On Ambulance LTD's debut album, one can find a number of stylistic influences from the Beatles and the Stones to Spiritualized, Elliott Smith and the Smiths. And that’s the point. “Our niche is not sticking to any particular niche,” says Benji Lysaght, guitarist. The four members of the New York group refuse to be stuck in any sub-genre of rock. “We don’t want to confine ourselves,” says Marcus Congleton, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter.
To that end, the group -- Congleton, Lysaght, Darren Beckett (drums) and Matt Dublin (bass and backing vocals) -- draws its inspiration from decades of rock: Motown, ‘60s psychedelic pop and blues, ‘70s rock, ‘80s Britpop/new wave and ‘90s shoegazing. “We don’t kick much ass volume wise,” admits Marcus. “Conceptually, poetically, we kick ass. Atmospherically, we kick ass."
The guys learned a lot from the '70s, and they're not just talking the Ramones and other punk rockers or the glam rock of David Bowie, but another side of the decade, the side the New York rock scene doesn't usually cop to: the blue eye-soul of Hall and Oates, the pure pop of Seals and Crofts, the jazz-rock of Steely Dan and the classic rock of Fleetwood Mac.
"A lot of our stuff has '70s undertones to it, not so much the punk side, but the indulgent side that punk was rebelling against," says Marcus. "I already did my punk time in high school."
The members' musical backgrounds are diverse -- half the band has toyed in jazz -- and they found their ways to New York from as far away as Ireland and the West Coast. Marcus, 25, from Eugene, Ore., started strumming his first guitar in middle school, when his uncle, a blues musician, showed him the chords. He formed a ska-punk band in high school but also played with a “vaguely grungy” alternative band, as well as jazz (he also plays the trumpet), hardcore and even rockabilly bands. At 19, he moved to New York after a visit to the city charmed him. There he began to check out the Velvet Underground and Brit pop music.
"I was into punk and Guns N' Roses type bands, but I couldn't howl like those guys," says Marcus, who now lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "It seemed more natural for me to croon stuff.” Darren, 28, from Belfast, Ireland and now living in Queens, got his first drum kit at age 6 -- his dad was a professional drummer and even played with Tom Jones “for a minute.”
He earned a spot with his primary school art teacher’s Beatles cover band. It was a one-time-only gig, but it piqued his interest. Obsessed with Keith Moon, he also listened to James Brown, Sly Stone, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
Darren, once immersed in New York’s bustling jazz scene, mixed up rock and jazz gigs. Today, the Pixies, Can and My Bloody Valentine are on his playlist.
As a kid, Benji, 23, from Santa Monica, Calif., was inspired by Slash in Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” video. His parents bought him a cheap electric guitar and the seminal Guns N’ Roses record, “Appetite for Destruction.” “It was really heavy shit,” he recalls. Being booed at an elementary school talent show pushed Benji toward playing well. He took lessons from a blues-focused guitar teacher and formed a jazz band in high school. Now living in Williamsburg, Benji was exploring music beyond jazz and working with a singer/songwriter when he joined the group about a year ago. “I haven’t found anything that makes me as consistently happy as I am when I pick up a guitar,” he says.
Bassist Matt, age 26, grew up all over New England, but he's a New Yorker at heart. He got the calling in eighth grade, when he took home a "rickety" old electric bass. When he heard Black Sabbath's bassist Geezer Butler, Matt got "freaked" out. "I realized the bass was cool, not just root notes and boring shit," recalls Matt.
Ambulance fell together four years ago, after Darren and Marcus, who both played in another local rock band, joined Ambulance and then took over after its other members left.
But the group almost called it quits after a particularly disheartening show at a nearly empty Brownies (a now-closed New York club). Fortunately one member of the audience was an A&R guy from TVT Records, which eventually released the band’s debut EP last summer as well as their debut disc, due April.
Marcus was struck by early sessions in the studio and realized the chemistry was right. "Stay Where You Are" was only half-written when they started recording, but by day’s end the lush pop song was done.
Darren's and Benji's jazz pasts aren't reflected in Ambulance's refreshing sound, but the influence is there, lurking. Jazz “gives us a strong foundation of musical knowledge, an understanding of rhythm, harmony and melody,” says Benji. “It helps you focus and be in the moment.”
The members appreciate and respect each other –- on the road, in the studio and on the stage. "It's like being in love four times over," says Matt.
Young and energetic, in their first tour overseas (opening for the London Suede in the U.K.) last year, Ambulance went rock-star wild. “People wouldn't expect us to be crazy but we are, in fact, insane,” says Darren. “When we go out we tear it up.” The bandmates have tamed it down a bit since that first tour. “There was a lot of bad behavior and debauchery,” recalls Benji. “The novelty wears off fast.”
Now it’s all about the music.
“I’ve been doing it for so long, that I can’t imagine not being in a band,” says Marcus. “I can’t imagine not going to practice and working on a song.”