Nottingham born Michael Feerick started Amusement Parks On Fire in 2004, initially as a solo project. Then based in his home city, he recruited fellow guitarist Dan Knowles, bass player Gavin Poole, and drummer Pete Dale and the first incarnation of the band was born. Having released their self titled debut to a wave of critical acclaim in 2005, the band went on to release two more albums alongside a host of well-received EPs before going on a temporary hiatus in 2013.
Now, seven years after their third long player Road Eyes, Amusement Parks On Fire are back with a new single and tour. With original guitarist Knowles now residing in Los Angeles and long-standing keyboard player Joe Hardy having recently become a parent, the current line-up of Feerick, Poole, Dale and multi-instrumentalist Rafe Dunn have spent the first half of this year writing and rehearsing with new single 'Our Goal To Realise' set to drop on 17th November and a UK tour to coincide.
Now living in London but back in Nottingham for some last minute rehearsals, DiS caught up with a revitalised Feerick clearly overwhelmed at the response their comeback has generated.
Whereabouts are you based these days?
I live in London now. I moved there about a year ago. I'd never imagined the band getting back together even though I always thought we might at some point. Then a couple of months later we came up with the idea of getting the band back together again which meant me having to catch the train back to Nottingham every couple of weeks to rehearse.
What persuaded you to get the band back together?
I don’t know really. I never really stopped doing it. The last thing we did was release an album eight years ago. Then we toured it in America. That’s where we disbanded without really thinking much of it. We just dispersed on our own separate ways. Dan (Knowles) stayed in LA and lives there now. I went back and forth from Nottingham to LA quite a lot. I wasn’t really sure about what I was going to do next. It started as a solo project so in a way it seems weird to think it may have been over. But then ideally if I did I’d want the same guys to be involved. I started messing around with some ideas I had for a side project I was doing with my friend Micah Calabrese from LA called Young Light. He was in Giant Drag. It was a nice change because it was so easy and low key.
Did you get to play many shows together?
No, it was quite difficult because we both live on opposite sides of the world. We could do things that we’d arranged ages in advance so basically I was doing all these projects that were difficult to put much time into then at some point I tentatively thought I wonder if there’s still something there with Amusement Parks that’s going to interest me. Stylistically I thought I’d done enough with big guitar music. Three albums of it was probably enough. Yet now I think there’s way more I could do. I hadn’t listened to any of it for a number of years so I revisited it and thought I can’t leave it like this. We’ve got a better album in us. We need to do some more. But then I wasn’t sure if anyone else wanted to do it so I tentatively mentioned it and everyone was excited about it so here we are.
Who’s in the band now? Is it the original line up?
Everyone apart from Dan. He’s still in LA doing his solo stuff. We did some shows randomly in 2013 just for fun really with my brother on drums.
I remember you playing Nottingham Rescue Rooms with Spotlight Kid the same night My Bloody Valentine released their comeback album
Yeah, I remember that too! They had to go and upstage us! There was me, Pete (Dale) and Rafe (Dunn) who’s played on our stuff for a while now. Dan played in that band as well so even though Rafe was a new member it still felt really natural. Apart from that, it’s the same lineup. Joe (Hardy)’s not going to do this tour because he’s just had a kid so we’re just playing as a four-piece. Gavin’s (Poole) triggering some of the samples and we’re just going to bang out the hits basically. When we tour again in April Joe’s going to be back. These shows are based around the single that’s coming out in November. Then we’re hoping to play some gigs around Europe to coincide with an EP coming out in April which will hopefully build up to an album.
How long has it taken to get to the stage where you feel the band is ready to perform live again?
Only a few months really. I can’t remember when we first started rehearsing. I just came up to Nottingham to visit friends and family really. Then I met up with Gavin, Pete, and Raif and just casually mentioned it. That was only sometime around Christmas. Then we started rehearsing around March or April. Because I was travelling up to rehearse we couldn’t really fit that many in so it was only for a few months. We never really had a long-term plan. So I hope it’s not going to be an anticlimax where we come back and people just want to hear two songs. I think because it happened organically rather than a big planned return KLF style people will appreciate it more.
Is there a lot of new material? Was it always your intention to put out a new record once you’d got back together?
Bits and pieces really. The new single I wrote quite recently from scratch in an Amusement Parks style just to see if I still felt like doing it. I played everything myself then tracked it back in one day and the whole thing came out really well. Whereas the b-side is something I’ve had since the last album so we rearranged it with Rafe playing on it now. We could have recorded an album four years ago and released it but I guess I wanted to be at a point where I knew it was going to be worth doing. I didn’t want to do another one just for the sake of it. It would have to be the best one yet. When Gavin agreed to do it he said it was on the condition these would be the best shows we've ever done. The best album we’d ever done.
The response to your comeback so far has been overwhelming. Were you expecting that?
