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Amstrong Talk exclusively to Crud Music Magazine : Amstrong are keen to force home one small but emphatic point: don´t call this music Triphop or Computer Blues… And to be fair compared to the primarily electronic first album Sprinkler, Amstrong presents a more analog approach and a new melodic direction on their second album Hot Water Music. In contrast to the ambient soundscapes where the vocals operated as a more instrumental or atmospheric level, most of the songs on Hot Water Music have been moulded around the voice of Marie-Louise Munck.

Amstrong


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 warmth.

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?

Amstrong: 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 the clear.

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?

Amstrong: Well, 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 on www.amstrong.dk)

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 the two?

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!

Crud: 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 of course.

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?

Amstrong: 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.

Crud: 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 Elangasinghe/Crud©

 
 
 
 

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