May 3, 2017 Interview – Amy Macdonald
Amy Macdonald hails from the land of lochs, kilts, and bagpipes, but she is no simple tartan-wearing clanswoman, no: Macdonald is an exceptional singer-songwriter, a talented guitarist, a woman who weaves tales set to gloriously addictive sonics. Scottish born, Macdonald has sold some nine million records worldwide since her debut in 2007. With her most recent release, Under Stars, Macdonald has created an eleven-song compendium of Pop vocals, Folk songwriting, infectious melody and beautifully personal storytelling. Recently we had the honor of sitting down with Macdonald to discuss Under Stars, the progression of her career, the craft of songwriting and overcoming artistic self-doubt.
CrypticRock.com – You had your ‘official’ start in music roughly a decade ago with your first album, 2007’s This Is the Life. Now you have recently released your fourth album, Under Stars. How would you describe the progression of your sound throughout the years, and the journey you have taken to get to the here and now?
Amy Macdonald – With my first 3 albums, I had done everything completely on my own; it was what I was used to and where I felt comfortable. I would write the lyrics and music, and hide the songs from everyone until I felt confident enough for anyone to hear them. I think I was scared of doing it any other way; it worked for me like this and I was apprehensive about change. When it came to album 4, I had already written 2 songs this way – “Prepare to Fall” and “Leap of Faith.” I’d never even thought about co-writing with anyone: I’m extremely shy in these type of situations, and I spend 95% of my time dealing with crippling self-doubt about my musical abilities amongst other things. The last thing I wanted to do was put myself out there!
However, one day my good friend and bass player, Jimmy [Sims], and I shared a long, boring cab journey to Heathrow airport in rush hour traffic. We covered every subject imaginable and spoke of the feelings of self-doubt that we often share. Jimmy told me that he was going to start writing with our friend Ben [Parker], and that he was extremely nervous about it. I empathised with him and before I knew it, I was asking if it would make it easier if I came along and we all worked together. I don’t really know what came over me in that minute but I’m glad it happened! The main thing I learned was to stop taking so much on my shoulders.
For the past 10 years I have been involved in every tiny, little aspect of my career and I never really felt like I could let go; I didn’t fully trust anyone else to get things right. Writing songs with others was such a release and I felt I could just concentrate on the lyrics and melody and what message I wanted to put across without worrying about every, little detail. I realised that Jimmy, Ben, and I all wanted the same outcomes from these writing sessions: we all wanted to create great songs that we loved, and it was so refreshing to have two right-hand men both fighting in my corner. We also instantly clicked as songwriting partners! We wrote the song “Automatic” on the first day and I’ve come away not only with a bunch of great songs, but also a bunch of great memories from the year.
CrypticRock.com – It is wonderful that you were able to overcome your self-doubt to take that leap, and in-the-process come out with an amazing album as the product of your personal evolution. In fact, you took two and a half years to work on Under Stars. What was the writing and recording process like, and do you feel that the extra-time has been beneficial to each of the songs?
Amy Macdonald – I think it was partly because I wasn’t under any pressure, and partly because I was really enjoying the writing sessions with Jimmy and Ben. We just kept going, even when we were happy with the songs and felt we had a great album, we continued to slot in days here and there. I’m glad we did that because it was in the very last session that we came up with the track “Down by the Water,” my favorite from the album. I’ve always been extremely lucky to have such a great record label. I work with so many amazing people who totally get me and understand that it takes time to write an album. They never, ever put me under pressure and I’m extremely grateful for that.
CrypticRock.com – That is fantastic to hear and, seemingly, a rarity in the music industry these days. Now, speaking of being blessed, Under Stars is full of immense lyrical positivity. What inspires you, and are you generally an optimist in your everyday life?
Amy Macdonald – I’m not sure I’d say I’m an optimist! For me, I always think that music should be escapism and I would want people to listen to my music to get away from life’s everyday stresses and pressures. Who wants to listen to a song that reminds of all the bad things going on around us? But the songs on the album are not just 100% positivity. Bruce Springsteen puts it best when he says he writes upbeat songs, because no one wants to come to a concert and hear miserable music, but they sometimes come from a place of great suffering. “Dream On” is a song for one of my closest friends: she was going through an extremely tough time.
Her parents had split years before, her mother was very unwell and she had lost her job; things seemed like they were going from bad to worse and she felt so helpless. She then got a small glimmer of hope from a job interview and it was amazing to see how this one glimmer amongst a sea of negatives totally changed her whole perspective. She got the job and within 6 months had already got a promotion, and thankfully her mum is also doing much better. “Dream On” was my little song for her: the chorus is the small glimmer of hope with the verses tinged with sadness. It’s one of those songs that sound so happy and upbeat until you listen closely to all the lyrics.
CrypticRock.com – Very true. Plus, without the hard times, can we never truly appreciate the good ones? That said, while we all realize that as a musician, the entire album is no doubt precious to you, are there any standout tracks that are especially important to you or simply a favorite at this moment?
Amy Macdonald – “Down By The Water!” It took so long to get it right. The first version that came out of the studio just wasn’t right for me, so I told my record label that I wanted to go back in and do it again. Luckily they were supportive. So we went back and did the version that’s on the album. Tim [Bran] and Roy [Kerr], who produced the track, had the genius idea to get Juliet Roberts’ amazing backing vocals on the track and now it sounds exactly like I imagined it would.
CrypticRock.com – It is a beautiful song that fits flawlessly into a truly great album that is full of positivity and wonderful songwriting. What do you want the fans to take away from the collection?
Amy Macdonald – Thank you very much! To be honest, as I said earlier, if I can give people escapism and inspiration – whilst giving them something to tap their toes or dance to – then I think I’ve done my job!
CrypticRock.com – Fully agreed. Looking into the future, are there any artists that you would like to collaborate with?
Amy Macdonald – As mentioned before, I suffer with shyness and self-doubt, so collaborations would be difficult for me! But collaborating on a track with the incredible Bruce Springsteen would be a dream come true.
CrypticRock.com – You have already been able to successfully overcome your shyness and doubt to begin working on songwriting with others. It is almost certain when the time is ripe you will be able to do so for other career-oriented goals, as well. In fact, you will be touring across Europe this summer – with many of the gigs already sold out – and that clearly requires you to put aside some shyness. About the tour, however, our publication is international though much of our audience is located here in the U.S., under those stars and stripes, if you will. Will you be touring to support Under Stars in the U.S. anytime in the near future?
Amy Macdonald – It’s something I’d absolutely love to do when the time is right. I love travelling to America! There’s nothing in the diary yet, but don’t rule it out altogether.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent! America would love to have you! Beyond touring, what are your plans for the future?
Amy Macdonald – Back when I put my first album out in 2007, I would get asked, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?” to which I would answer saying that as long as I was still getting to do the job I loved I’d be happy. Fast forward ten years and I’m still here, so the same applies: as long as I keep getting to write music, travel the world, and meet amazing people on the way, that’ll do for me!
CrypticRock.com – Well, you certainly seem to have many, many more years ahead of you in music! Now, before you go, CrypticRock.com covers both music and films – especially Horror and Science Fiction movies. Do you enjoy either of these genres, and, if so, do you have a favorite Horror or Sci-Fi film?
Amy Macdonald – I love Sci-Fi films – especially the Star Wars films – and my favorite would have to be The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Such an iconic film and one of the best twists in movie history when you find out Darth Vader is Luke’s father. I’ve been enjoying Horror movies since I was a young girl too: my mum used to let us watch the A Nightmare On Elm Street movies when we were kids!