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Can the Amazons save rock’n’roll?

Can the Amazons save rock’n’roll?

If you want to upset the Amazons – to get the normally mellow four-piece really worked up – just accuse them of being an indie band. “Indie is a dirty word in the Amazons’ book,” says Matt Thomson, their singer and guitarist. Mention of the ‘I’ word has put him in a defiant mood – although he might just be channelling his band’s newfound sound, a head-banging racket of floor drums and guitar riffs. “We’re a fucking rock’n’roll band.”

Thomson is perched on the edge of a green ottoman of the plushest velvet, surrounded by his bandmates Joe Emmett (drums), Chris Alderton (guitar) and Elliott Briggs (bass). We’re sat in Fiction Records, in the very room where the Amazons signed their record deal back in 2015, which kickstarted their journey out of the Reading bar scene and onto the Reading Festival bill.

A lot has changed in four years. First came the eponymous debut album, which did that most unusual of things for a rock record in this almost guitar-free age – it sold, peaking at number eight in the charts. Next came the feverishly enthusiastic reviews and the industry recognition; mainstream radio playlists, streaming site recommendations, even an appearance on the BBC’s Sound Of shortlist. All helped along by incessant, round-the-world touring, from the west coast of America to the furthest east of Asia.

And now, after a brief period away from the maelstrom, its follow-up, Future Dust, is almost here. But this time, things are a bit different. A shade more tinnitus-inducing.

“We’ve become a lot more interested in the roots of rock’n’roll,” says Thomson. “It got me really interested in the roots of that, then the roots of blues, with Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson – really early Delta Blues stuff – and how that informed what would come next. And how that informed the bands like Led Zeppelin.”

Zeppelin are a lodestar for the Amazons, a guide to how rock’n’roll can – perhaps should – be played. During their photoshoot, someone puts Led Zeppelin IV on the speakers and it’s as though all four men have been suddenly electrified. They're animated by a curious mix of studiousness and energy: one moment they’re quizzing each other on release dates, the next they’re Robert Planting for the camera. When ‘Stairway to Heaven’ comes on, there’s definitely the odd flash of air guitar, even air drums, played with only a gossamer-thin layer of irony. You sense that, if there wasn’t a photographer in the room, they’d be swinging invisible axes with self-consciousness at all.

It's fun, but the Amazons take their music seriously. There is nothing accidental about how their sound has matured. There’s an ambition to The Amazons. Not a monetary ambition necessarily, but a creative one. They know the point they’re trying to get to – with their song-writing, performances, musicianship and aesthetic – and they’re putting the hours in to get there. 

Photographed: Left, Chris wears Oliver Spencer Hawthorn Polo Elms Pink (£48)

“We’re not going to be influenced by the bands of the noughties,” says Thomson. “If you want to know what rock’n’roll is all about, then you gravitate towards the people that did it best. How did Jimmy Page get so great? What was he listening to? What was he doing to get to that point?”

“He didn’t have a phone,” Emmett quips. His bandmates laugh. But there's more than a kernel of truth behind the drummer’s words. Future Dust is full of unease with our always-on digital culture, from its lyrical content (think social media witch hunts and the toxicity of Tinder-style swiping) right back to how it came into the world.

Last summer, off the back of two years on the road touring the first album, the Amazons’ record label set them a deadline for the follow-up. Feeling frazzled, the boys escaped to Three Cliffs Bay, a remote coastal spot about an hour outside of Swansea. “There was no phone signal, and we were out there for a good couple of weeks,” says Thomson. “So we were pretty stranded out there.”

They made the most of this unexpected digital detox to reconnect with their surroundings, and with one another. “We got into a groove. We just bonded as a band, cooking together, drinking together, lots of singing and exploring the scenery. And then at night we would stay up really late and just write these songs.”

The result of this intensive creative period is the kind of coherence that comes when a group of songs springs from a single creative well, from the shuddering intro of its opening song (and first single) ‘Mother’, to its Eagles-on-steroids climax in ‘Georgia’. And while Future Dust is not a total departure from the sound that won them all that adoration two years ago, it’s an emphatic evolution, and one that the band is palpably proud of.

 

“[The first album] was just the result of wanting to be a band; wanting to play in the bars of Reading,” says Thomson. “‘Well, we need some original songs’. So you’d do a six-song set, and then you’d replace this song with that song, and then you’ve worked out that over a couple of years you’ve got tons of songs. Then you pick them [for the album], and that was it. The first album just felt like the end of a particular chapter. The second album definitely feels like the beginning of something.”

The Amazons are keen to dispel any notion of some sort of second album hoodoo. The idea that an artist’s debut is the product of untethered creative freedom – a liberty lost when writing to a label-set deadline – and that the pressure of living up to their own success would ultimately stifle their musical flow.

“You’re not feeling any pressure about getting a top ten record or whatever,” says Thomson. “The pressure comes from: is this the best we can do at this moment, right now? Is that the fucking best sound we can come up with? Do we want to just shit out albums and go on tour and just be in a band? No. We wanted to do something that we felt had some kind of worth. We wanted to make something great. Whether we’ve done that or not, it’s not really for us to decide, I just felt that that’s what we tried to do. And that’s the main thing.”

In person, the boys are calm and softly spoken, friendly and thoughtful. Their live performances, on the other hand, are anything but polite. There is a curious dissonance between the nice young men sat here, on soft furnishings, and the rowdy rock stars thrashing their way through a set. That is at least partly down to their on-stage attire. Their battle armour, as Emmett puts it. “If you go on playing in the clothes you turned up in, your headspace will still be, ‘I’m chilling backstage, I’m relaxed’."

Photographed: Matt wears Saturdays NYC Canty Peony Vacation Shirt (£169)

“I probably wouldn’t go on stage in this,” Thomson agrees, pinching at the lapel of his leather jacket. “I feel like the visuals and your styling should kind of carry the story on from the music. And for that reason I feel like, even though the album is finished, I think stylistically, visually, we’ve still got a journey to go on.”

To the outside observer, the band’s aesthetic seems pretty tight: soft 70s with a modern edge. But for their still-developing stage personas, the boys cite a number of more outré inspirations, from Jimmy Page’s dragon suit, to the Arctic Monkey’s retro tailoring get-up, via Coldplay’s French Revolution-flavoured ‘Viva La Vida’. “It’s not about shocking people or anything, it’s about evoking a sense of wonder,” says Thomson. “I said we’re on a journey, and I believe that, whether it’s sonically or stylistically. Because I don’t think the story’s finished.”

There are very few artists out there who are so keenly aware of the place they occupy within the history and the context of their genre. Even fewer who are humble – or, maybe, ambitious – enough to want to keep developing, keep improving. The Amazons don’t just love rock music, don’t just play it – they respect it. And that’s refreshing.

“To put it bluntly, I just feel like bands don’t really know anything about the genre that they’re playing,” says Thomson. “How can they expect to move forward if they can’t even tell you where it comes from? If they don’t know the essence of what it’s all about? And I’m not saying that we know what it’s all about. I’m just saying that we’re at least looking.”

The Amazons new album, Future Dust, is released on 24 May. Pre-order now.

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Words: Dan Masoliver
Photography: Joshua Osborne
Styling: Millie Rich
Styling assistant: Toby Standing