The Amazons Prepare to Satisfy Japan’s Craving for Real Rock

In their native UK The Amazons have been pegged as a red hot up and coming act, snagging spots on the BBC’s “Sound of 2017” and MTV’s “Brand New 2017” lists. Despite that enthused following at home, the burgeoning alt-rockers had to travel half way around the world to meet their most fervent fans. That’s right: their best gig yet was Fuji Rock 2017, thanks to throngs of Japanese fans that screamed along to their anthemic hooks and rousing power chords. Ahead of their March 5 gig at Club Quattro frontman Matt Thomson tells us more about “being big in Japan” as the old rock adage goes; coming up in Reading, Berkshire’s meager scene; and contending with rock’s shrinking prominence in this age of behemoth hip-hop and dominant electronica.

How did you guys get your start in Reading, Berkshire? What was the scene like there?
It’s probably not quite as barren now as it was when we started coming up. There were just bits and bobs then. We don’t really have a proper venue there, more just bars with stages. So we did that circuit for a year or two. We slowly built it up, handing our CDs out after shows, and eventually building a following.

What are some of your favorite places to play now, since moving on from those meager beginnings?
Fuji Rock was a major highlight of ours last year. It was quite a culture shock for four boys from Reading to come over for such a huge festival. The location is pretty mindblowing. I don’t think we’ve experienced a landscape like that before.

But the biggest moment came when we finished our song “Junk Food Forever,” which has a very prominent hook. We came offstage and the crowd just kept on singing it. We went back out and bowed. We’ve never had that happen before, that the crowd was so loud we had to go back on again and bow. What made it even crazier is we were 5000 miles away from home. It never happened in Reading, that’s for sure.

Was the crowd so excited because you already have a fanbase in Japan, or is it because the song was just so catchy and accessible?
Probably a bit of both. When we came to Japan our management were like: “We don’t know what to expect lads. But Japan bought the second highest number of your albums, next to the UK. The sales are just way higher here.” And people weren’t only singing along to “Junk Food Forever,” at Fuji Rock. I could see lots of people singing the other songs too.

Then there’s these new shows that we’re doing in Japan, which are almost sold out. For some reason we seem to be connecting there. So we’re really excited to come back.

The Amazons at Fuji Rock in 2017 (Photo ⓒ Masanori Naruse)

Though things went well at Fuji Rock, it’s by no means the only festival you guys have played. Tell us about some of the other huge gigs you’ve had, and the bands you’ve shared the bill with.
We did a big Radio One festival gig last year. We played the same stage as Lana Del Rey, Kasabian, and Haim. Festivals are where it’s at, if you like playing with really cool bands. There was a lineup at a festival in Spain that was us, Fleet Foxes and The Killers all on one stage.

We’ve gotten to meet a few of our heroes after those shows, but just briefly. You just try to keep it cool, because a couple of years before we would have been buying tickets to go to these festivals, and now we’re playing. And nothing has changed in our minds – we don’t look at those other bands as equals. The exact opposite, in fact.

When you mention being just a fan a few short years ago, it makes me wonder who your key influences are. Which bands informed The Amazons’ sound?
We weren’t trying to go back to the basics, necessarily. But we did focus on what made us excited about picking up instruments in the first place. Just revisiting Nirvana, Cage the Elephant, The Clash, Queens of the Stone Age – the stuff that made us excited about rock and roll. It’s also the kind of stuff that, when you revisit it, it’s just as good as you remember.

So we focused on that, and not the notion of “being relevant” that people are so hung up on now days. It’s easy to worry about that, because we play guitar music. But we got to a nice place where we didn’t care.

Tell us more about those concerns. Are bands worried about danceability? Are they pressured to use more synths? Do they feel a need to compete with hip-hop?
That is certainly on people’s minds, in this current climate. It’s not that rock isn’t relevant anymore, but it’s certainly not the hot thing. And I don’t know what you can do to change that. Ultimately you just have to make the music you enjoy, that excites and moves you, and hope that it connects with people.

Maybe that authenticity is more crucial than being relevant or hot?
Absolutely. People want to believe in what you’re saying, and know that you believe it too. You can see through things when it’s not done with the right intentions.

You mentioned Nirvana as an influence, a band that unseated Michael Jackson and other dance heavy pop music from the top of the charts in the 90s. Do you see such trends as just a cyclical thing?
Yes, definitely. It’s just a question of whether or not we’ll be around by the time it comes back around [Laughs]. Hip-hop rules streaming right now, but I think it’ll just be a matter of time before people get sick of seeing dudes rap over backing tracks. After a while people want real instruments with people who have been playing for years together, and have worked at it. Because that’s something you can’t replicate on a backing track: the chemistry between bandmates.

In the meantime, before that pendulum swings back to more organic rock, is there more enthusiasm among fans who come to shows like yours? Are they a bit more starved for choice when compared to eras where hip-hop and pop weren’t so dominant?
I think so. It’s almost like guitar music is a niche now. Like everyone that comes to our shows is in on a little secret. And that almost makes our shows a little more special. Like, when you get it, you really get it.

People say “Is rock and roll dead?” If you think so, I think you should go ask the people who come to our shows, who are going crazy and having a great time.

The Amazons will play Club Quattro on March 5. For more details, visit our calendar event listing.

Main Image: Photo by Dan Harris

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