The Amazons: "A lot of my mental health came down to not knowing what I was doing in my life and just kind of letting things build up. So, when it then resurfaced in Mexico I don’t think I was expecting it."
Alice Gee | 11/06/2022
I caught up with The Amazon’s Matthew Thomson over zoom to talk about their upcoming masterpiece of an album How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me?. Calling in from Reading, our shared hometown, we had the chance to catch up whilst discussing this new collection of songs. ‘How Will I Know’ perfectly evokes sentiments of joy and optimism both melodically and lyricaly, even though, almost ironicaly it was written during the most daunting months of the COVID 19 pandemic.
“That is 100% how I’d describe it. I was looking at these news feeds every day, doom scrolling and it felt defiant to not push back against that and create music in the hope to squeeze some kind of good out of a situation. I felt that it would be more productive with my time and what we were doing as a band to try and push back against what we were experiencing every day. It was so tragic, a world event with no winners. But the range of experiences that we all encountered over those two years, was extremely wide. Some days were horrible and very sharp but then other times that were just straight up mundane and unbelievably boring. Nothing was happening even though the world outside felt like it was falling apart.”
The album has digested those big moments, and the little spaces in between, of darkness, anxiety and panic as well as those of gratitide and hope. We both looked back at the situation we found ourselves in at the begining of March 2020, Matt had just moved into a new place in Brighton and had begun setting up his recording equiptment. What should have been an exciting moment starting a new phase of song writing was dulled by the now forced seperation from his partner, family, friends and of course bandmates.
“It was rough. In one way the forms of communication that we have in the modern-day are so amazing at keeping you connected with people but it only goes so far. When you’re in a relationship with someone, there’s that physical element, just to be close to someone which is so integral to feeling human. So as time went on in 2020, months without seeing each other I just felt helpless about the situation. And one of the few things that I felt like I could do, was to write music and let that be another form of communication, it was more unique than what other things I could offer.
I think I was trying to bridge the distance between us, distance in terms of literal miles, 1000s of miles. In those moments there are so many questions that you ask yourself, when am I going to see her again? If we see each other is it even going to be the same again? And naturally, as humans we were going to be changing as people, so I was worried would it still work. So, the album being written at that time was cathartic and necessary for me.”
It must have been quite a surreal moment when they both finally reunited, with the album becoming a nice nod to them both and the moment they’d been looking forward to for so long.
“It was surreal. I’d been joining these Facebook groups like ‘Love without borders’ where separated couples would get all these kinds of tips and share their stories of being apart. There were a couple of people who had taken this route via Mexico to the States, as the rules were it was okay to do that, so we decided to. The initial few days were amazing, but then as the dust settled, I found myself in a really weird mental spot. Now I look back at it, I think holy crap. I was in quarantine in a rigid routine. So, to say I was on edge was an understatement. I had a few panic attacks there, which hadn’t happened since I was in my late teens, which threw me off.
My history of mental health probably started, in my late teens. A lot of it came down to not knowing what I was doing in my life and just kind of letting things build up. So, when it then resurfaced in Mexico I don’t think I was expecting it. It started to get worse in quarantines to the point my paranoia was crazy. We got an Airbnb in the West of the country, and all I could think was they (whoever it was) were gonna kill us. There’s no one out here. There are no police, we’re going to die. What astonishes me when I look back was how real it felt to me with there zero evidence for what I was feeling.”
As Matt opens up to me we talk about the confusion that comes with the episodes like this when you are struggling with your mental health. Whilst we share moments where we’ve found ourselves falling down the rabbit hole, we manage to find some form of humour in the bits we don’t fully understand. I wondered whether the album focused on those points to help him feel he could understand what was going on.
“I think that that anxiety manifests especially when you’re locked down. Your whole world shuts down around you and you adapt to that, and then you’re thrown into this overstimulating situation of being in some sort of normal again. I think when you experience mental health when you’re younger, and it kind of has a break, you almost think that it’s gone. So when it comes back, it hits almost twice as hard because I thought I had a grip on it. After almost hiding it for a while I started to focus on talking to my girlfriend and sharing with the guys. It allowed me to keep on writing in some way. After writing songs in LA I brought them back to the UK to the band, and we carried on writing at the beginning of 2021, all the way through until September when we recorded. It was good to have a way to say it through focusing on writing the songs.”
