THE AMAZONS: ‘Go on YouTube, get yourself a Rice Krispies advert and write some of the best solos of your life’ 

By Dennis Minter

20 May 2024

It’s hard enough to make a music career when you’re in creative hotbeds like London or Manchester, let alone a commuter town like Reading. The Amazons‘ Chris Alderton talks how you can make it as a young artist, band beef and setting fire to his own tour van.

Reading in 2014 was not a place you could call inspirational. In honesty you wouldn’t call it much more than dreary today. With centralised transport links, a shopping mall, and a street nicknamed ‘Smelly Alley’ being the town’s main attractions, it was a home for people whose dreams lived elsewhere.

For 20 year old Chris Alderton though, Reading did hold a dream.

In the Rising Sun arts centre, hidden away from the overcast September afternoon, he took to the stage. 

Standing alongside two school friends and a man he’d met in a pub just a few months before, he was about to play his first gig as part of a new band: The Amazons. It was the most important of his career. 

It was terrible. 

Lead singer Matt Thomson broke his guitar strings on two separate occasions, and after some awkward pauses and shuffling, the quartet thrashed out their early work to the few in the building that cared to listen. For Chris, it didn’t matter who was listening.

“You just need to start, that is the most important thing.” 

“I think it’s really easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself to try and come up with something that is like ‘no one else has heard anything like this’ and actually it doesn’t really matter, you just need to start.

“A lot of punk artists don’t even know how to play, so you don’t need to necessarily know how to play to start making music. You just need an idea, the more original the better.”

With this ethos, The Amazons have performed far bigger gigs than the Rising Sun in the last 9 years. Coming off the back of a North American tour and playing Reading Festival’s main stage last year, Alderton is no punk amateur. 

“I think that a huge part of learning and pushing yourself into new territory is just mastering your instrument, your craft. 

“That’s probably something that almost all of us in the band regret not doing and are sort of still working on now.

“If I’m by myself, because I think it’s quite annoying, I’ll sit and watch TV and just have my electric guitar on my lap and I’ll just be playing it.

“If a piece of music starts playing in the film, I’ll just play along. Either play along to the melody that’s on TV or just do like a little solo over like a Rice Krispies advert.

“That’s the key, the Rice Krispies advert. Go on Youtube, get yourself a Rice Krispies compilation and write some of the best solos of your life.”

Despite all three of their cereal inspired albums reaching the UK charts’ top 10, and sophomore record Future Dust peaking at 4th in album sales, money is just as tight as when they started. The Musicians Union reported in 2023 that nearly half of all professional musicians make less than £14,000 a year.

“A lot of people think that even at a level like ours there’s a load of money in it but there just really isn’t. 

“We’re currently sort of learning how to really make it work and it’s something we’re really working on simply because we have to.

“I wanna say spend wisely but you just don’t have anything to spend in the first place. I think it’s manage your expectations.

READ MORE: Chris Alderton’s top gear picks

“It can be done, it definitely can be done. Bands like Black Honey are fantastic at doing it and really it’s having a strong visual identity that people can connect with and then being able to sell merch. That’s how to make most of your money.”

Inspiration for merchandise can be hard to come by, but this is truly an area the Amazons set the world, or more accurately their van, alight. 

Thanks to an idea from Matthew Goff, the band’s art director who they first met because of his skate park videos, The Amazons found great publicity in the destruction of their tour van, Big Suze, for the cover of their debut album. 

Wanting to do ‘something stupid we definitely wouldn’t be allowed to do’, the burning van backdropped by a Reading street represented an escape from suburbia. Big Suze was The Amazons, and just like their van, they burned bright in dull surroundings.

“I mean Big Suze, she took us around the UK for three years. The amount of miles we put on the clock was twice around the equator of the Earth and we only did that in the UK.

“We unexpectedly got a BBC article written about that and we were getting hate from people. Like ‘How dare you burn something like that? How many bands need a van and you just threw it away’.

“You know it’s going well when people are sending you hate mail. Because the worst thing is you do something like that or you release an album with substandard artwork and you just get nothing. You don’t get good or bad, just nothing.”

The Amazons’ Big Suze goes up in flames

READ MORE: Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album photographer on how to make a good album cover

Burning vans isn’t the only way to get people to listen to your music, and when Sundara Karma, another Reading band (who’s biggest hit is appropriately called ‘Flame’), started gaining popularity, an opportunity for bigger fireworks arose.

“We were kind of bunny-hopping each other so every time they got an opportunity that we wanted, we’d be like fuck like why are they getting this. 

“I think something I would have actually quite liked to have happened with Sundara Karma is band beef. 

“Band beef is hot shit. You obviously don’t want to force it but if you naturally find a band that are stepping on your toes and getting on your nerves just fucking talk to the press about it. Just make it a thing because it’s drama and people love drama.”

Fortunately, no-one in either band fancied themselves as the next Liam Gallagher, and with Reading’s answer to the Battle of Britpop avoided, they remained good friends.

“We would play gigs together and if we weren’t on the same bill we would just go to the shows anyway and support each other.”

Staying true to Reading has been a big part of the band’s identity, and when it came to signing for a label, their hometown provided the guidance they needed.

“We decided that if we were going to do this we needed to make sure that the people getting involved with the band were serious about it. 

“Our way of filtering people out was that we were based in Reading, and the majority of people would be like ‘Oh when are you next playing London? We’ll come down and see you’ 

“We said to everyone ‘If you would like to come and see us we’re playing at the Purple Turtle in Reading’

“We played there four times in one month and we used that as our own showcase.

“It meant that anyone who could be bothered to come out to Reading and see us play were pretty serious about it and we didn’t end up wasting our time.” 

READ MORE: How to become your own manager – is it possible?

It’s not just the music community that has aided The Amazon’s rise to fame. A surprise collaboration with Reading FC has given them an unexpected fanbase, with the band even helping to launch the club’s Purple Turtle inspired third kit last year.

“I don’t really know how it happened but Black Magic ended up being the song the players walked out to at the beginning of the game, so as soon as we heard that we all bought tickets to the next game so we could see it. 

“Working with Reading FC is just a sure fire way of getting people’s faces. I really just see it as a bit of a win-win. It’s such an open goal.”

Always looking for innovative ways to expand their community, Twitch streaming has also provided a unique opportunity for the band. 

Streaming video games such as Cuphead and The Forest, the ZonsTV channel has opened a new platform for Chris and bassist Elliot Briggs to express themselves and interact with fans.

“What ZonsTV ended up being was a really nice, safe community for me and Elliot to come out of our shells a little bit. 

“It’s definitely untapped. I only know a few other artists that do it in the UK. I think everyone should have a go because I think it could be a great way forward for a lot of new musicians.

“It’s such a great way to connect with people. We love doing it. We really get nothing from it, it’s just we just love doing it. It’s so much fun.” 

This year marks the 10th anniversary of their first gig, and with a range of communities and unusual tactics behind them, it’s unsurprising to see that The Amazons have come so far. Built on a foundation of stunts, Rice Krispies and football fans, their past can be a springboard into an undoubtedly unconventional future. But no matter how far they go, they are living proof that dreams do live in Reading.

READ MORE: Harnessing social media to boost your following

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