Midnight Ambulance on holding ‘a skewed mirror to the past’
“We focus on an honest narrative and build quite a dark environment around that to (hopefully) bring the listener into the world that’s in our heads…”Amelia Stokes, Midnight Ambulance
As many musicians know, writing a memorable melody is one thing; creating a rich conceptual world is quite another. Formed a mere two years ago, Scottish alt-rock band Midnight Ambulance appear to be mastering both skills all before the release of an EP.
The Scottish rock scene has produced no shortage of alt-rock talent over the last forty years: Primal Scream, Mogwai, Biffy Clyro and Twin Atlantic to name a few. Midnight Ambulance have landed on the scene with three striking singles to date: “Black Gloves”, “5 AM” and “Rust” (2021). Invoking the formation of The White Stripes, Amelia Stokes (vocals/drums) sings with an ominous softness as Fraser Fulton (guitar) counters with incisive riffs and clipped twang, denoting the precision of their songwriting and imagination. Suave yet haunting, each single teems with tension whilst conceptual lyrics ground their narratives in truth; seclusion, rumination, and the doomed relationships that many reckoned with throughout the pandemic.
Established a mere two years ago, the band demonstrate a readiness to explore sounds outside of alt-rock, releasing remixes for “5 AM” and “Rust”. Passmore reimagines “5 AM” as a hazy dance number; synth chords and an altered chorus melody tease at seduction.
Dramatic hesitations stretch the pacy “Rust” as Scott Bathgate creates a trap-inspired beat for the second chorus of “Rust”, culminating in a momentous breakdown reminiscent of a BANKS track.
Animating the artwork of Ritchie Collins, the official music videos for “5 AM”, “Rust” and “Black Gloves” situate the relationship between the individual and the cityscape as a uniting theme. Released on January 21st 2022, the “5 AM (Acoustic Version)” video references two of the most infamous kisses in art history (Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss; Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss).
Supporting the likes of Fatherson, The Pigeon Detectives, Posable Action Figures and swim school in late 2021 with vigorous live sets, Midnight Ambulance also performed for the award-winning Scotsman Sessions in September 2021. Catching the attention of mainstream music media, the duo earned a spot on Apple Music’s ‘New In Rock’ playlist, Vic Galloway’s show on BBC Radio Scotland, and Tom Robinson’s BBC Introducing Mixtape for BBC 6 Music. Forming a band at the beginning of a global pandemic is no mean feat. However, Amelia and Fraser combine candid narratives with poised performances to produce a cinematic alt-rock sound – one which could take Midnight Ambulance in endlessly intriguing directions.
Amelia and Fraser, welcome to IAMUR! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. Your Spotify bio reveals that you two met many years ago but fell out of touch. When you reunited in early 2020, what inspired you to form Midnight Ambulance and create music together?
We had discussed collaborating at the start of the year, but it was only until everything shut down in March that we had the time to begin writing. We didn’t have a goal or master plan in mind, but quickly discovered we really loved writing together and liked the sort of sounds and ideas we were coming out with. When I (Amelia) came back to Scotland (I was then based in Paris) we had the chance to jam in the same room and decided to form Midnight Ambulance.
With Amelia on drums and vocals, and Fraser on guitar and vocals too, do you find that writing with fewer band members than the typical four-piece allows for a clearer focus? Or are there different kinds of hurdles to overcome in a two-person alt-rock band?
I think we both like the space writing with just two people gives. Luckily our brains work in similar ways so we can often understand each other while also bringing a different perspective. We like similar styles of music so we tend to be on the same wavelength, though when writing we usually focus on different areas in the song. Sometimes we approach things in a different way, which can help inspire new ideas whilst staying within the same style or mood.
Working together remotely at the height of the pandemic, as well as filming the unofficial videos for “Black Gloves” and “Rust”, speaks volumes about your determination as a band. I’d be interested to learn more about your experience as a “lockdown band” – have you found distance to be a help or a hindrance during these formative two years?
