An Interview with Mickey Dale of Embrace
By Victoria Holdsworth
Mickey Dale (pictured above, centre), keyboardist and one fifth of one of Yorkshire’s finest and most enduring bands, Embrace, talks about the band’s return, nailing that ‘classic’ sound, mental health issues, the joys and perils of the festival circuit and playing a gig with the guitar unplugged…
Good to have you back, after what seems like a hiatus and a half. How have you all been?
Awe, thank you! Everybody is good thanks. Since the last album came out, a lot of things have been going on. Danny went globetrotting with his new wife, everything and everyone has just been really busy. We kind of reconvened and we did Bingley Music Live Festival and there was a car waiting for Danny as soon as he walked off stage, to take him off to the airport and he said: “Right that’s it, I’ll see you all in about a year.” I thought: “Oh my god he’s really doing this” – and it felt really strange.
Then he came back early and said that he was done with travelling, and I’ve had an amazing time, let’s do some music. I think he’s a bit of a home bird really, like myself. As much as he enjoyed it, he was glad to get back. Then we pretty much started work on the new album. It came together beautifully really. It was the most relaxed and enjoyable Embrace album in history. We got on really well, the songs were flowing naturally, and we just stopped overthinking everything. We thought, let’s just see what happens and let the music come from us, let’s see what comes out of our fingers and our minds.
“We never wanna stand still”
Danny said that the new album, Love Is A Basic Need, had to stand up against the best songs you’ve ever written. Which are your favourites?
I think that ‘Never’ is a gem on the new album. It’s like a big, bold, classic Embrace song, but for the first time ever, we’ve done a duet. I suppose when you are on your seventh album, you’re allowed to do a duet, aren’t ya? So we got Kerri Watt involved, who is somebody that Rick, our guitar player had been working with when she booked into the studio, and he produced her. And she had some good Radio 2 success with some of her singles. So when we decided that this song of Danny’s was going to be a duet, she was the obvious choice really – and she really nailed it! There is another song on the album that I absolutely adore, which is called ‘All That Remains,’ and if someone was to say to me, play me a new Embrace song, one that is a classic Embrace song, that for me would be the obvious choice.
I was just about to say that, this album has been hailed as a return to classic Embrace. So is that Embrace song the one you feel most encapsulates you as a band? Or would it be one of your other songs?
I think it is, yeah. It feels like it’s got the Embrace hallmark on it, so to speak. There are signature things happening all the way throughout it, but it feels like I think we have done it better than we have ever done it. It starts very plain with just a voice and a piano, and the way the band, all gradually get introduced into the song just works amazingly. I think there is much more grace to how we have done it. We are always perfecting what we do and we never wanna stand still, but I think with that one, we just nailed something so beautifully. And then when the orchestra kicks in it isn’t too over the top. It does sound big and righteous but there is a subtlety about it as well which I am really proud of.
“I think we arrived at the right time”
It has been over 20 years now since you kind of squeezed in to an overpopulated ‘indie rock’ scene. Did you ever feel overlooked at those times, as a band?
Do you know what? I don’t think we did really. We kind of arrived at the tail end of Brit Pop and there were a few issues with the Brit Pop scene that Embrace really didn’t like and that fact that it was all going to fall to bits. Singing about being on a bus in Camden, there seemed to be a lack of soulful songs out there, and we were all listening to the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and Aretha Franklin. So I think maybe we just kind of arrived at the right time, so I don’t think it would be fair for any member of Embrace to say that we felt like we were overlooked. It probably feels that sometimes we are more overlooked now, but back in the day, when we were the new kids on the block in 1996, we had more than our fair share of NME covers and press coverage and all that.
And I even remember you all coming to The Cockpit in Leeds for Brighton Beach night, all fresh faced and full of wonder.
God yeah! [laughs] I miss The Cockpit, I really do! It was such a great venue. Kids could just jump off the train and they would be straight in the venue, so if you were a parent, you could relax to some degree as they only had to cross one road and then they’re inside, then straight back out and on their way home afterwards. It was a dump, but it was our beautiful dump!
I think it deserves a blue plaque.
I agree. It most certainly does. I wish someone would decide to relaunch it. Everything has changed now though, the whole industry.
“Take its toll”
I wanted to offer huge congratulations and an immense amount of pride towards Danny, because back in 2012 he opened up about his issues with mental health. Has coming forward with his story, liberated some of those demons now, and how important was it for him to have someone to talk to about it?
