It’s midway through my interview with Richard McNamara, the Embrace guitarist, and I make a pretty desperate pitch ahead of their headline slot at this weekend’s Stendhal festival near Limavady, Co Londonderry.
We’re talking about Embrace’s likely set list and much to my dismay (and perhaps his), Richard confirms that just two of the tracks from this year’s Love is a Basic Need, are likely to make the cut.
There’s a sound reasoning for this of course. A festival crowd won’t be full of die-head Embrace fans like me.
I might be obsessed with hearing one of my favourite albums of 2018 in almost its entirety but it’s front man Danny McNamara, Richard’s brother, who chooses the set lists, and apparently he will need some last-minute persuading.
“I think we are going to do ‘Never’ and ‘Wake Up Call’ (from the current album),” Richard said. “I would prefer to do ‘All That Remains’ and all of my favourites, but Danny picks the sets and on the rare occasions when I picked them, the gigs haven’t been that good!
“I think the last time I picked the set was in Dublin in about 2001 or 2002, and it wasn’t a great gig. Danny said after that, ‘I pick the sets’. Fair enough. He’s the guy stood at the front in the middle and sees how everyone is receiving it, whereas I have my head stuck in my amplifier. It sounds great from where I am but he can see if people are getting into it.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be as happy as the next man to hear Embrace’s greatest hits dating back to 1998, from ‘All You Good Good People’ to ‘Ashes’, from ‘Gravity’ to ‘Nature’s Law’, but so much of the current album is special that I urge Richard to use the time between our interview and Saturday night’s slot to persuade Danny to at least include ‘All That Remains’, the centrepiece of the latest album, and one of the finest pieces of music they’ve ever written.
“When you do a festival you play the songs that you think are going to get the best response, but when you do your own gig it’s a bit more about trying a few things and taking people on a bit of a journey more,” Richard said. “When you do a festival you try and do all of your big singles, all the ones that people remember. I think that’s the thing about us, we’re one of those bands that people recognise some of the songs but don’t know the name of the band.”
Embrace should have every reason to promote the current album. A return to their early sound after the experimentation of the self-titled album of 2014, it reached no 5 in the charts, and has been almost universally acclaimed by their loyal fan base.
It wasn’t an easy album to record though, not least for Richard, who has been going through a divorce. The lyrics on ‘Where You Sleeping’ are very personal indeed.
“It’s probably in my top three (Embrace albums), depending on what mood I’m in, it’s definitely got some of my favourite ever Embrace songs on there,” Richard said. “But it wasn’t a great time recording it, I was getting divorced, I still am, so I didn’t have a lot of energy for it at the time, but the songs that came out of it were really good.
“It (Where you Sleeping) was pretty much word to word what I said to my therapist, but I made it rhyme. All That Remains is up there with one of our best records, Rabbit Hole, too, and Where You Sleeping, those are my three favourites off the last album, and maybe Snake Oil. All that Remains and Snake Oil were called Bruce one and Bruce two because I thought they sounded like Springsteen.”
Embrace are already back in the studio, taking tentative steps towards recording a new album.
“We’ve done one (a festival) every other weekend for the last few months, not a lot really. We’ve started working on the next album, we get together whenever we can, and sort of sit down and see what happens. We’ve got a few good ideas and got the juices flowing,” Richard said.
“Our approach has kind of evolved over the years. For the first album (The Good Will Out) it was literally get up at nine in the morning, go into the studio until midnight and repeat until the album is finished. It nearly killed us! The second album we booked into a residential, it was like a stately home, for three months. For the last album it was about getting together whenever we could and then at the end putting in the 10 songs that we thought were the best. I think that is how the next one is going to go as well.”
Richard has mixed emotions about the reception for Love is a Basic Need. Like most guitar bands these days, getting significant radio air play remains all too elusive, but a top five place in the charts was not to be sniffed at.
“We hoped it was going to reconnect a bit more because it was a lot more ‘Embracey’ than the titled album, we hoped it was going to get a bit more radio play. When that didn’t happen (we were disappointed) but we were buzzing about getting top five, we had been told we would be lucky to get top 10! It was top two in the midweeks on the Tuesday which is amazing when you think we have been doing it for as long as we have.”
Embrace are in Northern Ireland and Scotland this weekend and even if the weather is as dire as is predicted, the band will be having a great time.
Richard added: “We are in it for different reasons now. Back in the day we were in it because we wanted to rock stars, but now it’s about hanging out with your mates, we enjoy the process of making music and being with each other, it’s a lot more fun now than it ever was. When we first meet up the first thing we do is crack open the beers.”
Stendhal Festival takes place on Friday and Saturday, August 10 and 11, at Ballymully Cottage Farm, Limavady.