Amy Shark is as charming and hilarious in person as you would hope. Even though I was ten minutes late to our meeting and ridiculously sweaty from sprinting down Victoria Street, she was warm and friendly and entirely ready for a candid chat about her new EP, her upcoming tour and all the bizarre and brilliant things about life as a musician.
Soaring to what has seemed like overnight fame with her poignant single, Adore, Amy Billings – better known by the world as Amy Shark – has spent much of this year showcasing Night Thinker, a stunning 6-track EP, and she’s brought her talents to New Zealand before she heads (back) over to the U.S. and Canada for the rest of her extensive tour.
Since her last North American tour – a move she called “pretty ballsy” but ultimately “a good move” – I asked her if she had noticed any differences in American crowds and Australasian crowds. Apparently, American crowds were incredibly informed about Amy Shark and her music, most of them knowing the words to almost every song, and were entirely absorbed in her performance (as opposed to the good ol’ Australians and Kiwis who often have to be dragged out, especially when the weather is bad). The brevity of the arts drives American culture – they are constantly creating and exploring and often lead the way when it comes to upcoming artists, and, as Amy noted, “They are all about helping new things grow.”
When it came to making her EP Night Thinker, all of it was produced in Melbourne, with the help of M-Phazes, Dann Hume, Cam Bluff and and Edwin White – “who does a lot of Vance Joy stuff, which was perfect for Deleted.” Luckily, this helped give Amy the confidence that it was going to be a great EP (which it really is).
“It was really exciting because, for years, I’d been writing songs and doing a lot them DYI, or working with, like, a friend, in a backyard studio type thing. And this time, I had the songs ready, and I thought they were really strong and I was really happy with them, and I got to work with great producers. So, I’m like, this EP is going to be on fire.”
But a life of music didn’t always feel so possible for Amy. When I ask her if she’s experienced any significant writer’s block as of late, she says “not yet” – but it causes her to recall her worst bout it, which occurred when she was down on the entire concept of making music professionally – a prospect she never thought would eventuate into what it has. “Music? No. God, no. I was a video editor!” Amy says she always had a back-up plan, and really believed that she was done, owed to the many adversities presented by the music industry.
“But then I realised that I’m never going to not write music. Even if no one listened to it, I was always going to write.”
Not long after this, Amy got the chance to work with a producer (after going through the process of obtaining a government grant) and realised that she didn’t want to make music just out of the hopes of being signed – she wanted to make music for herself. And because she’d never given herself the chance to work with a real production team before, she wondered how much her songs might change if she finally did.
“It blows my mind. I remember the conversation I had with Shane, my husband, I was like, ‘this is it. I can’t do it anymore. I’m excited to record the song because I like the song’ and he was like, ‘it’s a great song’ – but that’s how we’ve spoken for ten years. Like, every song that I’ve put I’ve liked, so… for this to have done what it’s done is such a freakin’ rare thing.
And I’m not a big spiritual person, but I thought, this is one way of the universe telling me, ‘this is what you’re meant to be doing.’”
Drive You Mad is of particular significance to Amy, a song that contains a lot of depth without necessarily relying on romantic aspects to make it so. The track opens with a siren, which immediately disrupts your comfort and lays the foundation for the song, which is a raw and honest reflection on how “I’m not always the easiest person to be around” and is courageous in that it is open about admitting one’s mistakes and apologising – which is never easy, let alone when it’s shared with the rest of the world.
But it is Amy’s penchant for risk-taking and honesty that makes her so relatable (and very cool). When she did her Adore tour, she mentions that people only seemed to be waiting to hear that one song – which she loved, but she knew that she had a collection of other songs that people could really connect with, which made her eager to release Night Thinker. Her immediate connection with Weekends, the second track on the EP, was symbolic of her ability to balance a killer pop track with lyrical depth – “I sort of tricked people with that one.”
Now that the EP is out and receiving an overwhelmingly positive response – and the news that Weekends has gone gold! – Amy is feeling much more confident knowing that she isn’t “just that one hit person” and that she has a lot more to share with people during her performances. Though at one point, she says she felt like she wasn’t meant for this.
