'Embodying The Path Taken: Destination USA'
There isn’t enough music in the world today that manages to truly elevate the listener with its epic intentions and heartfelt emotions, but Embrace want to change all that. The Anglo five-piece specializes in crafting the kind of unforgettable songs that adroitly balance a profound sense of personal intimacy with anthemic hooks and sweeping choruses. Blending the fervent optimism of U2 and the majesty of The Verve, Embrace wants everyone to be singing along and still feel like the songs were written just for them.
The critically acclaimed quintet released their chart-topping UK disc Out of Nothing on Lava Records May of this year. Made up of brothers Danny McNamara on lead vocals & guitar and Richard McNamara on lead guitar, the band also features Steve Firth on bass, Mick Dale on keyboards and Mike Heaton on drums.
Formed in the mid-90’s at the height of Britpop by the brothers McNamara, the band found early success with a string of celebrated singles, each of which found its way higher into the echelons of the UK charts. Their #1 debut album, The Good Will Out, solidified the band’s European success and would have been their ticket to stateside domination, if a massive record label merger hadn’t left them without a U.S. home the very same week they found out their first single had been the #2 most added song at college radio over here.
Despite the setback on this side of the Atlantic, the band continued to thrive overseas, releasing two more successful albums – 2000’s Drawn From Memory and 2001’s If You’ve Never Been – before losing their record deal due to diverging artistic opinions with their UK label.
They were quickly snapped up by Independiente Records, then spent the next two years writing songs, before they felt like they were ready to make their comeback.
The magnificent result is Out of Nothing, a proudly defiant collection of ten memorable songs that debuted at #1 in the UK, spawned a pair of top ten singles and earned the band endless accolades in the press.
Chatting with the younger McNamara brother, Richard (by just 22 months), whilst he stood outside the legendary Olympic Studios in London - where the band is busy recording their NEW album - we discussed all manner of things, but started with their upcoming gig here in Detroit ... in a venue smaller than your average bathroom! So, what were their expectations for the gig based on having just arrived in the country as basic unknowns? "I'm looking forward to it," he admits. "You're living all the stages of your career at once. We just did a massive gig in Leeds (England) to like 12,000 people over two days and now we're coming back out again to play all the little clubs. We love playing all these small gigs, keeping in touch with the fans by playing secret gigs and such. We even invited seven fans out to this yacht that we'd managed to blag out in Spain and did a little gig for them."
So, you're busy recording the new album then ... even though Out Of Nothing only just came out over here?! "Usually, nowadays, it's like two years in-between really, before you get your next album out. But we kinda decided that we wanted to write the songs in a different way this time. The last two songs on this album were written by us just jamming as a band, so this new process is really easy. We gave it a shot in Spain and came out with about 25 new songs!"
"There are some great lyrics on it. Some of the best lyrics that I've ever heard him (Danny) do are coming out on it and it's definitely some of the best music that we've ever done. We've got some really great uptempo, rocky, young-sounding, spunky tracks that we've never been capable of doing before for some reason."
So, why has it come together now? "I guess the missing ingredient was Youth, really. The producer has kind of brought to us a freshness and a confidence that wasn't there before. 'Ashes,' which is the lead-off single in the US, originally started life as a ballad, but he just came along and told us to put a floor drum beat under it. And immediately it became 'Where The Streets Have No Name'!," he laughs.
Danny was quoted as saying that Out Of Nothing could easily have been the last Embrace album ever ... is that true?! "We always know that when we start recording an album that there is a possibility that it's gonna be an amazing album, 'cause we know we've got it in us to bring out amazing music. But, then again, we've written and played great songs before and so we just needed to capture it again."
How did Chris Martin (Coldplay) get to hand you one of his cast-off songs ... and why?! "Initially, we were kind of a bit nervous about it, 'cause it's not something that anybody in indie/alternative rock generally does. It's kind of frowned upon. Like, do it yourself 'cause we'll just look like idiots coming out with a cover after three years! But, we all went home that night and realized what we had been offered - which was namely a song that we all loved, a song that he thought was too much like Embrace for Coldplay to do, and a song that came about through Danny's friendship with him. So we decided that we'd give it a go and if it worked out we'd release it and wear it as a badge of honor."
Danny once described Embrace as a "... dodgy eighties band that changed" - was that a fair assumption at the time?! "Yeah, we did! We kinda sounded like a collection of our influences, which we still do to a certain extent, but we're just better at hiding it now," he laughs. "Yeah, we kinda sounded like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, The Cure, and those kind of bands. We kinda took ourselves very seriously from early on. We were 17 at the time and we decided that we were gonna go away and write. We decided that we weren't gonna do any more gigs, as we'd gotten a bad review in the Melody Maker, and so we decided that we needed to do something new."
"So, me and Danny passed tapes to each other of what we'd been doing that day - as we lived in the same house - and the song 'Retread' was on his tape ... which was on the first album. It was a country-tinged kind of acoustic ballad song and I told him it was amazing, but he said that it didn't sound like us. So, that was the fork in the road, really, and we started following that path more."
So, tell me more of the history of the band, Embrace "Well, I started this band when I was 14 with my friend, who was originally on bass. But, he just kept procrastinating and not buying a bass so me and Danny got together ... and then Danny sacked him," he laughs.
Hang on, you hired a bass player and he didn't even have a bass guitar?!"No, but it was all built on dreams when you're a kid. The bands are already formed before the instruments have even been picked up, you know! So, this guy, my friend, decided he'd play bass as that was the easiest instrument; Sid Vicious style. And I just asked Danny if he wanted to sing because I knew that he couldn't play anything. So, Danny was on hair brush ... and I actually did have a guitar, but if I didn't have I'd have been on tennis racket probably," he laughs.
What other bands names were there before Embrace stuck? "Oh, we've had a few dodgy names. One was Mesmerize, which was awful, The Bus Conductors, and Curious Orange ala The Fall song."
So, where did the name Embrace originate? "It was at a time when we were called by some other dodgy name that I haven't mentioned and so when people asked us what we were called you used to have to write it down because you daren't say it," he laughs. "It was the band name that dare not speak it's name," he laughs again. 'So, we were on our way home from a practice one night and I think 'Embrace' had been a song title actually, and it was my idea. So, I just suggested to them that we use it as a band name. But it turned out that there was a band called Embrace on Discord Records. So, we had to write to them and he wrote us a postcard back saying that from a legal point of view that we would never be hearing anything from him ... and good luck!"
Why choose Out Of Nothing as the album title? "It was the one that was the most obvious. When we come to choose an album title we usually look down the list of song titles and pick the one that's the most apt, really. With 'Out Of Nothing,' it came out of a song that came out of nothing. It came from a jam. It was the first time we'd ever done a jam that had made it onto a record and it was the first words literally that came out of Danny's mouth. But, it also really fitted in well with the fact that we'd been dropped by our record label three years previous and we'd been out of the spotlight for five years nearly before that. So, basically, we'd come back with this album. We'd come back out of nothing, although we never knew that it would catch on as well as it did. But I suppose the bigger the album gets the more appropriate the title becomes!"
Finally, if Embrace were thrown into a boxing ring with Oasis, Keane and Snow Patrol, who would end up walking away intact? "I reckon the guitarist out of Snow Patrol is pretty handy," he laughs. "I also reckon Liam (Gallagher - Oasis) would come out of there alright! I reckon I'd be alright, probably, ... but I don't really know much about Keane. Maybe the guy on keyboards," he laughs, one final time.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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