Wednesday, October 03, 2007
It was a dark and stormy night in Edinburgh as I finally sat down to write up this interview. Four weeks previously, it had been a lovely warm evening in Edinburgh as I talked to Edinburgh’s The Amateurs, who had been playing on the same bill as labelmates Penny Century and the soon-to-be signed Katie Sutherland at Henry’s Cellar Bar.
Edinburgh -and I say this after six years of living here - has produced some amazing bands over the years, and yet it constantly seems to be in the shadow of Glasgow. Perhaps it’s the shortage of venues (because the small ones that are there keep getting turned into executive flats or some such non-musical happening), but it’s time that bands got a bigger shout-out.
It’s also probably fair to say that whereas Glasgow actually has a lot of people in bands who were actually born in Glasgow, Edinburgh is perhaps more one of those places people gravitate to (hey, I only came here for a week). The Amateurs are perhaps a case in point of Edinburgh-based people playing in a band together. They are:Seth Chanas ( Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica, Hawaiian Guitar, Ukulele, Violin, Trumpet -that’s just indecent!), his brother Simon Chanas: Electric Guitar, Damian Malone (Drums), Ina Hanisch (Bass Guitar, Violin, Acoustic Guitar, Recorder) and Sarah Weatherston (Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Xylophone).
Seth grew up playing in bands and writing songs, but spent years looking for the people to help fulfil what he was looking for. So how did The Amateurs come into being?
‘ Well, that was me, wasn’t it?’ Seth says, looking to his bandmates for confirmation. ‘I’d been recording stuff on my own for a while…’ Simon cuts in: ‘Basically, Seth had been recording a lot of songs and he tried to get me into the band as a lead guitar player. I had no aspirations to being a lead guitar player.’ In fact, he was far more interested in being a musician in the Nick Drake mould but his brother was ‘writing all these songs that I wanted to play on. For about a year we said we were in a band but it didn’t really happen.’
Eventually Seth started releasing stuff through local record shops, and Simon and Ina moved through to Edinburgh.
Ah yes, Ina Hanisch. Born in Saxony, but living in Amsterdam when she made a visit to Edinburgh when she came to pay a visit to Seth’s flat-mates. Seth and Simon had interviewed a lot of bass-players (’Did you?’ says Sarah, amused, as if this is something that the brothers have kept from her!) and had been looking for bass players into Dylan. When she arrived things started to fall into place.
Although the band started as Seth’s project, he is quick to point out that ‘things are much more democratic now…I’ll come up with a basic chord structure and some lyrics, everyone else fills in and writes their own part.’ We don’t discuss influences but let’s just say that if you like your indie-pop, then you should be sampling the Amateurs after reading this interview. These songs are a welcome treat for the ears.
In 2006, the band signed to Letterbox records, who have just released their debut album Hongu Kongu. It has been sitting on the shelf for the best part of the year. It’s clearly been a rather frustrating time for them -they lost a member, keyboardist Chris Summerfield. ‘Not to suicide!‘ Sarah adds casually, he moved to Japan, and they have been trying to fill the sound for him. They recorded the album fourteen months before it was released. ‘The reward was finishing it, not releasing it.’
Easily the standout track for me is ‘The Water Of Leith Song.’ It was inspired by a news story on TV about a body that had been washed up by The Shore. It wasn’t a suicide, Seth is quick to explain, but it set it in motion. The band have also released a download only single ‘Things You Only Know If you Don’t Drive’ (posted here previously) c/w ‘Cool By Me’ both of which are on the album.
They still have day jobs, Sarah is a primary school teacher, and the brothers are doctor and librarian, while Ina and Damian are still studying. Damian describes himself as the eternal student, who’s studying art and was actually responsible for the band’s sleeves.
As to the future, Seth and Simon seem to disagree how many songs they have, but they say that they have songs they want to record. Hopefully any momentum that might have been lost will be picked up soon. They should be back from their holidays by the time you read this. And hopefully heading towards your record collection.
The Amateurs at Myspace
The Amateurs -'Cool By Me.' mp3
The Amateurs -'Things You Only Know If you Don't Drive.' mp3
Hongu Kongu is out now on Letterbox Records and can be bought here