Monday, 10 September 2007

The Ambient Interviews #2 - Amusement Parks On Fire



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I’m nervous just getting in touch with Michael Feerick to ask for this interview. Even when merely typing my words, they seem to drag, stagger around before my eyes as I try to make them fit into some sort of cohesiveness, to attempt to mirror what is in my head. I can’t make them flow. After all, elegance – true elegance - can’t be forced. Perhaps the raw experimentation has to come before the orchestration.

Drop the clichés about teenage hedonism. Feerick was sickeningly young when he went about the task of constructing an album by himself, but I suppose that’s never really been an issue for me, beyond a mild smattering of what could probably pass for the early stages of jealousy. To cut a long story short; this is another kid, me this time, chatting away to someone who has somehow managed to record a collection of pieces that have come to mean a great, great deal to me. I’m still nervous. I’m revisiting my winter.

How are things? It seems like you've wound down the Out Of The Angeles touring now...

Yeah everyone's well thanks, we've had a bit of a summer holiday. Well, I've been working like crazy writing! We’ve wound down for the time being while we write/record, we're picking it back up in November and going on the US leg, by which time (with any luck) we'll have recorded our new album, which will be weird. We're starting that in Prague in September with Ken Thomas (who's recorded Sigur Ros, Hope Of The States etc). We're really excited and we, well at least I, am getting anxious to start it...

Feerick’s base was Nottingham; another co-incidental point on my list of revisiting old concerns, old images, old homes. Nottingham, Nottingham, Nottingham... a place I loved, despite it’s faults; a disorientating city by all accounts, red brick constructions tightly packed into the grid-shaped city centre. A weird kind of claustrophobia. It’s the kind of place that looked astounding in the early morning sun but which I remember as nearly exclusively framed in neon menace and lurid shadows when it got far too dark, far too early. It had another side, I always thought. The potential to turn nasty at any moment... Is this fair?

Yeah for sure, though no more than in any other UK city of about this size .I think the menace just comes from the fact that it’s a vibrant city, and you wouldn’t want a city any other way. I always find that in the US and other cities abroad, New York or wherever. The menace is what you're attracted to, and Nottingham seems pretty tame in comparison. I always stick up for Nottingham with regards to the bad reputation it gets in the media, as it's total rubbish. But then, our practice rooms were raided by gunmen and all of our gear almost twocked, so now I'm hamming it up and trying to give us that gritty image of coming from some gun-ridden, harsh wasteland; they'll love that in the States!

...although I can absolutely see how tight groups of musicians could build up in what seems to be a fairly densely packed musical setup (venues absolutely everywhere!)...

For better or worse it's definitely got that about it. Although we've kind of been outside of that for whatever reason; maybe its time to re-discover the Nottingham scene, or something...

That said, even going back to the first album, songs like Local Boy Makes God (my joint favourite APOF song, by the way!) sound...well, not especially like what you'd generally expect to find coming out of Nottingham...

I guess not, but then I think of my favourite bands from Nottingham, and they don't really either. I don't think you can ever pin down a city’s sound, especially when it's right in the middle of the country and has so many influences from elsewhere. I think that's what I like about being from Nottingham. if you come from Manchester or somewhere, before you've even played a chord you have a certain identity that might totally be irrelevant. When you're from here, there's none of that, you're just typically British, or something. It bodes really well for us abroad, as nobody's been here or knows too much about it, besides Robin Hood and such, and that’s not exactly too up-to-date! Saying that, the title 'Local Boy Makes God' was taken from a mix tape by a Nottingham band, 23 Jewels (which was the title of the first song on that album), so you can't get much more Nottingham than that!

Out Of The Angeles was very much a product of its surroundings though, wasn't it?

I'm not sure, it's a kind of chicken and egg thing I guess. We chose Iceland because of the kind of record we wanted to make, and the kind of record we made was probably influenced by the very unique place we were. But we were already pretty set on what we wanted it to sound like, and maybe if we'd recorded it in Berlin or Tokyo or wherever, it would have come out sounding exactly the same. I really don't know, it's a weird one, though bits like the secret track I can’t imagine us making anywhere else, especially seeing as it was all down to the sound of Sigur Ros' gear. Maybe that’s it; it was a product of the specific and unique equipment in that studio rather than the emotional landscape around it. Their collection of stuff is pretty randomly put together, but with a logic of its own. That definitely had an effect on it. The desk in there has a really unique sound too, it’s an old French broadcast desk. That’s probably the most defining sound on the album actually! So yeah, I reckon all records are a product of their surrounds in lots of subtle ways, but that’s not to say that the overall vibe wouldn't be there anyway, or something...

I want to know if this decision made in the interests of atmosphere led on from being into the head-spinning, slightly culty Icelandic output of Mum, Amiina, Sigur... Bands that set about immersing one in their own fairytale. Very singular, but ultimately incredibly rewarding.

Of course, I'm big into that stuff. And their material started to make a lot more sense after going to record over there, in quite a profound way. I was surprised how obvious it was. Within a few days a few of us would just be sat there with these gorgeous little instruments in a world of our own, as if hypnotised by some pixies or angels, contently playing together these sweet and innocent melodies, then we'd have to snap ourselves out of it and remind ourselves we're supposed to be making a ‘brash British rock album’!

