‘How To Be Human”
‘How To Be Human’ might sound like a grand sentiment but, when you boil it down, it’s the purest conundrum of them all. How to be happy. How to be content. How to find peace within the world and, crucially, within yourself. They’re concerns that plague us all and ones that were at the forefront of Joe Keogh’s mind as Amber Run began to piece together their latest album.
“You know those annoying emails you get that are like, ‘How to become a millionaire in one month’. ‘How to get abs in six seconds’,” he chuckles. “I was like, I wish someone would just tell me how to get by and live on the centre line and how to just continue.”
Amber Run - completed by bassist Tomas Sperring and keyboard player Henry Wyeth - have managed not just to continue but to thrive on their own terms through making music together. They released their debut album ‘5AM’ in 2014 via RCA where they built lasting relationships with a fanbase who had found relatability in their deeply moving songwriting. Signing to indie label Easy Life Records in 2017 for their second & third LP ‘For A Moment, I Was Lost’ and ‘Philophobia’, the band continued building their fanbase organically, inviting open dialogues with songs that often cut to the quick of life’s more difficult moments. Throughout all of this, their early 2014 single ‘I Found,’ has taken on a life of its own; currently sitting at a gargantuan 300 million Spotify plays, it’s been adopted by a new generation of fans on TikTok where more than half a million people have created videos inspired by the track. Offline, the band recently sold out their first Europe and North American tour dates, culminating in their biggest shows to date including London’s Roundhouse before signing to TRIPEL ahead of their forthcoming album.
“It’s really exciting that it still feels like it’s progressing musically and it’s still really connecting to people,” Joe enthuses. “For a long time, with songs like ‘I Found’, we’ve been the soundtrack to people’s low moments, but as people have progressed and come out of those moments, it’s been really interesting to see how that’s turned into ‘That was our first dance at our wedding’ or ‘This was my graduation song’. I really enjoy that growth, and we really enjoy soundtracking the positive moments in peoples’ lives too, and I think our new album represents both sides of that spectrum.”
While ‘How To Be Human’ tackles some of Amber Run’s darkest moments yet, it’s also the band’s most holistic work to date: a document of the emotional changes that come with approaching your thirties, told with the increased clarity of leaving the maelstrom of your twenties behind. “That bridge from your late-twenties into 30 is where real life starts turning up and this record is our interpretation of that,” Joe notes. “There’s good and there’s bad and there’s all this shit in the middle, because no person is just one thing and that’s what we wanted to show.”
In order to best represent this journey, and to let the band document their ideas as reactively and immediately as possible, ‘How To Be Human’ comes as a story in multiple acts. Three EPs - ‘The Search (Act 1)’, ‘The Start (Act II)’ and ‘The Hurt (Act III)’ - have already been released, while the full LP will collate these offerings and complete them with new material. As well as allowing the trio not to be bound by traditional, lengthy recording and release schedules, it’s meant that each part of the record represents a distinct moment in time - the end result an accurate rollercoaster of emotional multitudes drawn from across this period.
“The first EP came at a moment when my family was going through a really shit time. There was a lot of tension and we’d just come out of a really difficult moment [addressed in affective EP track ‘Ride’],” Joe explains. “And then the second one was written when things had cleared up a little bit; everyone was feeling a bit more ready to tackle things, so that EP felt a lot more optimistic to me.”
As he states, however, human existence is very rarely linear, and on recent single ‘Funeral’, the lyricist addresses a recent time when he attempted to take his own life by walking into the ocean. “‘Funeral’ is basically a letter to myself because I had an episode where I did try and attempt suicide, and it was obviously very rough, but in hindsight being able to look back at it and own it - that’s what that song means to me,” he says. “That is something I did, but it’s not entirely who I am. So it’s about seeing that progression of time where I was there but now I’m here, and being proud of that journey because it can be really lonely.”
Elsewhere on the record, ‘Hurt’ makes for ‘How To Be Human’’s most sonically visceral moment - thematically addressing the road that led to ‘Funeral’ but allowing the frustration and pain to emerge in a cathartic purge destined to become a unifying moment during the band’s live sets. “I think of those two songs as siblings,” Joe explains. “‘Hurt’ is about the precursor to that massive moment; about how you get there and the haze that’s in your mind, and how big and out of control everything feels.”
Yet there are big-hearted moments of joy and hope across the record too. ‘The Beautiful Victorious’ celebrates the real wins in a world that so often gauges success by external metrics, revelling in how “just to be here at all is a victory - to be able to give yourself to another person and to be comfortable with where you are.” During the making of the record, Joe became a father for the first time and there’s a sense of this purity and positivity that writes itself across the more skyward-looking moments of the album, too. “To see that innocence and how much love they have out of nothing has been really beautiful and life-affirming, and the relationship I have with myself has changed dramatically,” he smiles.
Recorded over two years, in a series of small studios that prioritised “using the tools we had, lyrically and physically” without any over-complications, the result is an album that’s raw and honest in every possible way. The best analogy, says Joe, comes from the title track itself. “It’s a good metaphor because we recorded it a couple of times but it was only right when we went back to basics, in a room together, with all the bells and whistles taken off. We overcomplicate things and ask these big questions, whereas sometimes just doing it and seeing what happens is the only way to go about the human condition.”
And so Amber Run might not have the definite answer, but on ‘How To Be Human’ they’ve created their own document of the question: a troubled, happy, miserable, joyful attempt to record this weird old thing we call life. As Joe summarises: “In life there are ups and downs and middles, but living is all of it and you have to take the good and the bad as best you can with the tools that you have. But just sticking around is the best thing you can do.”
We had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Run over Zoom video! London’s introspective indie rock triohttps://www.instagram.com/amberrun/?hl=en recently released their fourth studio album,https://bfan.link/how-to-be-human. The album title is a nod...