Despite shifting three million copies of her debut, Scottish singer-songwriter Amy MacDonald has refused to let fame go to her head. This month she releases her follow-up A Curious Thing and chats to Edwin McFee about her relationship with her fans, meeting U2 and controversial lyrics
Showing it’s not the Yanks that have the monopoly on insanely-driven teenage singer-songwriters, Amy MacDonald has been keeping the European end up (so to speak) by selling a staggering three million records since she shot to fame in 2007 at the tender age of 18.
However, while her success story may parallel her Mickey Mouse worshipping counterparts in the US, Macdonald’s songs have a grittier, more down to earth feel that’s a million miles away from the likes of Taylor Swift, Britney Spears et al. If the lyrics on her recently released second record, A Curious Thing, are anything to go by, it seems that she’s not afraid to take a chance. Don’t believe us? Take a listen to her new song, ‘Spark,’ partly inspired by a documentary about murdered toddler Jamie Bulger. It has set tabloid tongues a-wagging.
“A Curious Thing is about everyday life really,” offers Amy, realising it’s a sensitive subject and choosing her words carefully. “There have been some things written in the press about the album that aren’t really true and that’s obviously difficult for me to read. It’s about real life topics. The record is about things that have happened to me or are going on around me. I realise that sometimes reporters are so desperate for a story behind a song they can twist things. In the case of ‘Spark’ I felt so moved by the bravery of Jamie’s mum, I was inspired to write a song about it. Simple as that.”
The tune, featuring the lyrics “I am the match/I am the spark/Don’t worry I’m ok now”, has already provoked a few sensationalist headlines. Amy insists that she doesn’t mean to upset anyone.
“When I write songs I’m not thinking about how journalists or listeners might interpret things,” she says. “The last thing on my mind when I’m writing a track is: how am I going to describe it when I’m asked about it? When I sit down to write one, I’m feeling a particular emotion. To be honest I sometimes find it really difficult putting that into words and giving a meaning to a song. For me that’s the tricky part. Getting the odd negative reaction is a part of the job.”
Controversy aside, Amy’s second record already looks like it’s set to repeat the success of her debut This Is The Life and while some artists fall victim to the “you have your whole life to make your first record and then a year to create the follow up” cliché, it appears that the 22-year-old has expertly side-stepped that trap by making one in two months.
“I found it easy enough to write this one,” she grins. “I had two months off, between festival commitments all over Europe, so I did one festival, then stopped in April and May, wrote all these songs and then went back touring again, so it’s been relentless. It was tough fitting the songwriting in between other commitments, but I got through it. I did initially think. ‘Oh God, how am I gonna do it?’ But spending time with my friends and family was really inspiring to me, so fortunately the songs came to me quite easily.
“I never really felt like I was making an album, if I’m honest,” she continues “For me, the recording process is always really quick because I do most of my things in a little demo studio and then let the producer get on with it, so for me it was fun and exciting to have new songs and watching them come together. I’m delighted with it. I mean I’m so proud of the songs I’ve written and I’m so happy with how everything sounds and I hope that other people like it as much as I do.”
With such a tight schedule, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Amy used a few tracks left over from her sessions for This Is The Life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Everything on A Curious Thing is brand new,” she reveals. “I’m not a prolific songwriter at all, so it was a daunting process coming up with a whole new album. I did it and I’m really happy with it. I wrote 13 songs and 12 of them are on the album. There’s nothing lying about, for use next time.”
When talking with Amy, you get the feeling that she’s taking nothing for granted. In many ways, she’s the same girl who replied to an advert requesting new demos that ran in the NME in 2006. However, when we talk about her cracking the continent she does let her guard down and confesses to being over the moon.
“It happened everywhere over Europe and I was thrilled about it,” she smiles. “My first album helped me build a fanbase really gradually. When I thought that I was coming to the end of the campaign I’d get a phone call and get told it’s now being played in Spain. We need to go there, or things are happening in Italy, so we’ve got to book dates. At the time I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I need a break’. It’s definitely a good problem to have. People wanting you to come over to play in their country is never a bad thing. It’s gone so well. I’m so proud and happy people like what I do.”
It’s not only the listening public who like what she does though. Amy can also count Paul Weller, Elton John and Brandon Flowers among her celebrity super-fans. As far as the singer is concerned her favourite among them all are the members of a little-known Irish band who go by the name of U2…
“I was at a German awards ceremony and I came back to my dressing room and there had been a note delivered to my room saying, ‘Amy, come and say hello to your fan-club’ and it was signed ‘Bono, Larry, the Edge and Adam’,” she says. “For me, that was unbelievable. I spent some time with them before the show and they were down to earth, and so nice. They knew so much about me, which I thought was bizarre! Larry Mullen told me he liked my video for ‘Poison Prince’ and things like that, which gave me a really strange feeling. It’s amazing to meet people you look up to and are such successful musicians and when they’re so down to earth and easy to talk to, it’s brilliant.”
As we draw our interview to a close to let Ms MacDonald return home to “God’s Country” (as she describes it), we ask her if hanging out with U2 taught her anything when it comes to how she approaches her own career?
“I’ve learned a lot from them,” she concludes. “If there's one thing that I would say was more important than the others, then that would be how I talk to the people who buy my records. I love talking to my own fans. If there’s people waiting there after a show I always try and say 'hello' and catch up with them. I see no difference between them and me and I don’t think I ever will.”
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