Indie rock group Amber Run have just presented their sophomore effort, which unpacks heaps of heart and soul in the span of 45 minutes. This is a statement piece by the Nottingham band, who use lyric and harmony to pull together something bigger than themselves. It’s filled with poignant words, ascending melodies, and a full range of emotion. This is For a Moment, I Was Lost.
We spoke to lead singer, Joe Keogh, about the production of this album, having worked with a whole new team after being dropped by their label last year. About For a Moment, I Was Lost, Keogh said, “We worked with our dear friend and mentor, Ben Allen. Not to be confused with Bombay Bicycle Club’s Ben Allen. Different guy. It was the first record that he had ever produced, and we wanted to be doing it with friends and enjoy what we were doing. We didn’t have to work with a producer’s style or name and do what we wanted to do. And with Ben, he’s known us for such a long time, and we all have a mutual respect for each other for what we’re good at, and what we’re not so good at. So that makes it an easy movement from what we did with Mike on the first record. It was a good time, and with a close knit group of friends, you don’t have to think about anyone else’s feelings or anything. It just felt really liberating to do exactly what we wanted to be doing.”
“It just felt really liberating to do exactly what we wanted to be doing.”
Opening track “Insomniac” immediately and effectively sets the mood. It’s critical and a little bitter “Do the promises you made feel harder to keep?”, but the tempo stays consistently upbeat. Compared to their earlier work, this already seems like a distinct departure towards a more atmospheric sound. In fact, what follows is a series of songs that are as full of emotion as “Insomniac,” with a special focus placed upon lyrical content. As hinted at in this first track, only bits and pieces of the more traditional indie-rock sound shows through on this album, which turns out to be an excellent stylistic choice.
The approach to the cathartic “No Answers” is a simple one. It begins as a verbally-based track, with lead singer Joe Keogh’s vocals pushing and pulling as if they are ready to burst at any moment. As the song evolves, there’s a melancholy metamorphosing into anger, as the song descends into a hopeless release of emotion. “I’ve got no answers for you,” Keogh wails, leaving the song on an intense note that is hard to follow.
“The songs were just born out of pure frustration and anger towards lots of different stuff.”
The album is notable darker than their debut. “I think the songs were just born out of pure frustration and anger towards lots of different stuff. Obviously, when you get dropped by a label, or when Felix left, there was a lot of kinda frustration knocking around and that can be seen in some of the music. The first record was happy-go-lucky, naïve and rounded around the edges because of that. Whereas, what we got now is a more angry album, more happy to have it have some jagged edges because how people feel, and how they do stuff isn’t obvious, or round.”
The first group of songs vary in tone, but are all held together by a certain essence. Somewhere near the midway point, “Fickle Game” appears as somewhat of hidden gem, but it is a convergence of everything good about this album.
Wrapped up in a dream-like, delicate tune is what is arguably For a Moment’s strongest lyrical and vocal presentation. It slows things down just enough to refocus on the ways in which Amber Run have grown since we saw them last. “Fickle Game” is just about the closest thing to perfect a song can get. What helps as well is its placement within the larger context. We dove deeper into the meaning behind our favorite track on FAMIWL:
“The label we were on before had asked us to write five songs and, if they were good enough, they’d keep us on. And it was kind of like a backlash to that. Us being like, “How come you get to decide what’s good or bad” and, I was watching Game of Thrones at the time, and it does feel a little bit like that. This is people’s lives, and how can you play chess with it. It felt like a political struggle, instead of just trying to make good music. And that’s what “Fickle Game” became. That reaction to wanting to write good music and not having to worry about “Fast enough to not get in trouble / But not fast enough to get away” or “Old enough to know I’ll end up dying / not young enough to forget again” – Any which way you turn, there’s never the right answer in front of you. It’s a business, music, to a lot of people. In reality, it’s not to the artist. It’s the hopes, fears and aspirations, and I think it’s quite easily forgotten.”
To top off the mood, the follow up song “Haze” is entirely a cappella. This series of tracks shows the reward that can be had for taking risks in your music. Those hints of indie-rock mentioned earlier are made apparent in “White Lie,” a return to a little bit of tempo, with a percussion line that uniquely stands out among the other bells and whistles. This feature shows up in a few others tracks and is another thing Amber Run are exceptionally good at. The brutally honest emotion that overlaps the entire album is also present here as they sing “I’m a failure / I’m a disaster / And I don’t wanna be anything else.”
The latter half of For a Moment, I Was Lost brings with it the mellow and heartfelt ballad “Machine” and the piano-driven “Are You Home?” After a roller coaster of changing moods and melodies, things refreshingly begin to wind down, gently placing the end note on “Wastelands.” It’s somber and at the same time genuine, making it the perfect closure for an album that feels very much the same way.
Amber Run have worked hard to get to this point. For A Moment, I Was Lost is what they have to show for it: A captivating piece of work that shows both their evolution as a band and the talent that has been there the whole time.
You’ve finally welcomed For A Moment, I Was Lost into the world. How are you feeling? Feeling really, really good. It took a lot of effort, craft and hard work from lots of different people to make sure it happened. So, we’re really proud and it feels great.
Where are you at now that you were able to put the project out, to a lot of hype? It feels great. It feels amazing to come out, but when we went away, you just kind of assume that people forget about you, and people aren’t listening to you because you’re not releasing new music. You know, 5AM, and the songs we got on it have grown and grown. Songs like “I Found” get more plays now than anyone’s ever listened to it before.
