Amoeba Teen – s/t (Q&A)

Amoeba Teen’s first album in three years will be released on April 22 on Big Stir Records.

Mark Britton and Mike Turner spoke to Sweet Sweet Music about the beautiful harmony vocals, the pedal steel, and how this self-titled record, their best by far, came about.

What made you decide to record the new songs ‘live as a four-piece’ in the studio?

Mark Britton: Apart from Suit and Tie (which we recorded live) on our previous album, all the other tracks were recording one instrument at a time. We really liked how Suit and Tie came out and it made us realise how much energy there is when you capture a live recording – just like the way records used to be made years ago. So this time around we thought we’d capture the live sound and bottle some of that energy that you’d feel if you came to one our live shows.

Mike Turner: We had so much fun working with Sean Lloyd at Claptrap studios when we previously recorded Suit and Tie with him, he was able to capture the sound of the band better than any of our previous releases in my opinion.

Probably a lot of thought went into recording the vocals (because they sound beautiful)?

Mark: Thank you! We have to thank Sean Lloyd, our producer for that. Not only has Sean got a great recording studio, he pushed us to try new things. But rarely did we have more than 3 or 4 takes on a track as we wanted to capture the spontaneity of a live performance.

Mike: I had a joke whilst recording the vocals that “more is more”.  Just when we thought we’d hit the vocal lines and we’d got the end result, it was “let’s keep going and see where it takes us”.  

We had the basics of the harmony lines and backing vocals from the initial rehearsals, but approaching the layering of backing vocals, stretching out and experimenting into different directions when recording is something which I love to do.   Many of the final BVs were built up in the studio and thankfully we have voices that can blend quite nicely together. 

By spending the time working on the backing vocals and harmonies, we made an album that we love, that doesn’t feel like we missed something off.   So many great albums have layers of backing vocals and harmonies that you don’t even realise are there.   But if you took them away the songs would not have any where near the same impact. 

When (and how) did you find out you were recording your best record?

Mark: Going into this recording process we knew we had a strong bunch of new songs with lots of arrangement ideas. And bringing our producer, Sean, into the equation made sure that sonically they’d sound great too. All we had to do was focus on capturing a strong performance as the four of us; we’d done the preparation with rehearsals before we stepped into the studio.

Mike: I think we recognised that the songs stood up really well.  In rehearsals we tried out a bunch of other tracks, but you know when they’re not quite happening.  Myself and Mark have an unspoken understanding that if we’re having to try too hard to make an idea work, then it’s probably not right.  At least for now.  

And then of course the pandemic threw us a curve ball.  We originally started recording in November 2019, with the view of the album coming out in the summer of 2020.  But the delay in being able to record gave us plenty of time and space to live with the songs. To make sure we did them justice in the recording.  By the time we got to having most of the tracks coming together we realised that we really needed to keep going to make the songs the best they could possibly be, hence the horns; the pedal steel, the additional keys.  Not to mention the backing vocals.

With Sean doing such an amazing job at recording and mixing it all, we then wanted to give it the best possible finish, which is where we turned to George Shilling for mastering the album.

Somehow the first single, January, sounds a bit different from the rest. Is it just the pedal steel?

Mark: I think this is one of Mike’s best songs to date. I played 12-string on this which adds more jangle, but certainly the pedal steel gives it another dimension.

Mike: I do love the sound of a pedal steel!  I’ve wanted to record one onto our songs for so long.  January came from one of the early writing sessions, and when we first ran through it as a band it sounded so vibrant.  I probably had in mind a mix of The Lemonheads, The Jayhawks, and Sweetheart Of The Rodeo by The Byrds.

The core of the song is in a similar style to what you can normally expect from Amoeba Teen.  A few reviews have picked out particular songs from the album as having a certain musical style, but for me it all feels natural and comfortable.  There was no preconceived idea that we needed to write an Americana influenced song.  I guess it’s in the DNA of what we like to do. 

Putting the Kids Through College sounds so melancholic. How did the song come about?

Mike: I had the phrase “putting the kids through college” for a while.  I guess the song can be a bit melancholic, but that wasn’t the intention. It has a resignation about it, it’s a gentle sigh!

As parents you always want to do the best for your kids, and that sometimes the sacrifices now will only be fully realised many many years down the line.    We have lots of baggage that we hide from our kids, and petty opinions that we would rather they didn’t mirror or pick up on. 

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