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Jon Amor has been gathering glowing reviews for his debut solo album 'Unknown Soldier'. he was formerly with UK band The Hoax and the album includes guest performances by Robert Plant and Clive Dreamer (Portishead, Roni Size).

1. What are you currently up to? (E.g. touring/studio, etc.)

Well I've spent the last 18 months in and out of the studio - making Unknown Soldier was a labour of love, made on a small budget just using studio downtime - so now that the album is finished and out there it's nice just to be concentrating on the live side of things.

I'm playing a mixture of solo acoustic shows and shows with my band, in the UK and Europe to promote the record, and when I'm not doing that I'm tinkering around with some new song ideas, trying to get a feel for how the next record will sound.

Jon Amor


2. Could you take us through the songs on the new album 'The Unknown Soldier' (eg songwriting process, ideas behind the songs etc)

My songwriting process changed quite markedly with this album. On my previous records, I'd record a full demo at home, starting with a groove, then finding a riff - the vocal really came last. With the songs on Unknown Soldier, I wrote largely just with an acoustic guitar, and that's a good way to 'test' a song and get the vocal right. If a song sounds good when you're just accompanying yourself on guitar, then it's got potential. I worked very closely with my producer Steve Evans on the reccord, and whereas on previous albums he hadn't really been too heavily involved in the songwriting process, this time I really wanted his input.

I came into the studio with 22 songs and we whittled it down to what appears on the album. Some of the songs just worked really well without any tinkering, but with others Steve came up with a different chorus, or a little melodic twist that I hadn't thought of, so in that sense we wrote together.

Some of the songs on the album are very specific stories about something or someone close to me; 'Meet Again' for example, is a really nostalgiac song about my youth, my old friends and the times we had. 'Lost' is about a friend of mine who moved to a big city in America and was all at sea for a while, and '19 New Park Street' is kind of set in a bar in my home town (although it could be any bar in the world). Other tracks, though, are a bit more general - the title track 'Unknown Soldier' isn't really about anyone in particular, it's just about feeling helplessly in love with someone, and 'Drowning' is really just a collection of lyrical ideas that tie very loosely together!

3. Robert Plant guests on harmonica and Plant's drummer Clive Deamer also plays on the album. How did you hook-up with them and what was it like working with Robert Plant?

Steve had been working on Robert's 'Mighty Rearranger' album, which Clive also played on, and he got to know them during those sessions. Clive's was the first name to come to mind when we were thinking of who could come in and play drums, and he was just a monster - the best drummer I've ever worked with. Robert had popped in to the studio a couple of times and heard what we were doing - it was pretty nerve-wracking sitting next to him on the sofa while he listened to my songs!

I guess he liked it though, because when Steve asked him to come and play some harmonica he agreed straight away. He was an absolute gentleman and got his part down in about an hour. I tried very hard not to rattle on about Zep and I think I just about managed to stay cool....

4. How has your guitar style/playing developed through the years and what made you want to start playing guitar?

Believe it or not, the record that changed my life, so to speak, and made me want to play guitar was actually 'Money For Nothing' by Dire Straits, which I heard when I was 14. I heard it again the other day and it's a great riff if you can get past the eighties production! Then I got into the blues through Eric Clapton, and listened to all the American greats like Buddy Guy, BB King, JJ Cale, Albert King... the list goes on.

Probably the major influence on my playing was Stevie Ray Vaughan, the texan guitar player, who changed my whole approach to guitar playing and guitar tone. I think when you're a young guitar player, you just want to sound like all your heroes, and it's not until you get a little older that you start to find your own voice as a guitarist and develop your own style. I don't think I really started to do that until I quit The Hoax and started seriously producing my own material and experimenting more with guitar sounds and styles. In recent years I've tried to be more melodic with my solos, especially in the studio, to try and make the solo a real hooky part of the song.

