More than two years after ‘A Curious Thing’, chart topping Scottish singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald is back with third album ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’, due for release on 11th June. We catch up with her in London to find out where she’s been, what fans should expect next and what advice she has for aspiring young musicians like herself.
MTTM: You had quite a break after the second album, why was that?
AM: I signed my record contract in 2006 and pretty much work work worked, toured, everything all the way until the end of 2010. I said “gosh, I need a little break here”. I mentioned to my managers I’d love to have a little bit of time and they said “yeah, brilliant, take a year”.
I hadn’t planned on writing the whole album in that time, but just being at home and being relaxed and being around my friends and family is really inspiring to me, so the songs all actually came really quickly. By September of last year I had 16 songs ready to go and I didn’t even really feel like I was writing an album. It showed me the benefit of taking that time. The label probably won’t be happy but I think now I’ll want to have a year in between every time!
MTTM: I found it really interesting that you’d said you weren’t into doing the whole celebrity culture thing.
AM: I just find it a bit weird. It’s not that I don’t like it, I’m just not used to it. I know I’d be much more at home in a dingy wee pub in Glasgow with my mates rather than at some posh London do. I don’t really see myself as any different to anybody else. I’d probably just be really embarrassed. I would prefer to be in a wee crappy pub.
MTTM: One of the songs from your first album, ‘This is the Life’, is about the Barrowlands in Glasgow. What is it about that venue that’s so special?
AM: It’s just a really special place. I would see interviews with other bands at the time and they’d get asked where their favourite gigs were, and they’d always say the Barrowlands so I thought it must be amazing to play there as well. When I finally got to perform there it just felt amazing and I understood what they’d been talking about. I’ve gone full circle. I’ve stood in the crowd and now I’m on the stage performing. It’s got great sound, it’s got great vibe. It just always feels like a really special occasion when you go to a gig there.
MTTM: Is there anywhere else that compares to it, of all of the places you’ve been to and played?
AM: Um. You know I don’t think there is. There’s loads of cool venues. In London I really love Shepherd’s Bush Empire because that feels quite special as well, but nothing is as special as Barrowlands. It’s in its own little bubble and nothing can touch it. It used to be an actual ballroom, so it has a high ceiling and sprung floors. When the crowd jumps they’re actually going up and down, it’s amazing to watch and amazing to be a part of.
MTTM: With the new album, where you’ve had such a long break, will it be different or very much the same as the previous two?
AM: It feels like a bit of a natural progression. With my first album I never knew it was going to be an album, I never knew people were going to hear the songs because I was writing them when I was at school. Then with the second album all I’d been doing was touring, so the album sounded a bit more like a live rocky gig or whatnot. Whereas this time it’s been back to just me in my bedroom with an acoustic guitar so the songs are a bit more laid back again, a bit more natural sounding. It still sounds like me.
MTTM: Do you think you would’ve come out with the same album if you hadn’t taken the break?
AM: Definitely not. I think it would’ve been about touring again, which is fine but people can’t relate to that because people generally don’t tour! When I’m at home I do just lead a normal life, so I think the songs I come out with are about so many vague topics, but generally its just me observing things that have happened. They’re more things that people could relate to. I think that’s important to me. It’s better to make sure people can understand where you’re coming from.
MTTM: You’ve said before that you picked up your Dad’s guitar and started playing, then writing songs. Did it really all come that easily, did you just pick up the guitar and realise you had this magical talent or did you have to take lessons?
AM: I never took lessons. I started getting into bands like Travis, and then I went to T in the Park and saw so many amazing bands. I just thought that’s amazing I’d love to do that. It was after going to T in the Park that I started to teach myself guitar, to play along to all my favourite songs. I would play along to them, so it was just a natural thing that I moved on to writing my own. The first songs that I wrote at the time I thought were an absolute masterpiece. They’d be absolutely terrible but at the time I thought I knew what I was doing.
MTTM: What kind of advice would you give to people like you? People who just want to play music and get into doing it.
