Folllowing the release of their debut album Burials, Ian Maleney spoke with The Ambience Affair‘s James Clarke.

Folllowing the release of their debut album Burials, Ian Maleney spoke with The Ambience Affair‘s James Clarke.

 

The release of a band’s debut album is a big deal for anyone. It’s your first definitive statement, ready to be judged alongside its peers, listened to for extended periods of time and hopefully taken to heart by those who hear it. It’s the first big step which can determine the path a band takes for years into the future. Some albums will come out of nowhere, appearing as a dream from some foggy part of the internet, others are somewhat more anticipated. After an EP in 2009 and last year’s stunning single ‘Devil In The Details‘, people had every right to be looking forward to the first full length from The Ambience Affair. That record is finally out and about in the world and it’s called Burials. It’s a hugely ambitious and densely constructed effort, displaying a confidence not often seen on debut records.

Front-man James Clarke has certainly had time enough to think about the album as it has taken shape over the past year or more and it’s been a change for him to see their record take on a public life of it’s own. “I’m getting philosophical about the album despite the fact its only been out a week,” he says. “A lot of people have said our album is kind of like a third album because it requires a lot more listening than a debut album kind of should. There’s a lot more there. I think that’s probably right but I don’t think we made intentionally that way. It’s not like “Oh, that’s a great album!”. It’s more a case of liking it and hopefully going back to it and persevering with it. It’s not difficult but it’s definitely not a poppy, boppy, catchy first album, which it probably should be if it’s your first album.”

Still at an early point in their prospective careers, the band has come a long way since their humble beginnings with little more than a guitar and a loop pedal. These days it’s a professional operation. “It’s very different. I actually remarked on that to myself the other day. All these people were carrying gear into a venue and I thought, this has changed so much. It used to be just me and Mark, he’d have his kit and I’d have a guitar, an amp and a loop pedal. That was it. Now it’s like a big operation. It’s cool to think that we’ve got all these people on board who are just there to help. They make it a piss-easy job. It’s very much the way it should be done, kind of professional I guess. We’re all in two cars, it’s a real kind of band vibe for the first time. Lots of people pulling together to try achieve the same goal, which is just to make us successful.”

While Burials has garnered a well-warranted positive reaction across the country, Clarke and the rest of the band have loftier aims suited to such a professional approach. “We need to get out, we need to play shows in different countries,” he says, stating a clear and achievable goal for the band.

Unfortunately such an opportunity has not yet arisen and Clarke says the reason is mainly financial. “You need to have your head really screwed on,” he says. “It costs too much money. You need to find a band who are already touring, befriend some relatively successful indie band and hopefully catch onto them. Otherwise it’s pointless, financially, unless you have unbelievable amounts of cash to throw into petrol and food. Like, you get paid fifty pounds a gig if you’re lucky so you’d really want to have somebody decent to support because then hopefully you’ll earn enough of a reputation so people will say, ‘Oh, I saw them supporting so-and-so’. That’s the only way you can go I think.”

It’s a big step for a band to make, requiring either serious support or a massive leap of faith. Clarke does find some positives in working within Ireland’s rather tight-knit music scene. “It is easier to create a buzz in Ireland,” he says. “Maybe more so than it is in any other country. Like, if you create a huge buzz in Sheffield, it doesn’t necessarily translate to the rest of the UK whereas if you create a buzz in Ireland, which has the same population as Sheffield, it does seem to have some effect.”

According to Clarke, that effect is best seen outside of these shores. “Say if you’re pitching to somebody in the UK, if you have some sort of following and your product is a good product that has been responded to quite well by a national press, they’re a lot more likely to look at you than a band from Sheffield that nobody knows. Especially with people like Villagers. They really opened up a door, which hadn’t been opened. It’s made things slightly easier but it’s also raised the bar somewhat, which is good. That is the bar where songwriting has been set at, and I think it’s a fair bar.”

Talk of labels and the industry frustrates Clarke, as it does any musician with half a brain. It’s a complicated business to be in, but few people have the passion for it and confidence in their own work, that Clarke clearly does. Taking the Villagers example and running with it, the validation that a band gets from signing to a British label does still seem to outweigh almost anything they can achieve at home and this rings true for Clarke. “If we were signed to some British label tomorrow, I’d be interested to see how many more people come to our shows,” he says.

As he sees it, the step is a necessary one. “It is a thing that needs to happen to a band. I mean, we’re signed to an independent Irish label and that’s great. We’re actually trying to start something with Bluestack and be a part of that. We need to get somewhere else to shine a light on Bluestack. So if they go to labels and say, we’re basically like you but ten years behind, would you be interested in licensing our album? I think that’s a better stand to come on than ‘Hey, hey, we’re a band would you like to listen to our music?’ I think that’s a better place to come from, where you have a professional set up. You’re already doing everything to the best of your ability, including everything from sound engineer to roadie to label head to person who books the show.”

Of course, the realities of the industry when it comes to being a professional and making enough money to survive as a musician make emigration more of a necessity than an option. For Clarke, a move would be little sacrifice if the opportunity to pursue his goals was to crop up. “If this is what you want, it’s what you want, and this is what I’ve wanted for a very long time,” he says assuredly. “I don’t see why it won’t or can’t happen unless we’re very, very unlucky. It’s probably a very naive way to look at it but as long as we keep writing very good songs, the rest of it should take care of itself eventually. By our sheer existence, we’re becoming more well known. If nothing happens with this album, fine, we’ll write another one and record another one and hopefully it’ll be as good as this. Eventually we’ll get what we want and I’m not going to stop until that happens. When it does happen, I’ll be able to look back and go, ‘I worked so hard to get this and then it actually happened’.”

As ambitious as that may sound, the band’s aims are pretty basic when laid out plain in front of you. “Just to be a band, a touring band. A band that comes to Dublin. A band that people go, you want to go see this band tonight they’re from such-and-such a place? Yeah sure, what are they like? Oh, they’re really good.’ I want to be that band.”

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