I've recently been digging through our history setting up a new website and came across this. It's really time we returned to the US, we had a great time over there so watch this space !
October 11, 2009
Dirty, warped and crooked floor boards with matching booths, walls tainted with a decade worth of cigarette residue, locals silhouetted behind a cloud of smoke, a push of a plug into a well-traveled amplifier releases a scent of ozone.. let the show begin ...
Traveling from one run-down town to the next, playing in clubs and bars that long ago should have been condemned, is a haven for most musicians. Taking comfort in an open road echoing tales of woe. Its a staple for endurance of making or breaking a band and an endurance that eventually harnesses the backbone of what bands become and the songs they write. Embracing chaos, dysfunction and hell indicates that the rock-n-roll lifestyle is not a life easily lived by just anyone.
Hats go off to bands like the Amplifires UK that somehow forge their way over the big pond between their homeland of England and the US, crawling from town to town to play 11 venues in just 12 days.
Armed with their latest album S.W.A.L.K. [Sealed With A Loving Kiss], chock full of music as raw as the tires on their RV. This crew of misfit, English Punk rockers [Sharon Clancy, vocals - Steve Rawlingson, guitar - David Brunt, bass - Ruth Dobson, drums] mesh love songs with crunch guitars, hauntingly crossing 1970s Sex Pistols with 1980s Heart.
Examiner recently caught up with the Amplifires UK to talk about their new album and to reflect on their first US tour, that has their tour manager, Larry, convinced that the 12 day pilgrimage would have even the most optimist's smile wiped clean from their face. Luckily, the Amps are pretty thick-skinned and took it all in stride.
Examiner: Let's talk about the American tour, since it seemed to have lots of ups and downs:
STEVE: I'm not sure I'd agree with the context you have set. The playing was great and my perception overall was one of triumph (a motorcycle ride too) even if the process was new to us as a band - it has enabled us to realise some of the ways we need to plan and prepare living and working together for weeks at a time and to make the most of opportunities when they are presented.
SHARON: I enjoyed the venues in the US - much more like proper music venues, with proper stages and the Americans can seem more genuinely enthusiastic and more willing to let you know if they like you.
DAVID: The whole thing went very well, a couple of hitches along the way with the RV didn't detract from what was a fantastic experience, the ups will be remembered long after the downs have faded away, and overal there were a lot more positives than negatives. It was a learning process, something we'll do far better next time and have bigger pluses and less minuses.
RUTH: Only downs were not enough sleep (because there just wasn’t time), not having English tea on tap in the RV and having precious little time to spend with the great people we met along the way.
Examiner: How do audiences differ from the UK to the US? Do you prefer to play at one over the other?
STEVE: I enjoyed playing in the USA. It is just as difficult to get people out of the door and into a venue. The diference in the USA is that people are prepared to travel further. We are playing a different kind of music to most bands and this was much more apparent to us when in front of a USA audience - they were more excited. In fact to the point of suggesting on more than one occasion that we were/are 'frickin' awesome'.
SHARON: I enjoyed the venues in the US - much more like proper music venues, with proper stages and the Americans can seem more genuinely enthusiastic and more willing to let you know if they like you.
DAVID: US audiences are far more likely to actively tell you what they think, in the UK they will applaude but you never really know how they feel - British trait of being reserved I guess. The US venues were generally far better than our UK ones, buildings set out to be venues with a stage and sound equipment as opposed to the UK where many seem to see music as an afterthought and fit you in any corner available.
RUTH: In the UK, we are known in many of the venues in which we play and people come specifically to see us. We were a relatively unknown quantity in the US. What I loved about US audiences was how welcome they made us feel when we introduced ourselves as being from the UK, the applause and cheering after songs and the voluntary feedback they came to give us personally after our set. It has left us with very very fond memories.
Examiner: How about venues? Do you come across a lot of venues that ask you to turn down your music due to sound ordinances in the UK or is this only an occurrence in the US?
