BIG INTERVIEW: Embrace frontman Danny McNamara

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Embrace
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Love – it's been the driving theme behind popular forms of music going back centuries. But rarely is this most primal of emotions encapsulated as succinctly as by Embrace in the title track of their latest album, Love Is A Basic Need.

It's the indie rockers' seventh album, and their first in four years since their self-titled release in 2014.

Frontman Danny McNamara explains how the album gained inspiration from the most unlikely of sources – Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

'There’s that pyramid of basic needs, and there’s stuff like eat, sleep, shelter at the bottom, and then you’ve got things like security, but it doesn’t have love on there until higher up.

'But what’s the point of having any of that, if you don’t have love? It’s the one that makes all of the others worthwhile. Why would you bother going and getting shelter if you didn’t have love in your life?

'If you want to eat, you go to Tesco or wherever. If you want to drink you turn on the tap, if you want to breathe you just do. But if you want love, what do you?

'People can go quite a long time without love in their life, and then you twist into all kinds of monstrous shapes trying to get it in your life, and  you see people really suffering for a lack of love in their life – people need to know, it is a basic need.

'If more people addressed that we’d all be better off,' he laughs.

Danny was speaking with The Guide during the album's release week at the start of March, and the band were in optimistic mood about its reception.

'It’s been much better than we were expecting. On Sunday we were at number two in the charts. It’s always higher mid-week so it will probably be lower by the end of the week, but it’s higher than we thought it was going to be.' (It ultimately charted at number five in its first week – equaling their last album.)

The band, who have retained the same line-up since forming in West Yorkshire in the '90s, can see how releasing new material has changed in the digital age.

'The last couple of albums have been post-Facebook and Twitter and that, so the response you get is a lot more overwhelming than it used to be. Back in the day you’d get a few reviews and you might get the odd letter, but now you literally get thousands of people writing and telling you what they think. So far there hasn’t been one person who hasn’t been really gushing - it's been  even better than the last album.

'We’re all on a bit of a high at the moment, to be honest.

'It’s a very different climate now, no-one now really sells records unless you’re one of a handful of really big pop acts. All down the line, it’s the same for everyone, but within that, we seem to have done really well. Our record label and our manager are all over the moon, so we’re trying to spread the word that it’s gone better than anyone could have hoped.'

Four years may be a long time in pop music, but it's actually half the amount of time than between preceding albums, 2006's New Day and 2014's Embrace, and the five-piece is used to people writing them off in the interim.

'We’ve made a lot of comebacks. I think this is about our fourth comeback now. We’ve had more comebacks than Muhammad Ali, so we’re getting used to it and the idea that people try and write us off.

'But we’re like a Skoda, one of those knackered old cars, no matter what you do to it, it always starts in the morning. You can never write us off. I think the strength of the band is that we’re all in it because we all love the music.

'When the money left music about 10 years ago, a lot of people who were in it for the wrong reasons left as well, which was a good thing. All the fly-by-nights and the sharks all went on to other things. Now, by and large, the people still in the music business are the people who love it.'

In the post-Britpop era of the late 1990s Embrace emerged as part of a wave of bands like Travis and Sterophonics – acts that were guitar-led but weren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Their debut, The Good Will Out topped the charts and went platinum, yielding three top 10 singles, All You Good Good People, Come Back To What You Know and My Weakness Is None of Your Business.

'Our first album did really well, our second album did really well, Then our third album did about a tenth of that. Then we came back with our fourth album which did better than any of the albums we’ve ever released.'

Now 20 years in, Danny, who principally writes with his guitarist brother, Richard, has changed the way he writes songs.

'It’s about maintaining that songwriting quality, and that’s not easy. I guess that’s why it’s so long between albums – we know when it’s good, and you don’t get a choice in that, it comes when it wants. You can be waiting for ages, then three come along at once.

'On this album if it wasn't working after a couple of days, it means the song's not good enough, so we’d scrap that and go away and write another song. It was more ruthless and more frightening, but I think that it’s really paid off.
'We wanted to get the egos out of the way and let the songs shine.'

* Embrace play The Engine Rooms, Southampton on Tuesday, April 3. Go to engineroomssouthampton.com