Writing remotely was a new experience for us both. It definitely brought some difficulties (video call lagging makes it preeetty impossible to jam live) but it also made us write in new ways and be a bit creative when collaborating. Sometimes we’d record rough ideas and send them across so the other person could have their spin on it. In this case, we weren’t immediately influencing each other, so songs were taken down routes we might not otherwise have done together, pushing each other out of our comfort zones.
As you’ve crafted the band’s identity these past two years, could you name any particular artists who have inspired your sound? Or was the Midnight Ambulance style present from the get-go?
So many amazing artists to choose from! Some of our influences are The White Stripes, Sylvan Esso, Lorde, Billie Eilish, Gang of Youths, Phoebe Bridgers (to name a few!). I think we take different inspiration from each of these artists, but mainly the honesty in the lyrics and the gorgeous melodies.
As for our own style… that’s tricky! I’d say we focus on an honest narrative and build quite a dark environment around that to (hopefully) bring the listener into the world that’s in our heads…
The Scottish alt-rock scene has steadily produced solid musical acts over the past few decades, yourselves now among them. I’ve recently enjoyed the emergence of Man of Moon and swim school, who are also young bands. Who else should we listen out for in the Scottish alt-rock scene?
Definitely check out Bonnie Kemplay, Zoe Graham, Stina Marie Claire and Posable Action Figures.
“Black Gloves”, “Rust” and “5 AM” each have a brilliant sense of foreboding and urgency. I was wondering if you could talk about the source of your lyrical subject matter?
All of these songs were inspired by our experiences during lockdown.
“Black Gloves” was written as the strain of isolation began to take its toll. The song deals with the effect of lockdown on relationships and the conflicting feeling of dependency and isolation among friends and family.”
“5 AM” describes how lockdown life acted as a skewed mirror to the past, casting up old memories, both good and bad.
“Rust” describes the difficulties of being trapped in a failing relationship. The song explores parallels in the feelings of isolation and claustrophobia experienced both in lockdown and in destructive partnerships.
Your official music videos for the three released singles feature some amazing artwork and animation, which is not often seen in many music videos nowadays. What led you to choose such a unique format for these videos, and how did you bond the storytelling to the songs?
As well as music, we both share a love of art. One of our favourite Scottish artists, Ritchie Collins, was generous enough to allow us to use his amazing work. We decided we wanted to create a world that was unique to Midnight Ambulance that combined this art with the darker music. Each of the songs is based on quite a firm narrative, so we wanted the videos to explore the themes in a deeper way or from a unique perspective.
Scott Bathgate’s remix of “Rust” and the Passmore (Dave Oscillation) “5 AM” remix venture into alternative pop and electropop territory. Are there any particular subgenres you would like to experiment with in future releases?
We had a great time with these remixes. Scott and Dave are really talented. I think we’re pretty open to future collaborations!
Midnight Ambulance sure know how to make a spellbinding music video:
Which other artists do you think could collaborate with Midnight Ambulance?
Do you think Lorde is free?
In the summer of 2021, an article for The Scottish Sun reported that you have an astonishing 70 songs ready and waiting to be recorded. And so, I have to ask what’s next in store for the band: studio days, live performances, or a “Black Gloves remix”, perhaps?
Last year we were lucky enough to be selected by HMUK for funding which has allowed us to get some more exciting projects underway. News coming soon!
As for shows, we had an amazing time touring last year finishing with a sold-out show supporting Fatherson, so we are eager to get back on stage! (Covid depending of course…)
For readers who may not have seen you perform live, what can listeners expect from a Midnight Ambulance gig?
Noise! We love playing live and have spent a lot of time working on our live show. We play as a three-piece (with our good pal Drew Gray on keys, backing vocals and weird sounds) and we love loud amps, big drums, bright lights and lots of smoke.
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