Live @ Carling Bristol Academy
October 5, 2004

Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

By now, most music fans are aware of Embrace's inspiring 2004 comeback tale.

It's a tale of a band who, after being dropped by Hut Records in 2002, managed to find strength through self-belief and through each other, to continue, and to go on to produce their best album to date, for new label Independiente.

Although 3 years in-the-making, and along with plenty of struggles and heartaches, the monumental Out Of Nothing (which continues the emotional themes, that have remained a constant throughout the band's career), is confident, spirited, panoramic in scope, and is the record Embrace always promised that they would make.

Critics have heaped praise on the LP, calling it everything from "A Classic" to "The Definitive Embrace Album," and it is also, arguably, the record all Embrace fans were waiting for. "The tunes are back!" as Danny puts it, in reference to the band's much-loved trademark and uplifting anthems.

In a brave move for the first single, the band chose to release a song written not by themselves, but by their close friend Chris Martin instead - who gave the track to them as
"A gift." Chris explained, "We (Coldplay) thought it sounded far too much like them for us, but not too much like them for them."

The graceful Gravity, a simple yet beautiful ballad, was intended as a 'Trojan-horse' - its purpose, to increase awareness of Embrace's comeback, and to draw greater attention to Out Of Nothing.

This plan turned out to be a masterstroke, as not only did it result in a Top 10 single, but also, more importantly, it gave Embrace their second Number 1 LP - which has now gone Platinum!

Led by singer Danny McNamara (who's on-stage presence has been described as "Messiah-like"), Embrace are a phenomenal live band, and consist of Danny's younger brother, Richard McNamara (guitar), Mike Heaton (drums), Steve Firth (bass) and Mickey Dale (keyboards).

Tonight, along with songs from Out Of Nothing, the Yorkshire band's past glories are also elevated to a new high, during the passionate and heartfelt set.

As a long-time Embrace fan (since the band's debut single The Fireworks EP in 1997), I had the honour of meeting and interviewing Danny, just before Embrace took to the stage, to discuss amongst other things, how setting yourself impossible goals, can eventually lead to the most fulfilling accomplishments…



1. Many congratulations on your triumphant comeback! How do you feel after the success of Gravity and Out Of Nothing?
"We're amazed really. We were hoping that Gravity would go to Number 15 or something like that, and then we'd be able to build on it. The record company were really confident about it, and when we put it out and got the mid-week, it was Number 5, and we were all absolutely amazed - we weren't expecting that at all (smiling)! And then, for it to stay at around about Number 7, we couldn't believe it. So, after the Top 10 success of that, and all of the radio play and everything that it got, we thought that the album would maybe go to Number 6 or something. But the mid-week on that was Number 2, so we all started thinking that maybe we could have a Top 5 album - but it was released in what is known as "a hard-week" in marketing circles. Natasha Bedingfield was still selling 60,000 to 70,000 albums a week, Nelly had two albums out and he'd just had a Number 1 single, and Paul Weller and The Thrills… there were just loads of albums out that week, we picked a really hard week. So we were sort of thinking it won't go Top 5, but you know - and then to get that Number 2 mid-week, we were just like wow (laughing)! Then I found out (pausing), it was about twelve 'o clock on the Sunday morning, that I got a phone call, and we were just amazed to be Number 1, because there were only like 500 records in it on the Friday, between us and Paul Weller, so I was totally prepared for it to be Number 2. But it wasn't about sales, it was more of a romantic thing to be at Number 1 again, it was just an amazing feeling again you know (smiling)!"

