An interview with Richard McNamara and Mick Dale of Embrace.
By Melody Alderman
P.S.: When I was at South by Southwest, I saw you guys perform at Buffalo Billiards with Go! Team, James Blunt and Dogs Die in Hot Cars.
RICHARD: That was a weird one because we had to be up at 6am to do a morning show and the alcohol was still rushing through our veins.
P.S.: They weren't in full mode quite yet, but did you guys have a chance to check out the famous bats in Austin? (They hang out under the bridge and then migrate each night when the sun sets. There are so many that it looks like a smoke ring.)
MICK: No, we didn't but we should've. Actually, we did our second album in the English countryside in this mansion. It had been sitting empty for like twenty years and there were bats flying around inside the house at night. It was freaky.
P.S.: I know this is your first time playing in Seattle. You've actually had quite a rollercoaster ride in term of record labels and stability.
RICHARD: Especially in America. We got signed to Geffen for the first album and we signed to Virgin in the U.K. I think we were the second most added to college radio behind Beastie Boys and it looked like things were really going to take off. But then Geffen got taken over and they basically started calling all their artists who hadn't sold a million albums and chucked them down to five or ten.
P.S.: So now years later, you're with Atlantic. How did you get picked up by them?
RICHARD: A guy called from Lava, the subsidiary, and I think he kind of assumed that we were already signed in the U.S. but he had heard of things going on for us in the U.K. and he decided to just check it out. When he found out we weren't signed, he basically just ran around as fast as he could to get us signed. They signed us without seeing us because they knew we had a great reputation live and from the record.
P.S.: You definitely have the comeback story of the year. What has the past year been like for you guys?
MICK: We finished recording our album and then ran out of money because we'd spent so long recording it. Two and a half years writing it and then six and a half months recording it with Youth. He's a bit of a task master. (Laughs) He liked to see how hard we could push ourselves. He's a good old fashioned producer in the sort of George Martin aspect. He's not interested in touching the board. He sits in the back and does a few drawings. Sometimes you think he's not even listening but then he'll start waving his arms going, 'What are you doing? No, that's not right.' Or he'll say, 'That's brilliant.'
RICHARD: Yeah, we got to the end of that process and we were burned out. We thought, 'Great. Let's just have three weeks off and just chill out and then decide if we need to do any last minute tweaks. But then we realized that the band's bank account was completely dry. It was a small label. It wasn't like being on Virgin. So yeah, three of us had to go get day jobs for three or four months. That was kind of weird. I started selling some stuff on Ebay... some guitars and stuff that I'd picked up over the years. I had to feed my baby and pay mortgages and things like that. But we got through it.
MICK: I was working in an office selling advertising and I'd walk through reception and MTV would be on and I'd see the "Gravity" video playing. Here I was selling advertising in the yellow pages and I'm on television all at the same time. It was very bizarre and then the album went in at number one.
P.S.: Things turned around for the band after you were asked at the last minute to replace Jet at a festival, right?
MICK: Yeah, we were all at work and then that came in and we found out that they were going to give us something like £35,000, (around $70,000 U.S.)
RICHARD: It was Thursday night that we found out and we were playing on a Saturday. What was funny was that we had a little tour coming up so we had rehearsed on Tuesday and Wednesday so that we'd have the weekend free. It's a good thing we did so we actually had rehearsed beforehand. It seemed like the stars just aligned. We felt really blessed by it.
P.S.: I realize the labels will get behind certain bands to push them more than they will others, but the aligning of the universe really seems to have its own impact on who breaks and who doesn't. I think it can only be contrived to a certain point.
MICK: Yeah, when we lost our Virgin deal we got the phone call on your birthday (speaking to Richard), and they said, 'We're really sorry. As much as we'd like to keep you, the bean counters are saying that the amount of money it's costing to make the band's records verses how many records we're selling at this time, isn't really adding up. But our manager said, 'Look, most bands have four or five record deals throughout their career so it's just a bit of a blip. Let's move onto better things.' He gave us the strength and sort of comfort really that we could get through it. That's what's nice about having managers to deal with the business aspect of it. We more just try to concentrate on what we know how to do.
RICHARD: We kind of learned how to live on bad news for five or six years. Everything we heard was spun around like, 'Your album didn't sell so well because it came down during Mother's Day.' (Laughs) Some guy said, 'If you would've released it the week before or the week after, you would have been in the top three.' So when our manager told us that we'd been dropped but it was good because it gave us the opportunity to look for a better deal, we knew that it was just another spin. An easier way of looking at it. (Laughs)
P.S.: All of you seem to have such an appreciation for being on stage and performing in front of an audience. There's an overall graciousness within the band that is refreshing.
RICHARD: We've grown into that really. On the first album, we got signed and then we started playing these big shows. We just thought that must be what happens to bands. We just assumed that. Then after the second and third album and what we went through, you start thinking to yourself that you might not be able to play those places again. Now that we're on the way back up, we just appreciate it so much more. Our eyes are so wide open to all of it and that probably comes across.
P.S.: Chris Martin wrote a song on the record called "Gravity." It's strange to even think of the song coming from him at this point because it really seems to belong to Embrace now.
MICK: He does a great version of it though. When Coldplay would do a show and the audience would be asking for an additional encore after the main encore, Chris would go out on his own and sit at the piano and sing "Gravity."
RICHARD: Right, and we had already spent so long writing our album when Chris offered us the song. Then, we sat around discussing it for about an hour and a half before we decided to just play it so we could see what it sounds like. So we did a quick demo and listened back to it. We all just fell in love with it. It's such a simple song but it's genius really. It's got that kind of Lennon-esque, direct quality that just gets you in your heart straight away. We'd always loved the song and I think Chris wanted to give it to us for so long but felt that we would maybe think he was being arrogant to offer us a song. He's quite a humble guy. I think Gwyneth in the end, had talked him into it. She just said, 'Look, at least offer Danny that song.' So Chris said, 'Okay, call me an asshole if you want but I want you to have "Gravity."' Then he said that back in the '60's, Dylan and all of them used to share songs. And I think he actually wants to record "Drawn from Memory" (a song written and performed by Embrace.) He actually came down to the studio and played a version of it on the piano.
P.S.: Coldplay actually started out as an opening act for Embrace. What was it like to see them reach such immense success while you guys was having such a difficult time?
RICHARD: Yeah, I think that was about five or six years ago when they were opening for us. At the time, Chris had this big Ronald McDonald hair. (Laughs) But we sort of became like this rite of passage into success. So many bands that we had open for us blew up. Like Gomez, Coldplay obviously, Travis.
P.S.: You should've been getting a percentage. You would've been set.
RICHARD: (Laughs) True. I think if we didn't like Coldplay, it would've been easy to despise them. But we all truly liked them. The bigger they get, the happier we are.
I'd do it all the same, but either way
I'm always outplayed
up on your down days
I left it the right way, to start again
Now watch me rise up and leave
all the ashes you made out of me
When you said that we were wrong
life goes on
just look how long I've agreed"
Song * Ashes
Album * Out Of Nothing
and everything will change
You're swimming with the hook
that's why everybody looks your way
and let those demons race
You were never fake
nobody could take your place"
Song * Celebrate
Album * This New Day
Such a long, long time
And I can't stop smiling
No I can't stop now
And do you hear my heart beating
Ah can you hear that sound
Cause I can't help crying
And I won't look down"
Song * Gravity
Album * Out Of Nothing