'We Appreciate What We've Got': Embrace Go Back To What They Know

Simon Ramsay 05 March 2018

Some folks are set in their ways. Maybe they fear change, or maybe they just know their own minds. Indie-rockers Embrace have always attracted a portion of fans who don’t like the group’s more experimental efforts.

They would prefer them to stick with the sound that helped define the post-Britpop scene 20 years ago when their debut, ‘The Good Will Out’, romped to the top of the album charts. Such hard to please traditionalists should return to the fold in droves when they hear ‘Love is a Basic Need’.

This is the seventh album of Embrace’s career and finds them stepping away from the stylings that informed 2014’s critically acclaimed self-titled effort. Released after a lengthy seven year hiatus, it was a storming comeback that added electronic flavours to the signature sound the band – which includes brothers Danny (vocals) and Richard McNamara (guitar) - introduced to the world back in 1998.

Thanks to its epic anthemics and powerhouse balladry, this effort has much in common with ‘The Good Will Out’ than it does its predecessor. Yet it also boasts a more personal edge than the band have exhibited before. Over the course of 10 tracks, crumbling adult relationships and haunting heartache are traversed in such a vivid and familiar way that it’s clearly been informed by some painful experiences. We spoke to Rich McNamara about everything to do with the new record and the question of whether Embrace get the respect they deserve.

Your last album was a boundary-pushing affair, but this one is a classic-sounding Embrace record. Why did you return to that?

We’ve got a bit of a cycle of doing what comes naturally, then trying to push the boundaries and grow a bit, and then doing what comes naturally. I think these songs stood up without needing electronics, if you like.

You’ve said you fight against Embrace being like they are because you get bored. What changed this time round?

It’s just the way the relationships between the guys work. Sometimes they’re in the mood for hearing it and sometimes they’re not. I guess they must have been in the mood for it. We tried not to second guess everything and wanted to get it out quickly. We thought: ‘Let’s stop trying to save the world. Let’s just write songs that we like and do what we do.’ We’ve got a sound we produce and when we play together it’s like muscle memory, because we’ve been together for so long it just comes out that way. It’s accepting and feeling comfortable with who we are, rather than trying to do something else.

You definitely have a distinctive sound, yet all your albums have their own character. At what point in the creative process does that take shape?

On the last album we hadn’t been together for so long that we all had ideas about what we wanted to do. I was pushing towards that electronic sound but it was born out of a really old video we saw of ourselves from back in the early ‘90s where we sounded more like Joy Division and the Cure. That felt like a really honest place so we followed that palette with the sounds we were using. In terms of how does it come to be, it’s the way the songs are written. Danny writes on an acoustic guitar, I tend to write with the use of the studio so I’ve got more colours at my disposal and my songs tend to be a bit more along those electronic lines.  

Although, this time round we were writing songs to pitch, which is what you call it when you’re working with publishers and writing for other artists. A few that ended up on the album were songs that weren’t going to be pitched to someone we thought was big enough so we kept them back. Doing that means you’ve got to come up with a good song rather than a good beat. That’s fed back into it and informed the direction.

How was making this album different from previous records?

It was a lot of fun, just friends hanging out, spending time together, enjoying each other’s company and playing in the band. No expectations on it, no deadlines or pressures. I’d say it’s probably the most relaxed record that we’ve done.

Yet it is one of the most intense, complex and realistic musical depictions of love and relationships I’ve heard outside of a singer-songwriter record. It’s interesting that came from a time when you were having fun.

We had fun as a band but there’s been a couple of divorces going on at the same time. That probably darkened it a little. It might have also taken away some of the venom or energy from my wanting to be different to what Embrace is, because I didn’t have the energy to fight against anything. So I was doing my bit rather than trying to do everyone’s bits like I try and do sometimes. But yeah, it’s a funny one the old divorce. I got a few good ideas out of it.

You sing lead on Where You Sleeping, which is a very dark track and sounds like it came from that time in your life.

It’s word for word what I’ve said to my therapist, all condensed into a formula that rhymes. The riff was something I came up with in the studio. I’d normally let things like that go, think ‘I’ll remember that’ and nine times out of 10 I don’t. But at that moment I thought: ‘No. I’m gonna follow this up.’ So I recorded a quick little thing and must have written it all in 20 minutes. It had a really dark, angry feel to it which went against what the album’s like so there was talk of me doing it as a solo thing. Management and band heard it and loved it so it had to go on.

All That Remains is one of my favourites. It’s tortured, full of doubt and paranoia. What can you say about that song?

