- Sat, 2004-08-28 13:38
As Embrace come back with their best material ever, I Like Music caught up with Embrace's guitarist Richard Mcnamara to talk Gravity, gifts and great music.
''I like music because... it gives me something to do in the day.'' Richard Mcnamara, Embrace
Embrace have always taken the organic approach to songwriting. They believe in writing what comes naturally. And what comes naturally are songs that are life affirming, heartfelt and all embracing. These themes have remained a constant throughout Embrace’s career and hence it’s no surprise that they recur once more on the band’s latest album out in September.
Heralding the album’s release is debut single Gravity, a song that bears all the hallmarks of a Danny McNamara composition.
Expressive, panoramic in scope and featuring McNamara’s most powerfully emotive vocal to date, Gravity would sit comfortably alongside any one of Embrace songs. And yet it was written by Coldplay singer and songwriter Chris Martin. The decision to record another artist’s song might seem surprising were it not for a long standing friendship between Martin and McNamara dating back to when Coldplay supported Embrace at the Blackpool Empress Ballroom in 2000.
Danny and Chris Martin are quite close friends. The first time we ever heard Gravity it was played down the phone. Danny got a phone call Chris and he said 'Dan, I've written a song and played it to Danny, and the next day Danny came into the studio and told us about it. And we asked what it was like. Usually you're in a critical frame of mind just as part of the creative process, and he said, 'It's absolutely amazing'. So we were like, back to the drawing board then? He played us the song and I said 'It sounds quite a lot like Embrace to me,' and Danny said, 'That's what Chris said' (it was written three or four years ago) and we thought no more about it, until about a month before we'd finished recording the album.
Chris came down to the studio to hear what we were up to and catch up with Danny. And he sat at the piano and started playing some new songs off the next Coldplay album and we said, 'Play Gravity' and he played it and we were like, 'wow, that's a great single man' and he said 'yeah' and then about a week before we finished the album, he rang Danny up and said 'Danny, do you want Gravity?'
So he came to the rest of the band and we weren't sure, we don't do covers, it's not really what you do in the Indie fraternity or whatever. I don't think we should do it. So we all went home that night, came in the next day and thought, hold on a minute, and thought it's an enormous gift.
The way that we did it was, we had a download of it from a gig in Dusseldorf where Chris played it on the piano and there's this chord that I managed to put over it in the middle of the chorus that has a dissident sound to it, like the Death Star's tractor beam, that Gravity kind of sound, that's one of my proudest moments, smiles Richard.
Chris Martin originally wrote the song for Coldplay but as it developed it became clear to him that the song might be better suited to Embrace. As Chris explains, “We’ve always loved Embrace and Danny is one of my best friends. When we wrote Gravity we thought it sounded far too much like them for us, but not too much like them for them, so I asked Danny if he wanted the song and that was that.”
On hearing the song, Danny felt it was just what was missing from the album. “There was no out and out love song, something there’d always been in the past.” he says, “You could say there was a Gravity shaped hole waiting to be filled”. And whilst he admits to some reservations about covering some one else’s song he’s had to concede that Gravity sounds like “the best ballad I never wrote”.
So how did the arrangement with Oxfam via BigNoiseMusic.com come about?
To be honest it all came in an email to us as an opportunity and we jumped at it, explains Richard. The whole thing with the song is that it was a gift from Chris - and a big gift if you know how hard songs are to write. Maybe three times a year you'll get a great song and he passed one over to us, so it kind of felt good to be giving something back really.
As a band you project a way of life to people and a willingness to be charitable, and go out of your way to be thankful for what you're given. I don't want to get too soapboxy about it, but it feels good what we're doing.
The new album Out Of Nothing is out on Independiente on Sept 13th and features some of Embrace's best material yet. It took three years to write and 3 months to record with Youth, and they had some fun laying down the tracks.
Near Life was the most fun to make because it was just a jam, recalls Richard. We didn't spend weeks pouring over writing it. We just went into the studio. Youth played us a couple of songs he thought we should play around with and we went from one bit to the other, got pretty caned and just went in there and did it, and he came back in and was like, 'wow'. So it's got a nice rock sound to it.
And Embrace have made sure there are plenty of all-embracing anthems and live hits on the new album.
My favourite track to play live? Well, we haven't actually done the song that I think is gonna be my favourite, and that's Ashes. I think we're going to start the next tour with it. There's a band called Cloud Dead - a west coast US hip hop band, very original and they've got this sound on the end of their album which is like this massive white noise, but it's ultra major, it sounds like it's God screaming at you it's so noisey, and the intention is we think to come on to that and kind of build it up ourselves and kind of augment it and go mad, and Ashes is a four to the floor song and Mike's going to give us like eight kicks and we're going to come in with this tune. So I'm kind of living in a daydream of what we're going to do and how that's going to feel and I'm so looking forward to playing Ashes, and I've never really felt like that about a song before.
When we spoke, Rich was also looking forward to playing V festival that coming weekend - a last minute replacement to Jet, who sadly had to pull out of the festival when a family member passed away.
