Tracer Fire – Hot Press Interview by Colin Carberry
Tracer AMC’s Alex Donald and Jonny Ashe on instrumentals, influences and Undertones.Alex Donald, the bassist, is in his final year at university studying Geology. He’s a good humoured zealot for the cause of left-field underground indie – more than happy to pontificate on the merits and de-merits of Slint, and point up details from the NME classifieds section circa 1991. He drinks water like a white-knuckle alcoholic. Guitarist Jonny Ashe is slightly more taciturn and bares a striking resemblance to Radiohead’s Greenwood minor. A physics graduate, he likes Slint as well, but also carries an applaudable torch for Sugababes. Keith Winter plays the drums and is studying to be an architect. His opinion of Slint is unrecorded.
Together they are Tracer AMC and for the last two years, their atmospheric, instrumental presence has been making gentle waves on stages throughout the land – showing that you don’t necessarily need a vocalist to have a voice. In that time they’ve set up their own label, released a single, been played by Peel, and have had a track produced by Undertone John O’Neill. Not bad for a trio of Bangor school-friends who never bothered looking for a frontman.
“None of us are singers,” Jonny explains. “We never set out to be purely instrumental, it just kinda happened.”
“It was more that the songs we wrote didn’t need singing,” says Alex. “We sort of approached people half-heartedly, wondering if they’d sing, but nothing really came of it. That’s not to say that we’d write it off completely for the future. You never know. It’s just not something that we give a lot of thought to at the moment. It’s good though. If we were Scottish no-one would notice us, but there aren’t any other bands over here doing what we do really.”
This independence of thought extends into their approach towards the commercial side of the music industry. In May Tracer AMC set up their own record label – We Love Records – with the sole purpose of releasing their debut single ‘A Satellite Wish’. Far from ushering in a disastrous economic meltdown, the move has, according to Alex, been entirely beneficial.
“I read that the Czech Republic was a really cheap place to press records, So, I found out how much and thought ‘We’re not gonna lose that much if we do it’. We just read up a bit on it on the web, sent off the forms for copyright, and were lucky to hitch up with a distributor (Prime) that really liked us, and were really nice. It was great. We made records, put them in the shops and people bought them. Once we sell the remainder, and there aren’t that many left, we’ll have made money out of it.” The single, with its cascading guitars and abiding ambience of dark languor called to mind Glaswegian noise-imps Mogwai and broody Canadian hat-wearers Godspeed You Black Emperor. But, already in their short career, it’s clear the trio are suspicious whenever these touchstones are brought up.
“People are always mentioning those two bands to us and, okay I suppose they’ve introduced that style of music to a bigger audience, but I think there are other acts that nobody has heard of that we’d have more in common with. I don’tjust listen to instrumental stuff. People think, ‘oh you play that kind of stuff, your record collection must be made up of these four records that were released in the last four years’. We don’t listen to Mogwai at all. We bring more tunes. We could never be that noisy.”
You can judge for yourself by picking up a copy of ‘Energy Fields II: Genetic’ – the second enhanced CD release from Derry’s Nerve Centre. Tracer contribute a track (‘Carin’), alongside The Mush Puppies, Homo Sapienz, Smokin’ Arizona, and DJND. For self-confessed Undertones’ fans, the fact that John O’Neill took care of the production provided a bit of a thrill. “He’s great. Dead funny,” says Alex. “He just agrees with everything you say and ends all his sentences with ‘Ach aye’ or ‘Fuck aye’. But it was great spending three days with him, he was really cool. And we’re hoping he gets us into the Undertones Christmas gig for free.”
Aside from show blagging, Tracer AMC’s thoughts have turned to the release of their, as yet untitled, second single. Honours this time will fall to “a wee guy in England called Adrian”, and his label Errol Records – named after Roland Rat’s best friend. We Love Records, meantime, will look to put out songs from other Northern Irish acts. Things are looking good. According to Alex, though, there is one ambition more pressing than the others. “It would be nice to get more airplay. We always seem to be used on the radio as backing tracks for round-ups and reports, We’ll have to write something that’ll
put a stop to that.”
‘Energy Fields II: Genetic’ is out now.