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Culture, Music

A Little Bit of Magic

Behind the Music of Amber Run

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Toby Hambly
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Joshua Keogh, Tom Sperring and Henry Wyeth are Amber Run, whose third album, Philophobia, was released on 27 September. Formed in 2012, they played the BBC Introducing stage at Reading Festival in 2013 in what was only their fourth show – they signed a record deal weeks later. Their first two LPs – 5am and For a Moment, I Was Lost – have seen them frequently compared to the likes of Bastille and Kodaline, while their soaring, anthemic brand of pop-rock has only grown as their original line-up has come down from five to three. Their new album marks a shift in their approach, as Toby Hambly was to find out as he caught up with lead singer and guitarist, Joshua.

We’re about two weeks out from the release of your new album, Philophobia – when you work on something for so long and you’re on the precipice of releasing it, is it nerve-wracking or more exciting?

I think it’s probably a real dizzy mixture of the two. What we try to do in our band is to have quite an emotional… I wouldn’t say undertone because it’s very out there – that is often really lovely but also kind of scary to release into the world. It’s a joy and a real privilege to release music and I don’t take that lightly either. I hope that’s not a cop-out answer but it’s definitely a bit of both. The one thing that I don’t worry about is how well it streams and stuff like that because you just can’t control that. That’s not really our motive. It would be great to live in a 10 million pound house, but we have the ability to speak about quite intense things and help out others who have probably felt the same. That’s the real currency of what we’ve got going for us and one that I’m unwilling to give up just yet.

The origins of Amber Run stretch right back through Nottingham Uni to school. I don’t think I’d recognise my 18-year-old self if I saw him – what’s it like to go through so much personal development while having this entity outside of you called Amber Run?

That’s a really insightful question. It’s funny, I guess Amber Run has gone through a couple of little changes as well.

With the line-up.

The line-up but also musically – deciding whether we want to be the biggest band on the planet or whether we want to just the write music we want to write. We’ve been making the record and haven’t been on the road for about six months, then just started playing shows again really recently. It still feels like when you get on stage for the first time, where you feel like you’re wearing someone’s clothes; like you’re ripping off your own skin and replacing it with someone else’s. You do just naturally morph into a different person. I’ve always done it this way – anyone in the music industry has always called me Joshua and all my friends and family call me Joe. It’s funny the difference between who these people are – Joshua gets up on stage and Joe’s just had a coffee and is talking to you about music – sometimes they feel like very different people.

I’ve heard you talk about the Joshua/Joe split on the Dive Deeper podcast with Kate McGill. That was quite an in-depth chat.

Yeah it was – how did that come across? I was really nervous about it. We talk about these things through the band but we do it in quite a lyrical manner; there’s a kind of distance there.

I thought it was quite brave of you to say some of the things you did. Something you touched on was feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness at various points in your career – is this album a way of moving on from that?

Yeah I would say so. I take Philophobia to mean the fear of affectionate or compassionate relationships – one of the greatest relationships you have is the one you have with yourself. I think that the relationship I’ve had with myself has been quite unkind for a very long time. You can’t have true relationships until you understand what’s going on in your own head and this record was a really interesting exploration of that. It’s funny what your subconscious throws out at you – it was only about seven tracks into it, when we started talking about the motives of the record, that it became obvious what it was actually about. Then Tom and Henry started throwing their thought processes into it and we started to realise that this is quite a universal feeling; the fear of just putting yourself out there or of engaging with your own problems.

I’ve noticed that you’re also reaching out to fans with this record, you’ve started a new fan group on Facebook and you tweeted that ‘this album is our way of getting closer to you, we used to be scared of getting too close’.

It’s been really important to us to share the experience of releasing music so that a live show isn’t just five people on stage playing. The conversation between the band and the fans there in the room is probably ten times more important. In general we’d been using Facebook to promote, but why not use it as a way to actually speak to people? One of my pet peeves is when people like the band but can’t find people to come to the shows with and they’re scared to go by themselves. We thought why not use our group to bring friends together and people can build relationships through our band – that would be great. We have fans that were about 14 when they first met through liking our band, now they’re like 20/21 and best mates. If you can have that kind of impact on people’s lives, that’s such a privilege.

As you’re preparing to go out on tour again, I wondered how you get on with life on the road. I know you play football – do you try and fit in exercise to stay sane?

Yeah, me and Tom will go to the gym when we can, but it’s a loopy time and I think you do just have to embrace that. It’s not the most stable way to live. But when your emotions are really up and down and you’re a bit tired, there’s a little bit of magic in that sometimes. I really enjoy the life I have at home but I don’t think I’d enjoy it so much if we didn’t get the opportunity to have a little more tension out on tour. I don’t think I would have one without the other.

So the band keeps you on an even keel.

I would say so. I cleaned toilets at my school and then I worked in a bar, but apart from that I haven’t really known anything else. So you find a form of life that works for you. Being in this band has been quite difficult at points but right now it’s the best place for me personally and I think Tom and Henry would say exactly the same. There’s more to life than writing sad indie tunes – as much as people might love to hear me say I want to join the 27 club and be really intense about everything, I actually think that living to be really f*cking old would be great.

Philophobia is out now on all platforms. See Amber Run live at the O2 Academy on 18 October, tickets available at amber-run.com

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