At the Island Records office in New York City, the Amazons sit back on a big grey sectional couch, just opposite a yellow neon sign with Island’s summery palm tree logo. Guitarist Chris Alderton softly plays the Eagles’ “Hotel California” at “mouse volume” on the signature-covered Island Records guitar. The band is about halfway through its tour with Dirty Honey. They may not have a headline slot, but they’re still drawing a crowd.
“Most shows we’ll have someone come up to us saying ‘oh we’ve traveled five hours to come and see you,’ which for us is insane anyway,” says drummer Joe Emmett. “If you did that in the UK…” Frontman Matt Thomson finishes his sentence, “You’d be half the country, basically all up the country… five hours to us is up to Scotland and that’s like ages…”
The Amazons know how to make an entrance. Their sophomore album Future Dust was released in 2019, but they needed something new for the tour. The Amazons have a friendship with Oakland-based punk band SWMRS, who have their own record label, Uncool Records. SWMRS drummer Joey Armstrong approached them, asking if the Amazons would be interested in repackaging and rereleasing their first-ever EP that they had self-released in the UK. Instead, they created a mixtape of sorts, Introducing… The Amazons (which is also available in a limited run of vinyl). It does exactly what it says, introduces new US listeners to the best of their two existing albums. Plus, it includes a new acoustic version of Future Dust’s “Mother” and two previously unreleased tracks from the Future Dust sessions, “Heart Of Darkness” and “Howlin.”
The Amazons are rock and roll purists, inspired by the spirit of the genre and the values that come with it. “We’d go to festivals, right? And we’d see loads of bands, and half of it wasn’t live,” explains Thomson. “It was like these rock bands but you can tell there’s loads of backing track and stuff. We’re real purist bastards so we were like ‘fuck this, we don’t want to do that.’ I want to listen to bands like Zeppelin or the Who or the Rolling Stones… it’s all fucking visceral and we felt that they had something in that music that wasn’t present now and that’s what we’re taking influence from.” The Amazons wanted to strike out on their own and focus on the things they put value on themselves: musicianship, groove, drums, riffs, and things that get them excited. They’re not your average indie rock band – they take after the greatest bands of all time.
“Heart Of Darkness” and “Howlin” tell the stories of “two sides of the same relationship,” according to Thomson. “I got given this book by Joseph Conrad called Heart Of Darkness in this little thrift kind of market place in West Hampstead. This person gave me the Heart Of Darkness but I took it on tour, never read it, and I left it in a hotel room in Swansea,” he explains. “I thought it would be something to write about and kind of expand into how the relationship never took off, and I never read the book, and I’m never going to read the book.”
The new release also carries on the story of Future Dust. According to Thomson “a lot of the lyrics and things on the record were kind of meditating on our place in the world, and there’s a lot of chaos at the moment, and kind of working out who we are and what we stand for in this. It’s hard to place yourself, especially as a twenty-something, especially now when beliefs are challenged daily. I felt the idea that everything would be dust anyway. It doesn’t matter, kind of gives you a nice bit of perspective.”
Future Dust was written at Three Cliffs Bay in Wales in the summer of 2018. The band stayed in a home made of local wood by a local man who went by the name Skippy Dave, who Thomson remembers as a “toothless hippie wonder.” The four spent the days exploring the beaches, discovering abandoned castles and more with their photographer documenting the expeditions. “One of the shots came out of this kind of cave, this opening between the beach and the sea,” says Thomson. The jagged mouth of the cave would become the cover of Future Dust, be featured on stage when the band performed, and even make it’s way onto the back of Thomson’s custom Future Dust stage suit. “It kind of represents escape,” says Thomson.
Escapism isn’t new to the Amazons. For their first album cover they actually set fire to their old tour van (affectionately named Big Suze). “It’s kind of like escaping from our town Reading, where we’re from, and burning the means of escape we’ve come from,” Thomson explains.
Before she was burned, Big Suze carried the band countless miles across the UK and Europe. She was temperamental, though. She leaked battery acid, she smelled corrosive and eggy, she got stuck in the mud, she broke down, and her bumper once fell off out of nowhere. “It was possessed by spirits and we needed to burn it,” jokes Thomson. Thankfully, their van on this tour has been more cooperative.
The band hasn’t burned anything for the sake of album number two, but they did record a ton of guitar solos at Monnow Valley Studios in Wales. “It was apparently very haunted and I was about this close away from doing a ouija board,” says bassist Elliot Briggs. “They had to get a medium to cleanse the house like the year before because people were seeing so many ghosts.” Thomson added, “Oasis had been there before and talked about it being haunted as well.”
Emmett tells me that Black Sabbath used a ouija board in the very same studio in 1979. The board said that guitarist Randy Rhoads was going to die. He died in a plane crash in 1982.
Emmett himself had an unsettling experience at the spooky residential studios. “In my mind it’s someone who was there previously but they’ve written on the mirror with their finger. When you go into the bathroom you couldn’t see it on the mirror but when you used the shower and the steam came it had this message on the mirror,” he explained. “I’ve never left out of the shower quicker in my life.” He couldn’t remember what it said. Alderton joked that it said, “I can see you, Joe. This is a two-way mirror. We’re watching.”
“Listen man, with the amount of times we mentioned Wales in this interview, I will happily never go back,” says Thomson. Thankfully, they have spent the last couple months far from Wales and travelling the US. The spookiest thing they’ve come across on this side of the pond has been voodoo shops in New Orleans. Briggs opted to buy a t-shirt instead of a shrunken head.
I asked the band what their biggest challenges were on tour. They all had to do with food. Of course, finding time to eat between sound check and the show is always a challenge. So is finding a quality cup of coffee. There is a band debate over drip vs. espresso. “The half and half things are evil,” says Thomson. “Straight up evil.”
Austin and Nashville are old favorites, but the Amazons are also visiting many places they haven’t seen yet. They’re particularly excited to see northern California, Salt Lake City, Denver, Detroit, and Chicago (they’ve been watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in preparation; they’re big foodies). Their favorite thing about New York City? The dive bars.
The band raves about the beach in Destin, Florida. “It literally looked like an entire beach of cocaine,” proclaims Thomson. Emmett adds, “not that we’ve seen what that looks like!”
When their US tour with Dirty Honey concludes, the band will be playing several festivals throughout the UK and Europe. Album three can be expected sometime next year. Thomson’s custom star, snake, and skull emblazoned future dust suit will be retired. “It’s going to the rock and roll hall of fame,” jokes Alderton. “In Reading.”
Emmett adds, “[Our publicist] is going to get us on Stephen Colbert before we leave. It’s going to be like the Beatles and the Ed Sullivan show, everything is going to blow up.”
“Next time you interview us we’ll all be in jacuzzis. One each,” adds Thomson.