That was another written to pitch. The melody of it started on piano and from the pre-chorus – ‘Everything we’ve done’ – section that was a different song. I wrote those melodies and then Danny got hold of the lyrics and knocked it out the park. I think that’s my favourite. There’s a song it sounded like when I wrote it. Tired of Being Alone by Al Green. I thought: ‘If it sounds like Al Green it must be alright.’

The album is very epic and orchestral. You’ve said you wanted to create a specific mood and feel without including lots of guitar based tracks just for the sake of it.  

There wasn’t any pre-meditated idea. We did have a meeting where we said we wanted to do an album that could stand up against the best of our songs and then all picked what we thought the best were. And a lot of it was what you think when you think of Embrace. So we had that palette, didn’t want to go too crazy, and wanted to keep it traditional. Real instruments, five guys in a room plus an orchestra.

It’s just the way it worked out with the guitar. I’ve always played supportive parts rather than in your face widdly widdly jobs. So on this it’s particularly supportive. Doing the rehearsals, the stuff I’m playing is so simple it’s going to be the easiest tour ever. I probably won’t even break a string. But that’s just where the energy was I guess.

You have Kerri Watt singing on Never. How did that come about?

Kerri was someone I was working with and producing her stuff. We did co-write together and Never was one of those songs we were pitching. I had a chat with Danny and asked him what he thought about Kerri doing it because she was getting on the A-list at radio. We both agreed it would be good.

I think I recorded this song five times. First when Danny sang it and then with my daughter singing Kerri’s parts, giving a demonstration of what a duet would sound like to other artists. And then the publisher said: ‘Why don’t you just get a version with Ella singing, that’s my daughter, so I can pitch that to female singers.’

So I did it with her and that made three times. Then Kerri heard it and wanted to do it so we recorded it a fourth time. Kerri got it mixed by this radio guy, we heard that and decided we wanted to put it on our album. So I re-recorded it in a different key and then asked Kerri if she’d duet on it. So it’s been a bit of a journey that one.      

Danny has said you’re the one who is fierce about quality control when it comes to accepting or dismissing material. What are you listening for?

A feeling you get from it. When you’ve got that you know you’ve got gold dust. Everything that doesn’t give you that feeling is open to interpretation and you kind of argue about which bit isn’t working and which bit is. That gets to be more of a grey area. Like the chorus in Never. I always maintain that chorus should have been better.


Something about it doesn’t quite do it for me. The big bit at the end - ‘Don’t tell me it’s impossible’ - I thought was a better chorus. But it’s the old dynamic. Who’s got the strength to fight their corner most wins the argument with Danny and I. When you’re going through what was happening my end, maybe I could have fought longer and then the album wouldn’t have come out this year. It’s coulda, shoulda, woulda isn’t it?  

Acts like Coldplay, Elbow, Keane, Snow Patrol etc wouldn’t have been as successful without Embrace effectively opening the doors for that style of music. Do you feel you get the credit you deserve?

I think there’s usually a bigger headline to be had. They just think ‘Embrace, they’re uncool, knobheads, football song, whatever.’ Having a go at Danny’s voice. The press seems to be cynical and like those terms rather than the actual truth. The reason we got the Coldplay gig last year was because Chris wanted to honour our influence on his band. That’s the reason he gave Danny when he rang him to offer [it] to us. They all know it’s there but they’re probably loath to say it. They’d rather quote the cooler bands they’ve been influenced by.

It’s been 20 years since the release of your debut. What do you remember about that time?  

I was really young and my whole focus had been on getting a record deal. And when we got the deal I thought the hard work was done and just expected everything else to follow behind it. And it did. So I didn’t appreciate it at the time. Going to number one, going gold within a week and all that stuff. I just thought that’s what happened when you got signed. That’s where my head was at.

We got signed, now we’re massive, we’re playing bigger venues, this is all to be expected. But since then I’ve learned it was a massive gift and I should have appreciated it more rather than pissing and moaning about stuff. I think that’s probably why we’ve stayed together as long as we have because we’ve all done the same thing. We all appreciate what we’ve got now rather than expecting anything.

'Love is a Basic Need' is out now on Cooking Vinyl.

Embrace Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed March 28 2018 - GLASGOW O2 Academy Glasgow
Thu March 29 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Riverside
Fri March 30 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Sat March 31 2018 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Sun April 01 2018 - CARDIFF Tramshed
Tue April 03 2018 - SOUTHAMPTON Engine Rooms
Wed April 04 2018 - NORWICH Epic Studios
Thu April 05 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Fri April 06 2018 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Sat April 07 2018 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds

Click here to compare & buy Embrace Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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Embrace Share New Single Never Featuring Kerri Watt

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