AM: I think just keep at it and write as many songs as you can. Then when you’re old enough get out and play shows. I was so grateful when I signed a record deal that I’d already done shows and I knew what it was like to stand on a stage. If you didn’t that would be awful, just thrown on a stage doing showcases with all these label people and press. I was like that anyway but because I had experience of playing live it wasn’t as bad.
MTTM: Didn’t you get signed after sending in a demo tape to an advert?
AM: It was my manager, Pete and his wife Sarah, who is also my manager. They were starting a production company and they were originally songwriters. They thought they’d get a great singer to sing their songs, but then I replied and I write all my own songs so they decided they’d have to do something a bit different. I recorded all these demos and through that we got a record deal with Mercury and then Mercury were like right, you need to get a manager. But I’d done everything with Pete and Sarah, we’ve all done this together and I was only 17 at the time, my Mum was comfortable with them, so I asked them to be my Manager. They were like oh, but we don’t really know what we’re doing but I thought we could learn. It’s worked out really well. It feels so good that I’ve got my little team and they care about me as a person more than anything else. It’s good knowing you’re working with people that actually care about you and are your friends rather than people who just want to make money and whatever.
MTTM: Presumably also they’re a lot more supportive in terms of giving you the freedom to do what you want musically?
AM: Totally. Pete does all the production as well, we do everything together. It’s such a close relationship that I can just say ‘don’t like that, don’t want to do this’, whereas if it was somebody who was an outsider I’d feel really awkward. It makes it a lot easier.
MTTM: What do you think you would’ve ended up doing if the record deal hadn’t happened?
AM: I think I’d have still done it on the side. I don’t know what would’ve happened, if I would’ve found another way in but I would definitely have still written songs and done my thing because I enjoy it. Even just playing open mic nights, I always loved doing that when I was back home. I think I would still do it but I don’t know what my job would be. I was meant to start university, doing a social sciences course, but I was about to start uni when I got offered the record contract.
MTTM: So where do you think it’s going now?
AM: I’m not really thinking about writing anything else right now but it’ll probably be a busy year or two, depending on how things go. It’ll definitely be a year of touring and promo, all over Europe. Then after that we’ll just see how it goes. If it goes really well then it could be a few years before I sit down and write again, and if it goes OK then it could be next year that I write another one. With this industry it’s so hard to tell. Worst case scenario if it was all to fall apart I wouldn’t be too disheartened because I’ve got to do things that other people can only dream of.
MTTM: Are you doing any festivals over the Summer?
AM: I’m doing a few. We were a bit late coming to the party because most festivals book up in January and the album has only just been announced, but I’ve got two UK festivals – T in the Park and Hard Rock Calling at Hyde Park, which is great.
MTTM: How did you come up with the title for the new album, is it a song title or did it come from somewhere else?
AM: It’s the title of a song. I was just outside and it was a beautiful day which in Glasgow doesn’t happen very often. The sun was just reflecting off of everything, and that title just popped into my head. When I got home, I thought I need to write a song with that phrase in it, and I don’t usually do that but I had to get it into a song. When it came to writing the album I just thought it summed everything up properly and it perfectly explained how I was feeling.
MTTM: On that note, how do you usually go about writing a song. What happens?
AM: I wait until I feel inspired by something. I would never sit down with my book and say right, I’m going to write. I could do it, but the song wouldn’t mean anything to me. With most of the songs on the album I can pinpoint where they came from. There’s a song on there called Human Spirit which was inspired by watching the rescue of the Chiliean Miners. There’s a song called 4th of July which is inspired by New York, my views on New York and from my memories of going there. There’s literally songs about so many different things. Usually the song just flows when I feel that inspiration.
MTTM: Have you ever gone through a dry spell?
AM: Yeah, totally. Even in the year when I was writing the album, I might have written two songs and then not picked up the guitar for three or four months. But I didn’t panic about it because I just know that’s the way it goes with me. I know that something will inspire me.