No, not at all. I couldn’t tell at first whether it was just the algorithms. I didn’t get too ahead of myself and think, oh we’re the biggest band in the world now! I couldn’t believe the response. It was amazing. I’m glad we decided to do the tour because initially, it was just going to be one show and see how it went. But then I didn’t want to make some grand gesture because there’ll only be 20 people there and no one will care and we’ll disappear again so it’s quite flattering. I didn’t really think anyone would be interested. I feel bad now that in the olden days I’d get embarrassed about being called shoegaze.
To be fair, the musical landscape has changed somewhat since the last Amusement Parks On Fire record
It has I guess but that whole noisy pop shoegaze thing has never been a fad as such. It’s probably gone in and out of fashion 50 times since we last made a record but there seems to be this hardcore fanbase who’ve stuck with it throughout. And even though we’ve done very little for seven years it feels like they’ve stuck with us too. That makes me feel so much better about waiting so long to do the record. It wouldn’t have been as good if we’d just gone straight into the next album. We were so burnt out after the last one. It just felt natural to give ourselves some space.
Was it difficult putting the tour together? Did you specifically choose to play certain cities and venues?
A bit of both really. It was actually quite fun to do whereas before when we were signed to V2 it felt like I had no control over anything. In hindsight, it was probably the worst thing we could do. Our A&R guy left after one EP so when the album came out it was really botched. Then they shrank the logo on the front cover which looked as if it had been squashed. So this time I just want to have control over everything. We all know a lot of people within every aspect of the music industry so we've chosen to work with people we really like. So I asked Anton (Lockwood) from DHP if he'd be interested in putting us on as it was him that put on those gigs from 2013 and it just sprang from there. Then we started getting interest from other promoters too so there are about three or four people putting us on for the tour. It's the same for the single with Saint Marie really. Spotlight Kid have worked with them. Nightmare Air have worked with them. So they're a bit of a known quantity which makes it easier for me to keep a bit of a grip on things.
Were Saint Marie Records always your first choice?
I didn't really think about it to be honest. It came about through a friend of mine in LA that used to work at Amoeba Records in LA. He was talking to his friend about Amusement Parks On Fire and it turned out the other guy knew Wyatt (Perkins) from Saint Marie. Then I got a random text from my friend saying Saint Marie want to put out an Amusement Parks seven-inch which happened just as I was tinkering with the idea of doing it again so it made sense to go with them and see what happens. I know at least half of the bands on their roster so it felt like a good fit. They seem to be in touch with the whole - I hate to use the term again - shoegaze crowd so my initial thought was they'll at least reach a lot of people that heard us first time around.
You're taking Misty Coast on tour. Are you big fans of their music?
Totally. Gavin's worked with them loads and we're all massive fans of their other band The Megaphonic Thrift. I'd only heard a couple of Misty Coast songs before Gavin suggested them but they're amazing so I was really excited when they agreed to do the tour. There's a slight crossover musically so I think it will make a nice evening. They've got really good, well-crafted songs. It's not just about the sound. You always want to tour with a band who are really nice and also who you'd want to watch.
How many songs have you been rehearsing so far? Has the setlist been finalised yet?
We've probably been rehearsing a few too many! It feels like we're starting from scratch in a lot of ways. We're not playing massive rooms or anything but we know there are certain songs we have to play. We'll probably only play a couple of new ones on this tour. The new single for instance and maybe one more. Then we're hoping to play four songs from each album because there wasn't any one particular album that we felt defined us. So an even split across all three albums seemed like the right thing to do. We've been rehearsing about an hour and a half's worth of material so that should work as a set. But this tour will mainly be focused on the older stuff. I hate it when bands come back with a new album then hardly play any of the songs people recognise in the live shows. You don't want to feel trapped by playing to the audience but at the same time, if it wasn't for them being interested there wouldn't be any shows in the first place. Some of the older songs I didn't really like at the time but now we're revisiting them I'm starting to get the appeal.
How many new songs have you written?
It's difficult to say an exact number. I already know how the first fifteen and last ten minutes of the new album will sound. It's just a case of filling in the gaps. I don't really want to release it until the end of 2018 so who knows what stuff we'll come up with in the meantime? It's frustrating in a way because I'm sitting on this material that I know is going to be really good. Yet it's also hard to resist the urge to keep tinkering with it for so long. I don't know. Let's see how it goes. Maybe we'll release the album earlier than that? What I can guarantee is the next album will be very different to the other three.
Has the way you write and arranged songs changed over the interim period between the last Amusement Parks On Fire record and now?
It probably has, but really subtly. I never had much of a method. I just describe it as automatic writing. It wasn't really thought out. I've never pushed myself to that extent where I'd sit down by a piano from 9 to 5 every day until an album was finished. It probably works for someone like Nick Cave but it doesn't for me. It's also getting difficult the older I get because I have more responsibilities now. It's harder to find the time to sit and write so when I do it makes me want to use that time better. I've always just sat there with an acoustic guitar and let stuff happen. But then it's also good to expand on those ideas and make use of the other people in the band because they're all really talented musicians.
When the band's first album came out in 2005 people were still getting to grips with the internet. You've also mentioned regretting signing to V2. So I guess my next question would be if Amusement Parks On Fire were just starting out now would you do things differently?
