Danny McNamara is the charismatic vocalist of northern Britrock legends Embrace. McNamara spoke to Sean Bw Parker about ‘laddism’, PTSD, the magic of secret gigs, and the fact that their new album is ‘the most honest, heartfelt and rock and roll record that we’ve ever made.’
My earliest memory of Embrace, as I’m sure is the case with many of my generation, was watching you perform ‘All You Good Good People’ on Top Of The Pops in 1997. How do you feel about the death of music on terrestrial television, with the exception of Jools Holland?
The internet has taken over hasn’t it?! People who used to stay glued to the screen in the hope of catching a video of their favourite band can now just search for it on Youtube. There’s no TOTP but there are still lots of other TV things that you can do, though there isn’t the big budget for videos that there used to be. I love film, when Embrace stops taking up all my time I want to write for the screen. We have a big hand in all our videos for this album not just the singles but the Magnetic North DVD and the Secret Gig trailers too. We also actually made a video that the record company and management never want to see the light of day because we pushed it too far and went really dark. That will have to see the light of day at some point though, no doubt.
Those times were defined by Embrace being lumped in with the late-Britrock of The Verve, Travis, Coldplay and a declining Oasis. Getting on for two decades later, and many record achievements under your belt, how far would you say the goalposts have moved?
It’s hard to write about music without using context because music’s such an abstract thing. All I will say is that I believe we have something that separates us from most of the bands on that list. We lay ourselves bare. Most of the bands on that list have armour of varying kinds. We have none. We have no technique. I’m quite proud of that. We just randomly boldly go. I know no more about making great records now than I did 20 years ago, but we apply ourselves with the same blind faith, ignorance and purpose that we always have.
In the era of ‘laddism’ in music, your voice rang out in rock as a more graceful, refined sound, in lyrics and tonality. The likes of Elbow, Wilco and even Radiohead seemed to have been taking note. Would you agree with this?
In these times of ‘sharing’, can you give us an insight into your personal life? What does the McNamara day consist of?
I work really hard. Probably too hard. If I’m not working I am usually lazing round the house like a zombie in a bathrobe thinking about work.
You have written that you suffer or have suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Can you expand on this?
If there had been someone talking about PTSD in NME when I was 19, I might not have gone through three years of hell, because I wouldn’t have felt like I was on my own. When you are open about your weaknesses it inspires others to be more open about theirs. That’s why the internet is so great because people can read my blog and it says everything I want to say.
Social media and Spotify: where do you stand on these?
I’m excited by the possibilities of it all. The powers that be haven’t quite worked out how to screw us all yet. But they’re very close and they almost certainly will so we need to be vigilant. In boardrooms all around the world the people who have all the money and all the power are working very hard to tie everything down again: don’t let them.
Embrace seems to have a penchant for ‘secret shows’. Is it the atmosphere, excitement, intimacy or otherwise that you enjoy so much?
It’s the mentalness . We’ve had more police cautions than I can remember – everything from playing off the back of a flat bed truck in Leeds to breaking into the Big Brother house using bolt cutters with a bunch of fans bundled into the back of a blacked-out van . If you want to know more you will have do some detective work, but you can start at www.secretgig.com.
What can you tell us about Moho Live in Manchester?
When Embrace took a break eight years ago, I missed playing live and so I got into promoting and putting on new bands. It went really well. It went so well that I went from doing one night to actually buying the club. But then I wanted to go back to Embrace again, so I had to sell it.
Could you give us your own personal summation of the political and cultural situation in Britain right now, in 2014?
It’s the same now as it has always been. One thing I will say is that if you took all the needless bureaucracy and self interest out of government we would have enough money to pay off the deficit many times over.
In your own words, how would you describe the new Embrace album? How does it differ from its predecessors?
It’s the most honest, heartfelt and rock and roll record that we’ve ever made. We’ve been trying to make a record that was better than our first album for the last 16 years and at last I think we’ve done it.
What are the immediate plans for the band?
We are just rehearsing for our first UK tour in eight years, and doing stuff like videos, artwork, secret gigs, there’s also talk of us going back to America, which will be fun.
Have you ever played Istanbul? Would you like to?
No I haven’t, but I went there for New Year. It’s a wonderful part of the world; really warm and welcoming people and beautiful architecture.
Get you a bevvy?
That’s very kind … mine’s a Guinness please.