INTERVIEW: Armstrong on their new single, Bear
Armstrong are a 3-piece, independent band from the south east of England. Their anthemic indie rock is infused with emotionally driven lyrics, catchy pop melodies and a driving rhythm section to create their unique wall of sound. Tom Leadbetter (vocals/guitar) and Will Collins (bass/guitar/keys), have been playing together since they were 8 years old, but it wasn't until they met drummer Ollie that they began to develop their sound, eventually emerging as Armstrong in 2018. In September 2019 they released their debut EP Glendale, audibly inspired by Catfish and the Bottlemen.
Since forming, Armstrong have had multiple BBC Introducing plays on top of frequent festival slots and headline gigs across the country. Right before lockdown in March 2020 they embarked on a UK tour, and during the pandemic they kept together by doing distanced sessions in Ollie's driveway.
Their new single, Bear, drives the band way past the Glendale EP and straight into the future of their own distinct sound - and we love it. Elevated by an atmospheric soundscape and bejewelled with sweet sax and silky layered vocals, it dives deep with meaningful lyrics. We spoke to the boys to find out more about the release:
Courtney: Can you introduce us to the band - who you are and what you're about? Armstrong: Basically, we're 3 best mates - Tom’s main passion is songwriting, Will is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and is big on music theory and arrangement, and Ollie will soon be starting his PhD in drumming.
We've done over 100 performances since April 2018, including festivals, busking, radio, jam nights and open mics. We also embarked on a short-lived tour, including dates in London and Sheffield. However, this was in March 2020, and for obvious reasons we had to cancel the rest of the dates.
The name ‘Armstrong’ came to us after a load of shockingly bad band names, so we decided to pick the first word we saw while flicking through a drum magazine - we happened to land on drummer Bob Armstrong. So we're named after a guy called Bob. How would you describe your sound? In terms of songwriting Tom takes great lyrical influence from Bon Iver – most of our songs start with a few lines of melody accompanied by acoustic guitar or a riff, and then we workshop with the full band. Our debut EP Glendale has clear Catfish and the Bottlemen influences in terms of arrangement and melody, but between releases we have developed our sound further, with influence coming from Sam Fender, Bruce Springsteen and Foo Fighters. How have you found the pandemic? Was it a creative help or hindrance? COVID has been interesting. Obviously, no gigs which sucks. We had big plans for 2020 in terms of supports and venues we’ve always wanted to play - however it has given us a chance to look at ourselves, our 'brand' and focus on what needs improvement. Our social media had a shakeup – more interesting content, including our driveway sessions which originally came from us surprising Ollie for his birthday in his driveway in April 2020. Then we thought – why can’t we just rehearse like this? From these sessions we developed Manhattan (Elissa’s Song) which we released in November. It's a different style from our ‘usual’ sound but felt we needed something different for 2020. Tell us about Bear - what's the story behind the track, and do you think this is more aligned with your future releases? Whilst our drummer Ollie was studying music in the USA in late 2019, Tom and Will had the chance to sit down and develop ideas acoustically. Bear was one of these - first we came up with the riff that's present throughout the song. We wanted to step away from the sound of our first EP and Tom suggested adding in some saxophone to mix things up. The track ended up containing about 9 layers of saxophone, all recorded by our friend Thomas Fletcher - this immediately separated it from Glendale. Bear is definitely more the direction we want to take our sound.
It's also more aligned with where we wanna go lyrically - with more weight to the lyrics. Bear is actually about a lifelong friendship between Tom's dad and his closest friend, who was sadly diagnosed with leukaemia. It's written all from his dad’s perspective, from finding out about Bear’s illness to reminiscing about their youth together, and now doing and giving everything he can to keep his friend around - even giving him his bone marrow, hence the lyric “take all you need to keep on, ‘cause I need you more than my bones”. Bear is of course about Tom's dad and Bear’s relationship, but it’s really about any friendship or relationship with someone you'd do just about anything for.
Review and interview by Courtney Myers
Photography by Paul Norford