Amplifier needed to catch a new breath

For their new record, Echo Street, Amplifier needed to make a true break with its ambitious predecessor, the double LP The Octopus. A break as well as related to music as to the composition process: this record had to be written more spontaneously and also be more accessible for the listener.

In the following interview, the band’s leader Sel Balamir says how satisfied they are to have been able to make such a lightened and light-hearted album.

The album release matches with the band’s signing at Ksope Records, a label that has been more chosen for its work than for Amplifier’s closeness with other bands signed on it, like Anathema for instance: a kind of working relationship with artists adapted to today’s music business that Amplifier seemed not to find in other structures.

At the end of this interview, Sel answers to our questions with humour and philosophy about Steve Durose, who joined the band after Oceansize’s split-up: he has been indeed harassed by the press about this subject for a while now.

Radio Metal: After the release of such an ambitious album as The Octopus – which was a double album – what was your state of mind while writing this new album?

Sel Balamir (vocals, guitar): Well [laughs], we wrote it in about thirty days, and made it in about thirty days, so during the process, we didn’t really think about that. What we really thought about was the fact that we would be running out of money if we wouldn’t be making a record like right now [laughs]… That’s pretty much all we were thinking about.

« For The Octopus it took about four years, while Echo Street only took literally five weeks to write and to make. »

You declared: “Nothing in life is completely black and white, but if The Octopus was black, then Echo Street is white.” Was it important, considering the importance and the success of an album like The Octopus, to make an album that was completely different to prove that you’re not conditioned by its success?

Yeah, I think as soon as The Octopus was released, I was a bit worried about what we were going to do after it. Whatever we’d do it would need to be absolutely different so people couldn’t compare it too much. That was one of the good things about making Echo Street so quickly: obviously for The Octopus it took about four years, while Echo Street only took literally five weeks to write and to make. So it was always gonna be different, just because we had a different approach to make. They are two completely different records. Obviously still they’re made by the same band, but they’re just coming from a different kind of place I guess. Echo Street is much simpler than The Octopus, for sure.

That must have been a very relieving experience to write and to produce an album way faster than the previous one…

Yeah, after making The Octopus I didn’t want to make a record like that again, in that kind of way, very slow and very meticulous. So it was good to do the complete opposite, but to be honest it was just as much hard work, just during a few weeks instead of a few months. So in a way it was actually harder to do it so quickly than maybe taking our time. When we were making The Octopus, if we were feeling a bit burned out then we could go away for the week-end or just go home, but this time there was no time for this, we had to stay and just finish the record. By the end of the recording I didn’t want to do it anymore. We’d been working for five weeks non stop, it was pretty hard by the end. But yeah, definitely, it was that as well.

You said about this album: “Echo Street have a timeless quality to it, it’s probably the Amplifier album that most people will know with time, there’s something really special about it.” Echo Street seems to be the most diverse and the most personal album of your career. Do you agree with that? Do you think that’s why this album is so special?

I think the thing that is the most important about Echo Street is that it’s so simple that it’s easy to listen to it: there’s a lot of space in the record, it’s quite slow; when you listen to it you kinda climb inside and then listen without be kinda crushed by too much information. I think it’s that that makes that people that may have never listened to Amplifier or to this kind of music would be able to listen to this record and enjoy the melody, even if the music itself is not something that they would normally listen to. I think there’s space for people to listen to the actual sound somehow, and people that like other kinds of music might listen to this record and it might get them to listen to this kind of music and other bands like Porcupine Tree or whatever. That’s kind of why I think that will become maybe that kind of record that people will know over time, yeah.

« I don’t like songs about stuff generally. »

There’s a song called “Paris in the Spring”. What’s that song about? Do you have some special relationship to Paris?

It’s funny how I didn’t even think about coming to Paris with the next tour. It’s kind of about the Occupation. It’s not completely about the Occupation, but there’re definitely some things that are about that. I don’t like songs about stuff generally. There’s definitely some lines in there that are specifically about a person and the Occupation. I think the mood there is suggestive of Paris to me anyway, just the chords and the sound is always evocative to me. But the title originally came from a sign, an optical illusion, a very famous one in England. You have to imagine, it’s like a triangle where it’s written “Paris”, “in the”, and then in the bottom it says “the Spring”, so what you read is Paris in the Spring, but what’s written actually is “Paris in the the Spring”. It sounds stupid [laughs], but I was remembered of that and for some reason, when I heard the music, it just became Paris in the Spring. When I wrote the words, it kind of became about a lot of stuff, there are definitely three or four very different kind of things in it.

You know, French people are kinda bored that people from other countries only refer to Paris when they’re talking about France [laughs]… A lot of artists only go to Paris when they come on tour etc. so people from France from other cities are kind of angry about that.

OK [laughs]. You know, Paris is Paris. Paris has a sense of romance about it in a way that the other cities don’t, in the same way that London has a sense of romance about it in a way that Nottingham doesn’t. Paris is one of the greatest city of the world and coming as a foreign artist, there’s something about this city… Paris is beautiful, especially Paris in the Spring, the boulevards, all the flowers coming out, you know? It’s a lovely place to be.