2. You celebrated having a Number 1 album, by flying 7 lucky fans (who won a competition through your official website), to Majorca for a secret gig. Can you tell us about this?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah - well it was just a big blag really (laughing)! Some of us had to get day jobs when things got really bad, after we left Hut, and one of the members of the band, his boss had a yacht. We were doing a tour just before Gravity came out, and we said, wouldn't it be amazing if all this kicks off, and we could go out on the yacht and do a secret gig - to which both our faces lit up. But, we were both like "Nah, it'll never happen, there's no way he'll go for it." So we just rang him - he was actually over there at the time - and suggested it to him, and he just totally took the ball and ran with it. He was really enthusiastic and wanted to do it, and it was kind of him and Mick, our keyboard player, who organised it all. It was a total buzz, a total laugh! The fans didn't know where they were going, all they knew, was that they needed to bring a passport. We told them to wrap up warm, and we also asked them, if they had any connections with any sort of militant-religious group or terrorist group, that they ought to declare it now, to give them an inkling that we might be taking them to Ireland or something. So that's where they all thought they were going. When they got to the airport, and it was just like Leeds Bradford Airport - where 90% of the flights are short flights - we had SG#14 on the departure gate, so they still didn't know where they were going. The woman on the desk said, "So where are you going?" and they were like, "We don't know, we have no idea where we're going" (laughing). Then she said "Oh right, it's you lot, well you're going to Palma," and they were like "Oh my god!" (laughing). We drove them out to this Marina, and then we came in the yacht, picked them up and drove them out to this alcove, and we did a gig on top of the yacht, an acoustic gig with a sunset! Then the next day, we did a proper gig in this bohemian bar, on a beach where we could get power for the PA. Yeah, it was a laugh, it was good!"

3. Embrace are very fond of playing guerrilla gigs in unusual places, which are now becoming increasingly ambitious. But who originally came up with the idea?
"I think it kind of came about because Glastonbury wouldn't let us (pausing), when we were second on the Main Stage, Glastonbury said, "You can do this, but we don't want you to do any other gigs." It's all right, it's common, because they want exclusivity for their gig, if they're going to give you such a high-profile slot. But we still wanted to do gigs, so we started doing secret gigs based around that, and our manager has a romantic attachment to doing strange things. I think we all have in the band, it kind of excites the little boy in us, and we just love doing them you know."

4. The reasons for choosing Gravity as a comeback single, obviously paid off, but had you not had this song, which song would you have chosen?
"Ashes - that was always going to be the single, for about a year. But then, Chris offered us the song and the record company said "Look, Ashes will do a lot better off the back of it, you've been away for 3 years." It's what marketing-men call a "sexy angle." It's still on the A-list at Radio 1, 4 weeks after it was released, and it's still in the Top 40 - which is amazing, that's never happened to us before!"

5. Ashes, is arguably a valediction. It features the key lyric "Now watch me rise up and leave all the ashes you made out of me, when you said that we were wrong, life goes on, just look at how long I've agreed." After all the band had been through, was this about using mistakes and regrets to drive you forward?
"Yeah, yeah. That song was really hard to finish, I wrote the chorus about 3 years ago, and then our Richard wrote the verse to it, about a year ago. So there were like 2 years when it wasn't finished, and we loved it and we wanted to put it out, but it had this other verse that wasn't anywhere near as good. We really wanted to put it out, but I hadn't finished the lyrics at that point, and we were sort of going off it - it was going to become a back-burner song. It was like, it's all right, but it's not on the A-list anymore, because we didn't have a verse for it. Then, I just thought if I get the lyrics amazing, everybody's going to fight for it again. So I worked really hard this one night, but it came really quickly, and as soon as I got the Ashes idea, it just all poured out."

6. You said "Embrace are best when you're underdogs"?
"Yeah, I think being ambitious really sharpens our claws, and makes us work harder and try harder, and makes for better art, definitely! When the chips are down, we're at our best yeah. The trick is going to be now - now that we've got some success - is keeping that edge, and I'm aware now, that it's almost like (pausing), I'm hoping that it's like chicken pocks - once you've had it, you can't get it again. I realise what happened to us and I won't let it happen again."

