Having just released her third, honest, open and diary-like studio album, Happiest Girl In The Universe (read our review), we had the pleasure of talking to Amy Studt about how it felt to write such a personal record, who she’d most like to work with and even found out about something embarrassing that’s happened to her. It’s all here…
Hey Amy, how’s it going?
Really good actually, thanks! I am really happy and busy. I’m feeling very grateful.
So you’re just releasing your third studio album, Happiest Girl In The Universe. How do you feel prior to dropping a new album and what do you get excited and fear most about it?
Really it is just happiness as the dominant feeling. I have very little to fear as I have very little to lose. I’m excited to tour this album and to generally show it. I feel fairly invincible in a weird way because the things that could be deemed as scary or fearful are things that I am not frightened of losing. It was made for me and in that sense I have already achieved what I was hoping for. I’m not expecting charting or any of that. It was made for me and is a document/book of my journey, thoughts and exorcisms. I feel nothing but joy.
That’s great to hear and it must be a really great feeling, going into the release! The vibe on this record is a lot different to some of your earlier releases. It’s honest, open and pretty dark – like a diary of what you’ve been through mentally and emotionally. What was it like to put pen to paper and write about some of your innermost feelings, so candidly?
It is cathartic. I go into a sort of space where everything else fades out and I am just floating somewhere in words, ideas, thoughts and sounds. It’s this space where nothing and no one else exists (unless invited) and I have complete freedom.
I was always a fairly honest, upfront person, blurting things out but I don’t know prior to the last ten years, how honest within myself/about myself I really was. I had to and wanted to confront myself, shine a light on all of the parts of me that were hiding and causing me and the people around me pain. I had had a lot of partners who were pretty far from honest people, kept a lot of secrets, lied a lot. And when I met Toby Kidd – who I worked on this record with, but who was also initially and for a long time my romantic partner – he was such a breath of fresh air to me. However painful the truth was from him, at times it was like he was incapable of not telling it how it was, logically, intelligently, brutally but beautifully. I found it inspiring. And in a way it released me. So within myself, this desire for raw honesty and self-awareness and self-knowledge, however ugly, disorientated, selfish, broken, vulnerable, whatever it might be, filtered into my writing. I wanted to express what I was going through to try to move on, to get it out of me somehow. And to hopefully find some kind of peace.
Well I think it’s wonderful and hope you are able to find that peace from this masterpiece. Your vocals are very raw in places and you’ve even used some spoken word poetry. What inspired you to be more experimental on this album?
I’ve always been interested in more experimental music. Even as a child, I always liked the more left of centre stuff, though I like all sorts of music, but as I grew older and found my group of people, my group of outsiders and my artistic family, I learnt more, discovered more artists, more music, more genres even, that I connected with. My mind started opening to the possibilities and my style began to naturally shift and re-form simply during the creating process itself.
In the studio my desire to experiment fully took flight during the writing of my second album but I always felt I was slightly restricted somehow by the professional atmosphere and my ideas would rarely be fully formed because of this. I couldn’t just grab an inanimate object from my kitchen to try to use as percussion, or jump into my bed with a microphone under the duvet to record the vocals in the same way. Banging everything in the house or studio to see if it might make an interesting sound. I didn’t have that real, “no limits to express” feeling that I longed for and although I am very proud of that second album, I still feel like it was, to an extent, a compromise.
The things I naturally write at the piano are somewhere between the hooky, singer-songwriter world and the experimental world. And although I am inspired and influenced by many artists, writers, I still think I maintain my own sound. With this album my influences had been more diverse. I’ve always written poetry, so that seemed like a natural fit to include that part of me also. Really, me and Toby and Finn were just enjoying experimenting as much as possible, from playing tuned jars full of water from the house as percussion, to dictaphone recordings from the writing process and us talking, mixed into the final song. Playing with mic’ing techniques or whatever it was that “broke the rules” of what you get told is “correct” or taught at production school. Working with whatever we had and working on the basis of the only rule being the Joe Meek quote, “If it sounds right, it’s right!” It was a lot of pain, a lot of work and a lot of fun.
I love that. I definitely think you have maintained your own sound, and it’s a very refreshing way to go into recording an album…and actually, it’d be nice to see more people experimenting with organic techniques. So, if you could collaborate with any other singers/bands, who would they be and why?
- Scott Walker, if I could somehow bring him back from the dead. He has been such an inspiration to me an incredible writer and pusher of boundaries and what a life he had.
- P J Harvey or Polly – however you want to say her name – is the queen of experimental, alternative, female singer-songwriters for me. It would blow my mind to work with her as I have followed and adored her work for years.
- Angel Olsen is someone currently, that I love, and is making magic right now. She has this lonesome quality that pulls you in and I’d like to see what we created together.
