we were not in control of what we were doing. Now with Easy Life, the new label we’re with, we genuinely feel like everything we’ve done for this album is from us and it’s such peace of mind. You can go to bed thinking; ‘if I want to do something about the project, if I want to change something, it will be changed’. It’s as simple as that.
Joe: We know everyone that works on our project now, which is really great. We can call people up and they’re more accountable, and that’s a great thing, ‘cause when things go well we can call and be like; ‘you’re doing an amazing job’. Just as much because of that, when we have a constructive conversation about our project it’s constructive rather than just; ‘what are you doing, you’re not doing anything, what’s going on?’ Now it’s actually really positive. We are a little control freaky about it, because this is and has been almost four years of our lives. I don’t want to speak for myself, but these guys could do anything, they are some of the smartest, most intuitive people I’ve met, so if we’re not in control and loving what we do then there really isn’t that much of a point to be doing it.
At Boys by Girls, we’ve very curious about what helps shape our identities growing up. What do you think shapes young men growing up today?
Henry: Social media now is much bigger than it ever was before, so I can’t even begin to fathom what it’s like growing up with Instagram now. It was bad enough when you put shit up on Bebo or Myspace and it would get a comment, whereas now it’s so widespread.
Will: It’s the same for young men or young women, Instagram and all that sort of stuff can be used as a tool to show off about how great their life is and all you see is a snapshot from the best moments of their week and I think that has a real negative impact, because people look at this stuff and go; ‘well why is my life not that?’ But it’s the same sort of thing as being in a band, because a lot of the time people want you to look like you’re having the best time and everything is going really well, which is kind of where our album comes in. What we’re saying on Instagram these days is more showing that it’s okay to not be perfect and not have everything going well. The problem with social media I feel, is that it encourages people to feel that if things aren’t going very well, then it’s a bad thing or an unnatural thing, which it just isn’t.
Joe: It’s kind of funny, I never noticed it before, because to be fair I don’t hang out with that many really young girls, but on this tour I’ve noticed - I don’t know how I feel about it; we have girls asking for a picture with us and they do that thing where they have half their face in or cover their face. Every single time I try to make sure they stop it, because all these people are pretty and they’re nice and they look like really sweet, and it’s really quite sad - as in actually sad, not lame sad - that they feel they have to get their best angle in absolutely everything. That must be really difficult to grow up with. Honestly, I was the fattest bastard growing up, so I don’t even know what I would of been like.
Henry: I had a shit bowl cut til I was 13.
Tom: We had MySpace though, it’s just a different incarnation of it. Will is right though, it’s because it’s pictures of the best thing rather than MySpace, which was an online profile. This instant gratification, "fast food culture" that we live in.
How do you guys feel knowing that you are actually potential influencers yourselves?
Tom: That’s a weird one actually. The first time that dawned on us was just before this tour. We were on BBC Radio Nottingham and Dean, the guy who first gave us a leg up anywhere and played our music - we’re really grateful to him - he was like; ‘you know you have loads of people coming in referencing you as an influence’. I don’t think any of us had actually sat down and thought about it before and we were just sat in the room like ‘wow’. And we’ve had quite a few people coming to shows, artists and bands, saying it and it’s really weird.
Joe: In terms of actual, not just music, but people, we received more letters on this tour than we ever have before, and it’s been kind of nuts. You start to realise that you do help people through some really dark stuff and your struggle really eases theirs slightly, which is a really really lovely thought. It is really weird that people you’ve never met can change and doubt how you feel and I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m really glad that we’re able to help, but I just keep telling people that I’m glad to help, but all of that feeling better comes from you. We can be facilitators, but it’s all about you influencing yourself at the end of the day, because we can’t make those big decisions for you.
Henry: If you feel down get help.
Joe: We had that in this period and we talk about it quite openly now, but the depression in this band was a major factor. Genuinely the anxiety, I don’t want to divulge other peoples stories, but from my perspective I was so anxious at points, I was just passing out. What you do though is you make positive movements. You don’t sit in a dark room and fester, you go and make positive changes.
Would you say that young men today are more vulnerable than previous generations?
Joe: I think men have been vulnerable forever, but people just don’t talk about how vulnerable.
Tom: I think now is a time where, certainly late teenagers/early 20 year old men, can talk about mental health in a way that you couldn’t in the 80s. A lot of things are more widely accepted than people that previously would have been keeping things under wraps that they weren’t sure about and now society is quite open to you being whatever you want. But going back to this "fast food culture”, the amount of stuff you see on the internet of this male body image of six packs and that sort of thing is just so much more instantly accessible now than it was before, it’s just there so that must have an effect with people thinking they thave to be ripped.
How would you describe one another in three words?
Henry: Woohoo! Chillis…
Will: I would say charming, witty and devastatingly… just devastating.
Joe: We should do one word each for everyone, so we don’t just keep doing shit. I would say driven.
Henry: For Chillis? Palid.
Will: Henry, um…
Henry: You can’t say funny, ‘cause that’s obvious.
Joe: I’m giving some absolutely beautiful ones here.
Henry: Tom… I’m trying to think of something funny.
Will: Emotional (to Joe).
Henry: I’m going hairy.
Will: Emotional hairy dregs.
This is your last gig in this run of dates, how has the last month been as a whole.
Henry: So good.
Joe: Just unbelievable.
Tom: Indescribably good. It’s been so long since we’ve played shows and that’s what you want to do in a band, you want to play gigs and you want to play to nearly two and a half thousand people in an amazing venue in London. It’s ridiculous to be honest, the past month has been incredible. The crowds are bigger than ever, we’ve gone to places we’ve never been before and it’s good to know that we can go away for however long and our fans still want to come back, and in larger numbers. It’s so gratifying.
Joe: Yeah, in Manchester we played at the same place we played at two and a half years ago and we played to four people the first time and then we came back and sold out a thousand capacity venue. It’s really gratifying, ‘cause it shows the work that you do really does matter. We’ve never really had mainstream support, but it shows that hard work and graft can get you somewhere or close to where you want to be. One of the things that has been really gratifying for me, is just how much better we are at it now. I guess that comes from 14 months of dreaming and desperately working towards being there, I think we all respect the fact that we’re on stage more than we have before and so we enjoy it more and work hard to make it good.
What are you doing next?
Henry: I’ve actually gone back to university. We all met in Nottingham and all dropped out of university, but I decided to go back stuffing ancient history.
Tom: Don’t pretend like it’s interesting.
Tom: The rest of us are just having some time off, a holiday for a week or two.
Joe: Then we’ll come back and carry on with our third record.
Henry: I’m shooting off to Nottingham, Will is going to South Africa, Joe is going to Cuba and Tom is going to Canada.
Will: I know where I’d rather be.
Henry: Sat in a library doing a dissertation.
Will: Great life choice.