He’s definitely in a much brighter, happier place now. It’s not like Danny was ever… it was hard, because he would turn up and you would never think that he was really down or anything. Danny has always been a rock and was always the person that pushes everything forward, but when you are working that tirelessly on a project it’s bound to take its toll. He stopped putting himself first, a long, long time ago. The band was always what came first to him. It took him a while to realise he did that. When he finally started admitting all these things, and realised that it was having such a negative effect on his health, especially his mental health, he started going to get some help to deal with it.
I think that he is a different person in many respects now. I think he has learnt to just step back from it all a little bit. It’s just not worth getting so upset or fraught about, and he doesn’t get his kickers in a twist any more.
It’s funny, because I had a conversation with him a few months ago outside a service station, of all places. We had been travelling together in the van, as the rest of the band made their own ways to the venue, and Beaver our keyboard tech was driving and we were sat in the back, and he got that worried look on his face again, and said that the album’s artwork was late. Now, Danny and I are very similar in this regard, and we’d both be like: ‘It’s two days late…..what are we gonna do?’ So as I start to ring the guy about it, we stop and get out of the van, and then he gave me a cheeky look and said: “What is the worst that could possibly happen?” So I said like, “Maybe the album will come out a day late” and Danny said: “No one is gonna die though are they?” and I thought: ‘Ahhhh this is the new Dan!’ Best just letting somebody else worry about it, and we can just have a really nice day out.
The old Danny would have been pacing up and down the car park on his phone trying to sort out every single little bump in the road and every little problem. He’s in a much healthier mental place thankfully.
“It was so rammed”
On a lighter note… Over the last two years you did quite a number of festivals. Which do you enjoy or look forward to playing the most?
Probably T in The Park. There is a vibe there and backstage is brilliant! They do it all out like a little micro village for us, with little white picket fences around the dressing rooms, and each dressing room is like a little port-a-cabin, but they pull out all the stops to make it feel very family orientated. There are also fond memories of T in The Park because we played it quite early in our career and the weather was so horrific, it was lashing it down and everyone decided that they were gonna come and watch Embrace in this tent. It was so rammed, that they had to open up the sides of the tent to fit everyone in.
Rick’s guitar amplifier actually broke down in the first song, but because the crowd were singing along so loudly, he didn’t even notice! He came off stage and said: “That’s best gig of my life!” so I piped up: “It’ll be alright to tell you that after the first song you weren’t even plugged in then and you didn’t even know.” [laughs] He was just strumming a guitar that was making absolutely no noise whatsoever [laughs]. We love festival season though. It’s mad, especially if the sun is out. It’s nice to just soak it up and see other bands play too. Sit and have a drink with people. There is a great community spirit to festivals, whether you’re back stage or out in the throng of it.
“The songs are always the thing”
On the subject of festivals, Embrace are well known for hosting one of their own, ‘The Secret Festival.’ Can you let us know if there are any secrets for the next one?
Well, this year’s secret is that we are not doing one this year. The thing is, if the album is out, then we will be playing at a lot of festivals ourselves, and there is just so much going on, on that weekend we usually have it, and we thought let’s just keep our options open.
I’m sure we will be back next year, but it’s a lot of effort! It is largely organised by all the band, and when you find yourself stood in a mucky field, talking to some guy about health and safety issues, it kinda loses its charms. I’ll be stood there asking if we can have hay bales for people to sit on, and then someone is there from the council saying, yes, but only if they are fire retardant, and then I’m thinking, can you get fire retardant hay, but apparently you can! Then I’m thinking, why am I in a field, talking about fire retardant hay for god sakes! I’m a keyboard player! [laughs]
The festival places a lot of extra demand on the band, even though it’s a tiny festival, we always want the line up to be amazing. We pull in a lot of favours from bands that we know. So I think we are just going to leave it for this year, and look at it again next year.
How do you see Embrace evolving over the next twelve months?
Ooh that’s a good question innit? We’re hoping that the songs on the new album really grab people and they fall in love with them. The songs are always the thing in the music business that provides longevity for any band. I’d love to think that we are gonna go and tour the world and fly a spaceship to the moon and do a gig there, but we need to keep our feet on the ground and play lots of gigs, do our own tour, with festivals over the summer and you never know, if the album does really connect with people, we might do a bigger UK tour in November/December time, and then the following year will be the 21st anniversary of our debut album, so that will be something to celebrate, and we are thinking of fun things to do around that to commemorate it.