Soundcheck: A few words with Ampline
Post by Dar on 10/11/2012 4:34pm
Ampline is made up of men of few words. This is in evidence both on their blog, a characteristically concise Tumbler account, and on many of their past albums, which are primarily instrumental. It is clear too in the email exchanges I’ve had with guitarist Mike Montgomery over the last few months. But if Mike doesn’t say much it may very well be because his jammed schedule doesn’t allow for unnecessary jibber-jabber. Besides releasing records and touring with Ampline, Mike holds down a day job, runs Candyland Recording Studios in Cincinnati with Jim Turner, and moon-lights singing and playing sparse, chaotic, abrasive and lulling guitar with Kelley Deal (and sometimes other friends like pro-skater Kristian Svitak) in the band R Ring.
Luckily, Mike doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting in Ampline. He is joined by founding member Kevin Schmidt on bass and Rick McCarty on drums (also of The Shivs). Of balancing a busy schedule Kevin, father to new baby boy Neil, says “I think it really boils down to a good support network like the one my wife and Jerry (Jerry Dirr of Phratry Records) provide. But more importantly, if it is something you truly love doing, nothing will stand in your way. And I really think we all love to play music.” He continues “We all work 60-80 hours a week at our day-jobs so that we can play music and tour. Playing music pays nothing. Breaking even on tour is hard with $4 per gallon fuel.” Mike puts it this way, “It's really fucking hard. We want to play so we make time in our lives to do this.”
We’re lucky that Ampline will be shelling out the big bucks to drive to Madison and share tunes both new and old alike on Sunday, October 14th at the Frequency. Jealousy Mountain Duo (who radically draw influences from early 60' s jazz, post and hardcore and modern electronica) and Madison’s own post-rock/post-metal band Tyranny is Tyranny open for a 8:30pm 18+ show. It’ll cost you a mere five bucks, allowing Ampline to buy almost a whole gallon of gas. Almost.
Ampline started in the late 1990's as an instrumental punk band. Kevin likens it to musical documentation between childhood friends (Kevin Schmidt, Jeff Albers, Drew Bogner, Chris Charlton) that never set out to be a touring project. But the band evolved, or in Kevin’s words “it kinda grew wings, crashed, and then grew wings again.” After some lineup changes (in Mike’s words “Apparently Kevin is the magnet of the band. Repelling and attracting constantly!”), Kevin, Rick and Mike have coalesced into a tight unit, perhaps in part because Rick and Mike spent many years together in the trenches in band Thistle.
Talk may be cheap, but Ampline is sticking its toe into the well of words all the same. On its last full release, 2010’s “You Will Be Buried Here,” as well as with newer material, Mike has begun to write words and sing. But just because they held their tongues for years doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to say. And say it well they do. Just like Mike will open up and give you a lively face-to-face discussion full of sharp wit and insight once he gets to know you, Ampline’s newer material will blow you away with a mix of vocals and instrumental passages that range from warm and reassuring to edgy and rockin’. They just needed to get to know us first.
It is unlikely that Ampline will become tied to their words though. “We really just add vocals as another layer of sound. We have a tendency to write concept albums and without words it is hard to convey the concept. I think we are about 50/50 instrumental/vocals now. With the new album the lyrics will play more of an integral part of the overall concept,” says Kevin. In terms of songwriting he says “Sometimes things flow and sometimes it is like banging your head up against a wall for weeks trying to find the way out of a maze that you, yourself, designed. With Ampline, it has always been a very democratic writing process. We write when we are together. Very seldom do we stray from this.”
They seem happy to resist categories and structure and their music is all the better for it. Compared by reviewers to everyone from The Replacements to Pink Floyd at times, Ampline doesn’t seem interested in falling into a category. And they ride the genre wave with skill, creating their own somehow distinctive and cohesive sound while defying labels. Put plainly, whatever you want to call it, these guys are good.
Case in point, here’s a recent video made by Jerry Dirr from Phratry Records for Ampline’s song "Low Light."
“Low Light” will be features on a split 7” this fall with their constant touring companions band Daikaiju. Side A will feature the Ampline track while Side “D” will feature Daikaiju’s “Double Fist Attack.” “Low Light” is part of a larger full length project that Ampline hopes to finish recording this winter. Kevin indicates “We have so many song ideas as of now, probably about 60 song ideas. We are really trying to whittle them down to a cohesive record and it is getting close. I think it really is just a matter of scheduling the studio time and hammering it out. We have always worked best under pressure. If there’s no deadline there’s no rush.”
Has the new music paradigm with the rise of the internet and digital media and the fall of big record companies affected Ampline? Not really. “We have always done what we do. We have always done things ourselves for ourselves and never really relied on anyone or counting on anything. It has always been an upstream swim. We show up, we play WAY TOO LOUD, we sweat, we growl, and then we go to the next town and do the same thing all over again. We love to play music and touring is a way to keep it from being stagnant. A new place has a new vibe and this in itself can totally change the texture of a song.”
Kevin reflects, “I play each time like it is my last time, because it could be. So it is always sweat and growls from me. I don't think I can do it any other way. I think the energy in the room is vital to a good show but it really doesn't change how we approach different shows. Whether there is 3 people or 3000 we play like it is our last time.”
More on Ampline on their website at http://www.ampline.net/
What do you ask a band so that your interview doesn’t sound like every other music interview in the history of music interviews? You ask them to create a pie chart.
Dar has lived in Madison since 1993, is an alternative transportation planner/advocate, and is former executive director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Dar also plays drums in Seven Stone Weaklings (a retro-punk cover band) and The Drain (original rock), plays bass in Crackity Jones (a Pixies tribute band) and is the author of the novel, Becoming Alec.