STEVE: The venues were a long way from each other! Some of the venues were like at home - bars playing at being venues whose purpose is to sell beer and shots and the bands are a way of bringing in the bucks. Other places were more like venues, raised stages, decent PA's (some of them working) and a resident sound engineer (some of them working) - the purpose being to entertain people with music, and as a by-product beer and shots get sold. The biggest difference to me seemed to be that there were more of the latter in the USA than the former. Getting asked to turn down.......... only at two places, Lefty's in Lindenhurst and The Enclave in Willoughby. In the UK some places have maximum sound levels and devices that turn off the power if it goes over the limit - this is down to licence requirements of local town and city administrations but is very rare.
DAVID: The UK has the same problem - I think they worry in case we wake some of the regulars up!!
RUTH: No not really, because we know the venues where are playing. We were once asked to sign a contract for a local beer festival that gave the organizers the permission to ‘turn us down’ if they felt we were too loud. This was mainly because we were playing outdoors in a rather up-market residential area. However, they never turned us down. And we were loud!
Examiner: Do you have something to say about the venues that request quieter rock?
STEVE: If its too loud you're too old.
SHARON: Mainly that we wouldn't fit in as that is not what we do and there is no point trying to pretend we are something we are not!!
DAVID: Rock? Quiet? Isn't that a contradiction? But - goodnight and goodbye, whispered of course!
RUTH: Get ear plugs!
Examiner: What was your biggest challenge while being on the road in the US?
STEVE: Coping with boredom when travelling, having few opportunities to eat and drink anything other than Dorito's and Gatorade - performance wise nothing really. Even playing at midnight and later was cool - usually shows have ended in the UK by 11 or 11:30pm.
SHARON: The very long journeys - too much time on the road, too little time seeing anything of the country we were travelling through. This made the whole thing much more fatiguing than it could have been I think.
DAVID: All the tarmac and trees we saw, and cramped up for hours on end with no respite. PA is almost the size of the UK, something you don't appreciate until you have to travel across it. Being with people 24/7 was also interesting for two weeks and something that hopefully in the future will bring the band closer both musically and personally.
RUTH: Staying awake myself and trying to keep Larry awake whilst driving!
Examiner: After long hours in the middle of the night on the road, playing at clubs where your music just didn't mesh and of course the several famous RV breakdowns, what were some of the highlights of the tour?
STEVE: Again, you're painting a picture that I don't entirely recognise. There were two venues that we were not well received - one had been treated to a 17 piece big band the night before and the other, where the kids inside wanted to play wargames, the barkeep wanted to feed her face with chocolate cake and resented a band interfering with that and where the aircon had gone kaput so all the customers went outside to keep cool). The rest of the venues were great - provided drink/beers, food, free T's, and even paid us. The RV is elderly and broke down once due to a faulty part which got repaired. What actually stuck it to us were the distances and travelling times between shows - so by default one highlight for me was breaking down in Pittsburgh so we got to spend the following day there whilst it was repaired, the second was our good friend Larry driving through the night after a late night show in Brooklyn to get us to Albany early in the morning. An early arrival at a motel meant we were able to see the administrative centre of NY state and its connections with Herbert Melville and other such stuff - great gig that night too. People singing the lyrics back to us at a couple of gigs was great and particularly so at Potsdam NY which went slightly mental and we played a 40 minute encore!
SHARON: The Potsdam gig, bar none, for me - it was great seeing such an enthusiastic audience who loved our own stuff as much as the covers. I also enjoyed the Buffalo one musically - mainly because it was good to be appreciated by other bands!
DAVID: The travelling was wearing, but all the gigs were great, we were there primarily to play and that's what we enjoyed. Playing to 2 or 200 people is the same, they are there to see you so you do your best. As Steve intimated on the two were probably the least favourite but to say they were a failure would be wrong. Everywhere we played including those two venues people liked what we did and we kept getting told that our sound was a refreshing change to the normal bands they had. Brenda and Jerrys in Bath, being the first gig and the fantastic welcome we had from Brenda will always stay in my mind, as will the last one in at La Casbah in Potsdam - a fantastic audience who knew the words to our own songs - and we had a guided tour of the radio station there.
RUTH: Music wise, the gigs I enjoyed the most were Buffalo Joes – a smallish but fabulously enthusiastic audience; Red Square – Albany –for the amazing venue and the great bands we played with; Goodbye Blue Monday’s – Brooklyn, New York – once again the fantastically enthusiastic audience and the most delicious carrot cake I consumed before the gig (washed down with beer) and finally, La Casbah in Potsdam – the welcome we received from the Radio Station, the students who came to dance to our music (in particular the ones that danced with me!), and the best falafel sandwiches I’ve had outside of the Middle East! Peoplewise, it would have to be Larry, our manager. He gave his all to help us achieve our dream and is continuing to do so too. How often do you meet people like that?
