Ampline’s latest offering and debut for Phratry Records, You Will Be Buried Here, features the band’s signature instrumental elements: Mike Montgomery’s shreddingly supple guitar work, Kevin Schmidt’s thunderous bass runs and Rick McCarty’s hammer-of-the-gods drumming. But there’s something else on Buried that is significantly less common in the Cincinnati-based trio’s previous catalog, namely lyrics to accompany the band’s instrumental passages.
“At certain points, I remember saying, ‘Wait a minute, that almost sounds like a verse and a chorus. We don’t want to do that, do we?’ ” Montgomery says over beers in his Candyland studio control room. “But for us, it was opening the door. Why can’t we write a straightforward song? It could be 30 seconds, or it could be a three-minute Pop song.”
As the members chipped away at the songs that would comprise their follow-up to 2006’s Rosary, their ideas about how to record began to evolve as well.
“Originally, it was going to be a totally live album, whatever it was in the room,” Montgomery says. “Then, as we started listening to it, Kevin had this idea for this concept album. One set kind of came into play and we decided there would have to be more of a vocal presence. How do you steer someone’s thoughts if there aren’t words and it’s totally freeform?”
Schmidt’s concept was triggered by a picture of a coal miner with a canary, the age-old method for detecting poison gases in a mineshaft. Schmidt saw enough parallels between the canary and man’s modern predicaments to apply the idea to the songs they were writing.
“Here’s man, doing some ravaging act to the earth, made necessary through industrial achievements, and here we are taking a pretty specimen of nature hundreds of meters underground where it never belonged to be a warning beacon, and you could just as easily put man in that cage,” Schmidt explains.
“That lent itself to concepts of man and his role in industry and nature and how … theology play(s) into that. I don’t want to sound like a sophomore philosophy major, but when you travel in a van across the country, that’s what you talk about.”
In addition, the process of putting actual words to Ampline’s musical ideas was organic. They recognized certain rhythms and structures in their songs as being appropriate vehicles for lyrical expansion.
“We would want this feel or this kind of tune, but we never really said, ‘Let’s put some words to it,’ ” McCarty says.
“We’ve talked about it before, how infinite you can make your music once you start making instrumental music,” Montgomery says. “At the same time, as we were playing — and I started feeling it more than them, I think at first — as wide open as it was, it was still confining. So it was like, ‘Fuck that, why do we have to do that?’ It’s Punk Rock, let’s do whatever we want to do and not adhere to it just because somebody thinks, ‘This is an instrumental band and this is what they’re going to do.’ Why not do whatever the hell we want to do?”
Still another unexpected component was added when Cameron Cochran (The Sheds, Pop Empire), who was helping out in the studio, provided piano and backing vocals on a few songs. But clearly the biggest departure for Ampline was the lyrical component, even though they had always maintained that they wouldn’t be dogmatic about being an instrumental band.
“The thing that always interested me about playing in this band is that whatever we try to do, we don’t have to explain,” McCarty says. “If it’s having words, that’s cool. If it’s 35 seconds and it matters, cool. If it’s nine minutes and it needs to be nine minutes, cool.”
“Bands are costumes, like KISS, but it applies to new Rockabilly bands or Emo bands or Punk bands, too,” Schmidt says. “It’s probably part of the reason it’s been hard for us as a band, because we don’t do that. I think we enjoy the upstream swim.”
And upstream they will continue to move. Four years ago, on the eve of the release of Rosary, Montgomery said, “When we've something to say, we’ll say it.” With You Will Be Buried Here, Ampline finally has something to say.
AMPLINE (www.ampline.net) celebrates its new release Saturday at the Southgate House with State Song, The Dopamines, The Frankl Project and many others. Go here for show details.