Danny McNamara

Follow me on twitter @dannymcnamara

PTSD

People ask me where my lyrics come from, and I’ve always been intentionally vague in the past. I’ve always believed that a song means whatever the listener wants it to mean. That the best ideas aren’t crafted from the ground up, but really do feel like they come out of nothing. So to then impose your own interpretation on the songs seems to be a bit egotistical.

But something happened to me when I was younger that up until now I’ve only ever shared with a handful of my closest friends and family. Something that has literally coloured everything I’ve done since. It was traumatic, terrifying, and it almost killed me. But it also enabled me to see things very differently. It enabled me to write songs for the first time, and has probably informed every single lyric and song I have ever written.

Between the ages of 19 and 22 I suffered from a horrendous condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I won’t go into too much gory detail here but all I will say is that for the best part of three years I was in a living hell. It felt like the rest of the world was at the other side of translucent bullet proof ice. I couldn’t even cope with basic functions. I was having up to fifteen panic attacks a day. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I went down to about ten stone, which isn’t very much when you are 6ft 2” tall. I almost died. I’d spend all day fighting my thoughts, and all night running from imaginary demons and voices.

One thing I’ve never been short of is hope. I’ve been really lucky to have a great family who’ve instilled in me from a very early age the belief that good usually wins. But all that hope did was make the fight for my sanity longer, and harder and more bloody horrible. It broke me down, smashed me to pieces, and then came after the pieces one by one. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m quite a driven and determined person, and I fought back, but it was impossible. Like trying to beat yourself in a fight to the death, starting with your soul and working your way out with minute, internal, mathematic, mechanical horror. It was almost impossible to think a nice thought. I’d see a nice view and I think of all the killers killing and the rapists raping and all the abusers abusing as far as the eye can see. I’d see a park full of flowers and all I’d think was how sad and pathetic it was that I, as a twenty year old man, had to rely on family and friends to take me out to the park for a change of scenery.

Once I locked myself in the bathroom because all I could hear in my head were these awful voices telling me to hurt and kill. I didn’t want to hurt anyone but I’d been fighting my thoughts for months and I’d got to the point where I’d become terrified that I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. I even somehow had a knife in my hands. I remember shaking uncontrollably and sitting in the bath and turning on the hot water hoping the shock would bring me to my senses. It didn’t. As the pain from the scalding water went through my body the voices just got louder and more horrific and more confident and started laughing and saying I deserved it repeatedly over and over, and that I should use the knife on myself before I hurt my family on the other side. It wasn’t living and it wasn’t pretty, and so that’s as much as I want to say about it for now. I wrote a short fictional story at the time based on my experiences. I re-read it the other day, and while it’s a bit green, it has an honesty about it that I’m still really proud of. If enough of you want to see it, maybe I’ll post it up here in a future blog someday.

The reason I’m speaking out now is because there has been a lot of coverage of depression and other mental illnesses recently. People have come forward and spoken out in really brave and touching ways about how they have learned to live with, overcome and even in some cases embrace the dark side. And I found it inspiring. Lots of people suffer for months and years in silence because of the stigma attached, or worse still (as was the case with me) because they fear they’re going to be locked up. According to a recent story in The New York Times, for every one US soldier who died in battle last year, 25 veterans committed suicide. Most were suffering from the effects of PTSD. The tragedy of it is that if those young (usually) men hadn’t felt isolated and weak or afraid to speak out, there might be a real chance their lives could have been saved. Men who’ve often fought selflessly for their country only to be isolated and even tragically turned into ratings winning TV casualties when they come home… “World’s Most Dangerous Drivers” really might as well be called “World’s Most Off His Face Ex Soldier” - it has to stop, and it has to stop now.

I’m really lucky I got help. My mum literally carried me to the doctos in the end, and I’m better now. Not just well, but better. Better than I ever was before. Back then we’d spent so long trying to write songs and failing, nothing had any depth, nothing felt real. Coming out of the worst of my PTSD, I was aged 22 and I couldn’t honestly stand behind anything we were writing anymore. Embrace sounded like our influences, as it said in Melody Maker at the time, "A lowest common denominator blend of The Chameleons, The Bunnymen, and U2; basically that live aid performance minus the laughs".

Well let’s say it hit a nerve. Aged 22, I picked up a guitar for the first time and learned some chords. The illness took a while to lift, but as it did, the demons that kept me up all night just enabled me to spend more time writing. So I sat there with my acoustic guitar and I wrote and wrote and wrote. And as I got better, I wrote even more. The illness that had smashed me to pieces, the horror that had me fighting for air, isolated and trapped behind an ice wall now enabled me to see the world with growing clarity as the ice melted. Colours burned brighter, orchestras played in my head. I felt so alive, I could fucking taste it. Songs poured out of me. As my health came back, I was able to help my dad on the building site by day and then write songs all night. I wasn’t sleeping very much at that time but it felt like I’d wasted the last three years as a walking zombie and I didn’t know how long this new alive feeling was going to last. Well not only did it last, it continued and still continues to enhance every aspect of my life to this day. It’s not all been plain sailing though to say the least. But maybe that’s a story for another time.