- And here is just a list of others that I would love to work with because there are so many:- Bjork, Amanda Palmer, Feist, Cat Power, Aldous Harding, Jesus And Mary Chain, Annie Lennox, Adele (cos I think we could write an epic ballad together), Mazzy Star/Hope Sandoval, etc, etc, etc.
Wow, some amazing people there and some collaborations I’d love to hear! How do we make them happen? Haha. Can you tell me what your usual process for writing/recording is like?
I normally start at the piano. Lots of scraps of paper that I don’t mind wasting, with shit and good lyrics and lots of scratched out and edited ideas. Press record on my voice recorder or dictaphone or if in the studio, the computer with me mic’d up. Then I just play piano for hours non-stop. I shift and move through ideas I’ve had previously, shapes and progressions I’ve never explored before, things I want to see how they sound turned inside out and back to front, until I start to find these nuggets of music that I really like and then eventually focus my attention on those more powerful nuggets and start to develop them. I help them expand and connect with other nuggets I have. It’s like puzzle-making for me. Then with the lyrics, there are usually a few different parts to that. Some are written on train rides in my lyric books, ideas/thoughts I know and feel are strong that have just been waiting for their right time and place to come forward. I usually fairly lovingly keep them quite organised. A lot of lyric ideas are on my phone in a lyrics doc (you never know when it’ll hit and you need to write something down quite quickly) and then there are my messy pages on the piano. I might write in some from my book or phone onto them that feel right with the precious musical nuggets I’m developing. What does this music feel like it’s about? What is the mood? Could I make this work with this idea I’ve been longing to try out. Etc. But I almost never ever think about melody. My melodies all come from improvising the lyrics to the music. It just comes out of me with no pre-thought and is connected to the other components. That’s pretty much how I do it… never written that out before! Must sound boring…
No, it’s really interesting to hear about how people write their music and yours seems to be quite an experimental, yet methodical process. Besides your own music, what else have you been listening to most recently?
Angel Olsen‘s new album album All Mirrors, Sabina Sciubba, Taylor Swift‘s Lover album, Nina Simone, The Velvet Underground, Janis Ian, The Murder Capital, Lykke Li, Kate Bush, Amanda Palmer – There Will Be No Intermission, Chet Baker, James Chance & The Contortions, Heather Woods Broderick, Julia Jacklin, Sharon Van Etten & Max Richter (Thank you iTunes).
Haha, wow what a comprehensive and eclectic mix! Some I will have to check out, for sure! If you had to cover a recent chart song, which song would it be and why?
I literally have no idea what has been in the charts for maybe a decade… I live fairly under a rock. I like to surround myself with the things, music, objects, people, art, films, family, friends the world I have created for myself within this world. I don’t like to read newspapers, and anytime I’ve popped my head out and heard ‘chart’ music I haven’t understood it…which confirms to me that I must now be old. BUT saying that I’m assuming that Taylor Swift’s song ‘Lover’ has been in the charts… gonna check now… yes, it appears it is Number 1 in the States haha. God, I’m so out of the loop. Ok, so I would cover that. I really like that song. I think I could make it my own and it means something between me and my husband as he travels solo sometimes to Iceland and such, and I am always working away from home so we miss each other a lot. I’d like to cover it secretly and send it to him in a letter while I’m away somewhere.
Aw, that’s really cute!!! I bet he’d love it, and I’d love to hear your version of that too! So, when you go out on the road, where are some of your favourite places to perform at?
Scotland is always wonderful vibes. The crowd is always so supportive and powerful to play to. I also had an amazing show in Leeds once, which went completely nuts and really took us by surprise. My old hometown, Bournemouth, is always a strange kind of magic to return to. A mixed crowd of people who want to hate me but find they struggle to and those who have known and loved my music for years and have grown up with me and know things about me that no one else would. They might have lived in the house next to mine or known a boy I dated as a teen etc. But it is always, always nice to play in London. Quiet, connected, respectful, attentive audiences full of love.
Sounds awesome. I remember meeting and seeing you in Guildford once – I do enjoy your shows. I was wondering though, has anything really scary ever happened to you on tour? If so, what?
Not really… I did do a rowdy show in a pub-type building once; very strange gig and got offered a lot of money to play to some very angry drunks. Shouting and talking too loudly so they couldn’t hear us play or me sing. Just shouting “PLAY MISFIT! PLAY MISFIT!!” at me. I just ignored them but when one of the big guys lunged towards me, for whatever his reason (it did look a bit aggressive), thankfully I had my dear best friend Connor MacDonald (who was at that time, my guitarist) who is actually shockingly tough, grabbed him and stopped him mid-song. But I didn’t find it particularly scary. Just carried on singing. Just one of those things that can happen on tour. You never know what each gig will be.
