‘I guess I just care less about what people think and focus on the fact that I do it because I love it. That was a hard place to get to though,’ says singer-songwriter Amber Dee.
Amber recently released a new single, Caged, and it’s indicative of how she has developed as an artist, adding electronic touches to her soulful vocal performance and candid lyricism.
Having started writing her own material at just 17 years old, she has subsequently performed at Glastonbury Festival, Bestival, and The Great Escape, and was featured on Sarah Gosling’s BBC Music Introducing show.
With 2019 looking set to be a watershed year for Amber, we chat to her about her career so far and what she has lined up for the future…
You started writing at a young age, what gave you the original motivation to begin a career in music?
It’s strange, but I’ve just always felt musical. Nobody in my family’s particularly musically-minded, I just always felt such a strong connection to it. There was a TA in primary school who used to give up her lunchtimes to teach me a bit of guitar because I loved it so much.
When I was about 17 my pal heard me singing in the car and learned a song I knew so we could play at an open mic. I was absolutely terrified but had a couple of pints and went for it – it was such an incredible feeling. After that, I bought a guitar, reminded myself of the few chords I could play as a kid and started gigging.
Who or what were your primary influences when you started songwriting and have they changed?
They’ve definitely changed! I think I take different things from everything I listen to, so it’s constantly evolving. I was a massive nineties pop fan when I was a kid and that definitely influenced what I’d write about – bubblegum pop melodies and words I had absolutely no connection to because I was eight years old!
I remember my Mum playing a lot of music I loved around that time too – Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac and soul music. Now when I listen to Otis Redding and The Temptations it instantly reminds me of a Sunday afternoon. I became obsessed with vocal harmonies and gospel choirs. It fascinated me that you could create such energy and emotion just with voices. The genre’s never really mattered to me, more the emotion and connection you can have with the music. That’s why I love writing for other people too.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest song, Caged?
It started off as a voice note on my phone. I remember being sat in a duvet burrito on my bedroom floor. I was skint living in London and needed money to pay for some studio time, so I sold my bed. I figured I enjoyed camping so it would be fine! I was generally in a pretty rubbish place within myself and I felt like I needed to just get it all out so I just started singing into my phone. It’s about needing to create a safe space to get back on track – blocking out all the bad just to have a moment to breathe.
Can you talk us through the recording process for the track?
The track was produced by Jamie Sellers at Run Wild Music Studios, based in Essex. It was our first session together and I was really excited about it. We started just by sharing music that we’d been listening to around that time. Among other things, I remember playing Bellyache by Billie Eilish and Hallowed Ground by Bishop Briggs. They’re the tracks I’d had on repeat for days before the session.
We listened to the voice note I’d recorded, scanned through some notes I’d made then put the chords down, recorded guide vocals and built the track around it. Jamie totally got the direction I wanted it to go in and created this sort of atmospheric, dark yet bittersweet vibe you hear. Vocals on top, harmonies et voilà! Alex Wharton mastered the track at Abbey Road and then it was released into the world.
How has your sound evolved since you started out?
When I’ve watched videos back of me singing when I was younger I think you can see and hear how much more confident I have become. You can still tell it’s me but the vocal sounds different in a lot of ways.
I guess I just care less about what people think and focus on the fact that I do it because I love it. That was a hard place to get to though. It’s also clear that my obsession with harmonies has reached new heights and that I’ve grown to love electronic sounds, especially synth. It’s a completely different sound to the girl with a guitar thing I was doing at the beginning!
How did it feel to play stages at Glastonbury, Bestival and The Great Escape?
It was amazing! I’m a huge lover of festivals anyway, so to be able to be a part of them from that side of things makes it even more amazing. Festivals seem to bring out the best in people too – in real life we don’t dare glance at each other when we’re on the tube but in festival land we’re all eating falafels and hugging strangers, it’s great.
One of my favourite things about music is that it brings people together. It’s pretty incredible really.
Are there any plans to record an album?
I’m definitely writing with that in mind / it’s a work in progress! An EP may be on the cards sooner though…hint, hint.
What do you have on repeat at the moment?
Jessie Ware (always), JP Cooper, Jade Bird, James Blake and JONES. Apparently I’m going through a phase of only listening to artists whose names begin with J…
What’s your worst musical habit?
Leaving things at venues. You think you’d remember something as large as a guitar really wouldn’t you? I’ve been through about 3748 capos. Shout out to Moles in Bath for looking after my beloved water bottle for about 3 weeks too, I have an unhealthy attachment to that thing so it’s very much appreciated.
What does the rest of 2019 have in store for you?
I’ll be releasing new music in May which I’m very, very excited about. There will also be a London headline show in May 2019 at Camden Assembly and we’re planning more UK tour dates at the moment. Can’t wait!