The Amazing stay just out of focus. On their fifth album, In Transit, they once again perform the unlikely trick of making music that is both dreamlike, drifting across the consciousness, as well as perfectly constructed. While In Transit shares the sense of mood of many of singer and founder Christoffer Gunrup’s favourite bands – the Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Flaming Lips – it never drifts away into self-indulgence. At the heart of it all, beneath the washes of guitar, the woozy reveries, are sturdy, intensely melodic songs. You hear that from the very start of the album, when Pull slides into view, slide guitar casting shapes and shadows across the arpeggios beneath, while lightly jazzy drums propel the song forward and Gunrup mournfully whispers his barely audible lyrics, before the song ascends into a refrain that sounds like every emotion combined.
That combination of melody and mood comes from the way the songs are made, and the interaction between Gunrup and his fellow members, Reine Fiske (also of Dungen, guitar), Moussa Fadera (drums), Alexis Benson (bass), and Frederik Swahn (keyboards and guitars). Gunrup writes alone, in what he calls “a very disgusting process. It’s just me in my underwear on my couch.” He emerges with a complete song – “the intros, the outros, the melodies, all the chords” – which he takes to the band, imagining they will play it just as he imagined. Except they never do. “They can feel rather than hear what needs to be done,” Gunrup says. “They do pretty much what they please.”
Yet In Transit does not sound self-indulgent. Gunrup’s songs are the very heart of In Transit, and the musicians’ playing always serves them, rather than overwhelming them. On For No One, you can hear the subtlety of their interaction, which is not what one might expect to say of a song in which whistling feedback provides the core of its climax – it’s only at the end you realise how cleverly it has transformed from what begins as fingerpicked near-folk into something very different.
As one might expect, Fiske’s guitars are at the heart of The Amazing: gorgeous tones and textures, sometimes fed through layers of distortion, sometimes kept clear and clean, to convey melody in the most direct way. “He has a sound and a way of playing that not many guitarists do – he’s all about emotion, which is great,” Gunrup says. Benson se Convirtio Completamente Furiosa, just short of 10 minutes long, Fiske displays the full range of his talents. It’s an extraordinary song, beginning with Gunrup’s voice, a lazy sigh, telling of “being caught up in a deadly boring place”, over a gorgeous, circular guitar pattern for two-and-a-half minutes, before hypnotic, swirling instrumental section built on a melancholy arpeggio takes up another two-and-a-half minutes. Gunrup’s voice returns, a little more urgent. Then the song apparently stops – only to return with Fiske playing a furious, squalling solo, a shriek of rage and despair. For the other side, listen to Rewind, a song so simple and gorgeous it sounds as though it has existed forever, in which the playing is resolutely unshowy, yet devastatingly emotive, with one simple hook – a single high note repeated in each phrase – that proves the power of well-deployed restraint.
It doesn’t come as any surprise to learn that Fiske is obsessional about his equipment. A few years back, The Amazing’s practice space was robbed, and their equipment stolen, all bar Fiske’s Stratocaster. “Afterwards we went for a beer,” Gunrup says. “We sat there in silence and felt blue. But the person who was most upset was Reine. He was so much more upset than us, he said, because what would have happened if they had taken my guitar? He couldn’t even comprehend what would have happened to him.”
But there’s so much more to The Amazing than guitar histrionics. “The drummer comes from a jazz background, so he doesn’t do what is expected, which I love.” A mention of Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward having the same background, and adding the same swing sets Gunrup off excitedly talking about a film of an early Sabbath live show. He identifies the common thread between Ward and Fadera: “Someone else would do something you had heard a thousand times before, but he won’t.”
Maybe that freewheeling element is what causes Gunrup to name “playful” as the adjective he most associates with the music of The Amazing, rather than the more obvious “melancholy”. “That’s something I feel, but maybe it doesn’t come across in the records at all. But playful – and, I don’t know, I guess it could sound a bit blue occasionally, when the vocals are there. That to me is what makes it fun to play.”
On In Transit, Gunrup’s voice is mixed a little higher than before. Snatches of lyrics gain clarity, drifting across the music like clouds. Yet you wouldn’t say he had been placed front and centre, and that suits him. “Lyrics are important to me,” he says. “But I am extremely uninterested in coming across lyrically. That is nobody’s business. If people enjoy the way the vocals interact with the music, that’s good. If not, I don’t care.” Much of his favourite music shares the quality of the vocal being a texture rather than conveying a message, he says. “If you listen to Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, I can make out maybe 11 words in one song, but I love that album more than any album ever made.
“If there are words I don’t hear, I can decide for myself what they’re saying and I like that. With 99.9% of all music made in this world the lyrics are, oh, so fucking dumb and boring and stupid. There’s no point in me adding to that stupidity. They are important to me, but you can decide for yourself.”
Work on In Transit began as soon as The Amazing’s last album, Ambulance, was finished. That’s when Gunrup began writing the 11 songs – stretching over 71 minutes – that make up the new record. He wrote quickly, then took them to the band, who recorded them piecemeal in (Fredrik) Swahn’s studio in Stockholm. “We started pretty soon after the last album was released, and did bits and pieces here and there,” Gunrup says. “It’s been forever.”
While The Amazing aren’t the kind of band who insist every album has to sound radically different from the one before. They change incrementally, adjusting and refining their sound rather than revolutionising it. Changes Gunrup had thought were dramatic – like the greater use of chorus pedals and organ on their third album, Picture You – turned out to be minor. This time, the development from Ambulance is a slightly fuller sound. “The last album was just basic tracks and vocals and that was pretty much it.” He ponders for a moment. “I was convinced the last album was better because the songs were better. But now it’s the other way round. This has got more stuff on it: more vocals, more overdubs.”
For all Gunrup’s self-deprecation, for all his unwillingness to reveal secrets and his desire to talk down his desire to deflect attention from himself, The Amazing is something he needs to do: it’s his purpose. He laughs and says that without music, “I maybe would not have killed myself, but I would have been even more boring than I am” – but he is compelled to make music, incredible music, which is why he never stops writing songs. And then he connects with the other four members to create something extraordinary. It’s about that combination, those people, playing those instruments.
“That is the essence of it, so when we all connect in a song it’s pretty nice to be in that room. That’s therapy. I pretty much see everything we do – being on my couch, the recording process – as this therapeutic thing. I don’t necessarily think we go into the studio to do this, this and this, I just want to be with those four guys and play.”