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The Amazons: Meet the band who torched their own tour bus – BBC News

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Image copyright Dan Harris
Image caption The Amazons: (L-R) Chris Alderton, Elliot Briggs, Matt Thomson and Joe Emmett

If its riffs you’re after, The Amazons have them in spades. Great big spades. More like shovels, really. Or a digger. An entire digger full of riffs.

Rising from Reading, the four-piece have been on an upwards trajectory for the last two years, gigging relentlessly around the UK in a tour van they call “Big Suze”.

“We’ve taken her everywhere,” says flame-haired singer and guitarist Matt Thomson. “There’s been a lot of throwing up in it. A lot of drunken nights.

“We’ve even shut our guitarist’s hand in the door. He had to play the next show with two fingers.”

But the decrepit Ford Transit van met a grisly end earlier this year, when the band set it on fire for the cover of their debut album.

“We thought, who are we and what do we do?” says Thomson. “We wanted to shoot the cover in Reading – to put our flag in the ground and say, ‘We’re a Reading band and we’re not ashamed of it’.

“After that, it was just coming up with the wackiest thing we could think of, and that was setting the van on fire.”

Image copyright Fiction Records
Image caption The Amazons’ album cover “in full”

It’s not just frivolous vandalism, though. It’s a metaphor.

“Reading’s a commuter town. It’s quite a mundane town. It’s the kind of place that people want to get away from. We want to celebrate it, but we also started a band to go on an adventure and leave it. I think that’s what we’re conveying in our album artwork.”

Behind the artwork, the album rattles with power chord anthems, from the full-pelt rock of Stay With Me to the boisterous bluster of Black Magic.

Speaking to BBC News ahead of the its release on 26 May, Thomson shared some of the best stories from the band’s first three years.

They used their connections at Waitrose to build an audience

Image copyright PA

“If stacking shelves doesn’t make you want to be a rock star, nothing will,” laughs Thomson, who worked at his local branch of Waitrose during the band’s early days.

However, showing entrepreneurial skills that would make Alan Sugar sweat biscuits, he used his position to win The Amazons a few new fans.

“My job, personally, was about online shopping. So I’d go through someone’s list, picking out the shopping, putting it in baskets, and then I would slip our little demo CD into there.

“We didn’t know how to get our name out there. If no-one’s playing you on the radio, then you just do what you have to do.

“So who knows? We might have a fan base of old grannies in Pangbourne.”

They’ve played some terrible gigs

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Media captionThe Amazons perform Black Magic on Later with Jools Holland

“Dunfermline,” says Thomson decisively, when asked to recall the band’s worst gig. “Weird town. They have a park that’s absolutely jam-packed full of squirrels and they’ll come up to you and take crisps from you. Never seen anything like it in my life.

“Anyway, we played at about one in the morning and it was deserted, except for this old Scottish couple who were slow-dancing. I don’t know what their internal mind music was, but they were not hearing us.”

The band have also experienced several stage invasions over the last year… much to their disgust.

“It’s quite irritating, actually, if I’m honest,” says the singer. “They all trample on your gear and stand on the effects pedals. Everything gets cut off and you can’t finish your goddamn song!

“And people are well up for stealing stuff.

“After gigs, we’ll be taking pictures with people, and they’ll ask me to sign a drum stick. I’ll say, ‘Did Joe [Emmett, drummer] give you this?’ And they say, ‘Not really, no!’ They just go into his bag and take them. Unbelievable.”

They’re ‘on a mission to reinvigorate rock and roll’

At least, that’s what their press release says.

“Listen, I don’t write the press releases,” cringes Thomson. “I don’t think rock necessarily needs to be reinvigorated [but] it’s become more of a niche thing than 10 years ago, when you had bands like the Arctic Monkeys in the charts.

“But we love rock and roll, whether it’s cool or not, and that’s the music that we make.”

Matt Thomson is not a good boyfriend

Image copyright Dan Harris

The most excoriating song on The Amazons’ debut album is In My Mind – in which Thomson describes letting a relationship fester long after he’d broken up with his girlfriend in his mind.

Don’t have the strength to carry on,” he sings over pummelling guitars. “Don’t have the guts to let you know what’s going on.”

Initially, he considered changing the lyrics to spare his ex’s feelings, “but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d dumbed it down”.

In the end, though, his candour came back to bite him.

“There are about two or three different girls who’ve said they think it’s about them, which is terrible. It does not paint a good picture of me. And you know what? Maybe they all have a case.”

The Amazons have a lot of lyrics about being alone

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Media captionThe Amazons perform Junk Food Forever on Later with Jools Holland

On Stay With Me, Thomson sings, “there’s nothing wrong with being alone“. On Junk Food Forever, it’s “I don’t want to be alone“. And on In My Mind, he opines, “I’m better off being alone“.

So which is it?

“Amazing question!” he laughs. “I do think about being alone a lot; and I change my mind about it constantly.”

Junk Food Forever is the most accurate depiction of his feelings, he reckons.

“When I wrote it, the band was going nowhere, all my friends were going to uni and I was stuck in Reading. I realised I don’t like being alone. I love being surrounded by people and seeing friends.

“You know how Bob Marley had a big mansion and all his friends and family lived there? That would be my dream.”

They’re going to stalk Lana Del Rey at Radio 1’s Big Weekend

“I’m very excited about Big Weekend,” enthuses Thomson. “I looked at the line-up and we’re easily the smallest act. It’s glorious.

“We are playing at midday. And I am very up for just putting the gear back in the van, getting the beers and seeing all the other acts.”

Top of his list is Lana Del Rey, who plays after them on Saturday night.

“I love Lana Del Rey. I love her, let’s just put it that way. But there is no way I’ll be able to get near her. She’ll have 12 huge guys around her… Mind you, she has insane fans, who probably are dangerous, so that kind of makes sense.

“But just to be in the same room would be amazing.”

Their album was finished a year ago

Image copyright Dan Harris

Seriously. The band went into the studio with producer Catherine Marks (The Killers, Wolf Alice, PJ Harvey) last April but decided to sit on the record.

In the meantime, the band were tipped by influential polls like MTV Brand New and the BBC’s Sound of 2017, and booked to play on Later… With Jools Holland.

“I’ve read interviews where bands have been sitting on albums for a while and they’ve all said it’s terrible but I’ve not really minded that much,” says Thomson.

“I think if we’d got all that attention and the album wasn’t ready, there’d have been a lot of pressure, so I’m thankful we did it under the radar and made the album we wanted to make.

The Amazons’ self-titled debut albu, is out on 26 May. They play Radio 1’s Big Weekend on Saturday, 27 May.

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