After a 3 year hiatus Embrace are back with a new single "Gravity", penned by close friend Chris Martin and set to go Top 10 this weekend, and an album "Out of Nothing" which features the live classic "Ashes". Recording this album was probably the hardest of their career with producer Youth pushing Danny McNamara to breaking point in order so they could make that classic Embrace album. Designer Magazine caught up with Richard McNamara to find out about the difficult process which has yielded the best album of their career so far.
Q: It's been so long now since we last heard of Embrace. Is it two or three years since you were last on the scene?
A: We've been writing for 3 years. I can't remember what date the Albert Hall gig was but i'm guessing it's about three and a half years cos we've been telling the 3 years story for about six months. We've always had total faith that we could do it and it's always been a case of when it's gonna happen rather than if it's gonna happen. With the backing from the record company that we've had from the beginning, Andy McDonald has always had so much faith in us that he just said "I know you've got a classic album in yer and I know that your best work is still to come. You should just make this album that album. I wanna be that man that's there when you do it". With the results that we've got and the response that we've been getting it's unbelievable really. We feel like a new band coming out straight off the blocks and getting all this press attention and radio attention - it's like nothing we've seen since we did come out and pardon the pun, people are just embracing it.
Q: I guess there are people around that are too young to remember you first time round.
A: Yeah, we're going for the Best New Band Brit this year.
Q: I've been looking round your website today and people do seem to have forgotten you actually released a 3rd album. Every single message board post is either about the new material or that off the first 2 albums. Does that concern you at all?
A: We only did 2 singles off the 3rd album. The people on the message board are generally our worst critics and we get the perception from that. Whatever decision we make we usually refer straight back to the message board to see what everyone's thinking about it. Such so with "Gravity" we announced that we were going to "Gravity", a Chris Martin song, thinking it goes live tonight and worrying what people were going to say. We'd been through all the inner turmoil and had all the inner arguments and basically they kinda brought all the points up that we'd come up with, but they were all genuinely positive about it and could see why we were doing it.
Q: When you changed labels all those years ago were there things on your mind - any regrets or things you knew you needed to change in the band?
A: It was a scary time. It was my birthday when we got that message. All the guys were round here having a drink and I just went in and went "we're looking for a new deal". It was a case of where do we go from here because when you've got the support like we did with Virgin it's a real crutch, but at the same time our determination shone through. They wanted us to do a Greatest Hits which was enough to keep us wages wise for another 3 months so we built a studio in my house and we started demoing tracks for a new deal cos we knew we were too bloody good to go by the wayside. We knew the material that we leave off the albums, we knew the material that is sat their waiting in the stalls waiting to come out - we knew we had some crackers.
Q: Once you'd signed with Independiente, you and Danny went through this fevered writing periods.
A: We had 9 writing sessions basically. After every one me and Danny would present a load of songs to the band, jam them all through, pick what we thought were the best and put them on an A List. We narrowed it down between us and the record company to about 15 songs that we'd go in and record with Youth...and then on top of that we did a couple of jams in the studio which turned out really well, "Near Life" and "Out Of Nothing". We'd narrowed it down to 10 songs and then "Gravity" came along so we knocked one of them off. We wanted it to be concise and not go on too long. We wanted to make the definitive Embrace album and I don't know if we'll ever better it.
Q: When you actually went into the studio you found it quite hard adjusting to having a producer (Youth) in the chair.
A: I think Danny found it the hardest to actually hand over the baton cos it's a great leap of faith to hand over your songs that you think are perfect to somebody. It's like handing over a painting and somebody gets a marker out and just f**king draws all over the top. But to the mass public the drawing over the top is better than what's underneath. It's that kind of dynamic and it was really hard for Danny at first.
We'd all sworn at the beginning though that this time we would be produced this time by hook or by crook. We'd never tapped into that resource before because we'd always gone with an engineer and ultimately we'd have the final say whereas this time with Youth we all said Youth would get the final say. When Danny didn't like something he'd turn to us lot and it would be like you know what we said. He'd be up nights, he's got heart problems and stuff and he'd have to take tablets to stop his heart from giving a f**king heart attack (laughs).
Q: What did Youth add to the album that you guys just didn't see or couldn't achieve?
A: Well "Ashes" started off as a "Fireworks" style ballad so that would be completely different. "Someday" would be similar, probably a little bit slower. I think every single song on the album would be a little bit slower, about 10 bpm slower. I think generally as a band in order to get emotion into a song and into a lyric the slower you do a song the easier that is. That's why sometimes when you get bands who do covers of dance tracks if you do a slow ballady version it seems really poignant.
Q: Going back to what you said earlier about wanting to make that classic Embrace album. Did you find the tracks that you left off the album were the more experimental tracks
A: To be honest the b-sides this time are songs that have all been contenders for the album at one point. We decided that we really wanted to up the quality of our output, like not put shit on B-sides. Sometimes they'll be a bit more experimental or a bit more rockier and other times they'll be completely Embrace being Embrace, and that's the reason why its a B-side and not on the album - cos its Embrace being Embrace without the twist.
Q: The feeling I get from Embrace now is that they're in a similar position to where Ash were just before "Free All Angels" came out. You've come back with a good collection of songs and there's a lot of hope at the moment for you guys
A: We spent a couple of months in the studio just talking about what we wanted to do and we really wanted to limit the palette, we didn't want too many different sounds on the record. And we wanted to make it a really guitar sounding record and sound like a band in a room, like a garage U2 sort of band. Just the fact that you can play the songs in a room and they sound great and testimony to that is we're doing these secret gigs in scout huts and the songs are still sounding f**king massive.
Q: Obviously before the albums out we've got the single "Gravity". When Chris Martin first played you the song what were your initial impressions of it?
A: When I first heard the song I thought the song was f**king immense. Danny came into the studio and said Chris rang me last night. Oh, what did he say? He played me a song last night over the phone. I was like what was it like? And now when you're in the studio working on your own songs you have to have a negative attitude to everything else in order to big up what you're doing yourself cos 9 times out of 10 what you're actually doing yourself sounds shit. It's like having an ugly baby, you know its gonna be great but you've got to say everything else is shit in order to make that good. We said what's the song like and he was like "It's f**king amazing"...oh well, back to the drawing board.
We genuinely liked it as a song and we were just looking forward to hearing it on the next Coldplay album. Chris came down to the studio at Olympic where we were working and he was playing a few new songs to us on the piano. We asked him to play "Gravity", we thought it was great but he seemed as if he wasn't sure about it. We just thought if he didn't see that as his best song he was a knobhead or something....in-between the period of recording and when we were going to mix, Chris called Danny and was like "Call me a knobhead if you want, but do you want Gravity". For us it was like we don't do covers, we do our own songs. We must have all been sat there that night watching telly and thought "this isn't a song that's been given to us by Danny's mate...this is a song that's been given to us by one of the biggest bands in the world. It's like Bono giving you a song and we should give it the respect it deserves". We all came back in the next day and were like it sounds like us and the reason it's been given us is because he thought it sounded too much like us. To turn your back on something like that after we've put in so much effort on this album would have been folly.
We never thought it would be the first single though. We always thought it would just be an album track and then the record company said if you release that first with the music industry being what it is you have to have a sexy angle in order to open doors. It's really working for us. It's new band time for us and we're f**king buzzing.
"Gravity" is out now in stores. "Out Of Nothing" is out Sept 13th
The band tour throughout October
For more info
Post your Embrace reviews / comments on the Message Board