As shown on their
debut album Sprinkler, Amstrong do Urban Apocalypse very well.
On the follow up Hot Water Music they repeat the formula of squelching
samples, ominous strings (provided by the Prague Philharmonic) and a soundtracky
ambience. While this all may appear to be very 1995, dahling, Amstrong
manage to successfully sustain their intriguing visions of urban meltdown over
the course of another album.
The new albums success stems from the fact
they manage to add something new to the post trip hop formula. While retaining
instantly recognisable influences (Massive Attack are the obvious comparisons)
they also manage to bring vestiges of Gospel (Cold Running Water) and Broadcast
esque pop (Everyone Is a Poet These Days) to the proceedings. Importantly
Amstrong's musical schizophrenia has a sustained continuity over an album. That
continuity has as much to do with the bands tempered production of the material
as it does with Marie-Louise Munck's vocals. Munck's controlled tones feel
like the eye of the swirling bass heavy storm on tracks like 86 Heat and
Beautiful Today. She sounds not unlike Curve's Toni Halliday combined
with folk pop's Judy Collins, at once ice cool while retaining a certain human
A genuinely interesting album then, that refreshingly succeeds
both on a human level and as a possible soundtrack for the end of the world..
But what Amstrong have to say about this whole impossibly complex affair?
Well Crud decided to ask them...
Crud: What for you is the main difference
between "Hot Water Music" and '99 "Sprinkler" albums?
There are 2 main differences:
A. On Sprinkler all tracks were composed
and recorded before the vocals were added. Marie-Louise joined the band at that
point. On Hot Water Music the lyrics, vocals and music were created concurrent.
B. Sprinkler is largely an electronic album. Although we created all the sounds
ourselves, sampling ourselves actually, everything was deconstructed and fed the
computer and then processed in cyberspace. The focus was on sound. Hot Water Music
on the other hand combines the analog with the digital in a less orthodox fashion.
The focus is on the song. What is needed for enhancing the feel is applied accordingly.
The result is most often an amalgamation of the electronic with the analog.
Crud: Lyrically there seems to be the theme of repulsion and attraction
to the urban; both loving the city and seeing it as part of the heartache and
isolation. Do you see this in your lyrics and is it conscious or not? Also who
are your lyrical influences?
Amstrong: The lyrics deal with a
variety of (celebrated) subjects: Love and rejection, loss and isolation, death
- as an option and as the passing of a beloved, existence and media, violence
and attraction, rejoice etc. Since our lives are lived in metropolitan Copenhagen,
this is reflected in the lyrics. But it is not intentional, it is rather a consequence
of not being deliberate. Had the lyrics contained much pastoral imagery, for example,
it would have been a very conscious approach to a certain theme. Marie- Louise
has written most of the lyrics (tracks 3-8). Her influences are Bob Dylan, especially
Talking about World War III, Leonard Cohen, Kristine Hersh's Hips and Makers album,
Belly's Star, Guy Chadwick from House of Love and Tricky on his first 2 albums,
particularly Pre-millennium Tension. Jens has written the rest of the lyrics.
His aim has been to be as simple as possible in his writing. No nonsense and no
emotional blackmail. You do not need to interpret the meaning. It's all out in
Crud: You seem to have a perfect synthesis between
your lyrical and musical themes-in terms of emotion. This made me wonder which
what happens in the songwriting process-do you write music to go around already
written lyrics or is it the other way around?
thank you very much! Generally, the music and the lyrics have been created simultaneously.
Not at one instant, but in the process from when an idea is conceived, then played,
recorded, arranged, instrumented, dubbed, rearranged, mixed. I believe that is
why we achieve this synthesis. In a few cases the lyrics have been written first,
but that doesn't really change the way we work. (See Recording Hot Water Music
Crud: In your press release you say that
the songwriting and recording period took equally as long as it did to mix the
record did.Is the "sound" of the song as important as the song? Can you separate
Amstrong: No, we cannot separate the two. Although we
have focused on the song, the sound is equally important. It is just a matter
of how we approach the material. On Sprinkler sound was everything. On Hot Water
Music we utilize this knowledge incorporating this in the whole recording process.
Song is essentially only sound (sound is not necessarily song), so we prolonged
the composing and arrangement of the material well into the mix. I guess you can
say that in the end structure and sound becomes the actual song, always keeping
in mind, though, that we did start out with a song, not a sound!
You used Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on the album, how did that come about?
Amstrong: We wanted strings. The Prague Philharmonics does a
lot of film scores, so we called them up and got a good price (not yet in the
EU) for 20 strings. We had a score written for 4 tracks, went to the Hudebni Studio
in Prague with our material on an ADAT, and within a couple of hours these pros
had recorded the score. No Problems! Great weekend in Prague! On the expense account
Crud: Marie, vocally you seem to deliver your lyrics
in a very unique way. How much do you think about vocal delivery before you sing,
or is it all intuitive ?Also who are your influences vocally?
Marie-Louise: I try to develop the lyrics to a point where they technically and
lyrically do not demand any attention of me when I sing them. I do let myself
guide of the imagery, though. What I aim at is to deliver the essence of the song
and not a song dependent on how I feel at the particular moment when I sing it.
That is of course not always possible, but it is a process I find work well in
trying not to smother the song with my persona. My influences are Nina Simone,
Martina from Tricky, Kristine Hersh, Annie Lennox and Nick Cave.
Are you touring England in the future?
Amstrong: We now have
a new booking agency in Berlin. They are currently working on a European tour
for January and February 2002. I do not know whether Britain will be included.
I will let you know when dates are available.
Report and interview by: Priya