The self-titled APOF debut was, slightly bemusingly, picked up by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow; known to be mostly apathetic towards rock music. How is he?

He's a great guy. Thats really all there is to be said!

Do you get all the My Bloody Valentine comparison nonsense any more? Does it bother you, or did it ever?

I dunno, not so much the comparison to them, as they are awesome obviously. It’s just the laziness of the label, as if we consciously thought "right guys, lets do some kind of My Bloody Valentine thing here". That is, of course, not how it works, but every band gets that. The music press at large (obviously excluding present company!) really don’t get that they are seperate from what is going on musically, and just kind of lamely commentating on what they think is happening at the time. Every band gets this kind of trivialised explanation of what they are in relation to other established bands, when what they're doing is infinitely unique and personal. That doesn’t apply if you're the Kooks or James Blunt or whoever, which really frustrates me. Though when you're ‘pop’, it weirdly has the reverse effect because the people buying these records are total airheads. It’s actually the way it should be, in that it’s just that inexplicable wonder of you liking the noise coming from the radio, and not knowing why. That’s why I don’t want to be in some elitist, vinyl loving pretentious art-band any more, I want to make a pop album!

One thing that strikes me about Out Of The Angeles is the mix between really loud and bombastic (dare I say heavy?) numbers, and then lengthly, almost abstract interludes like At Last The Night. It's something that was on the first album too. It must take nerve...

Nah, not really. The goal was never to sell a shitload of records, if that had been the plan we certainly wouldn't have made the record we did. It's always been about making records that others wouldn't, something unique. I just want to use the element of surprise and playfulness in an album. This is overlooked in ‘bigger’ albums cos yeah, it might freak people out and the mainstream wouldn't buy it. Albums you hear are so often just some singles and some other songs; I wanted to have big rock songs that, without the listener thinking about it, somehow were suddenly ambient noise, not just some songs stuck together; not just for the sake of it.

Amusement Parks live can be quite beffudling. The last time I saw them was back in April, in the grime of the Glasgow Barfly. People In Planes opened up; Mike Feerick was seen grooving in the middle of the dance floor before APOF took the stage late to open with an apocalyptic Out Of The Angeles. It was by far and away the best gig I’ve seen in 2007 (the closest competition being Arcade Fire and Porcupine Tree supported by Pure Reason Revolution, but neither of those had the history, the expectation, the devastating fulfilment). I stood, quite often with my eyes shut, having some fucking crazed visualisations to the music; an hour-long set of dissonance and feedback melted into itself, songs prolonged, faster, louder. If this sounds crazy, I don’t really care; it is my meditation music, music to just go somewhere else with.

It’s hard for me to imagine this, though I love the idea, being sucked into an ethereal, timeless netherworld when you're drinking a warm carling in the Cardiff Barfly or wherever! I guess we demand a lot of the audience, but with the hope that you can get more out of it, you have to be willing to come on the journey with us. That’s also why I understand people not being into it. That said, I like the idea of people who like more straight, poppier rock stuff to appreciate it on that level too, maybe as a kind of more interesting twist on what they usually listen to. But supposedly the key to failure is trying to please everybody...

One track that particularly fascinates me is Cut To Future Shock... it seems a very vicious number, one of the loudest things I've probably ever heard, all those layers. It's almost like sensory deprivation, I can completely lose track of the beat listening to it through headphones sometimes...

Yeah we were into that, the idea that the mix doesn't have to be the traditional set-up. Something can come in and totally blow everything else away and in this case it’s the guitars taking over everything else so you have that feeling of... what’s the musical equivalent of weightlessness? We thought it would work as the beat is already established within the song, it’s kind of drilled in so you subconsciously have it going on in your head. We thought we'd get away with that mix; again it's all a means to an ethereal end, not some kind of BBC Radiophonic Workshop experiment in making people feel like they're experiencing 'a dreamlike state'... I do listen to ambient music though, everything in good measure!

Any recommendations for bands that people should have heard of, but won't?

SWIMMING, from Nottingham. John Sampson (who works with us in the studio and occasionally tours with us on a variety of instruments) is the main man here. They really are amazing. They somehow blend gorgeous, organic electro sounds with wonderful rocking guitars. It has to be heard to be understood... www.myspace.com/swimmingband

PILGRIM FATHERS, also from Nottingham. They're hard to describe. They're heavy, psychedelic and fantastic! www.myspace.com/thepilgrimfathers

SKETCHES FOR ALBINOS, Matthew Collings is from Reykjavik. Beautiful ambient bliss www.myspace.com/sketchesforalbinos

How's the new APOF stuff sounding? Have you had a progression in mind, or is it a less mechanical process than that?

It always feels like starting again, I think it has to for it to sound and feel fresh and exciting....

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As hopelessly trite as this must sound, it really was a big, big deal for me to be able to interview Michael. Every once in a while, something serendipitous happens and events ocur that change things, change things for good. That's really all I have to say.

"All you've ever known is what they told you."

www.amusementparksonfire.com

3 comments:

Jamie said...

Awesome interview dude.

I really like your interview style!

Ed said...

What a champ.

Jonny said...

Fantastic. I'll be listening to both albums tonight to send me into apocolyptic dream state or something.

As Jamie said, your style is good, too!