To the listener, it seems, that each track mirrors the whole perspective which is beautiful because you can hear the vulnerability throughout. Having recently returned from supporting Royal Blood on tour I was curious about how it was being back on the road after the pandemic and if they’d found it difficult in part to get back out there.
“It was an overwhelming stimulating situation. It was all those emotions and awesome in equal parts. It was the most amazing experience to play to 10,000/15,000 people a night and the most amazing opportunity to get back out on the road as a band and we’re forever grateful to the Royal Blood guys. They were so welcoming and friendly.
But you know what, there was a journey in that as well. We don’t always bring much up in interviews. Me and Joe, the drummer had little moments that we had to kind of help each other to get through it, it was overwhelming to hit the road and get back into that groove that you haven’t been in for two and a half years with this new stimulating kind of thing of playing arenas which we haven’t done before. It’s funny how everyone dealt with it in their way. Like, if it gets a little bit overwhelming, I think Chris and Elliot are more likely to kind of sit back for a little bit, maybe take some out in the bunk, and just do their thing. Joe and I are a little different. It was a bit of a wake-up call, where we realised you can’t jump back on the saddle and ride at the same speed as you did two and a half years ago. You’ve got to take time out. You’ve got to be kinder to yourself.”
I think it’s a lesson alot of us learned the hard way getting back into festival season last summer, age and lack of practice slowly crept up on us all. We both spoke about how maybe that was out mental health issues moving through physical side effects.
“You know, me and the doctor we’re talking about it, he was really good. He gave me time and we talked about, what touring at Arena level even means, and how hard it is and difficult on the body. He helped me focus on the biology of it all, the stress of it, talking about things like cortisol. If your body’s in this fight or flight mode, your hormones are all out of whack. It was a really interesting lesson in how your mind and your body are so connected.”
We both find comfort, it seems, in understaning the biological reasoning behind our issues. I ask Matt if that extra knowledge helps him cope, manage or understand himself better.
“Oh, 100%. It does go back to music for me when coping with difficult things. That was a real moment in the tour as well. I looked around and I think everyone was feeling this as we were getting back into it. There was this moment we played in Birmingham and it was the day that Taylor Hawkins had died. Although no one knew him personally it was such a powerful slap in the face kind of reminding you about how fragile life is. I decided before the show that I was going to do like a little tribute in between songs. I was going to do a personal chorus of my hero. I was thinking of all the people at Birmingham who I’m sure Foo Fighters have touched at some point with their music. So, I thought I’d sing a verse and a chorus, and everyone could join in. I was in tears on stage. As I went into the dressing room, everyone was crying. I didn’t think everyone was crying because I delivered a beautiful rendition. It was more just sadness about Taylor. It was a monumental moment showing how much those we look up to musically mean to us. Thankfully we got to use music as a way to process it."
Matt hopes the new album will hopefully help others with their mental health, so I wondered whether the boys plan to head on tour to see it in the flesh or if they are taking the time to ride the wave.
“My ambitions around this record, are to just connect and help as many people as we can. And consequently, get out on the road for as long as possible. Go to as many new countries, visit all ones that we love. Those are our fondest memories in the band, going to places far-flung like Australia, Korea or Japan, or the states. Those are the moments you’re like, we got here, because of music.”
It feels good to end on a high, and inevitably that’s what audiences can expect from their upcoming tour later in the year and festival season. But it feels even better to go full circle around the album and what went into making it. Hearing people, especially men, open up about some of the toughest moments of the past few years always gives you a new hope that mental health stigma is changing.
Thanks to those like Matt who are willing to open up they can inspire others to do the same.
How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me is avaliable to pre-order now ahead of its release on 2nd September.
Words: Alice Gee
Photography: Ed Cooke