If this is what we can expect from music in 2013, then we’re in for a great year. Manchester-based band, Embers are the sound of floating in space. Rare is the band, who’s grandeur warrants immediate bookings in massive stadiums. This isn’t music built for a small room. It is meant to bounce against the skies. Massive in a way that reminds me of early Verve.
As if the music wasn’t enough, they put as much care into their visuals, which create an ambient, cinematic, immersive experience that stuns audiences. Their two most recent videos were filmed during a show at Manchester’s Gorton Monastery where they also featured string players and a small choir. George Agan (Vocals/Guitar), Will Clutton (Bass/Keys), Steven Mclnerney (Guitar) and Nathan Howard (Drums) are names that are certain to travel the world, as the word spreads. Todd talked to Steve about how a small, new band creates such a huge sound, visual footprint and impression on a growing segment of the British media.
Todd: To say that there’s a lot of hype about a band, implies that it is perhaps overblown. Let’s just say that you guys seem to have quite a bit of momentum at the moment. I see your name everywhere all of a sudden and everyone is blown away with your music. To what do you attribute the breakthrough? Is there a single article, interview, dj that you think made a big difference?
Steven: It’s genuinely difficult to say; songs that we’d already put out were picked up by DJs such as John Kennedy and Mary-Anne Hobbs at XFM, who’ve been just two parties who’ve really supported us. Then when Clash Magazine premiered the new tracks, that was a really big thing for us and the videos started to circulate, culminating in Paul Lester at the Guardian giving us a very complimentary review through his ‘New Band Of The Day’ feature. The way everything has developed has felt really organic, with one thing leading to another, which is great.
Todd: The production on everything you’ve done, starting with Without Fear or Favour (which was the first thing I heard, if there’s something that pre-dates that, you’ll have to let me know) is remarkable. You’re able to obtain a “huge” sound on record and on the live recording you’ve released. Is this something you consider a trademark of your sound?
Steven: Without Fear or Favour, alongside Days Turn into Weeks was one of the first songs we put out, which feels like a long time ago now, even though I guess it wasn’t. As these tracks should hopefully demonstrate, we are all fans of ‘big’ sounding music, especially film music and anything with a sense of grandeur and ambition, and this sound is something we have attempted to encapsulate in all our recordings. As far as a ‘trademark’ of our sound. I guess our current sound has been a product of us wanting to push ourselves as a band and make music that we feel is exciting. I’d like to think we’d continue with that philosophy regardless of what genre or style we were exploring in the future.
Todd: Can you talk about the how you achieve this sound in the studio and live? Go ahead and get technical on us, if you’d like. We love talking amps and effects pedals….
Steven: I guess we just try and make a lot of noise… we’re huge fans of bands like Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros and Radiohead – they’re all masters of layering. They have this wonderful knack of adding many subtle, little layers to their songs, which in turn creates this very beautiful, and very naturally rich musical texture – It’s definitely something that we aim to replicate. There is nothing overly complicated to what we do if we’re being honest; it’s just the result of trying lots and lots of things until the song or the idea just ‘feels’ right. If it doesn’t engage us emotionally then we know its not working.
Todd: I love the live videos, but it’s an interesting way to introduce yourselves. Was there a conscious decision to do this, rather than some storyboarded concept video?
Steven: Yes, it was a conscious decision. I suppose this was a natural progression from ‘storyboarded concept videos’ for us. We’ve always wanted to contextualise what we were trying to do as a band as the visual aspect is very much something we’re interested in. I guess it stems from our love of film music. We find it fascinating how integral music can be to a great film or video – the right score can significantly enhance a film both emotionally, and thematically, and we’ve always felt it works both ways – the right visuals can add context to a song too – hence why we wanted to try and capture the perfect environment for the two live songs. Gorton Monastery felt perfect, especially seeing as Hollow Cage and Part of the Echoes are two songs with more of an orchestral element, with string and choral parts written as part of the songs, it made sense to try and encapsulate the scope of the sound we were aiming for by playing it live, in a building like Gorton Monastery.
Todd: String sections and orchestration. Oh My! The prospect of writing music as a four-piece seems daunting to me. Can you talk about the process of writing and adding strings to your music? Is it your intention to always have this for all of your live shows?
Steven: Yes, it’s definitely a large part of the live shows – on stage string players not only add a lot sonically, but have quite a powerful visual presence as well. The way this incorporates into the writing process largely depends upon the prevalence in the song. Strings, for example, comprise a massive part of Hollow Cage and as such was written earlier on in the process of forming the song than it is for, say, Part of the Echoes, where it is still prevalent but more of an embellishment to the main body of the song. We have no set-in-stone method of writing songs, which accounts of the eclectic nature of our set as different band members add their own ideas in different measure to different songs.
Todd: On your BandCamp page, there are what appear to be album covers for each of your singles. Are those the correct images (sorry to be so naive about this, but I’m really just learning about you guys) and who came up with the artwork concepts?
Steven: They are the correct images. We saw them online and they we felt that they suited the mood perfectly. We’re very particular about things like artwork and so on, and we’re very involved creatively with making sure that our website, single packaging etc helps create this world around our music t
Todd: Would it be fair to say that visuals are an important part of Embers?
Steven: The visual aspect is massively important to us, as discussed earlier. Along with extra musicians, we use projections live on stage, mostly taken from the videos we’ve created for the songs online. We hope it adds an extra dimension to what we do live, as we certainly feel we convey our sound better live than on any records we’ve released thus far.
Todd: To that end, a few of our female friends have been gushing about how good looking you guys are and about a shirtless picture of Nathan. I’ve been around long enough to have lived through the “anti-fashion” of the Sex Pistols to the “looks compliment the music” era of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, etc.. I ask this with the utmost respect, as some might bristle at the question. Where do you stand on this, for your band? Is it just about the music, or do you see any issue with making “visuals” part of the equation?
Steven: How dare you ask such a question…..I jest! I can’t say it’s anything that we’ve consciously decided on. We dress how we dress, and we look how we look. It’s just who we are naturally.
Todd: Is it fair to say that you’re plan is to record several singles and then record an album later in 2013? Seems as if that’s the way it used to be done, but now everyone rushes to make that first record. Are you taking a more relaxed approach?
Steven: Not so much a relaxed approach as taking incremental steps forward as and when it feels right. Especially with how readily available material is online now, we’re fully aware that a lot of bands gain a lot of hype possibly before they’re ready and then rush into making a record so as not to lose momentum. We’ve always tried to give a reasonable amount of thought to what we put out. We’re an incredibly hard-working band and we just wouldn’t put anything out for the sake of it – it has to be perfect. We pour everything into our music and if that means it takes an extra month or two to release until we get it completely right, then so be it.
Todd: Lastly, are there any discussions of coming to the US in 2013? Fair to say that there’s already a buzz generating about you guys here.
Steven: It goes without saying that we would love to! We’ll keep working hard and writing and see what happens in 2013…