In Conversation: Egyptian Blue

The long wait for their debut album is over...

After an unsettling pause in music-making due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was possible that Egyptian Blue just wouldn’t be able to rekindle their pre-2020 momentum. However, with the release of their debut album, ‘A Living Commodity’, it’s obvious that the Brighton-based band are back and better than ever. 

When Andy Buss met co-frontman Leith Ambrose in school at the age of eleven, they bonded over their shared love of guitar. Since forming Egyptian Blue, they’ve gone on to support Foals on tour and play at Glastonbury as part of the set curated by IDLES. The energy of the band’s entrancing live performances translates onto their debut album, captured in the striking anxiety and agitation of each track. 

Clash caught up with frontman Andy, who had the band’s imminent Maida Vale Radio 1 recording on his mind. Discussing jam sessions, his love of Radiohead and defining ‘post-punk’, Andy highlighted the band’s vital growth in maturity as they work to expand their sound. 

What was it like returning to music after the pandemic?

I think the pandemic kind of came as a bit of a blessing for us in disguise because it gave us an opportunity to hone our sound and mature a little bit. I think we had an idea what the album was going to be pre-pandemic and it kind of evolved over the pandemic. We came back as more mature people and a little bit older, and like we want to make more emotionally connecting music. So yeah, it was a really good feeling to get back into the practice room. 

How does this album fit into the context of your previous work as a band?

I think it’s kind of like small fragments of what we’ve done before but in a more evolved manner […] it’s more emotionally in-touch. Like a lot of the newer songs are more carefully thought about and purely inspired by things that happened in my life, or in our lives, that have a great deal of impact on us. 

A lot of the tracks on ‘A Living Commodity’ capture this satisfying release of frustration and tension. How do you approach writing music like that?

I mean, it’s on a purely emotional level. I don’t tend to take myself to the songwriting, I let the songwriting come to me. […] A lot of the time when I’m feeling something really strong I’ll just play. And something will come to me. And then I kind of obsess about it and I think about it all day and it doesn’t really stop until I have a full structure and just play the song in my head. And then I’ll take it to the band, and we’ll work on it together. Or songs like ‘Matador’ came from a seventeen-minute jam where we just like were improvising and then I listened to it a couple of days later and there were three seconds in the last minute of it. And I was like “ok, that’s pretty good”. And that was the ‘Matador’ riff in the end. And then after that I obsessed about that riff and then made it into a song fully. So yeah, that’s kind of the writing approach. 

I was actually going to ask you about how you approach those guitar riffs. Is a lot of that guitar-writing from jam sessions then?

Kind of, like it’s a bit of both. So ‘Matador’ was a jam session but songs like ‘A Living Commodity’ and ‘Geisha’ and ‘Skin’, they were all kind of honed in on a very personal basis, just in my home. Just kind of making it up as I go along. But then songs like ‘Matador’ and ‘Belgrade Shade’ come from jams. 

Your music is often described as ‘post-punk’. What does that term mean to you and how do you feel about it being applied to your music?

I guess it’s quite an ambiguous term, isn’t it. Because a lot of things get put into that category but I kind of see it as a way that people have reinvented the word ‘alternative’, or ‘indie music’. I don’t know. I think we’re always going to fall into that category with someone. But I’ve heard people say that we’re a ‘psych band’, you know it’s kind of subjective. I don’t agree with that whatsoever. I guess that if you thought about bands like Black Midi, I wouldn’t say that they’re post-punk but people say they’re post-punk – you know they fall into the category. I don’t know, I think it’s always gonna happen for guitar bands at the moment. But it’s nice to be included.

What were some of the main influences for the album?

I try not to let much get into my head, because I want to try and create something unique […] you want to be unclouded by other stuff. But my mum’s favourite band were Radiohead and they’re my favourite band as well. I think they’re the best thing ever. So I can’t help but be constantly influenced by them. There’s this other band we were listening to called This Heat who were this very disturbing band from the 1980s and made very experimental music. And we don’t sound like them at all, but they were an inspiration kind of in the sense that they were so reclusive and so sort of like a cult. I was obsessing over their music the whole time and a few of the other boys were as well. But yeah, I mean a lot of the inspiration comes purely from within.

‘Apparent Cause’ is quite different in comparison to some of the more aggressive, rock-inspired tracks. Were you working on developing these softer moments of balance?

It wasn’t really an intentional thing. […] I write a lot of songs like this outside of the band and there were more way more weird and softer songs that didn’t make the cut in the end that we demoed. So it wasn’t really an intentional thing. I like that it breaks up the album. I see the album in two parts as like a more aggressive, more punky start to the album and then it kind of transposes into a more emotional and sadder, softer body of work towards the end. But yeah, that song was kind of an accident because we were recording the week after and I was trying to write some lyrics for a song called ‘Racketeering’, which never made the album, but we were gonna record it. And it’s really aggressive and really long, it’s like a five- or six-minute song, which is quite unusual for us. […] I put the guitar riff into my computer, and it was lagging a little bit and this weird effect went on it and it was really slow. That was the ‘Apparent Cause’ riff in the end. And I just made a song out of that, like at a slow pace. And it all happened in about ten minutes.

Were there any other especially memorable moments when you guys were recording?

It took quite a long time. So, we went out to Eastbourne for five days to track the drums and then we did the rest in Brighton and that took about a month of going into the studio every day with like a week of one guitar, week of the next guitar, and like the bass and percussion and vocals obviously […] There were a lot of funny moments. There’s never really a dull moment when we’re all together. […] A specific thing that I remember is that I would wake up really early when we were in Eastbourne and I would go up to, I don’t know if you know Beachy Head? It’s like this really scenic beautiful place with loads of cliffs and stuff like that, so I would go up near there and just stare out at the sea with the fog looming in and yeah that was a really beautiful moment and a nice way to start the day. And I’d come into the studio and we’d start tracking straight away. It’s a good way to get in the mindset of recording. 

What are your favourite moments on the album? What songs are you excited about playing live?

I think my favourite songs on the album are ‘A Living Commodity’, the title track. And probably ‘Geisha’. And yeah ‘A Living Commodity’ is my favourite to play live by a long way. We’ve just spent a week in Europe and playing that song I can see people’s reactions and they’re like “wow” and, I don’t know, you get a big adrenaline rush from that. But also, one of my other favourites is ‘Suit of Lights’. It’s really fun to play that live because people don’t really expect that from us, and we slow it down a bit. And really try to challenge myself with my voice because I wouldn’t pin myself down as a great vocalist, and I kind of have in the past just shouted or barked or whatever and I really have to pitch in this song. So I really get in the moment and that’s a really special thing to play live. 

‘A Living Commodity’ is out now. Catch Egyptian Blue at the following shows:

2 Leeds Hyde Park Book Club
3 Liverpool The Shipping Forecast
4 Glasgow McChuills
5 Manchester YES Basement
7 Brighton Patterns
8 Birmingham Hare & Hounds 2
9 London 100 Club
10 Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
11 Bristol Clwb Ifor Bach
12 Southampton Heartbreakers

Words: Charlotte Grimwade
Photo Credit: Steve Gullick 

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