5. How did the recent shows in Europe go? How hard/easy is it to get a decent string of gigs lined-up?

Every trip I make to Europe is tremendous fun. My band is currently made up of three young guys from my home town, who've never toured in Europe before, so I kind of get to experience the novelty all over again, vicariously through them! We did a string of gigs in the Netherlands, where I've played a lot with The Hoax and with my own bands, so it went really well. The Dutch treat musicians with a respect that you rarely find in the UK. Thanks to my history in that country, I can get gigs pretty easily over there, and there are so many venues and festivals, there's always somewhere to play.

6. What were the highlights of your previous band the Hoax? Why did they call it a day and do you still keep in contact with any former band members?

I had eight great years with The Hoax. We'd all grown up together in the same little Wiltshire village, and although sometimes we acted like some kind of disfunctional family, I have some great memories. We were lucky enough to spend 6 or 7 weeks touring America back in 1995, which I remember being a very happy time.

By the time 1998 came round, we'd set up our own record label and still touring pretty hard - it began to me to feel like a lot of hard work, and I wasn't getting the satisfaction out of gigging and writing that I wanted to. It was incredibly loud on stage, I couldn't hear what I was doing most of the time, and we'd stopped writing songs and started throwing what were virtually blues jams into the set instead. I think we were all starting to pull in different directions musically as well, and in the backs of our minds we all had aspirations to try doing our own stuff. Eventually we called a meeting at which I said I wanted to stop, and after a pretty lengthy discussion everyone agreed. Now, things between us all are pretty good and we keep in touch fairly regularly.

7. What have been the highlights and lowlights so far in terms of live shows?

To be perfectly honest, some of the gigs I've done over the last year or so with the current band line-up were the most enjoyable of my career - the first show I did with the guys in my home town was a riot, and we did a couple of great festivals in Holland this summer which were fantastic fun. I guess looking back over the years, nights on stage that stick in my head would include when Buddy Guy jammed with The Hoax at Shepherd's Bush Empire back in '96. He didn't tell us what key or tempo or anything - he just started playing and we all fell in with him.

Lowlights? I remember a tour of Ireland not going particularly well back in about 1994 - at one gig in this little pub on the west coast there were two guys propping up the bar and that was it. We finished the first song and only the sound engineer clapped, and even he was half-hearted. That same year I remember playing at a festival in Belgium during the world cup. While we were playing they showed Holland v Belgium on a big screen next to the stage. I finished a solo and heard an almighty cheer.... I was just about to acknowledge the crowd, when I realised Belgium had scored.

8. How do you view the current rock scene? Is it mainly down to touring and selling CD's/merchandise at gigs? Do you manage to get any new songs played on internet radio stations at all?

It's getting harder and harder for artists like me to make a living in the business now. The internet has helped in many ways, but it's a double-edged sword, because there's so much free music on the net it's very hard to make money that way. CD sales are obviously in decline in the shops, but I still sell quite a lot at gigs. I think certain people will always want the physical CD to have and keep, rather than an icon on their computer screen. I think the live scene is really healthy right now - there's no substitute for being at a gig watching your favourite band, so the internet can't really replicate that feeling. I'm lucky enough to have a record company now, and there's a decent promo budget, which helps get songs on the radio and create a buzz. Radio 2 have been pretty good to me, especially with the new record, and I seem to be on the playlists of quite a few internet stations.

9. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Well I used to play cricket, actually, until this summer when I broke my finger during a game and had to cancel a whole bunch of gigs! I don't think my record label was too, I've now retired from that game. I play a bit of 6-a-side football, but to be honest there isn't much time to do much outside music - if I'm not gigging, I'm either writing, recording, or doing something connected with my career.

10. Message for your fans?

I've been on the live scene for a while now, and it amazes me that people are still willing to travel miles and miles to pay to see me do what I do - I have some very loyal fans, and I have to say, their support has kept me going during times when I've struggled or even considered jacking it all in. Music is such a competitive business and it such bloody hard work to get anywhere, but when you get up on stage in front of a group of people who appreciate what you do, it's the best job in the world. So, thanks to them!!

Interview © 2007 Jason Ritchie. All rights reserved.

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