It’s still early in the year, but I’m already blown away by the latest effort by UK progressive rock outfit Amplifier. Their The Octopus album is a brilliant mash-up of different styles and intelligent songwriting. I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with guitarist/singer Sel Belamir about this amazing album, the current state of the music industry and the sheer determination it takes to manage your own career as a musician…
Hi Sel and thank you for doing this interview with Home Nucleonics. Are you relieved that your new album is going to be released soon after spending so much time and energy making the record?
My pleasure. I’m very very pleased that The Octopus is finished and now, like sending your child off to school, it’s making it’s own way in the world and making new friends and developing a life and identity beyond that of the parents. We are very proud. To this point we have managed to navigate our way pretty much autonomously. It’s fun and challenging.
In your press release it’s said that The Octopus is some sort of statement. What kind of statement if I may ask?
For us, The Octopus is a statement of Independence. For us it represents the fact that whatever the situation we will always stand up on our feet and dust ourselves down and then get on with it. A lot of people were surprised that the band was even still going. Well – we were – we were just cooking up in the kitchen for a very long time….
The Octopus turns out to be quite a stunning project, including two hours worth of music and a 70 page booklet outlining the thoughts and ideas behind the album title. Can you lift a tip of the curtain on what the concept is all about?
The Octopus is a kind of conceptual web of circumstance and connection. Historically speaking it’s probably just the interlinking of the ancient idea of Fortune and the modern idea of Chaos. It’s a kind of idealism about accepting your circumstances. Having just written the above sentence, it is obvious now why we made a record about those themes. That’s the great thing about interviews. They kind of help you work through the subconscious meaning of the art you’ve made. It’s like a kind of therapy except you don’t get charged hourly.
What are your fondest memories of writing and recording the new album?
There were so many great times. First of all writing it. We spent about 18 months getting it together in 2007-2008. That was us just playing for months at night-time just having fun.Then of course being in the studio and getting it together before going back home and working on the tracks for a few months before going back to the studio again. Then there was having all our great guests come down to our studio and hanging out with them. Of course mixing the record was really exciting too.
All these things at the time are hard work and you have set backs and victories along the way, but every inch was hard-fought and won one detail at a time. There were dead ends and diversions, because we had to release Eternity EP to help pay the way. We had to go on tour to earn cash to go to the studio. All little campaigns that needed to be sorted out, like selling t-shirts and CDs to get us one step further.
There were so many things. It actually makes me dizzy trying to think about them all. I guess you can get a flavour just by listening to The Octopus itself. Making it was as much as an odyssey as the album is to listen to.
On the new album you guys managed to blend influences from Pink Floyd perfectly with more contemporary bands like Oceansize, Porcupine Tree, Tool and A Perfect Circle. What are your views when it comes to these bands and possible other influences?
Well Pink Floyd, obviously, are one of our heritage bands, we see ourselves more like this band then any other – not because we are like them in our musical style or content, but just because they are a great classic rock band that are divorced really from any generic tag. They are progressive, but not they’re not really like ELP or Yes or King Crimson, they are like Black Sabbath in that they are just an inventive and individualistic rock band. That is also how we see ourselves.
Obviously more contemporary bands we feel pleased to be associated with because it demonstrates the level of quality of what we do. We’re not really like any of those other bands, even Oceansize whom have been our friends and peers from our very first shows together before any of us had even recorded any records are completely different to us. That’s good. Generic music is a bit dull… it’s nice to develop your own eccentricities and flavour.
One thing I really admire on The Octopus are the carefully constructed songs. Especially Minion’s Song, Interglacial Spell, The Emperor and Trading Dark Matter come to mind. How important is it for the band to aim for a certain of musical excellence?
This is the most important criterion. We spent a very a long time developing the record. Whatever wasn’t excellent or which didn’t have the potential of excellence was rejected. I’m not saying that everything came out fully formed. Mostly they didn’t, but at every point, if it wasn’t a thrill for us then we ditched it. Nothing was sacred. When The Octopus was taking shape – there was no deadline or anything like that to worry about – so we just worked on the songs until they were correct. Surely every band should aim for musical excellence?
Creating a certain atmosphere by using a lot of guitar effects is an important part of the 0verall band sound. How do you manage to create all those effects?
That’s just skill and judgement and collecting equipment for many years. Amplifier is as much about electricity as it is music. We’re not purists.
This time around the band decided to release the new album on your imprint, called Armcorp.Is this something you’re going to do with future releases?
We won’t be doing anymore Amplifier records with another record label. We are a record label now.
What are the pros and cons of doing it yourselves?
The pros are that you reap the awards, which are plentiful. You learn new skills along the way and that keeps things fresh and interesting. You’re also in charge when you’re making decisions. You’re as free as you can be as from artistic point of view.
The cons are the massive amount of work and that you’re not able to devote that much time on creating new music as you used to. After a decade of making music, that’s okey for a while. Additional cons are the financial risks and the possibilities of making major mistakes. You need to be determined and able to fail in order to succeed. Life is like that.
The Dillinger Escape Plan did something similar with their Option Paralysis record. Do you feel this D.I.Y approach is the answer for bands to counter the current decline in record sales?
Yup, it’s about cutting out the middleman. It’s not as difficult as you think, especially if you’ve seen firsthand how it all works. If you’re not committed though – don’t bother.
Time for the final question. Can you look in your crystal ball and tell us what’s next in the future of Amplifier?
You don’t need a crystal ball for that. I’m sorting out a European tour at the moment. We sort that out ourselves as well….
Written by Raymond Westland