‘We’re all just making it up as we go along’: in conversation with Amber Run’s Joe Keogh

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‘What could be as lonely as love?’ asks Joe Keogh on Amber Run’s latest album Philophobia.

The band’s third album is one full of classic indie bangers, interspersed with more ambient moments of tenderness: it is an album defined by tales of love, loneliness, and longing.

In a dingy green room of Oxford’s O2 Academy, I meet Joe, the band’s frontman. He is the stereotypical image of an indie rocker, with long hair, dressed in black, and sporting a denim jacket festooned with patches.

‘Nice trousers!’, he remarks, commenting on the snow camo cargo pants I’m wearing- I point him to my ‘Fuck Boris’ t-shirt- ‘Ahh yes, Boris Twatson’, he laughs.

Directing the conversation to more musical grounds, I ask what the inspiration behind the album’s unique title- meaning ‘fear of love’-was: ‘Fundamentally it’s a record about connections and relationships about people around you, and also with yourself- it just seemed very fitting that that would be the angle we take’.

Contrasts clearly play a huge role on Philophobia, evident even in the album title, and nowhere is this more apparent than in ‘What Could Be as Lonely as Love’. The track features an upbeat, indie-pop instrumental, over which Keogh laments the pain of and dangers of love: ‘What could ever hurt this much?’.

‘Sometimes you need to draw people in, get them to bounce to it, for them to look a little bit deeper’, he says. ‘Then they actually listen to some of the lyrical content which is, you know, really quite tragically sad. It’s quite fun to see people bopping along to what is an unbelievably sad song!’.

‘Obviously Morrisey is a bit of a douche now, but I think The Smiths did it really well- they hid tragedy in plain sight’.

There is an obvious honesty in Keogh’s lyrics on the album; I ask him about how personal experience affects his songwriting: ‘It’s all about how we’re feeling and how we think. I don’t ever expect anyone to just feel the same, to tell me that what we’re saying lyrically is gospel. We’re just normal guys, and the people that listen to our stuff are normal people as well: the stuff that happens to me is no different than what happens to other people. We’re all just fucking making it up as we go along!’.

Amber Run are a quintessential indie rock band- defined by powerful, singalong choruses and guitars- yet, as Joe tells me, ‘It’s not really a moment for indie rock and roll’. He continues: ‘And that’s a good and a bad thing. Like, I’m a white, heterosexual middle class guy- there are new voices that need to be heard. The indie scene is dominated by white men, right? That doesn’t mean that the voice and the art that we put out into the world isn’t great, but you’ve got to be conscious and aware that it’s time to share that space. There’s some amazing music coming out at the moment- look at grime over the last few years, it’s skyrocketed, and that, that’s fucking cool’.

‘I think it’s always cyclical’, Joe tells me, ‘And at some moment, the bands that we love, indie and rock groups, will start to come back into the mainstream consciousness, and when that happens maybe one of our friends, or even someone we’ve never met but who’s extremely talented, will get to the top’.

Needing to rush off for their gig, he concludes: ‘Honestly, the only thing that I’ve found with music is it seems that people who work the hardest, tend to do the best’. Amber Run are an indie rock band for the 21st century, it seems- hardworking, socially aware, introspective, yet, most importantly, still able to produce an album full of vibrant, catchy songs that make people want to dance.

Philophobia is out now.