I got a phone call from Danny last night at 10pm and he said 'Rick you're busy this weekend!'And I just thought he meant more phone interviews and press or another rehearsal and he said, 'We're doing V mate.' But, because we've just done two days rehearsing this is the last one before we go on our promo tour, so we're ultra ready for it and just can't wait.
[Embrace went down a storm at V and dedicated a track to Jet - see our V2004 review link below.]
Of course, this is second time around for the mighty Embrace, who've encountered some major obstacles, including being dropped by their Virgin label, [boo!] despite being makers of incredibly brilliant music.
We found ourselves without a deal and kind of rapidly running out of money, so we thought, right, what are we going to do? explains Rich.
We can either turn over and die or we can get back up on the scene, we know we've got more music in us, we know we can make a better album than we've ever made before, so we built a studio. So we overcame it through positivity rather than lying down and taking it. And now it's like being a new band again, which adds fuel to the fire.
We could have signed the deal and the label could have asked us to get the album together in a year to make their money back, but Martin Macdonald at the label he knew we had a classic album in us and our best music in us and wanted us to make the definitive Embrace album, so he said to us, 'however long it takes is however long it takes, there's no compromising.'
So three years we've spent toiling over this record, and it's really paying off, as we're getting such a good response from it we're loving it.
When we started and got the new deal we spent a few months working out what we were gonna sound like, like a band in room, like a U2 garagey five-piece, rather than the big production sound. So we kind of endeavoured to write the songs like that and make them sound effortless, although it took a year to write them, not effortless one bit. We spent only 12 weeks recording it though, which is the fastest album we've ever done.
The songs that we took to the studio were massively different from how they've turned out, and that's all down to Youth's genius really, so a big thanks to Youth for that one.
So what advice does Richard have for young artists coming through?
Enjoy it to the max. The thing about us - our first album we got signed and we were straight to doing press and radio and TV and all this attention, and we just thought to ourselves, 'oh this must be what happens to signed bands, but it's not what happens to signed bands, it's what happens to good bands. So on this new album we've had such a really warm positive response from so many people, we're feeling that new band buzz, and we can appreciate better this time round. Now we want to do everything and are keener than before when we'd get a press invite and think, oh no!
Embrace have been around since 1997 so have seen the music industry change for good and bad, so what does Rich think is good about the music industry in 2004?
Our albums coming out :) But seriously, the best thing about the music industry is you can't relax. In some countries you can have a record out and that record will last you for ten or fifteen years because you're the guy that did that record people come to your gigs. The US is a bit like that, but in the UK you've got to be on your toes, there's no let up, no relaxation, you've always got to be on top of your game, and that's the best thing about the music industry.
There's a fast turnover of new bands and new talent and everyone's vying for space and it produces a competitive, creative feel.
The band certainly enjoy the creative process and know that quality needs to be high to compete in the modern day chart.
We'll write songs with a band and we'll have 10 or 20 songs each and we'll kind of all go through them all and put them down to DAT, explains Richard of the Embrace music-making process.
After a couple of weeks of that we'll go away back into the writing process, and meanwhile listening back to the stuff we've got so far and making a shortlist of what's good. And once the songs have gone on to the A list (out of lists A, B and C) then we start looking at them more seriously, so I'll try to write some guitar lines and Mick'll start trying to write string or keyboard parts, and everyone will be consciously thinking about those songs so when we come to work on them again we can do really good versions of them.
The quality control bar is right up there. We know how good we've got to be, we know we're not competing against local bands but against international bands, because this isn't battle of the bands anymore. But when you're a young band that's your mentality. When you write a good song it's so quick between writing it and you being on at the Grammy Awards ceremony, and it's so fast, so that's where you're aiming.
Q&A Richard McNamara - Embrace Guitarist
Q: What's the best and worst thing about your brother Danny?
A: The best thing about Danny is he's a very loyal, loving, honest, open, emotional guy and the worst thing about Danny is the same list but for different reasons.
Q: Describe your favourite place on earth?
A: The place I'd most like to be at the moment is New York City, because my brother in law lives over there. But when I'm not at home, obviously my favourite place is home. I'm a bit of a homeboy really and I like my home comforts.
Q: What's in your CD right now?
A: I'm playing our album more than any album I've ever played actually, which is a good sign. I really like the White Stripes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. My favourite band is the Flaming Lips, I like U2. I've also bought the latest Metallica DVD Cunning Stunts and I've actually got this new Avril Lavigne album that I really like. It might seem a strange choice to some people, but she's consistently good.
Q: What is your favourite tune to make you... smile?
A: Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix, because his guitar playing is audacious and cheeky. Or White Is On The Moon by Gill Scott Eran. I was listening to that with my brother the other night and I was cracking up. It's not meant to be funny though.
Q: What is your favourite tune to make you... relaxed?
A: I don't generally listen to music to chill out, that's not the reason I listen to music. To chill out I just put the TV on and veg. But mellowing out music... the Joshua Tree I guess.
Q: What is your favourite tune to make you... dance?
A: Some metal track or Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit.
By Cheryl Rickman