Examiner: Does it make you want to reconsider your profession after having a challenging time on the road during your US tour? Or does it make you want to play harder rock and go back to do it all again?
STEVE: I think we're coming back, bigger and better. I have a day job to earn the money to do the things I want to do for real. Playing in the Amplifires with my friends is one of them. As before this has been a big learning experience for me and everyone else - when the challenges have gone what will there be left. We need 'em... and the dream!
SHARON: It's not our profession - maybe things would be different if it were! But coming back to full time jobs without being able to rest and reflect was one of the hardest things for me. It took me at least two weeks to setle back into any kind of normal routine. I would like to go back though.
DAVID: Professionally I'm a pharmacist, so yes I would love to reconsider my profession and do music full time so we can put more into our music and also get more out of it.
RUTH: Would be great to have the opportunity to do something similar again. I enjoy my profession and am fortunate enough to be able to combine the two.
Examiner: Give me details of what you thought about the city/venue/show:
STEVE: Great gig and great people - I remember the helpful PA guy (couldn't get his head round our monitor requirements though) and the pizza bought in for us by the owner. Also I have never had an urban goatherder as a support act - he sounded like Anthony and the Johnson after his balls dropped! We liked Pittsburgh!
SHARON: Ok - sound system not great for me.
DAVID: Agreed - monitor sound left something to be desired and I did wonder if I was playing as I couldn't hear it. There were a number of other bands there watching us and they thought we were great - Mark and the rest of The Woo Hoos are now our newly made US friends. Great city, probably one of the cleanest, friendliest places I've been to.
RUTH: Great band that followed us too -, Evolucid, with the most amazing merchandise. I do like shopping aft!er a gig.
STEVE: Ha ha, these bad bikers were kittens - we got the wax out of their ears big time and they loved it! The bar was a strange one 'Rusty's Sore Ring' or something - like a big old C&W venue, thought Dolly P was going to burst out of there singing Jolene but no, it became a community disco and bingo night into the early hours!
SHARON: Enjoyed playing for the bikers! they seemed to get us and we all had fun on stage.
DAVID: In Belle Vernon - after arriving and being told we would only be able to do two songs we almost left immediately but again The Woo Hoo Band came to the rescue and let us eat into almost 40 minutes of their set. A great gig, and great fun - fed burgers the size of a small RV, then collapsed in bed!!
RUTH: A great evening. Super venue, with lots of beer and dancing. And disco dancing after the gig. What more can a disco queen want. And Sharon and I managed to have an adventure down the white waters of the Yough River. Overall I think we spent more time on stage the previous night than we did in that raft!!!
STEVE: Free T's and beer and they paid us. Good stage and PA and we did encores. An early show for us and a chance to try out the gear and get in our stride - the weekend before the students hit town again so a bit light on numbers but, according to the owner, many more in there than usual on a Tuesday night.
DAVID: Nice venue and very friendly people, a decent sized and appreciative audience, I'm not sure where Sharon was - I hope it was her singing with us and not Larry!! As Steve said , the owner was delighted as there were many more people there than was usual.
STEVE: Great - the high spot but everyone else will tell you about it.
DAVID: Great people, lovely old venue and we played as if our lives depended on it, tight and fast rock - just what we needed since it was our last date on the current tour, we certainly went out with a bang, and such great memories
Examiner: It seems the band mainly played on the east coast? Are there plans for a west coast tour?
STEVE: As long as we don't have to do it by road! When we come back we will be playing the same territory unless we can get something like a couple of UCLA dates or a good offer in a club in LA - but we would fly!
SHARON: No - not specifically
DAVID: The east coast was chosen as a first hit for two reasons, it's easy access from the UK and having Larry in PA. We are getting offers from a number of places, Texas and California being a couple, I would like to think we could consolidate what we did on our first tour in the NY and PA area and then build on that on a subsequent foray to the US
RUTH: Nothing is out of the question.
