The Ambience Affair – You Can’t Pick Your Audience

One of the golden rules that has cropped up repeatedly in the past few years as bands look for ways to sustain themselves and grow, is the simple maxim of ‘know your audience’. Clarke feels this is somewhat of a problem, both for labels and for himself personally. “They don’t know who would buy it,” he says of prospective label partners. “I don’t know who would buy it, only that I would. I guess we have had so many different support slots and we’ve gone down quite well with almost all of them so it’s weird. We supported Bell X1 in Vicar St. and we went down really well and that’s quite a mainstream audience which would suggest we could work in that context but we’ve also supported Field Music, gone down well, and they’re not very mainstream at all. I think that’s what I meant when I said I don’t know the audience. I don’t know if we’re mainstream or not.”

These days a term like mainstream might be considered to mean next to nothing, so is there any point in using it as a scale on which to define your band? Clarke understands the imperfections in the phrase but still maintains his own definitions of it. “I think Bell X1 are as mainstream as an indie band can get, without being Snow Patrol,” he says, laughing. “I think Bell X1 a great a band but their audience is an audience where maybe the majority wouldn’t buy that many albums. They might buy their albums in Tesco or whatever, which is totally fine and if that’s happening to us in ten years time then great. I’m very aware that you can’t pick your audience. They’re much cooler in America than they are over here because they’re signed to Yep Rock, which is a very cool label. If we were signed to a really cool independent label in America and were still really big here, where we could sell out Vicar St. at the drop of a hat, that would probably be the best possible outcome. You’ve retained that credibility in America and through your peers, I mean I still have a massive amount of respect for them. They’re probably a better model than Villagers because they’ve been around a lot longer.”

Clarke does jokingly point out one of the fundamental differences between themselves and Damien Rice’s former cohorts: “I don’t think we’re ever going to write an ‘Eve Is The Apple Of My Eye’ or anything like that.”

Despite all the talk of industry foibles and everything changing, Clarke understands the constant at the heart of the equation: the songs. This remains the be all and end all for him and the rest of the band. “I want us to be an interesting band musically. Kind of how I view people I really admire. I just really want to be relevant, that’s what I want. It’s not success or loads of money or anything like that. I want to be a musician that people really think about.”

Relevancy is a tough one to pin down, but looking at where you find music the music you love can help a band decide where they need to be hear. The taste-makers that we ourselves ascribe power to, are now more powerful than ever and Clarke keeps this idea close to heart. “There’s always going to be someone whose taste you trust, I have my people,” he says, before giving examples. “Like, I know Paul McCloone, Jenny Huston and Dan Hegarty like our music. They’re like the three biggest DJs in Ireland and that’s really great, it’s as positive as it can get really. I think Paul McCloone is a taste-maker, I look at his playlist and I listen to his show and if he says something is good, I will more than likely give it a chance. It’s not like I need their opinion or that I seek it, but if we write good music they’re probably going to think it’s good and it’ll hopefully be relevant.”

In the end, it’s the music that mean the most to Clarke and the rest of the band and nothing is going to get in the way of them continuing to pursue their artistic vision. Having recently expanded to a three-piece, Clarke sees new horizons opening up for the group and this gives him great hope for the future. “There’s only so many things we have within our control,” he says, practically. “You can theorise and talk about the industry and how it’s declining or changing, the fact of the matter is if you keep writing great songs and putting out great records, your path will look after itself. You won’t vanish into oblivion, you won’t be forgotten, eventually you’ll get what you want. If we release a second album that’s crap, we won’t deserve to succeed. I notice now that we’ll only succeed on our own merit and that’s the way it should be. I’m not going to complain about it because I have every faith and every confidence in our ability to succeed.”

The Ambience Affair play The Workman’s Club on Friday 28th October with Katie Kim & Jennifer Evans. Their debut album Burial is out now on Bluestack Records.