Stage Times: The Amazons

Frontman Matt Thomson on bizarre festival sets, disastrous TV appearances, and why he’s no longer afraid to fight with people on Twitter

Earlier this month, How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? burst into the top 10 of the UK album charts. The warm, sunshiny third album from indie rockers The Amazons was embraced by listeners in precisely the way Matt Thomson had hoped.

“I’ve always – maybe subconsciously – gravitated towards music that kind of squeezes something positive out of otherwise difficult situations,” he says. “One of the references for not only this album but my entire existence is ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie. I know that’s a big hit and I don’t want to sound too cliche, but that guy made a real anthem, and a real source of light, really, in the shadow of one of the most divisive moments… I find that sort of thing really inspiring – even in the face of a difficult situation, you don’t just capitulate and crumble and make something dark to reflect the times you’re in, but you push back, you fight back against it, and you try and find the good in life, of which there is a lot. That’s always been a marker of how music should be made for forever, for us.”

The Amazons - How Will I Know? (Official Music Video)

Thomson wrote the majority of the album in lockdown. Battling loneliness, the pressures of a long distance relationship and the disappointment of no longer being able to play live, the temptation often was to sink into the shadows of it all and dwell on what was miserable. Instead, Thomson looked ahead to a post-pandemic future, and made an ultimately correct prediction – live audiences would want to celebrate.

“And that’s what we want,” he adds. “Because that first festival back, that first tour back, which we’re about to embark on, was always going to happen. It was just a question of how long are we going to have to wait for it? And we wanted to make an album that could soundtrack that moment, rather than our kind of mundane Groundhog Day existence that everyone had over the last few years, ranging from tragic to just f*cking boring.”

Now, with a Top 10 album out (a feat that Thomson acknowledges as a “humbling and awesome thing”) and a tour fast approaching, the Amazons are focused on how to give audiences and themselves the celebration they’ve all been waiting for.

“Now our attention is just on how we do this album live, basically,” he says. “Lots of rehearsals and planning and trying out different things that we’ve not tried before as the Amazons, which is a little bit scary, but quite exciting as well.”

Ahead of a string of UK shows across October, we caught up with Thomson to discuss some of the band’s best – and worst – live memories.

The Amazons - Junk Food Forever

The First

That’ll be 2014. I think it was a bar in Redding called the Oakford Social Club. It’s free entry, you just walk in, there’s a nice bar… It’s kind of one of the very few, quote unquote “cool” places for people to hang out in Reading. If you like more left field stuff, that’s your spot. I think we started the gig with ‘Junk Food Forever’. That was our first song. I think it was a good show. I mean, actually, it was a good show. We’d been in a band previously and because we’d f*cked that up we now had management and stuff like that, so we were like, “Right, let’s do this properly.” We did actually have an A&R scout at that gig. That was like, “Whoa, things are happening dudes!” The stakes were high, which was a thrill in itself.

The Amazons - Doubt It

The Best

That is a really tough question. That’s a massive question. Because some of the best times we’ve ever played have been when the stakes are not as high as they could be. We did a support tour around the states just before COVID, in January and February 2020. We got in a van and literally did the entire seven week tour around the state. And I’d say by the end of it, when we played the El Rey in Los Angeles, we were f*cking tight. Like, we were sh*t hot. If you were ever gonna watch the Amazons do Future Dust songs, that was it. We really were in that world. But then the stakes are not necessarily that high when you’re in the middle of Missouri and no one knows who you are. Of course you can be as confident as you can and pretend to be the biggest and best.

The Amazons - Mother (Reading + Leeds 2019)

The Biggest

That was probably Reading Festival 2019, the kind of gig where your body is wracked with nerves and you can’t speak and you’re gonna throw up. But then you go on and you feel like you have a great gig. And the cameras are there and you come offstage and it’s like, “Cool. Relief. That was an awesome gig. They got it on camera. We didn’t f*ck up.” That was a really amazing moment.

Did you watch it back afterwards?

I tend to not watch stuff back for a few months, and then I’ll be at home and it will be like 1am… I’ll watch stuff back and I’ll take notes, honestly. I take notes all the time. Because I just know that you’re not magically gonna get better. The only way the Amazons can operate is by being self critical. Prince watched a tape back of his performances all the time. I don’t know why people wouldn’t.

You know, we’re our biggest critics, and that sometimes can be destructive, but also that can actually be useful. I would advise people who are just starting out to not be afraid of being self critical. That’s literally how you’re gonna get better. If you play a show and it’s pretty sh*t and you walk away, like, “Oh, wow, well done, nice, that was f*cking awesome,” then you’ll never learn. You’ll be trapped at that level forever. There’re so many bands that I’ve got excited about in the past, when they’re upcoming. And then you see them three years later and they’re exactly the same. Nothing has changed. And it’s like, well, that’s why you’re not getting anywhere. You’re not looking at yourself properly.

