"Our passion lies with the music"
Interview and photos by Dawn
It’s high praise to level at a band, but Ambershift might just be the North East’s best kept musical secret. Based in Durham and influenced by everyone from The Police to Death Cab for Cutie, Dave, Phil, Andy and Ben produce indie-rock melodies as anthemic as Ash and as catchy as the Killers. Their self-titled debut album was released in 2010 and is filled with the kind of foot-stomping gems and dirty guitars that threaten to bring the roof off every venue they play.
I caught up with the band for a chat before their set at Ku Bar in Stockton and began by asking them to introduce themselves in three words – a challenge they more than revelled in.
Frontman Dave: ‘I play bass and sing. Three words to describe myself would be difficult, silly and evocative.’
Drummer Phil: ‘I play the drums in Ambershift. I would describe myself as large, hairy and sexy.’
Keyboard player Andy: ‘I play keyboards. I would describe myself as explosive, impromptu and together.’
And finally, guitarist Ben: ‘I play guitars in Ambershift and I would describe myself as stubborn, big-headed and the boss.’
Introductions over, it’s time to find out more about the men behind the infectious melodies.
‘The band’s been together for nearly ten years now,’ says Dave. ‘The shape that it’s in at the minute wasn’t the shape it was in when we first started. We had two other members in the early days and then it got to when we had to separate the wheat from the chaff and the two fine gentlemen Ben Clement and Andy Green stepped into the fold.’
Asked how the band came about, Phil first offers a tongue in cheek, slightly more rock and roll version of events (‘It was accidental. We had a fight in a bar and we settled it by setting up a band’) before admitting the truth: ‘No, what really happened was that me and Dave went to school together, and he came up to me in the playground and asked if I wanted to be in his band’.
‘I just used to throw stones at him and bully him,’ says Dave.
‘He used to throw pebbles at my head!’ exclaims Phil.
Dave takes up the story: ‘But I heard his dad had built a garage with a practice room and I thought I’d love him to be a drummer in my band. He was in a band -’
‘-Called Rapid Fire,’ says Phil. ‘Basically I’d been playing the drums about three weeks and I was trying to play Iron Maiden songs. As kids, teenagers, that’s when we started our craft and it’s gone from there.’
‘Me and Ben went to school together as well,’ says Andy, as Ben interjects, ‘I’ll rephrase that – Andrew was my teacher.’
‘Andrew actually used to teach Ben and Ben never used to turn up to his music lessons,’ says Dave with a grin.
Plans are afoot for the band’s second album, but the band are in no rush to get it finished:
‘There’s an album in the making which isn’t going to be released til maybe the back end of next year,’ says Phil. ‘We’ve just got to polish it, get it recorded. We’ve got a lot of new tracks, we’ve just got to decide what we actually want to put out there.’
‘I think the thing is, the first album we released, we had a new manager from London and we were kind of breaking out of the blocks,’ says Dave. ‘We felt that we were a bit of a young band and now we’ve stood back and listened to it we want a bit more control over the next album. We’ve taken our time writing new material - I don’t think any of us feel particularly pressurised into getting something out there. We’re kind of refining what we’ve already come up with really.’
‘We’ve got three dads in the band as well now,’ says Phil. ‘So obviously as children come along and we’re maturing as a band, it’s having a reflection on some of our new stuff.’
‘And our facial hair,’ says Andy helpfully.
‘Dads are hairy, especially me,’ adds Phil.
‘Ben and Andy and Phil having children’s been quite a massive part of the band,’ says Dave. ‘I think we’ve all got things to do but our passion lies with the music and it lies with the band and we wanna make it work but we’ve been quite selective this year about what we do.’
‘We’ve done a lot less gigs but a lot better gigs I would say,’ adds Andy.
Ambershift’s songwriting process sounds interesting to say the least.
‘Dave comes up with a load of random words that kind of rhyme,’ says Andy.
‘Like “snood”,’ says Ben.
‘He likes the word “snood”,’ says Andy.
‘He’s a bit like the Scatman sometimes,’ says Phil. ‘Then he turns it into a melody, then a couple of words, slaps himself and we’ve got a song.’
The whole band (and the interviewer) descend into laughter for a moment before Phil attempts a more serious answer: ‘A lot of things sort of come from out of nowhere really. The four of us get together – and there’s a riff or an idea for a melody.’
‘I think basically what Phil’s trying to say,’ explains Dave, ‘is that everyone brings different ideas to a practice and we kinda jam things and bounce things off the wall. If we come up with an idea and then we can’t remember it it gets put in the bin. We’ve all got very different musical tastes and at the minute we’re actually doing this thing where we talk about the music that we like and we’ve all realised that we actually hate each other because we’re all so very different.’
‘Andy likes Barbie Girl - I mean what’s that about?’ exclaims Ben.
‘It’s a great tune,’ Andy replies, possibly not entirely seriously.
‘Andy likes cheesy pop, and I like Swedish rock. Phil likes New Kids on the Block and Ben likes hiphop,’ offers Dave, to which I suggest that I can hear all of those influences in the band’s music.
‘I bet you can,’ says Ben – although I’m not sure if that’s a worried look in his eye.
As well as frequenting the venues in the North East of England, the band have also played lots of shows around the UK.
‘We’ve got in Transit vans and we’ve done UK tours,’ says Dave. ‘We’ve actually played in a public toilets in [London] - the club was called Public Life. We thought oh that sounds reallly cool, but it actually was an old public toilet down some steps underground in London and it had a bar in it. I don’t even think it actually had any toilets in it which is quite ironic but I just remember there was a lot of reverb and someone had to hold the microphone so that we could have a mike stand. So no, we’ve done the gritty circuits and I think we’re prepared to do it again but I think we just wanna do it at our own pace really.’
And when asked about their hopes for the future, Dave admits that they very recently achieved one of their ambitions when they played in Newcastle:
‘We wanted to play the main stage at the O2 Academy. It was something that we’d actually never done. We supported The Smiths (Indeed) at the O2 and that was great to play there - I think we’re really at home on a big stage. I think the thing is we really want to play some bigger gigs and get some better support slots and get on a decent tour this year.’
And with their determination and infuriatingly infectious edgy anthems, you never know – they just might succeed.
With thanks to Ambershift. Visit http://www.ambershift.net for more info.