Examiner: Larry told me that the Amps would like another US tour, only this time doing a leg of Universities. Are there confirmed dates? Do you have any specific Universities you want to play?
STEVE: We loved the reaction from Potsdam so that would be a yes. The college scene in the USA is new to us, and the bigger cities are likely to be better for us. Some of our music is a bit sleazy & spikey so more comfortable in that environment - and we are likely to get a bigger crowd. Nothing confirmed yet, although larry tells me there are many irons in the fire.
SHARON: The ones around Potsdam and NY.
DAVID: There are no confirmed dates yet but Potsdam, Buffalo and Syracuse are currently in discussion, we would like to continue to tour PA too, so need to follow up on details we have there too.
RUTH: Having been to university 3 times, this would be familiar territory. Students rock!
Examiner: Any inside thoughts about the conclusion of the US Tour you felt before boarding the plane to head back home to the UK?
STEVE: Lets get home then work out how and when to come back; I want to sleep in my own bed; What time is it; Oh no, work tomorrow!
SHARON: We left on a musical high after Potsdam - I think we were all pretty weary and needed time to think after the experience, which was pretty full on.
DAVID: General thoughts were, have we really done this? And is it over? It went so quickly. Also leaving Larry at JFK was difficult, during the two weeks he had become the fifth Amplifire and a good friend. After boarding and sitting on the plane at JFK and getting towed back from the runway three times because one of the engines wasn't working as it should 'Three Steps To Heaven' came to mind!!
RUTH: I hope we don’t get Delta Airlines pasta again! Will my cymbal get back in one piece. Wishing we could have taken Larry with us. That was fun and I’m so so glad we took the plunge and did it.
STEVE: Whatever you want it to be, and whatever you hear. We have many influences and likes and dislikes within our personal taste so we haven't been prescriptive about what we try and do. There is a fire and energy that starts to permeate everything we do so what might start out sounding like one thing morphs into an Amplifires things - and that applies to cover version as well as the things we write ourselves.
SHARON: A mixture - not just punk, nor rock. Something of our own but we don't like cheesy or overly polished. I really dislike MOR music.
DAVID: I would like to think we do music that is cross genre and can't be pigeonholed into a style that we wouldn't be comfortable with. If that is the case I also hope it confuses the many people that like to know what category our music should be in. We have a raw sound because it's what we enjoy, music that has an honesty and immediate energy that once you start overproducing songs is lost. We do music for us but we are finding increasingly that more and more people want to listen to it as well.
Who are your major influences?
Examiner: How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
STEVE: David, Sharon and me since 2005 - Ruth joined in 2007. Sharon and I knew each other already - I met David following an ebay sale and Ruth came to an audition and did a gig the following night.
Examiner: When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music together?
STEVE: 2005 - first 'gig' was 6 numbers at an open mic night on October 22, 2005. We were inspired because there wasn't anyone else.
Examiner: Explain LilacNectar Records?
STEVE: I formed the label in 1997 when I lived in York, England. I formed it because I figured I could help local bands get recorded using my equipment - they would get it copied to cassette or CD and I would get a commission when sold. It never really got off the ground as I moved with my day job soon after - my earlier band HoneyTrap had a CD and cassette release.
Examiner: What can you tell me about your instruments? (i.e., Are you subject to brand loyalty or will you play with whatever's available? What made you choose the instruments you have now? Was it cost or was it a style/model/brand/color preference?
STEVE: I used to be strictly a Gibson Les Paul/Yamaha SBG - 1000's and Marshall Anniversary half-stack sort of a guy. Still am - my Heritage 80 Sereies Les Paul was bought from Matt Umanov on Bleecker Street in NYC around ' 94, I have a '78 Yam SG that I have owned for around 10 years and although the half-stack is still around from when I bought it in 1992/93 it has been joined by a Mesa Boogie Nomad 100 combo/2 x 12 extension cab and a Mesa Boogie Nomad half stack. Sacrilege but they have replaced the Marshall. Main guitars joined by a 'The Heritage Les Paul - CM150 in green (USA tour guitar) - a The Heritage H535 (a 335 made in the Gibson factory in Kalamzoo) and two Yamaha SA's - both '81 and one is a SA2000S and the other a SA800 - both Japanese made. All these guitars have to sound good and feel good to play - instruments are a very personal thing and I have had many, many instruments before finding the ones that are the best for me. They all look good too. For me it is Gibson, The Heritage, Yamaha, Marshall and Mesa Boogies - although in the USA I also own a Hamer Special USA and a Mesa Boogie DC5. I'm a bit of a snob with guitars and amps - but I have made enough mistakes to have earned that right.