It’s not really about getting better in relation to anyone else. It’s just literally, like, what can you personally do to make yourself better? I feel good about where we are at the moment, only in relation to how I know we performed on the first and second record. When I look back at that footage I’m like, “Okay, I’m not being the best I can. I’m slouched over my guitar. I’m not projecting to the people at the back of the room…”

The Amazons - Bloodrush

The Worst

Glastonbury 2017. And Later… With Jools Holland. Talk about high stakes, and talk about a band who were completely not ready for those moments. And the unfortunate thing is, some people will probably have an opinion on the band that was based on those performances that they probably haven’t revisited, and that’s something that we have to come to terms with and just go, “F*ck it”. There’re billions of people in the world.

Those shows were in quick succession, in April and June. We had no crew. As in there was no guitar techs, no support, no nothing. It was just a mate who drove a van. So there’re your red flags. Or at least you’re taking a bit of a risk if you’re playing national TV like Jools, or you’re playing a big slot on the John Peel stage. When things go right, great, but when things go wrong, then you need backup. You need solutions, people who are experienced who can turn that difficulty into a little moment and then you can carry on and have a great gig. I had technical difficulties with my guitar and my amplifier at Glastonbury and then I couldn’t sing on Jools Holland. I was just so wracked with nerves – so tense, so inexperienced – that it was just… yeah, it didn’t go well.

But I don’t think we would be the band we are today – I don’t think we’d be the performers, I don’t think I’d be the singer – unless we had those moments. You just learn the hard way. When we came off Jools Holland we knew it didn’t go well. And then you go on Twitter… not a good idea when you’re starting out. Don’t do that.

Do you tend to stay off Twitter after those kind of performances now?

I would have said yes about a year ago. But we’ve got Sunday Brunch on Sunday (of course). And if we have a nightmare, and people go at me on Twitter I’ll probably give it back. Because that’s what social media is now. I don’t give a f*ck. I’ll give it back. 100%.

The Smallest

We were just doing some in-store shows during album release week. Some of those were really small. You wouldn’t believe how sweaty it can get when there’s like 50 people in a tiny record store and you’re playing acoustic guitar. Even though it’s not raucous or anything, it gets very hot.

We played Oxfam Music, in Reading, where I used to work one of my first ever jobs. That was really small. Like really small. I think we had people waiting outside – not because there were that many people, just because it was so tiny! We actually did a lot of pop-up shows as well. We did a Rough Trade in Bristol and then we actually went to The Louisiana, which is a pub in Bristol, and played an impromptu last minute showed there. And that was pretty tiny, just squeezed around the bar playing some songs.

The Amazons - Black Magic (Official video)

The Weirdest

We played a village fête many years ago when we’d just started out and that was the only time we ever called our managers and said, “We’re not playing”. Because we turn up and it’s essentially like a huge kid’s party with like, young mums, bouncy castles, and there’s a lorry with half of it cut off lengthways where all the gear was. That’s where that was the stage was. The lorry was the stage. We played two songs and then they stopped us and said, “Right, sorry boys, the owner of the lorry needs to take it away”.

They saved us, because I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. You’ve got kids, families… and then all of the dads were not just drunk, but honestly, they were up to their eyeballs in cocaine. To the point where there were baggies of cocaine on the floor everywhere. There were dads coming onto the stage, just before we went on. They came on the stage and started, like, playing our instruments. We’re like looking on like, “We can’t be here, boys. We cannot be here. We have to leave”. That was a baptism of fire.

The Amazons - In My Mind

The One That Made You Want To Play Music

I can remember the first show I ever went to way easier than the first Amazons show. It was at a theatre called the Hexagon in Redding, and it was a tribute band called Bootleg Led Zeppelin. And it was great because my one true love at that point was Led Zeppelin. My dad used to play them on Sundays. Me and my sister went with my dad, who was clad in all denim… we were pretty close to the front, actually, in this theatre, and we watched middle aged dudes pretend to be Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. It was absolutely excellent. I was like, “Is this what live music is? This is f*cking amazing!”. And right at the end, they played ‘Whole Lotta Love’, and there was a mosh pit. My dad is trying to protect his preteen kids, and he’s pushing people away like, “Get away from my children!”. He had a go at the security I think as well. As if the staff at the Hexagon have any say over what happened.

Anyway, that was a fun first gig and then that summer I went to see Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Madejski Stadium in Redding. That was also… how can I put it? It’s transformative. It’s like, completely out of this world. It’s f*cking amazing. Completely changed my life forever.

Not that my life was going in any other trajectory, or any other path that I could fathom, because I already loved music. I don’t relate to people who ‘fall into’ music. Or say like, “I never thought this would be a career path.” I don’t get that kind of mentality at all. I was like, “I need to be a rock star,” literally from about 10 years old. That’s it.

The Amazons set off on their UK tour from 6 October. Find tickets here.