Three years ago, Matt Thomson thought he was finished with rock music. Now, with The Amazons preparing to release their self-titled debut album, the frontman reveals how his passion for the band was re-born.
Last summer, indie-rock foursome The Amazons played a set at Lancashire-based dance festival Beatherder; there were roughly 20 people in the tent, no-one had heard of them, and the sound was dreadful. It could and should have been a write-off. But it wasn't. "Fucking hell, what a show!" recalls frontman Matt Thomson. "The sound on the stage was total shit - it could've been the worst gig ever – but the crowd, for a dance festival, were really receptive, and we know of two or three separate fans who've come to multiple shows off the back of seeing us at Beatherder, so it just goes to show that sometimes the weirder or smaller shows can be the ones that you get a lot of feedback from."
The Amazons killed it that day, attacking their performance with swagger, sweat and a healthy dose of showmanship; they went for it like they were headlining Wembley. "Rock'n'roll was born in sweaty clubs in the 50s and 60s," states Matt. "We're a rock band. We don't care about where we play. You do support tours for bigger acts; you do these big venues, and it's great, but you realise that what's important is the energy and interaction with the crowd. We're not a band where we play our thing and then everyone sits down and claps like the fucking Proms. Yeah, we're playing big stages now, but it only works if the crowd enjoy it; it doesn't matter where you're playing, it's all about that relationship."
The band certainly are playing big stages now, such as recently supporting rock giants You Me At Six, an experience which Matt is thankful for. "What we learnt from them was to nurture your fan-base, because at the end of the day you're not going to be the ‘hype' band of the world forever; what's cool and what isn't shifts all the time, and so what really matters is your connection with your fans. Everything else is just middle-man stuff. They're just really good guys, and they're one of the best bands we've supported, purely because they were well up for having a beer with us after the show and hanging out, and they were more than happy to share their experiences from over the last 10 years."
There was a time, however, when Matt wasn't so enamoured with rock music, and playing arenas with colossal bands seemed like nothing more than a pipedream. "There was a big house scene around 2014 in [The Amazons' hometown] Reading – and this was at a time when house was a really big thing – and I lost a year of my life going to raves all the time," Matt explains. "I was so jaded with rock music; it wasn't doing it for me, and I felt like house was more exciting. And house is fucking drugs, let's be honest! But I ended up going to this Foals show at Ally Pally on Valentine's Day; I went down, we got smashed-up, and Cage The Elephant were on. We got to the front and I was just blown away! It was the personality, the lights, the unpredictability of [vocalist] Matthew Schultz and that Iggy Pop vibe he has, and I was like ‘What have I been doing?!' It was such a eureka moment! I was thinking about the previous incarnation of The Amazons at the time like ‘Why are we fucking around with electronic stuff?! Let's get our guitars on!' So it all just fell into place that this was what we were doing; we started playing rock'n'roll, and we didn't care if it was cool. We liked playing gigs, we liked playing really loud; Joe [Emmett, drums] was smashing the shit out of the drums and our ears were ringing. That Cage The Elephant experience was the event that brought us to the beginning of The Amazons."
Fast-forward three years and the hype machine is very much behind Matt, Joe, guitarist Chris Alderton and bassist Elliot Briggs, and it's not hard to see why. The band's self-titled debut album is one which combines boyish charm with huge indie-rock choruses and some seriously meaty riffs. There's a promising degree of musical eclecticism on display from the Amazons, something which can probably be attributed to both the large period of time across which their album was written, as well as a varied list of influences. "There's songs on the record like ‘Stay With Me' which are very much ‘indie'; I was 18 when I wrote them, and I was into Arcade Fire and bands like that. But tastes change; between 18 and 22 a lot of change happens, and I think you can hear on songs like ‘Little Something,' that they're a bit heavier. We're well into bands like Queens Of The Stone Age, Royal Blood, The Kills and Arctic Monkeys' last record; the darker, sexier, heavier side of the spectrum of rock'n'roll. And there were also bands we kept coming back to, like Rage Against The Machine, and Nirvana especially; they're the band that got us inspired in the first place and made us want to pick up guitars. We've got a real appreciation for that kind of band, and that bleeds into the record."