7. It's true to say, that Independiente boss Andy Macdonald, always had great faith in what Embrace could achieve?
"Well, he was there when no-one else cared you know. He came along to us, like he did to Paul Weller, when no-one else cared about him after The Style Council (pausing), he signed him and so many other artists, like Billy Bragg, Portishead, The La's, Travis, So Solid Crew and Gabrielle, who have all gone onto big commercial success. But basically, he came along to us and said, "I think you guys are a fantastic band, you sort of meld the big anthemic / Motown thing, with big rock songs like U2, so you've got the best of both worlds there. But, you have never made a classic album, you've written some classic songs and you're a fantastic live band, but you've never really done the album, and that's what I want you to do for my label." He said as long as it takes, as much money as it takes, and you know, we took 3 years and every penny that he gave us. Also, at the end of it all, once we'd done all that writing and stuff, and he'd stuck with us, where 99% of record labels wouldn't stick with a band for 3 years. He said right, lets take you to a proper big, big studio like Olympic Studios, which is one of the best in the country, and you can use Youth, who's a massive producer, and we had 24-piece orchestras and all that again. Money was never any object with them, and they just believed in us right from the start. But also, they were really hard taskmasters - when we were happy, they'd come back and say "Yeah, it's all right, but it needs another little bit of something" - they really pushed us, and nobody's ever done that to us before. In the past, its always been like, get the band happy and as soon as the band are happy, lets put the record out."

8. So the added pressure was a good thing?
"Yeah definitely, I think the pressure from Youth and Andy Macdonald, and also the help from our manager Tony Perrin, really helped push us to a new high, that we wouldn't have reached without them."

9. But for you personally, the Out Of Nothing sessions were "very, very hard and intense"?
"It was a nightmare (laughing)! I mean Youth's a lovely person, but he kind of broke us into pieces, and then re-built us as a new band almost. I mean this album, wouldn't be anywhere near as good as its turned out, if it hadn't of been for him. I went from never wanting to see him again, to definitely wanting to do the next album with him, over the period of about 3 months. He's a total unpredictable genius I think, and without his input, this album just wouldn't be anywhere near where it is!"

10. During the 3 years that you've been away, which bands and songs have inspired you?
"To be honest, in all that time, I haven't really been listening to much music. I've been reading a lot and watching films and stuff, but because we sometimes worked literally 15 hours a day on music, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home, was to stick some loud music on. I mean, I always keep an eye on what new bands are coming through, but I wouldn't say there was any big influence on this record musically, except for each other, and obviously Youth, when he came along."

11. Some of your newer fans, may not realise that Embrace originally started life in the early 1990s, as a Goth band?
"Well before we formed Embrace, Richard played drums in a hardcore / thrash-metal punk band, called Gross Misconduct. It was our Richard's 18th Birthday when Mike joined us, and our Richard's 30 now, so that's 12 years ago - so about 1991 / 1992 yeah. Our sound was sort of a cross between Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen and a little bit of early U2 in there - it was quite Goth-driven, with singing over the top."

12. Is it true, that an acoustic demo of Retread, proved to be the major turning point in Embrace's musical direction?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was giving Richard a song on a tape, and he put the tape in the wrong way round, so he heard this other thing that I'd been doing, just messing about, that I didn't think was anything at all. He said, "Have you heard this?" and he just really, really quietly sung it to me late at night, and I was like yeah, it sounds a bit Country & Western though - it doesn't sound like us. Then Richard said "Yeah, but what do we sound like? We just sound like Echo & The Bunnymen or Joy Division, and are influences, but this sounds totally new, and it sounds like you and no-one else!" So we tried it at the rehearsal, and everybody went from sort of mild confusion, to like totally beaming, and it felt like we'd hit on our thing at last!"

13. As a songwriter, you said that you want your songs to be like "a warm fire coming from the speakers"?
"I always think it's easy to make people feel bad, and I like it when you hear a song, and it makes you feel like you're not alone - that there's somebody out there who understands how you feel. So yeah, it just feels like a warm arm around you or something - that's definitely what I want to do with music."

14. You think your fans "love The Good Will Out and like Drawn From Memory + If You've Never Been." Is this the same for the band?
"I think we kind of like the albums for different reasons. I think the first album's got the biggest amount of tunes on it. The second one was the most fun - we did a lot of experimenting and had a big laugh, and the third one is probably the deepest - it goes to some really personal places, and is probably the most autobiographical. This fourth album has got, I would say, as many tunes on it as the first one, but for the first time we've caught some of that live feel, that we've never really caught on record, which is exciting. We've never really worked with anybody like Youth before, and he's amazing at capturing you at your best, without you realising it you know."