About the search for a label for this new album, you declared that a lot of labels wanted a new Amplifier release but that Kscope was the only one that didn’t seem stuck in the 20th century in terms of their relationships with artists. What did you mean by that actually? Do you think nowadays most music labels are out of date?

Yeah, actually. I spoke about that to quite a lot of people and Kscope were the only ones who acknowledged the fact that we didn’t need them, and therefore, they wanted us to have a relationship that’s totally based on equality whereas most of the other labels seem to think that as record labels, they were gonna strip us of our assets for a ridiculously small amount of investment. Essentially, it sets the tone for how they will deal with the good musicians that they rely on for their business, which is stupid: it’s stupid to be so contemptuous with people you rely on to make the products that you sell. Kscope is a label that is actually really serious about what they’re doing, and understands what relationship between musicians and record labels involves. I’m not saying that it’s perfect because I have a very healthy dislike of the music industry in general, but we wannabe more successful and sell more records, to have the maximum capacity of records that we can sell just for ourselves, and to have a bigger marketing and a biggest distribution network too, and not to have people that work constantly on the phone selling CDs to Japan… If we want to sell more than 20.000 records, we need to work with someone or we need to hire stuff, so it’s easier to work with people that are more honest.

« Kscope were the only ones who acknowledged the fact that we didn’t need them, and therefore, they wanted us to have a relationship that’s totally based on equality whereas most of the other labels seem to think that as record labels, they were gonna strip us of our assets for a ridiculously small amount of investment. »

OK, and can you tell us more about your deal with Kscope records? What is their role and their implication in your communication?

Yeah: we make our records, and then what we do is we have an agreement with Kscope where we license them our records that we put out on Ampcorp, we have inclued some other else as well, some other bands, and basically they have the network, the distribution network, the promotion teams and whatever and then they work with our records like it’s their records, and we split the money. That’s how it works.

What other labels did contact you to propose you a deal?

I can’t really say because it looks bad, you know.

Did you chose Kscope because it was a record label that works with bands that are really close to you musically, I’m thinking about Anathema for example?

No, to be honest, that wasn’t the main reason. The main reason was because I know people that work there and I know what they’re like, and also because I know that they are on the up, and I know that the style of music that Kscope generally is involved is a style that a lot of people who like it might get into Amplifier. So that makes sense for us to go and be with them so we can get exposure to all the kind of fans of Porcupine Tree or Steven Wilson. And I guess Anathema is doing very well, so I suppose yes, that’s great thinking about it. But to be honest, it’s not just that, but also the fact that their office is like half an hour from my house, and that English is their first language. Having dealt with labels that are in another country, I know it’s really not helpful to have to speak to someone who’s in another country about your career, especially when English isn’t their first language. You should always have the same first language. And I like to just drop in and see what’s going on, and if I need to talk to somebody, etc. That’s the way to do stuff, so I think that would be a reason as well for having that relationship with Kscope.

About Oceansize: « I’m really happy that at least one part of that is carrying on by Steve [Durose]’s coming and playing out with us as well. »

OK. What is Steve Durose’s status in the band? Is he a full-time member?

“He’s in the band? Steve’s in the band?” Everyone asks this! [laughs] To us, we never even thought about that… Yes, he’s in the band. We never took a piece of paper and say “This is like that!”, you know? If you see somebody on a photograph of a band, they’re in the band [laughs]. Basically, I think that’s the way it works unofficially.

Do journalists often ask you questions about Oceansize and so on? Aren’t you bored of it?

Yeah, everyday! No, I’m not bored, they are my friends, and the history of both bands is intertwined. I’m really happy that at least one part of that is carrying on by Steve’s coming and playing out with us as well. I like to think that Steve really enjoys and values what’s going on. Next month we’re going to play a show in India, and Oceansize never got to do that, so that’s an adventure that’s still going on for all of us. I still see the other guys as well and everyone’s happy and doing stuff, so yeah, it’s cool. It’s just the next chapter for everyone.

OK. On another topic, what was Alexander Redhead’s implication in the writing of the album, since he’s one of the last to have joined the band?

Well for the album, we’ve done it so quickly that it’s pretty much me and Matt who made it, and then the other guys kinda added their stuff on top. Echo Street isn’t an album where we were jamming or something like that, because there just wasn’t time to do that, as I said the whole thing took thirty days to write, but for the next record there will be a much more conventional approach towards the material we’re gonna write. It must be quite difficult to come in a band that’s been going for fifteen years and just fit in, but both of those guys did that. A lot of people ask me about their role, like “That must be weird to go from a 3-piece to a 4-piece”, and I’m like “No actually, it’s not weird at all!” It’s just like an Olympic diver that came and didn’t make a single wave when he dived in the pool. It’s been really easy, and for Alex, it’s just the same. I guess that’s one of the good things about having a couple of records out and having been around for a while: people can see what your style is and just adapt themselves to fit into the style of the band.

Last question: apparently, there will be a video for this new album. Can you tell us more about it?

Yes, we’ve recorded that last week-end in some kind of blizzard, with everything falling out and crumbling…

OK, that’s it for me. Do you have one last thing to say?

Uh… Goodbye! [laughs]

Interview conducted by phone on February 7th 2013
Transcription: Chloé

Amplifier’s official website: www.amplifierband.com

Album Echo Street, out since March 11th 2013 via Kscope Music

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