It was a weird time because I think we saw the internet become this huge networking space really quickly. It was crazy. The amount of money that was around then suddenly was eye-opening. It all happened far too quickly and we were far too young to have any control over it back then. The destination where we were going. Obviously, hindsight's a wonderful thing. This climate now would have probably suited us a lot more. Having a direct route to the audience for starters. But then would we have built up the same international following if we had done it that way? V2 ended up being pretty rough as far as the UK went but they were amazing in Japan. I'm not bitter about it or anything but in a way, I wish we'd had a bit more control and pushed ourselves more into that side of things.
Do you think some of those experiences helped shape you as a person as well as a band?
Oh definitely. It was always such a crazy learning curve. Initially, we were very spoiled. The first album didn't cost anything to make so people were willing to book us on tours because they'd get a return on it. It's not that we shouldn't have signed to V2. We should have signed to a similar sized label but not relied on them as much for everything. V2 went under not long after we signed to them so then we were left without a label. At the end of the day, a label is just like a bank, and it made us question why were we at the mercy of these people? How were they going to determine whether people like our music? It was just crazy, but then rather than deal with that straight away we just went to LA which in hindsight was a weird move. We put it off which is why everything ended up being so stressful. Gavin slept in a suitcase the first three months we were in America! We've learned so much so there's no real rush now. We haven't got anything to prove. I'll never be able to make a record like the first album again because that was just me wanting to let the world know I was around and what I was thinking.
Looking back at your back catalogue, which record are you most proud of and why?
I'm equally proud of them all for different reasons. I guess the first one stands out for me because I was quite young and hadn't made a record before. It felt like I was finally doing something I wanted to do. It wasn't commercially successful in any way but it gave me the opportunity to be amongst my peers. It was so exciting to see all these ideas I had turn into an album. So that one's quite special. But then the second one was really adventurous. I remember us going to Iceland for the first time and trying to negotiate such a mammoth project. We were even talking about producing it with Alan Moulder at the time which would have been really interesting but then decided to go to Iceland instead and blew all our budget on that. The third album is probably the most cohesive in terms of what I wanted to do. That's the one I find easiest to listen to. None of them are definitive of Amusement Parks On Fire, so my initial thought was to put out a 'Best Of' compilation from all three. Then I came up with some new material so hopefully the next album will be the best of the lot. That's why I love the live show. I think that's much more definitive of who we are as a band. Sonically it all sounds the same which links the whole thing together.
Your comeback draws parallels with that of Slowdive, albeit on a smaller scale in that there's probably a higher level of interest in the band now than at any time during your initial period of activity.
I want to avoid that because I've never had any delusions of grandeur, but it's an interesting comparison. I didn't want to make a big announcement about us reforming. Although I do wish we had Slowdive's fanbase! They feel like a new band.
The music scene in Nottingham has grown dramatically since you first started out in 2004. Are there any bands you're particularly fond of right now? Any whose music you can hear having descended from yours even?
I think Nottingham's probably better than it's ever been right now. It's changed loads but it's still really vibrant. I think it incubates these really great bands. I never really thought about this before but because it's located in the middle of the country it's possible to do gigs almost anywhere and drive home the same night. I could list dozens of great bands from here right now. People like Kagoule, When The Sun Hits, Rattle and Grey Hairs for starters. I guess I'm biased but how many great London bands are there? The quality up here is amazing. Even before I started Amusement Parks On Fire in the early 2000s I remember seeing people like Six By Seven, Seachange and Earth: The Californian Love Dream and thinking the city would break through back then. But now I'm kind of glad it hasn't because Nottingham's music scene has just grown and continues to churn out these incredible bands. There isn't a Nottingham sound. You see bands playing together on bills who are all best mates yet sound completely different to each other. Whereas I don't really know what's going on anywhere else. Even Manchester has become a pastiche of itself. I don't think we'd have become the same band had we not been based here.
Are there any other bands outside of Nottingham you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers check out?
I saw The Telescopes play this incredible improvised set at the Shacklewell Arms recently. Then there's this Australian experimental jazz band called The Necks who I really like. Being in London I try to see as many gigs as possible. I've been trying to immerse myself back into the shoegaze scene again and discovered Pinkshinyultrablast who sound amazing. The problem I have with shoegaze as a genre is it's kind of irrelevant really. It's just an easy way of grouping together bands with a similar sonic aesthetic. I always felt weird about math rock too then I heard this band called Palm from New York who blew me away. They aren't just doing math rock for the sake of it. They also add elements of post-punk and dream pop to their music which makes them sound quite unique.
What advice would you give new bands just starting out?
Make sure you've got a good manager. That really helps. Also, don't necessarily go with the first person that wants to work with you. We were guilty of that with V2. Labels aren't the be all and end all, which is way more obvious these days. I'm probably the worst person to ask because nothing I've ever done has been through grand design. Figure out what it is you want to do. Where do you see yourself? What kind of band do you aspire to being? Define who you are then don't let anyone or anything get in the way of that.
Photo Credit: Ashley Bird