SHARON: Mike I use suggested by Steve - good for female vox and he is right as it 'cuts through', hence loyalty to SM 57 but am about to try an updated version.
DAVID: I tend to use many different basses, it's a standing joke that I don't use the same bass for more than one gig - untrue but hmmm !! On the US dates I used a Fender Precision bass and Hartke amp, I wanted something I was comfortable with and also to know that it was reliable as I didn't want to have to worry about it failing. At home I use Hartke amps and currently Italia, Fender, Yamaha, G&L and Alembic basses. Chosen for quality, reliability, sound and comfort of playing.
Examiner: Which songs do you perform most frequently? Do you have the same set-list for each night?
STEVE: There has almost never been a gig we haven't finished with Fire on the Moon - the setlist changes, mostly during the gig which can be awkward if one person is playing one thing and someone else another (joke - laughs). Dear Stalker, Walls, Wired all get a good hammering although we are always trying to bring some of the newer songs in.
SHARON: No -we vary it but there are some we almost always do - Midnight Moses, Fire on the Moon and Swampsnake being most obvious ones and Wired, Walls, She Is and Mr Pleasure get quite a few airings amongst our own.
DAVID: We hardly ever have the same set list, and tend to change them to suit the audience we have to make sure we give them what they want. I think we probably do everything in our repetoire on a regular basis
Examiner: What covers to you play the most? Why?
SHARON: Agreed - we like them!
DAVID: Ones we like in the Amplifire- uped style we do.
Examiner: Who writes your songs? Describe the music-making process?
STEVE: Song ideas will always have to come from one or two people - they get brought along, kicked around, left on one side for a bit, come back to them and give them a sniff to see if they are still alive, and keep on kicking it until we have all had an input. And then its 'ours'.
SHARON: A mixture - often Steve or David come up with the idea for a song, I come up with the lyrics and melody. Sometimes Steve or David come up with the words too.
DAVID: Ideas are generated at home and thrown into practices - if they sound as if they might work we persevere with them and all four of us have our own input to make it into an Amplifires song.
Examiner: How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?
STEVE: A bit more focussed on the raucous but at the same time recognizing the need and value of light and shade.
SHARON: I think it's become more varied and, dare I say, subtle in some ways - it's certainly evolved but is still exciting.
DAVID: More sophisticated and diverse, I think the future holds some great songs as we become more familiar and comfortable playing with each other. We have plenty more songs in us, actually doing everything we come up with is our biggest challenge.
Examiner: What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?
STEVE: Going to the USA and coming back with our sanity. Yes we have and we are all better people for it
SHARON: Confidence, self-belief for me. Acquiring on-stage performance skills and over-riding nerves.
DAVID: So far the US tour - getting through it in many ways, particularly self appraisal of events and putting things into context so that a true memory of events is in place. Planning for a bigger, better tour is now a greater challenge.
Examiner: With S.W.A.L.K. the main topic is love? Was this on purpose? Why this topic? Do you think these topics will change over time?
STEVE: It wasn't a concept album in that sense. Most songs by most bands are about love. Or about sex. Or both - or about hate, in which case you have the full range of human emotions. The name came because we were bickering over names to call the next collection of songs. David and I were keen to maintain and continue the visual element of the fiery moon. Sharon and Ruth both had this thing about lips - and the idea was to have them on a black background. By incorporaring the nebula from Fire on the Moon and shading it green AND recognising that we could play with some of the themes within the album SWALK captured something a little enigmatic like the smil playing across the lips of the Mona Lisa.
SHARON: SWALK title suggested itself because there were several songs about love and permutations of it, rather than it being on purpose. What we write about changes all the time. I do have an interest in human relationships thjough but don't write exclusively about love!!
DAVID: As said, many of the songs had a love theme so it seemed appropriate that the album was called that. Future albums will certainly vary but probably not be themed.