“It’s really different being thrown into this world. It’s like… it’s full on. You’re dumped straight into touring, and you’re in front of people and people can write what they want about you. It’s a pretty harsh world.”
On top of this, life on the road is pretty gruelling affair, so Amy has had to develop a “pretty slick routine” – she reads a lot, does her best to visit the gym when she can, and eats as healthy as possible, as well as finding time to write (one track was recently written in Maui and will make it onto her next record!). One of the most important things, Amy says, is to find things that keep her grounded and keep her mind active, as well as using free time to do things she wouldn’t ordinarily have had the time to do. But this approach is a stark difference, she tells me, to when she first started touring.
“When I first started, I got thrown into, like, going on tours before I even had a manager, or before I was even signed, when Adore was heating up a little bit. And I was just, like, drinking so much, and staying out so late, and just writing myself off. I learned the hard way to just pick your times.”
Additionally, Amy mentions the importance of a support group, people who keep you level-headed – especially during such dramatic life changes, and being in situations where thousands of screaming fans constantly tell you how good you are.
“It’s definitely a different world, but I’m finding my groove.”
Despite her raging international success (e.g. her London show sold out!), Amy muses that “all of this is more than I could have imagined.” Because the most she had dreamt of, she says, is if she were to have a song that’s big in her own country (and New Zealand) then – “holy shit, I’m stoked!” so to have the knowledge that her songs are gaining traction in places like America and Europe is a truly incredible feat. And as another potential avenue for creativity, Amy mentions her love of film, and the vast quantity of footage she has from her experiences that could serve as a future documentary for other musicians who are trying to make it in the industry.
“I want a name for myself so that when I’m old and senile, I want someone to be like, ‘I love that Amy Shark record, it’s so special to me’ or I want people to be like… when it’s time to feel something, they want to listen to me.
To be one of those artists at the end of the day, when it’s all finished, would be really humbling and I just hope I have some cool memories and photos and records… I want to make as much music as I possibly can.”
But despite her growing success, Amy says with a laugh that she’d be happy to just make enough money to buy a new car, and has never been the type of artist to want to be the biggest or most successful in the world.
In terms of influences, Amy mentions that it was Lorde’s first album that changed the game for her – to which she recalls being astounded that it took a 15-year-old to help her realise that people were embracing the exact kind of music that she had been quietly working on. With the addition of Broods over the years, Amy was inspired by the mix of nostalgic content overlapped with electronic beats which could also utilise raw instruments (like her guitar, which is a permanent staple of her music).
We both also agreed – a little sheepishly – that sometimes the best inspiration can come from within, especially when you know that you can create work that you are proud of because you have already done it. But the exchange was less eloquent and more hilarious in real life, and went something like this:
Amy: “I feel like I am getting better as a songwriter. So, when I get the chance to sit down and write, I get so excited, like, how good is this song going to be?”
Me: “That’s rad. I think that everyone should be their own inspiration.”
Amy: “Yeah, but you can sound like a real dick.”
When she started chuckling, I knew her last story was going to be great. Amy tells me that when she was about 21 (“or maybe I was 19?”) she got flown to Sony Australia in Sydney with a couple of acoustic demos under her belt. She met with this guy who told her she’d be the next big thing. And this is how it went:
“He was my one, kind of, person at Sony that believed in me, and I was getting all excited – and he died. He died! And I’m like, ‘this is a sign. I’m not meant to be in music, like… people are dying.’ He was supposed to come to a showcase, he had just been a judge on Australian Idol, and I heard on the radio… And I’m like, there’s my chance. Gone.”
“Oh my god.”
“The irony of it… Now I’m signed to Sony! Crazy.”
And the best part about all of this, according to Amy, is “being able to go to so many different places to spread the word.” With a strong foundation set for the rest of her musical career, her dream has officially become her full-time reality. And while that old threat of transience always hangs in the air, Amy is determined to make the most of how things are in the present.
“My job is to spread my music as far as it can go. And it’s a challenge… But it’s a fun challenge, though. Because if all I had to do was wake up and either talk about music, write music, or play music, I’m fine with that. Cause that’s like… A dream. I’m enjoying every second of it. And there are some days where I’m really tired but it doesn’t take me long to realise where I am, and that this is such a cool life.”