Photo credit- Jacques Schutte
South African rock group The Amblers discuss their new album, what drew them to the gritty and raw sound they are known for and what’s next for the band
By Emily May
The South African folksy, blues rock duo The Amblers are receiving critical praise from worldwide music media with the release of their new album Ratty Old Mo’. Hailing from Johannesburg and comprised of guitarist and vocalist Justin Swart and drummer Jason Hinch, the band has drawn comparisons to Jack White, The Black Keys and The Raconteurs whom they also count as influences. They play with a raw, gritty style that features huge drum sounds and vintage guitar tones that have earned them a following within the vibrant and diverse South African music scene. Having released their first body of work together last year, a 4 track EP entitled The Dustling Man, the band immediately entered the studio to record their new album and have kept their momentum going! With plans to release more music next year and tour as much as possible, it will be exciting to see what the future holds for this talented duo! Staff writer Emily May spoke recently by email with Justin Swart about the new album, their raw and gritty sound and what’s next for the band. You can stay up-to-date with the band and all upcoming music and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their music via the following links! You can also check out the track “Codeine Blues” from the new album below!
iTunes/Apple Music- https://itunes.apple.
Your new album Ratty Old Mo’ was recently released! You mentioned not using any samples in the production of the album-what you hear is what was played. Why was it important to you to record your album in that way?
Hey Emily, firstly it’s such a pleasure to meet you. We are proud of producing the album in this way. In today’s modern age of producing music, the reality of being able to capture the kind of sound you are looking for is so difficult. The use of samples is so prevalent for this reason. We are happy that we didn’t have to do that. We have no issue with the use of samples and are certainly not criticising musicians and producers for making use of them when necessary. The Amblers is about the moment, staying true to that concept is important for us in the recording of our music too.
An important factor for you, as a band, is to capture a moment in time through your songs, thus recording each song as a single take. What inspired this approach to recording for you?
We are pretty old souls, this feels real to us. We have to push ourselves harder, hone our craft. If we could go back every time there was a mistake, which we could do, would we be being honest with ourselves? As artists. Also, letting mistakes be mistakes is an important part of life. Learning from them is what’s important. It makes what we release to the world a true reflection of who we are as The Amblers in a very specific moment of time in our lives. To me, that’s pretty special.
Your music has a folksy, bluesy vibe to it and has been compared to Jack White and The Raconteurs, whom you count as influences. What do you think drew you to the gritty, raw sound that you are known for? Who would you count as some of your other musical influences and who are some of your favorite South African bands/musicians at the moment?
This kind of folk and rock and roll makes me feel so much. I think that’s the real deciding factor. So when I write and express myself it naturally moves in this raw, gritty and electric direction. I personally am influenced therefore by musicians who express themselves in a similar way, with a similar simplicity. That’s why the older ways of approaching especially recording music drew me. I can relate to it, it resonates with me. So pretty much all the bands that approach music in this way influence me; The Rolling Stones, Jack White (and all his various projects), The Black Keys, Elvis, The Cramps; I could go on and on and on. I love music. If it’s good it’s good. If it makes me feel and connect more deeply with myself, that’s what I’m looking for. It’s not based on a genre for me. I therefore have so many influences.
You released your first body of work together, “The Dustling Man”, before hitting the studio to record your album. What made you decide to release the EP ahead of Ratty Old Mo’ rather than including the songs on there? How do you feel the two compare?
We tracked and released The Dustling Man in 2017. We chose to let it stay in that box, instead of wait and include it in Ratty Old Mo’. Although similar, the two are distinctly different. We were also different. Combining the two was never even an idea. They are two entirely separate bodies. They speak too differently.
You recently held a contest for which the winner would receive a limited edition The Amblers skateboard deck by Project Skateboards! How did you come to partner with them for the contest? How did the idea behind the sugar skull artwork design come about and how did you come to partner with LEMONMLK for the illustration/artwork? Do you guys skate?
Justin Boast, the owner and founder of Project Skateboards was a school friend. We live in different parts of the country now though. When the concept of the skateboards came to life, he was the only option. Sugar skulls are cool! Who wouldn’t want to be transformed into one. Period. Jason’s fiancé happens to be to be one of the owners of LEMONMLK Design. She is a very talented illustrator. I skated a lot when I was a teenager.
You have mentioned that music and creativity are most likely the last true voice of the human spirit. Do you feel that a lot of bands these days get caught up in the trappings of popularity, record sales and/or fame, which you have said can utterly damage your ability to be creative? What do feel drives your creativity as a band?
Yes, I really do. The world we live in today has such an acute focus on being popular and utterly accepted. In order to achieve this, authenticity as an individual has to go out the window. You have to do things you don’t want to, in order to fit in. This means that you become a follower, dictated to by the ebb and flow of pop culture, trends and the opinions of your chosen peers. No wonder depression and low self-image are so rampant in today’s society. I think that every person is born to be creative, I don’t think it needs to be driven. I think it needs to be protected. We express ourselves musically. Its as simple as that.
You are the co-founder of Elaion, which offers Addiction Recovery Therapy to people fighting various addictions. You battled heroin addiction over the course of many years and are now clean. Was helping others overcome their own addictions a goal for you once you got clean and do you feel that helping them has helped you to stay clean? What is the most rewarding and challenging part of your work with people with addictions? Do you feel that music has been a form of therapy for you, as well?
I struggled with heroin addiction for most of my young life. I managed, with a lot of help, to face my demons, get clean and stay clean. Elaion and my affection for people struggling with addiction is just a response to that. It can’t be done alone. People need support and help to figure out what is going on in their lives. Also, we don’t always know what’s best for us. We need others to help us gain some necessary perspective and truth so that we can realize that which is in our hearts. It’s a change service. Music has always been therapeutic for me, and creating is therapeutic for anyone.
You also record and mix songs/albums and recorded and mixed The Amblers new album! Did you always have an interest in that side of the industry, as well? You are the founder of Olive Productions, which offers audio composition, instrument sales and mix engineering. How busy do you stay working with other bands/artists?
Audio and music has always been my greatest passion. I do whatever I can that has anything to do with it. I also make a living in any way I can that relates to it. My whole family is involved in music in some way. It’s a thing. I’m pretty busy with other musicians. I have the privilege of working with so many amazing people. Although, it’s now mostly in the mixing and post production arena.
How challenging is it to schedule time for the band with the both of you involved with so many other projects?
It hasn’t been that challenging at all. You always find a way!
What’s next for you guys? What goals do you have going forward?
We intend to release more music mid-2019, as well as to tour as extensively as we can.