Words: Laura Weingrill
It’s never easy to open your heart and soul to other people, but whether platonic or romantic, unrequited or unconditional, every person experiences some kind of love in their life. It can be as cruel as it can be kind, good as it is bad and it will definitely turn your life upside down. But that’s what love is. And that’s what Philophobia, the latest record by Nottingham-based indie group Amber Run, is all about.
“This record is about connections and intimate relationships and how difficult they are to navigate, but also how important they are fundamentally,” states Joe Keogh, frontman of the three-piece, adding context to the title of their newest release – Philophobia – the fear of falling in love. Some people might wonder how a word this specific and intriguing ended up titling the album, but after a short listen and glance at their history, it’s not surprising that, once again, love – the most electrifying feeling in this universe – has turned into the red thread of yet another Amber Run release. “One of the hardest things about relationships is the fear of not being heard, not being appreciated, not being, for lack of a better word, loved. That is a real and terrifying aspect of any relationship or connection in life, whether it’s with your friends, your partner, your family or with yourself.”
Looking at the sheer beauty of their latest LP and the striking uprise that came with it, it’s easy to forget that the path of Keogh and his two bandmates, bassist Tom Sperring and keyboardist Henry Wyeth, has always been one laid with a few steps and stones, some easier to tackle, some not. It was the second album, For A Moment, I Was Lost, that reflected those moments when it was hardest for them. “There was certainly a time when I fell out of love with music when we were doing the second record. I stopped listening to it, stopped writing, stopped wanting to go to shows and to play. But I think that’s a reflection of us and the band and where we were in our mental states. But that’s part of our lives. There’s good music, there’s bad music, there’s happy music, there’s sad music. It’s just a reflection of who we are,” explains Wyeth, with the confidence in his voice telling of someone who got themselves out of the lows and up to the highest highs.
Now, after two long years of abstaining from shows, a few intensive months of writing and a three-week-long residential recording at Vale Studios in Fladbury, it seems that the band has finally found ease in being who they are and creating the music that they enjoy, with Philophobia and its eleven tracks being the manifestation of exactly that. “This third album just fell out in a way. We had more confidence in our abilities as writers and in what we wanted to say and how we wanted to work, so I would suggest it was the easiest to write, because we had the tools to be able to know what we wanted and how to achieve it,” states Keogh, contemplating the band’s (probably) most captivating piece of work to date. A true multitude of sounds and emotions, produced by longtime collaborator Ben Allen and mixed by Claudius Mittendor, with ripping guitars, echoing bass lines, a luscious haze of beats and Keogh’s angelic, booming voice to carry it all home, the record encapsulates the twisting and turning road of the mental and emotional journey of love, as a fear and as a desire.
Still, although it looks like Amber Run have found their musical identity, they have always left the door open for experimentation and the possibility of surprises, Philophobia being no exception to that. While the colourful ‘What Could Be As Lonely As Love’ is, according to the band, “nothing like anything they’ve created before” and an absolute favourite among them, the final song of the pack (‘Worship’) is like everything you’d expect a typical Amber Run song to sound like. “Joe uses the costume analogy and I think that’s a really good one. You ask yourself, what costume is this song going to wear? You know exactly what the song is, but how you’re dressing it up in the end is different,” exclaims Wyeth. “Sometimes you go in and you know exactly what the song is going to be like, whereas other times it’s fun to go in and just experiment a bit.”
Following the release of their debut 5AM in 2015, which saw the band accelerate into early fame, the Nottingham group not only established their signature sound but also themselves as one of the bands to watch in the 2010’s indie scene. Four years and many sold-out shows later, the guys are as grounded as ever and, as Sperring laughs, “still loading the van in and out and setting up the stage.”
It’s exactly this way of wearing their hearts on their sleeves and being true to their forms, whilst never forgetting where they came from, that seems to capture their fans. Like any other band, they have played to empty rooms more than a few times, but their dedication to touring and putting on live sets that both they themselves and the crowds can enjoy has allowed them to not only keep their beloved fanbase but to also capture the hearts of new supporters. “We can’t force people to come to our shows and we never will,” Keogh insists. “If you want to come to our show, then enjoy yourself. Be a part of this, be a part of the Amber Run fandom. But it is not our job in a world that is constantly throwing stuff at you to shove this in your face and say you have to be here or you will die. We get to touch people’s lives and that in itself is a privilege.”
From the start, always returning to this kind of passion and unapologetic honesty, Amber Run have looked to create a release that is both enchantingly light and devastatingly dark when it needs to be. As they turned the page to pave the way for Philophobia, the three-piece found freedom in being an open book lyrically, but also personally. And at the end, it’s a sheer love for music that brings them together and provides the album with its special relatability that sticks with the listener long after the last chord has been played. Keogh concludes: “We put a lot of our own lives into this music, so if we were to pretend to be something different, the whole thing would feel very hollow. Fundamentally, the most important thing to fall back on is that music is not a competition. It’s not how many plays you have on Spotify or how many tickets you sell. It’s about what all our records are about; it’s about connections and human interaction. And that’s what making music and being in this band has always been about for us.”
Philophobia, the new album, is out now.