Friday, May 19, 2017

Hearing And Seeing Is Believing: An Interview With Amanda Thompson

Amanda Thompson leads the UK band The Big Believe, a band I got into through the song Let’s Pretend We’re Spies. I was a huge fan of Let’s Active, and when the late Faye Hunter worked with The Big Believe, I was hooked. Illuminate, their latest album, is very good. If you are a fan of college rock and bands that have their roots in that genre, like the New Pornographers, you’ll love The Big Believe.

Andrea Weiss: Let’s Active is such a cool and unjustly forgotten band. How did you find out about them?

Amanda Thompson: I agree. My boyfriend Keith used to own a second hand record shop and would often bring albums 'round that he thought I'd like. It must have been about 1988 when he stuck Big Plans For Everybody on my turntable and it changed my life. I was instantly a fan, and found LP's of everything else they'd released, and never stopped listening to them.

AW: And combining that style with that of the New Pornographers is great. How did you get into them?

AT: Thank you, although I don't do that intentionally, but I guess snippets of those bands' influence are bound to seep through. Keith was to thank for this discovery too. He would play anything that MOJO magazine had given four or five stars to-- stream it, I mean. Shortly after Twin Cinema was released, he stuck it on. The title track blew me away. The rest of the album was less instant, but I fell in complete love with it gradually, often the best way. As with Let's Active, I then got my hands on everything else they'd released and went to every UK show they played. Funnily enough, I remember thinking, "I have never liked a band this much since Let's Active".

AW: I like your lyrics. Where do you get your ideas for them?

AT: Thanks again. I have one rule: never write about yourself! I hate "I feel this, I feel that", "this happened to me, he hurt me", etc. As I'm sure all songwriters do, I make notes in my phone whenever anything inspires me. That could be a scene in a film, a vibe from a book, something someone said, or simply stuff that happens out there! I remember my guitarist friend Simon Ruckes saying to me, "Paint a picture in people's heads". That was partly why I used lines like "all the little bugs 'round the street light" and "our hands behind our heads as we watch the stars", because everyone can picture those images. I like the science of things. There's a new track in early stages called The Motorway Effect, which is how if one person brakes on the motorway it has a knock on effect for miles and hours on everybody else on the same road. I like relating that to how our actions as humans affect things and we have to take responsibility for that. It's OK to sneak personal stuff into the lyrics, as long as it's disguised.

AW: Besides Let’s Active and TNP, who are your influences?

AT: I could write a very long list answer to that, but will condense it down to Led Zeppelin (there is no other rock band to touch them, they are so interesting, and anyway, so much more than rock), Arthur Lee and Love, early R.E.M., John Cale.

AW: How did your band form?

AT: I was always in other people's bands, co-writing, up until about 2006, when I started writing songs I actually liked! So I recorded them, stuck them on the internet as a kind of "fake band". People seemed to like it, so I gathered musicians together to play that music live, and that became the band Ozone Baby, which later became The Big Believe.

AW: Would you want to tour the US?

AT: Yes, that is something that would seem appropriate, as we have more fans there than here! There have been a couple of times where that has been on the horizon and then fallen through for logistical reasons. Never say never, though.

AW: You worked with the late Faye Hunter of Let’s Active fame on Let’s Pretend We’re Spies. What was that like, working with her?

AT: It was delightful and so easy. I should mention that we sadly never met in person. She wanted me to go over to Mitch Easter's studio when she was recording the vocals for Spies, and I did too, but Mitch's free studio time came suddenly and I couldn't get a visa in time. Faye learned the song in an instant and nailed it without many takes in the studio. She was full of enthusiasm and praise, and humble throughout. I was incredibly excited about the whole thing, and so grateful for her interest and the time she gave it. Still am.

AW: You also worked with Todd Fancey of the New Pornographers. How did that come about?

AT: I believe it came about because of cigarettes and the smoking ban, i.e. one time I was in Bristol to see The New Pornographers play an unlikely venue that was pretty much a huge church hall. Afterwards I went out the back for a cigarette, and so did one of the band members. We ended up having a smoke and a chat together, later joined by other members of the band. Eventually I let it pop out that I was in a band and they asked for a link to the music. I was excited again when they liked the material and passed the link around. Guitarist Todd got in touch, saying he was into the material, and an online friendship followed where we discussed my stuff and his solo stuff a lot. In the end I popped the question, "Would you like to do a solo on one of our tracks?" and he said, "Sure".

AW: Is there anyone else you’d want to work with?

AT: Well, yes and no. After Todd had collaborated and Faye had agreed to, the idea was to make a whole album of collaborations, yet I couldn't help feeling that after working with members of my two favourite bands, that anything else was a step downwards. Also, Todd and Faye were such sweet people, we never had talk of contracts or money, and they were so easy to work with, I had a feeling the other people I had in mind would maybe be less accommodating. Having said that, I wouldn't have turned down working with Arthur Lee in an ideal world!

Andrea Weiss

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