So why talk about this now? Last week Richard came to the studio armed with one of the most aggressive pieces of music he has ever written and for the first time I felt compelled to open up and write about PTSD. The song is called “Self Attack Mechanism” and it’s not quite finished yet but it’s turning out like nothing else we’ve ever done before. Which after five albums is really great to be able to say.

I feel like we are on the final lap with this album now. The bell has gone and everyone and everything is starting to speed up. Most of all, I’m starting to hear in my head how all this is going to sound live, and it’s fucking exciting man… I love my job. I love this band. Watch this space there’s going to be some big news very soon.

dx

What Does It Sound Like? Blog 2

So what’s it sound like?

There’s a phrase that every band signed or unsigned comes to dread. The record companies, producers and managers know the artists dread it and so they find loads of different ways of saying the same thing. Unsigned bands will hear “I love the band but I’m not hearing that big song yet”, signed bands who are working on their follow ups will hear, “It’s sounding great, but I think you should keep going we still need a couple more key tracks.”

Big songs, key tracks, biggies, monster tunes, radio songs what are they trying to say???

One word.

Single.

There said it.

People who work with bands hate to say it because it makes them look like unfeeling money grabbing monsters who don’t care about the artists art, and songwriters hate to hear it because it means the lovely people who work for them are telling them that most of the world isn’t going to care about this record as much as they do until they do more work.

Lots of bands moan about the charts, usually unsigned bands or bands who aren’t doing so well in them anymore, but it’s not hard to see why. Most of the music in the charts is soulless, throwaway rubbish. No-one wants to make soulless shit forever, even big pop acts who’ve had a best selling debut will often try to get all serious on their follow up. How many times have we seen a child sensation suddenly start trying to write their own material when their manager/parent realises that’s where the money is. They do this by fooling themselves that more control means more depth, integrity, soul etc etc. It doesn’t. What almost always happens here is the tunes dry up, writing great deathless pop is hard so finding a plausible reason for that not being important anymore is one of the most corrosive self delusions for any songwriter. You might be able to fool yourself for a time, but you can’t fool everyone else. The people around you are crucial here (if they are good at their job that is) because they push you and help you realise your full potential. When you are frayed and spent and you have given it your all, the last thing you wanna hear is someone you respect saying you need to do more work, but often all they are doing is saying something out loud that you already feel deep down you just don’t want to face it. By contrast if you’re working with a pop sensation whose never written a song before in their life and you get them to give it a go and you give them three months because they have a world tour booked already, don’t be surprised if the album you end up with has no big songs, key tracks… erm SINGLES.

So pop acts sometimes think that if they stop singing someone else’s songs and sing from the heart about their life it will always mean the songs have more soul. Well sorry it doesn’t always work like that. In fact some of the best most soulful records in history are written by other people Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was written by Otis Redding, and pretty much every song Elvis ever sang was written for him by someone else.

This is such a pervasive myth that bands who write their own songs do it in reverse too. They think that if they stop caring about putting their own soul into their work it will have a broader appeal. We almost did it ourselves on our singles collection, we recorded a song called “The Day The Radio Broke My Heart”. We gave ourselves a week to write and record a single for the album, and though I still love the title the song wasn’t very good. Fortunately our record company told us to get a grip and we never released it. Bands can make the mistake of thinking that because most of the stuff on mainstream radio is middle of the road, they have to aim at the blandest lowest common denominator in order to write a single. In fact the polar opposite is the truth. To get deathless pop you have to go right out there, be brave put your soul, your arse on the line. And whether that’s just a piano vocal like Adele’s “Someone Like You” or the Nero/Skrillex pop hit “Promises” it can be anything, everything but safe.

So that’s where the bar is. It’s always been there it’s just a lot more obvious when you’ve been away for five years and it feels like everyone has forgotten about you.

It’s why whenever we go away for a while we always come back armed to the teeth with big tunes.

Embrace is known for having the most amazing fans in the world, but if you want your record to matter to more than just your most hardcore followers you are going to have to write something that’s such a distilled, burningly amazing tune that no-one can ignore it. It’s not a bad thing if it has a beat you can’t help but move to, a hook you can’t get out of your head, a lyric that sends a shiver down your spine and a chorus that takes your head off. That’s the job, you can either whinge at the world and all it’s digital robbery and unfairness or you can get on with it.