Examiner: Would it be a fair observation to say, the band as a whole brings the rock and Sharon brings the beauty? Especially on a song like "Remember My Day"
SHARON: That's a nice comment - but I don't know whether it's true or not. Does she mean the beauty of my voice - which is very kind if she does? Or does she mean that I sound like an acoustic singer who's sneaked into a rock band?! [Note: Examiner meant beauty in Sharon's voice]
Examiner: With songs like Do It For Love and Mr. Pleasure the sound of S.W.A.L.K. could literally be an album from the 70s with the crunchy, swiftful guitar ballads and echoing vocals, do you find this sound natural to the band or was this the intended sound?
STEVE: Fair point - except that I think both have a different feel too. Mr Pleasure has some roots in the 70's style but I think has borrowed more from the late 80's and early 90's - think Madchester and Stone Roses/Happy Mondays - throw in the current decade with sounds like Kasabian and its more of a dance/rock flavour - a groove that gets your feet moving.
SHARON: Not specifically intentional - we just write that way it seems but I didn't think it was especially 70's in style. - though we have been described as 'retro' before.
DAVID: Most music has a derived source from the past, we pick and choose from music we like from whatever decade to try and produce something new, hopefully we achieve this with the influences we have and at the same time avoid the trap many bands fall into in that they almost sound like a tribute band for a previous band. The music we make is us - varied, but having the distictive Amplifires sound.
Examiner: S.W.A.L.K. is against the grain of mainstream, what do you think of the current music scene?
STEVE: The bland inanities that occupy the mainstream of music always have - 'ooooh, I realize I've just given the game away!' It's not all bland, there is some great stuff around and its not that far from the mainstream. Have a listen to The Cribs from the UK - they even have Johnny Marr from The Smiths on guitar.
DAVID: Mainstream is what people are force fed and convinced they will like, much of it very similar, there's a whole world of great music out there if only people would open themselves up to it. We would like to be thought of as individuals and not follow the crowd and do music we like that has an edge to it but that others will appreciate. Much of what is 'popular' today is staid and predicable.
Examiner: Are you hoping to change the scene?
STEVE: I'm hoping the scene will change us, make us more and more popular whilst retaining our own identity and independence. For me the scene we belong to is constantly changing and long may it do so. If we can have a flicker of influence than that would be great, whatever our 15 seconds of fame is it could be a lot worse than that.
DAVID: I don't think realistically we can do that, right place, right time and a bucketful of luck is needed to do that. If we can do what we want to do and get people interested along the way that would exceed expectations
Examiner: What do you hope to bring or change to the scene?
STEVE: A different way of seeing a complicated world. Our music is just a small part of a big picture. If people hear things in our music, read our influences, understand where we have come from and how we are affected and effected by the other things that interest us, and that leads them on somewhere else then I will be quite proud and a little smug.
SHARON: Are we against the mainstream grain? You're probably right. I get very tired of everything sounding like it has come from the same stable, wihch a lot of stuff on the radio could be accused of, but I still think there are plenty of people experimenting out there. I just don't think it gets the media attention it should. If anything, we are arguing for musical diversity and against 'bland'.
DAVID: A change to real 'live' music would be good. Many bands that spend months recording can't reproduce what they do live without extra musicians, and some can't sing at all live - what we do on cd is exactly what you get live, a punk philosophy in some ways but why make music you can't perform? S.W.A.L.K was recorded virtually live one afternoon in my garage.
Examiner: Why is Nancy, from Warren, OH your biggest fan?
STEVE: Because she hasn't met me yet and figured out that I am just like Napolean Dynamite on a bad hair day!
LARRY: Nancy W. from Warren, Ohio jumped into the new Amplifires fan list very early on. She started with a bang and was quite ambitious. Due to extreme health issues with her mother and now herself she may never get to enjoy the Amplifires in person.
In conclusion, David sums it up well:
DAVID: I think we're just normal people - and look for the best things from experiences, doesn't always happen but with something as big as a UK band touring the US then surely there's something drastically wrong if you can't find good things in the experience. I know I like to be positive and optimistic about things and I think the other three are similar, we did have mishaps but nothing unsurmountable and certainly nothing big enough to put us [out] of now planning for a March/April tour next year.