Amber Run frontman Joe Keogh talks to Shelley Marsden
FEW would call Nottingham the epitome of cool, but with a burgeoning indie music scene that’s recently spawned the likes of London Grammar and Jake Bugg, it’s starting to become a pretty fashionable place to name-drop if you’re in a band.
London-Irish frontman Joe Keogh and his band Amber Run, who play lovingly crafted indie pop, made up of five university friends who studied in the Midlands city and formed there last year, can do just that.
Their name means ‘nothing in particular’ but Joe, 21, says it was still like pulling teeth coming up with it. “Have you ever tried to name a band? It’s impossible. When we first tried making them up we were like Arctic Monkeys, yeah, I could probably make one up. When you sit down and try and do it, it’s actually impossible”, he says.
“We were called Amber for a bit, but there was a possibility of us getting sued because there’s a woman called Amber on her tenth album in Germany now. We added the Run just to add something and differentiate ourselves from this female solo artist.”
The lads live in a shared house in Nottingham together, though Joe says their touring schedules means home isn’t somewhere they’ve seen much of late. After intense time together on the road, doesn’t he ever secretly wish he was coming home to a new set of people?
“For sure. When we first started, it was a blessing, we really lived it. The band was what we were doing 24/7, so we could really hone our music. If you had an idea you’d literally walk into the other room and chat it through.
“Now that things are moving forward, it’s not that big a deal. We’ve all known each other for so long. Obviously there’s bickering, but if things get heated we disappear off to our girlfriends or head back home to the parents for a weekend.”
Speaking of which, Joe laments the lack of time he can spend with his girlfriend and other people that mean something to him as the band’s popularity increases and commitments pile on. He even missed her birthday this year, because Amber Run were playing the Isle of Wight Festival, a good excuse if you needed one.
“There’s nothing you can do about these things, this is what we want. My girl and I started going out actually and two weeks later I took this notion of going to Dublin. She decided to hop on the plane with me and that’s where we really got together. Love blossomed in Ireland, haha…”
But back to Nottingham where the music scene seems to be getting better and better. “It has a really together vibe”, agrees Joe. “On top of brilliant musicians, you have a load of success stories that spur everyone else on. It makes the musical dream seem a little more attainable.
“An indie-pop band called Dog Is Dead that were really kicking last year and are just finishing off a new album are great friends of ours, as is Callum Burrows, aka Saint Raymond. I’ve never met Jake Bugg but what he’s done is amazing. I don’t know how much time he spends in Nottingham these days though!”
All told, the guys in the band are pretty happy not to be based in London, says their singer, who imagines it would be easy to get caught up in the capital’s cycle of things. “You know, you’re playing all the same shows and, without being rude to the industry, sometimes to get away and play to people in other towns who aren’t standing arms crossed, wondering if you could sell a billion records, is nice.”
“But then again there are huge music fans in London. I’m glad we didn’t get caught up in that whole scene though and consider ourselves a ‘London’ band. I think there are some really heavy connotations with doing that.”
Their sound he describes as “the anthemic side of post-rock”, which sounds like quite a mouthful. Big fans of post-rock, they add lots of ambient textures to their music, but also lend weight to the importance of melodic hooks. It’s anthemic, ballsy indie music.
Joe is the chief lyricist. At just 21, how much life experience can he have had, I mean really? Are his songs all about getting drunk and pulling girls? I jest, of course. There’s a bit of that, but one subject he always seems to come back to is drugs, because he’s had a lot of very good friends that have had major drugs problems.
“It’s always been prevalent not for me personally, but in my life. Me and the band aren’t really into all that. I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff. I really have seen it ruin a lot of people’s lives so it’s approach with a lot of caution. It comes up a lot in my lyrics, and when our debut album eventually comes out, it will become even more obvious to people.”
That debut, initially scheduled for later this year, is now slated for a 2015 release. Joe explains he and the lads decided to get out and play some more shows so more people will want to hear the album when it does come out (“We like our music, we think it’s great and we think other people will think it’s great so we want it to be the most people possible.”).
Almost finished as we speak, it’s produced by the indie go-to producer par excellence, Mike Crossey (Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club, Foals, Jake Bugg) – a “total champion” according to Joe.
“To get to work with Mike was already like a vote of confidence. To have somebody of that stature sit up so early in our career and say I think your songs are great, felt amazing. He brought so much to the table I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else.”
Another example of other people believing in their worth early on was the fact that Amber Run’s fourth and fifth gigs ever were onstage at the Reading and Leeds Festivals, at the same time as Deftones and Bastille – an experience as terrifying as it sounds.
“It was nuts, really nuts”, laughs Joe at the recollection. “Reading in particular was a blast for me. It’s the festival I always went to as a kid. We like working in the studio and making things sound like they’re supposed to, but in terms of live sets, we’d played maybe two, three times.
“We found out a month before, so we spent literally that month at rehearsal studios working our asses off. And we pulled it off. We’re better now because we’ve played so much since, but again it was that vote of confidence, someone thought we could do it.”
It was just when fellow indie boys The 1975 were beginning to take off, and Joe remembers bumping into their singer Matt and thinking – we’re both small bands in the midst of these huge acts and thinking yeah, if they can do it, why can’t we?
He says: “It was a real moment. I was proud of the guys; we pulled it out of the bag. My mates and me can be really cynical in the sense that we don’t really expect people to actually listen to our music so when they do, it’s amazing.”
For upcoming gig and festival dates, see www.amber-run.com.