That’s what we’ve been doing and it’s very very exciting.

What’s it sound like???? Well after five years of writing we now have a bunch a big TUNES like that. Everyone is smiling but we aren’t patting ourselves on the back yet.

We need to write more, and we need to get the performances and music right, and it’s going to take a while, but we were born to do this, mark my words it’s going to happen.

dx

So here I am writing my first ever blog

So here I am writing my first ever blog. J’s been on at me to do this for about ten years now, and with social networking taking over the planet I get a lot of people asking me about things all the time. My mum brought me up right, but I can’t reply to everyone, so I thought this might go someway to addressing that. 

As some of you will know, I’ve always had a lot to say for myself. I’m a very honest person by nature and have never shied away from speaking my mind, all too often the appearance of magnanimity is disingenuously wheeled out to cover the boney unfeeling, ugly claws of ego driven ambition. What will become really clear over the coming weeks is that I’m not in this for money or power or fame. I’m writing songs again because it’s really the only thing that makes any real sense to me.

So what the fuck have we been doing huh??? We haven’t released anything, done any interviews, or played even a single note in public since our last gig in Edinburgh over five years ago. We were at our most commercially successful point and we just stopped. No fanfare, no big announcement, nothing. But we didn’t split up no no no no. The truth behind that is for a future blog, but what I want to say here is that for the last three years we’ve been working our arses off in the studio and for the first time ever… For the first time ever in all my fucking life I am really really enjoying the recording process and this is a very very good thing.

The first album “The Good Will Out” is still the hardest thing that I’ve have ever had to do. And when I was younger I had post traumatic stress disorder for three years so I know what it feels like to really suffer. There’s a whole story about that and about why TGWO was so difficult (again future blogs) but let’s just say for now that no making great albums is not Afghanistan, but it is very hard.

In the past how difficult an album is to make seems to have been in direct proportion to how good it ends up being. I reckon by our own standards we have done a couple of great albums. The Good Will Out and Out Of Nothing, and they were both by far the hardest.

So now I’m enjoying it does that mean the new album’s not going to be any good?

Well no… and I’ll tell you why.

I’m enjoying it because for the first time I’ve accepted that making a great album isn’t easy, in fact I’ll go further and say that if it’s going to be the best then it’s probably going to have to be the hardest and we have to take our time. Again the first and fourth albums were the longest journeys.

But it’s hard for all the right reasons, not because we’ve got rich and bloated and all live on islands with crack habits. No it’s because writing great songs is really really difficult and most who are lucky enough to manage it find it almost impossible to keep up. You would think experience would make you better but it doesn’t. As you write more and more songs a number of things happen. First of these is that you start to get so familiar with the instrument that you are writing on that it stops surprising you, which in turn means you stop feeling inspired. Secondly as your backlog of unused ideas builds up you can start to let the good get in the way of the great. For the first album we had probably 15 good songs to pick from, for the fourth album we had about 400. 390 of them were just good, and good just isn’t good enough. Thirdly when your last album did really well and everyone wants you to do it again and quick, you can start putting time pressure on yourself which is hardly ever good.

To our credit we’ve only fallen for that once and we felt so bad about it that we haven’t played a note or said a word in public for five years. We stopped the runaway train that was speeding out of control and now here we are back to doing what we feel sets us apart again, the thing that’s kept us going all this time.

And we’ve gotten a lot lot better.

Noticeably so. The time away has meant we’ve had time to evolve. We’ve worked with some amazing people over the years and all their experience has rubbed off on us. If you look on the sleeves it only tells half the story. We’ve worked with pretty much everybody over the years. And the five of us have been together with exactly the same line up since the start and we are closer now than ever. There’s a chemistry between us that I never really saw before. The people who work with us, the record companies and producers always used to go on about it, about how we are a gang a real band in the truest sense of the word… but when you’re a part of it it’s hard to see. It’s a bit like when you’re a kid growing up and some aunt you haven’t seen for a while says wow haven’t you grown, but you don’t really notice as you see yourself everyday. Well being away from it has enabled us to see it for the first time, and to use it. On a practical level this means that in the studio I shut the fuck up a lot of the time. I’m good on the seeds and the soul, but when it come to the way things end up Richard Mac is king.

Like I said at the start I’m not motivated by money, fame or power but what I do want is for all the work, all the belief, all the promises we’ve made over the last 15 years to finally be met with the most blindingly unquestionable piece of work we’ve ever created. We’ve been written off as a band so many times our obituary is becoming dog-eared. Well put it away again. The five of us are in the process of making our best album… A watershed. A landmark album of fearless melody and fearless music.

When will it be out…. WHEN IT’S READY!!!!