I saw you guys recently hit 29 million views on YouTube and over a million on your collaboration with the London Contemporary Voices. Yeah, it’s mental. Regardless of mainstream commercial success, or how many records you sell, or how many this or that, the fact that we were able to put it out; the fact that we were writing music together again, and getting into a room and playing our instruments wasn’t a chore anymore. It’s already considered a success for us, even if there’s nobody to listen to it. And that feels just as good as the beautiful things that people have been saying about it. People can say some beautiful things, and some people can say some fucking horrible things, but if you’re not happy with the project, then the rest is kind of irrelevant.
How did it feel to get back into the saddle after a year without playing live? I’ll be honest. We played our first show in Norwich, and we were fucking terrible. I don’t know, we were all desperately nervous. We’d waited 14 months to play live and we started this band so we can play live and tour, and I think we just put it up on this pedestal and forgot to have a good time. That’s half of what live music is, you know? People want to have a good time, or they want to feel something and we were too busy looking down at our guitars and pedals to put on a show. You learn from it, and since then it’s been amazing. Genuinely, it’s been some of the biggest and best shows we’ve ever played.
Did you set off to make an album that was darker and more emotional, or was that just indicative of the headspace you were in while writing it? We were 18-19 years old for 5AM and that’s how we were feeling; pleased to be alive and pleased to have the opportunity to make music. But you live, and you grow up and your responsibilities, and how you feel about things change. We were going through some dark shit. All of us were kind of grappling with something. I was grabbling with my anxiety. There was a period that I couldn’t leave my house for a week because I just kept passing out because I was so anxious about the future and what I was doing, and what I was doing was worthwhile and good enough to even bother carrying on. I think the record is truthful to that.
You can try to write pop stuff, but band’s have an obligation to write proper, emotional stuff. There’s so much drivel knocking around. There’s so much vapid stuff, and it feels really great because people are coming up to me, more than ever, how it’s helped. And it’s wonderful because this album helped us. It was cathartic. So that’s why the album’s dark, there were some dark moments. I’m not gonna say the next album’s going to be more of the same, or happier, but I’m not going to say anything. We’re not tied down by the fact that we have to do this or that. We need to be happy, or we need to be sad. We can write about whatever the fuck we want. We could write the next “Teletubbies” theme tune, if that’s how we’re feeling.
That’s what I love about music. It makes a connection between fan and artist and express how they’re feeling. And while some people can totally relate, and maybe others don’t, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s all down to perspective. Some people love the first album, and don’t love this one as much, and that’s fine. But then some other people adore the second album. The second one is my personal favorite, it feels a bit bolder.
I do have to say, thank you, because a few of your songs have really helped some of my friends and your fans get through some really rough stuff. That’s okay, honestly. It’s amazing to hear stuff like that and I will take the thanks, but I didn’t really help at all, all we did was write from our perspective and people found something in it. And I’ll never be so arrogant to think we genuinely helped. People help themselves and the fans found something in the music.
There are themes of fear and anxiety throughout these songs. Is making music a way to work through these things, just interesting topics to explore, or perhaps both? For me, personally, I’d definitely say so. It’s also relatively a bit of a burden, because you sing them every night and you listen to them again and again. You get transported back to that moment of how you’re feeling then. It’s kind of weird because reopening old wounds, and picking off an old scab. So I’m really pleased we’re able to do it, and feel it’s important to speak from an emotional place, but it’s a double-edged sword.
A friend used to intern at a label, and saw how they treated artists behind closed doors, it’s kind of crazy. The worst part is, the part I find most scary, is that they all would’ve gone into that label, or that job, because they love music. At what point did they forget that? Or forget the human aspect of it? As soon as you get money involved with any relationship, it turns kind of pear-shaped. I don’t want to blame anyone or labels for how it’s turned out, but it comes down to artists like Amber Run, and other artists in the same world to talk and sing about it, but not whinge about it, but be honest. How many times have you heard an artist say “yeah, it’s great”, “it’s amazing.” Everybody’s fucking terrified to show any cracks in the armor because then people won’t get on board. The real beauty comes in the moments of self-doubt, but we’re all too scared to engage with it.
I saw you guys signed an American publishing deal – that’s exciting! Do you have plans to come over soon? We signed a licensing deal with Down Low Records, that’ll put the hard copy record in the States and Canada and hopefully that’ll pave the way for us to do some touring out there. It’s just horrifically expensive, for anyone. Even if you have a bunch of money behind a label, now that we don’t, it’s proving more difficult, but at the same time we’re working really hard to make it happen. As soon as we get the opportunity to perform out there, we’ll sprint over. It is a fickle game.
Did you grow up in a musical household? What got you started in music? My dad’s a bassist in a band and they were pretty good. It’s like a Duran Duran kind of synth-pop-rock thing. He was a good bassist and we listened to a lot of great music growing up. So in that sense, yes, but are all my family musicians? No. My younger brothers play their instruments, but it’s not the lead thing they’re doing now. Music was always really important, but it was never a prerequisite that Joe or anyone was going to go into music.
It’s not the family plumbing business. (laughs) No.
If I were to spend a day with you, where would you take me? Are you asking me out? Are we going on a date? Fair play. There’s loads of beautiful stuff. There’s loads of great live music, great history. There’s some beautiful spots that aren’t in London. Try to go to the surrounding countryside, or take a train down to Brighton. London is massive, it’s a huge metropolitan city. But I’m a big foodie, so I’d give you restaurant advice. A friend of mine runs a French-American burger place called Le Bun, and that’s really amazing. They’re doing some cool culinary stuff, pushing the burger away from being a burger – which obviously, you Americans know about burgers. This is a different kettle of fish.