15. Embrace seem to have re-gained their 'gang-like' combative streak, which is perhaps symbolised through the iconic group photograph, used on the Out Of Nothing sleeve?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah! Well it's definitely a little bit of lets get together, and not be fazed by it, because at one point, that's all we had - was ourselves, and our belief in ourselves and in each other. But it feels good, like calling the album Out Of Nothing, it's the same thing again, like its literally come out of thin air. We've worked really hard, and the songs come when they want - but they come from nowhere, and all we had literally, was each other, so it just felt really appropriate you know. I mean you could construe it as being a bit corny, but it just felt right."

16. You've always maintained, "that your reach should always exceed your grasp, because otherwise, what's the point in reaching at all?"
"You wouldn't be reaching would you (laughing)? But definitely yeah, how do you know your limitations until you test them?"

17. When you first emerged, you made many bold claims in the music press. Do you feel you've met the expectations that you created?
"No, and I don't think I ever will. That was the whole idea really, it was always about getting another 10% out of us as a band, and making all of those promises, was always about focusing us on the album. I wanted that first album to be an absolute classic you know, and I'm still really proud of a lot of the songs on it, and I think it is a really good start - it's a real landmark start. But, the album that I said we were going to make, maybe we never will make it, but I suppose the joy is in trying."

18. Near Life came out of jamming in the studio + you've also written several new songs since Out Of Nothing, which are much rockier. Is this a sign of what fans can expect from your next album?
"Definitely! There's a song we're going to play tonight, called Even Smaller Stones, which is another new one. It's a little bit more organic and musically inspired, instead of just melodically or tune inspired, because it comes as much from a guitar riff or a drum pattern, as it does from a melody line. The important thing there, is to never lose sight of the melody, and to make sure that the melody's as good as it can possibly be. But the good thing is, is that instead of it just being a crafted song, and then you turn up everybody else's part, they just sound more inventive and more exciting. It feels like a fresh avenue for us to explore, doing that."

19. When is your fifth album likely to appear?
"The record company, want us to try and get something out before the end of next year, because we've got so many songs and stuff - there's already talk of tentatively pencilling in some time in January, to do some pre-recording and pre-production. But the thing is, if those first sessions don't go well, I mean everybody obviously hopes that they will, but if they don't, then the album won't be coming out then, it won't come out until it's right."

20. Embrace have always had a very passionate live following, but what does it mean to you, to play your songs live?
"It's a total buzz! I could live on the road for 6 months you know, and not get bored. I mean, who wouldn't love to have all those people screaming and cheering? - and I think we're getting better at it! On this tour, it's getting better and better everyday - it's kind of like, they cheer and you play better, and because you're playing better, they cheer louder and it goes up and up and up. When you have a great gig, it's an amazing feeling (smiling)!"

21. Which songs do you most enjoy performing?
"I like Retread a lot, when we're playing it live, because it kind of really focuses me on what I'm doing. Sometimes during a set, either you're nervous or the sound on stage - if it's a festival or something, is really off-putting. But that song always lets me know that I'm at work, it's like putting a lead on a guide-dog, to let it know that it's working. That song always centres me, and makes me feel like I'm born to do it, if you know what I mean. I love that one and I really like Ashes as well, but the only trouble with it is, is at the moment, we're playing it first in the set, so you're still a little bit nervous as you're doing it - so I'm not getting to fully enjoy it, perhaps as much as I should. But I think those two, Ashes and Retread."

22. 2004 has been a year of vindication for Embrace, but what are your hopes + ambitions for the future?
"I just want to really enjoy it all this time, enjoy every step of the way, and make sure that there's always time to do that. I then want to make sure, that we get the space to make the next album better than this one. Those are the two things in my head at the moment."

23. Lastly, chips or cream buns?
"Oh god, that is a tough one (laughing). Chips with salt and vinegar!

A very special thanks to Danny, Embrace, and to Maureen @ Momentum PR, for all of their time and help.

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