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Having scored their third #1 Album in 2006, Embrace were pretty much silent until 2013, when they began a string of mysterious secret gigs in undisclosed locations. This was succeeded by a self-titled album with a new electronic sound.
Whilst most synonymous with the Britpop hit ‘All You Good Good People’ and power pop anthems ‘Ashes’ and ‘Nature’s Law’, the Yorkshire band have gained new fans with this change in style. I was able to grab 10 minutes on the phone with bassist Steve Firth the other day to ask him about Embrace’s current and future plans.
First things first, are you looking forward to your upcoming tour?
Yeah, I always look forward to touring, it’s the icing on the cake really. You’ve done the album and you want to get out and play it to people.
You seem to have taken on an electronic style with the new album. Was that intentional?
Yeah I think its music we’ve been listening to for the past few years, especially Rick [Richard McNamara, guitarist] who’s been listening to a lot of dubstep and things and I think it’s kind of influenced the writing process. Plus you’ve got to progress your sound or else it stalls and just sounds retro doesn’t it? You’ve got to try and move with the times. It wasn’t intentional to sound “current”, it was just that we listen to a lot of music and have absorbed it.
Was there a subconscious urge to try and reinvent yourselves then perhaps?
I think so yeah. We’ve tried it with a few of our albums, but the previous album to this didn’t really go anywhere and it didn’t really move on. You’ve got to keep moving on or else you’re just being yourself and it’s boring to be you.
Would you say the recording and writing process has been vastly different to This New Day [their last album] then?
Yes definitely. We had no record company involved really, no one breathing down our necks. No one really saying “you need to write singles for the radio” or anything like that. It was just us writing music that we liked. Sometimes obviously we do procrastinate and go on forever and you do need someone outside the organisation to tell you to get things done, and we didn’t have that. So it’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing.
The fans have reacted well, how did you want them to react to the new sound?
Well we just realised it’s really hard out there. There’s so much music out there, it’s got to be really good and so we worked on it until we thought it was the best we could do and we’ve been really happy with the response. The audience seems to like the new songs as much as the old songs which – of my experience of going to gigs – is not always the case. People usually tend to like bands’ old stuff.
It’s been a long time since your last release; what made you decide that 2014 was going to be the year to return?
Basically it took us a long time because we decided to have some time off after the last album, just so we could all do other things. It was meant to be six months but it turned into a couple of years before we could get everyone back in the room together. And when we started it was very little other than a few demos Rick had made. So it just took a long time. We thought we’d finished it in 2013, but we kept writing new songs that were better than the songs on the album, so we just kept going. Basically we all ran out of ideas and we were all happy and decided it was time to put it out. There was no big masterplan, it was when we were all just happy with it, we tried to get our new label Cooking Vinyl to put it out.
Could you tell us about the thought process of doing secret gigs for the past year and a bit?
Oh god the thought process…it’s something that evolved. It’s something that we really really enjoy. We organise everything. We come up with a strange idea, we find a strange place, we do everything. And it’s hard work but it’s really rewarding. The fans love it because it’s different and it’s exciting. It got to the stage where we did a secret festival where no one knew where they were going until the day before! We’ve had zombie themes, we’ve had a secret gig in a cave, we’ve done one on a beach… We were just trying to do something different, because we’d played a lot of the normal venues on the normal circuit so many times we can’t even remember them half the time, so we were creating memories for ourselves and our fans.
What do you think the next step will be after this tour?
Well we’re working on another album at the moment. We’ve got maybe seven songs which are of the right standard and that we’re really pleased with. There’s talk of going to America and doing some more gigs in the Spring, and if anyone comes up with a really unusual secret gig we’ll do that. We don’t want to go away this time, we want to hang around for as long as we can.
Talking of the new album, has a theme or genre begun to emerge?
It’s a bit early yet, the hard bet is trying to tie up a good song with some really interesting music. Then again, sometimes the music is great but the song isn’t good enough. Or it’s a good song that only sounds good on an acoustic guitar. So it’s trying to get the two together.
Do you reckon that was the most difficult period for you in Embrace, the 8-year gap between records?
Yeah the first couple of years of it was, where we weren’t really seeing much of each other. It was kind of like; is it going to happen or not? Our keyboard player started his own band Talk To Angels and Mike, our drummer, had started managing another band and it was kind of like; is it going to happen? We weren’t sure. We love what we’re doing and we all get on as friends. With some bands it’s really hard to work but with us, we just get together. We’ve known each other twenty years now – we’re all just good buddies and we get on with it. It was a bit depressing to think it might have finished, but I’m glad it didn’t.
Would you ever consider touring on old album on an anniversary?
We have discussed it. We’re not totally against it; we have talked about doing our first album on a tour but I think it’s a bit of a nostalgia thing. I think while we’ve got new music to offer that we think is good, we shouldn’t do it yet. We wouldn’t rule it out in the future though.
If it were to happen, would your first album be the one you’d enjoy revisiting the most?
I think it’d be really good to do, yeah. Nowadays with Facebook you can ask your fans can’t you? You can ask them what they’d like us to play on a tour and then you get a brilliant instant reaction of what everyone’s favourite songs are. Most of our fans are in their 30’s or 40’s so they’ll probably go for that one. It was twenty years ago; they were young you know? I think it’s always the first album by a band you love isn’t it?
If you have one, what would you say has been your biggest regret of your career?
I don’t really have regrets – it’s always been everything that’s happened has happened for a reason kind of thing, and we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be the band we are without all the bad decisions we’ve made over the years. I know Rick, if you asked him, would be doing the football song [‘World At Your Feet’]. We had about two days to decide on that and like three days to record it and it all seemed to happen in a bit of a blur. He was not really interested in football and he didn’t really want anything to do with it, so I know that’s what he’d say!
Do you think that song gave you a bit of a stigma too?
Well we knew it was going to be a poisoned chalice because no one else wanted to do it. But nothing ventured!
And they couldn’t rope the Lightning Seeds back in again could they?
No I think they asked a load of bands and they all said no! “No we’re not touching that!” Literally I think we had a night to decide on it and we thought, “Why not? Let’s have a go.”
So if England turn up again in a couple of years asking for another song?
No it’s not worth doing in the slightest! Real football fans didn’t like it and we didn’t get much out of it. We went to a couple of football matches and I think the record company had to pay the FA for the pleasure of us doing it. Nothing worth doing, but I don’t regret it, haha!
Are there any projects you personally would be interested in?
Yeah well I’m always writing music and I keep hammering away with my tunes to the band and I ask them what they think and it’s always “Oh yeah that’s great, anyway get on with your job!” I’ve got loads of stuff, Mike’s [the band’s drummer] got loads of stuff. We get together occasionally and rock out tunes. One day I want to have a hardcore punk band and just make a real racket.
Just go back to the old American Embrace version?
Yeah! The 1982 sound that’s really really heavy! I’m loving punk at the moment.
Embrace are touring throughout November and December.