The stand-out moment from The Amazons' album comes in the shape of a re-worked version of the band's first single, ‘Junk Food Forever'. An undeniably sunny indie-rock banger, it's perfect for the upcoming festival season, and it's a song Matt is very proud of. "I think now is the best time to release it, going into the summer," agrees Matt. "It was written in the summer, and when I think of ‘Junk Food Forever' I get that vibe. We want to be a festival band; we grew up going to festivals like Glastonbury and Reading, and that's the kind of vibe we had in mind when that song was written. We released the song the first time two years ago and we did it ourselves; we just put it online, and it was all recorded in Chris' bedroom, where he produced it and mixed it. I love that version, but we didn't feel like that recording represented where we are now as musicians and people, and when it came to recording the album we felt like it was unfinished business. We wanted to put it right, and we wanted to achieve what we couldn't before; we didn't have an amazing studio or an amazing producer like Catherine Marks first time around. We were thinking at the time we first recorded it how it would be great if we could do this song properly, and push it as far as it could go. And then we recorded it in the studio this time and we felt it was right to be a single and put it out at this time, before the album is out, as it feels like we've come full-circle."
Officially certified bangers may be The Amazons' stock in trade, but their album also sees them flexing their musical muscles in other ways, such as on album closer ‘Palace;' a piano ballad which sees Matt give his rawest performance to date. "Lyrically, fucking hell, ‘Palace' is going back a little while!" laughs Matt. "It's about a group of friends, when we were 18 or 19, and we'd go out every weekend in Reading. I liked one of the girls, and she was with a total cunt! I was wondering why the fuck she was with him, and the song's got this ‘I'm not good enough for you' vibe. It's quite a reflective little tune, but its heart is in the right place. I wrote it a couple of years ago, and it was one of those ones which we just tried so hard to arrange as a band, and it kept coming back to people saying ‘Matt, it just sounds better when you play it on the piano, mate'. And then we were thinking ‘Can we do that? We're the Amazons, we're a rock band; can we do a piano song?' But we just thought ‘Fuck it, why not?!' We wanted to do something really raw and unexpected, and hopefully something where, if we do get a chance to do a second record, we could do a couple more songs along the same line in the future."
That The Amazons have a song on their album built around the piano leads on to discussion about yet another exciting opportunity the band have recently been afforded: that of appearing on renowned pianist Jools' Holland's ‘Later…' TV show. "When we got the call for Jools Holland… I can't remember a time I've been more fucking excited!" says a euphoric Matt. "I hate to say it, but I will say – one time only – fucking hell, Jools Holland: that is actually a dream come true! I have to fucking say it! I have to! I remember when I was 12, watching it, wide-eyed, for the first time; I'd be doing it a disservice by not saying it's a dream come true to play it. It fucking is. It's an institution. I saw the Guardian ran some fucking article about Jools Holland being a cockroach, and they can go fuck themselves! Go fuck yourself. Jools Holland is fucking amazing; where else can you get Queens Of The Stone Age, Metallica, and then some African folk music and some Stormzy?! It's an amazing show and an absolute national treasure, and I'd be saying this even if we weren't going on it! I absolutely love it! I'm really excited!"
And it's that word – ‘excited' – that is the best description of the mood we find Matt Thomson in as he prepares to share The Amazons' debut LP with the world. All musicians are of course in good spirits pre album-launch, but there's a charming difference to Matt's high-spiritedness; an honest, raw, unwavering giddiness over what the future might hold for his band.
And you should be excited, too. Because in The Amazons, the UK has unearthed the world's next indie-rock gem.
Taken from the June issue of Dork, out now. The Amazons' self-titled debut album is out 26th May.