Music/Interviews

Amber Run find their way

May 20, 2017

Lifelong friendships helped Amber Run through a dark period.

“It’s really important, I think, for bands like ourselves to have some kind of emotional literacy in how they go about their music,  and are honest about these kinds of situations,” says Joshua Keogh, speaking over the phone. The lead vocalist of the English band Amber Run is reflecting upon the tumultuous journey that birthed the group’s sophomore record, For A Moment, I Was Lost — “quite a toxic time,” he describes, where, following their well-received 2015 debut, 5AM, they were suddenly dropped by their record label, RCA/Sony, and their drummer Felix Archer decided to leave.  

“We just had so much self doubt, but we also had so much harboured resentment to each other because of our perceived failures of our career so far, which obviously weren’t failures, really,” Keogh continues. “You know, I’m really proud of where we are, and what we’re doing, and really proud of all the music we’ve ever put out, but we just found ourselves in a really dark moment and, so, the actual writing process was, I think, actually one of the most difficult six month periods of my life.”

When the simple joy of doing something you love everyday turns into work—both literally and figuratively—the purity of it can be affected. Add internal and external pressures, and it can sometimes be completely spoiled. “It starts to become a hoop jumping competition,” Keogh says. Of course, it’s not always like that—“For one, I think it’s different for every artist,” he stresses. “I think no artist has the same kind of deal or reputations or pressures,”—but for Amber Run, “it started to become a political conversation with everyone the whole time, rather than just a creative, fun project. You know, because music at its core is unbelievably innocent and that’s when the music’s the best, when it’s just truthful and beautiful. I think, sometimes, label stuff can get in the way of that, but that’s just what money does to most things. It’s a necessity, I guess.” 

“It’s the same for anyone in any creative industry—you start to lose the love when it’s all you’re doing. It takes real character to push through that and find the moments of joy in it.”

For Keogh, what helps with overcoming that feeling is the act of collaboration. Keogh and bandmates Will Jones, Tomas Sperring, and Henry Wyeth have been friends since they were in school—Keogh and Sperring have been playing in bands together for 12 years. Their tight bonds and mutual respect for each other as musicians have always been reflected in the synergetic nature of their creative process, from writing to performing. This, in turn, ended up being a large part of what helped them overcome the dark period that nearly tore them apart. 

After Archer parted ways with Amber Run, the remaining members decided to step back and take a moment to really think about their future as a band. A couple of days later, they reconvened at a pub. “All of us were just looking at each other like, ‘we’ve worked so hard to do this,’” Keogh continues. “We aired out loads of issues, told each other how we were actually feeling about it all, and how we were nervous about our part in the band and stuff, and the business aspect of things, aired all that out, sat there for, like, three hours, and we just looked at each other. The burdens were lifted and you could just see excitement in people’s eyes again, just because one moment meant that we had to deal with all of our shit.”

“We were excited about releasing that music again, because we’d started to understand that everyone else was excited, as well. We didn’t feel alone inside the project. It was a unifying moment. I can’t tell you what it was, you kind of just had to be there—just looking at your mate and seeing that they have the same passion for it as you do. It was just really eye opening.”

Though the album’s title, For Moment, I Was Lost, is telling already, the whole experience formed the backdrop for Amber Run’s newest effort. Sonically and lyrically, it’s significantly darker than the first record. Their already sprawling, cinematic rock is broodier and more refined. The inner turmoil they were feeling is reflected in every chord, arrangement, and lyric, as a genuine expression of what was happening in their lives at the time, both music industry-related and not. It’s an honest and deeply compelling work that has the band at their best yet.

“‘Are You Home?’ is a song that Will wrote about his grandfather dying and having Alzheimer’s. I think that’s a particularly poignant moment for him,” Keogh explains. “’Haze,’ for me, was a conversation I’ve had with myself about mine and my brother’s battle with depression, so that’s particularly poignant for me. But also songs like ‘Fickle Game,’ about our struggle within the political minefield that is making music—that, sometimes, really resonates with me, especially when we’re singing it live in front of 2,000 people and they’re singing it back to you, and you start to realize that all you’re doing—what I’m doing—in the song is complaining about music when, in reality, the only reason I’m there is the music.” 

For Keogh, the whole experience of creating For A Moment, I Was Lost has shown him that you get back what you give. If you put in the work, you see the results. “If you sit in dark rooms feeling sorry for yourself, then the world will just come back at you,” he adds. 

“It’s a weird old thing, making music, and putting your heart and your head on the line consistently, forever. And, so, to see hard work starting to pay off feels amazing, especially with all the intensity that we had to go through to get to this point. We played our biggest ever show in London last night [February 25] and it was a real achievement. We’ve never had huge mainstream support, in terms of radio and that kind of stuff, and the relationship that we had with the fans last night was just absolutely ridiculous. Henry and I just broke down into tears onstage. It was one of the most embarrassing but beautiful moments I’ve ever had in my life.” 

“It was one of the most embarrassing but beautiful moments I’ve ever had in my life.”

Alongside the album and the cathartic release it provided, it is, indeed, connection—with fans and with live music, itself—that is the most satisfying takeaway of all.

“That buzz, and that gratification, and that adrenaline rush that you get from being onstage and losing yourself to it—I reckon I feel that moment every single time we play live and I think all the rest of the guys would say that’s the same,” Keogh says. ”There’s something about live music that’s just undeniable. And when you start to connect with people in a live setting—because people hate to give themselves away, you know. They hate to be vulnerable and emotional, but it’s just crazy—as soon as live music turns up, and people start listening and dancing. Or you can just stand there and be swaying. Or even when everyone’s there with their arms crossed, and I’m going, ‘Oh, that was the worst show ever, that was rubbish,’ but then they walk away and there are tears rolling out of people’s eyes. It’s just mental. For me, it would just be getting to do the live music thing. That’s the moment that really defines why I love music.” 

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