Amusement Parks on Firepoint their guitars at the stars

Amusement Parks on Fire by Piper Ferguson

oad Eyes is the new album from Amusement Parks on Fire, the Nottingham-based band with their eyes to the sky and ears to the ground. Purveyors of a sound perhaps fittingly termed stargaze (which is not to be confused with shoegaze), the band’s ambitious rock sonics are a colossal rush of massed guitars, voices, drums, keyboards and strings that burn with urgency and soar with sumptuous lyricism –– while packing a visceral punch not unlike the feral punk that inspired the band back in the day.

Recorded and mixed by producers Michael Patterson (Great Northern, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Beck’s Midnite Vultures) and Nick Jodoin during a yearlong stay in Los Angeles, Road Eyes was created with the intention of sharpening the band’s audio stratopherics into cohesive songs of immediacy.

“It took quite a long time to do,” says the band’s founder, guitarist-singer Michael Feerick. “I was kinda worried that we’d finish it and got it exactly how we wanted it and no one would like it. But few records get that amount of time to make anymore, when you have to continually have new product out. We weren’t under any pressure to finish it.”

Whereas the band’s past albums were recorded in such exotic locales as Iceland and self-produced by Feerick and longtime bandmate guitarist Daniel Knowles, the idea on Road Eyes was to craft a classic L.A. rock album of sorts; the album’s title refers to one of Feerick’s heroes, Neil Young, who in Feerick’s view epitomizes the best raw fusion of innovation and accessibility.

“Well,” laughs Feerick, “the title has several meanings, actually. But I did think of Neil Young during the making of it. He did his Rust Never Sleeps tour, which was like his dream version of a show, with these massive amps and props, and the roadies onstage were called `road eyes.’ It stuck in my mind and I just wanted to use it.”

Taking his cues from Young, Feerick composed his new songs while pondering “the whole idea of perception, of human perspective, of what you’re encountering. I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of time and the fact that it doesn’t necessarily ever end.”

Though Feerick’s absorption in the abstract and infinity has seen stunning display in the often extended forms and monolithic dimensions of his and Knowles’ twin guitars on albums such as the eponymous debut (INVADA) in 2005 and Out of the Angeles (V2) in 2006, he felt that now was a time for reigning things in –– to pump even more power into the songs.

“That was one of the reasons we decided to get an outside producer,” he says. “I realized you don’t need to overstate the point with this kind of music. I like experimenting with song structures, but that interests me more than it would do an audience. I felt that this time it’d be interesting to hear sonically what we can do but to present it in a far more direct fashion.”

Says Knowles, “We had an overview of this being kind of an L.A. rock album version of what we do, which we thought of as being way more concise and song-driven. Michael Patterson was really good for trimming the fat off the songs, and honing them into shape for us.”

Unlike previous albums, where much of the material was written before recording, the songs on Road Eyes were largely worked out in advance of the band’s hitting the studio, where the band played the ground tracks absolutely live –– and, crucially, minimized the amount of post-production tinkering.

“In this case,” says Knowles, “we weren’t adding a hundred different guitar parts, like we’d do in the past. We were working kind of like the way Smashing Pumpkins used to do, layering a single guitar part to each track, so that the overall sound was more defined but still very thick with guitars.”

And, as evidenced by the contained gigantism of tracks like “Wave of the Future,” “Flashlight Planetrium” or “Water From the Sun,” Road Eyes offers no shortage of mammoth guitar wizardry, which is orchestrated in a way that invites listeners in, while subtly challenging their expectations.

“We wanted it to be a rock album that pushes the vocal and drums in a way that’s radio-friendly, almost, but still has that dissonance over the top of it,” says Feerick.

While the title track’s short fake-out intro jokingly references the band’s past penchant for grandiose preambles, other tracks such as the single-worthy “Wave of the Future” were originally written with a radically experimental structure, but Patterson and Jodoin helped the band compact them into a something resembling undeniably, yes, catchy pop songs. Feerick’s drolly journalistic “Echo Park/Infinite Delay” was intended to be a secret track, yet ended up completely rearranged into more of a pop song as well. These tunes’ transformation into more fan-friendly spheres in turn changed the way Feerick and co. looked at their other new material.

“We realized that people might actually like to listen to these songs, which is the exact opposite feeling from last time,” says Feerick. “It was so refreshing to hear them that way. We wanted this one to be really listenable and fun, and not indulgent. There’s moments of that, but I think they’re more effective because of the overall more direct approach to the songs.”

“Every album has been influenced by its environment,” says Feerick. “The last album was recorded in the middle of winter in Iceland; it couldn’t have been any more dark, really, like two hours’ daylight a day, and I found that I just wanted to be away from everything; not coincidentally I went a bit overboard on the album.”

By contrast, the band’s residency in Los Angeles was an enjoyable interlude of hanging out in the sunshine with good friends, and soaking up the vibe.

“We went out literally every single night to a gig or a bar, and got especially involved in the Silverlake scene, where we heard bands like Autolux and Earlimart. It was nice to hear rock bands that didn’t sound forced or fashionable, but direct and really fun.”

And that’s a good way of describing the new Amusement Parks on Fire, who, by the way, couldn’t give a toss about how they’re going to be categorized for their efforts.

“It’s amazing to just follow it and let it evolve,” says Feerick. “Road Eyes feels like not a crossroads, but like a really important moment, like, `This is what I’ve always wanted to achieve: a really listenable version of what I’ve been trying to do.’ And I can only see it getting bigger –– which is the only kind of suitable goal for this kind of music.”

photo: Piper Ferguson