That sounds kind of scary. Why someone would lunge for you on stage is bizarre! So, do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?
Pre-gig everyone has to be as relaxed and normal as possible. If anyone is trying to hype me up pre-gig, they have to go. As little talking as possible so I don’t wear out my voice before the show. Casual chat is fine. I want to walk out onto the stage as if I’m walking into my living room to play piano.
And post-show the first thing I do is have a cigarette, then I head straight out to talk to people who have come out to the show. Some people travel a long way to be there and others it means a lot to them to have a conversation with me as it might be such a long-standing relationship to my music, and in a sense me also. I love hearing about their lives and getting to meet them.
That’s really nice and such a genuine thing to do – not enough artists do that with their fans, though I think more are starting to. I imagine your fans really appreciate your time and dedication to meeting them. OK, so have you got any weird habits we should know about?
I shake a lot naturally from the adrenaline in my body from my anxiety disorder. And one way I deal with my anxiety is biting and picking at everything on me. I’m really very gross. Scabs. I chew the skin off my fingers when my nails run out, I eat my crispy eye sleepy stuff, I’m one of those people that loves watching those videos of people popping giant cysts or of them being removed. I had one on my head once and it was possibly one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I still miss it and touch the area on my head, hoping it’ll come back. Very little grosses me out about the human body. Haha.
Haha. That’s hilarious! I think a lot of people secretly (or not-so-secretly in yours and my case) enjoy watching pimple-popping videos. What are some of your other passions outside of music?
Well apart from giant cysts I guess… I am completely obsessed and passionate about acting, film and theatre. I studied Method acting a few years ago and Meisner Technique all of last year at The Salon Collective at the Cockpit Theatre and it was honestly life-changing. Lit up every part of me and every day I would come home completely alive and raving about what I was learning about the craft and about myself. I made some very special friends also. So I would like to continue my love of those three things moving forward. Acting, Film and Theatre. I used to be obsessed with horror movies growing up and that’s my winning genre for quiz games but when I started getting anxiety, I just couldn’t watch them anymore. But I adore films. Completely nerd out on character study and subtext.
Nice! Love a bit of nerdyness in people and I could see you being a good actress. I hope you get to continue all those passions. Go on then, what really grinds your gears?
Rude people. People who make a mistake and turn around to blame the innocent person. Injustice. Sexism. Racism. Chauvinism. Unkind people.
I agree with all those! What’s one of the most embarrassing things that’s ever happened to you, in life?
Oh so, so many. I’m probably about 11 years old, very self-conscious and terrified of boys at the time, especially older and ‘cute’ boys.
So, there was a phone booth down the road from my house. One fine, summer’s day, I was walking down my road to the shops and a group of older boys crossed the road and began walking towards. Sniggering in hushed voices in anticipation of the dreaded ‘WALK PAST’. God being a kid is so fraught with emotions. Anyway, I couldn’t take the pressure of the build-up, so I decided to dart into the phone booth and pretend to be having a conversation with someone using my very best acting skills. I don’t know about my acting skills, but when the boys walked past they burst into laughter at me, pointing… and to my horror, I realised the phone cable had been cut. So I was talking to an imaginary person on a phone with a cable cut and swaying in the breeze.
That’s amazing! Poor, poor you, but so, so funny.
I have so many other embarrassing stories it could take up a whole article…. Such has been my life and existence as myself.
What’s the best film you’ve seen lately?
Tangerine probably.. I found it really beautiful in all it’s grime and grit but the lives of these people and I felt truly on their side. Great film.
OK, I will definitely check that out – I have heard of it but yet to watch it. If, in say 30 years time, a film was made about your life, who would you want to play you?
Oh Jesus…maybe Juno Temple or Jemima Kirk, Elliot Sumner could probably play me well, Chloe Sevigny, Ellen Page, maybe Eva Green…, Helena Bonham Carter, That should be enough…. I wish someone would make a movie of my life. I don’t think anyone has any idea how crazy my life has actually been… ha
Those would all be cool to see! Weird one now…if you were a chocolate bar, which one would you be and why?
This question is mental. Ok, I would be a gluten and nut free chocolate bar made from raw cacao and coconut butter. Cos yes, I’m one of those.
HA! What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“Don’t practice till you get it right. Practice till you can’t get it wrong.”
“It’ll all be alright in the end. And if it isn’t alright, then it isn’t the end.”
Both courtesy of my father Richard Studt.
Great advice, I love those. Well done Father Studt – wise words! Thanks very much for taking the time to chat. All the best with the new album release and upcoming launch show. Next time you’re in Brighton, or nearby, I’d love to watch you perform.
That would be great! Give my Songkick a follow and it’ll let you know first as soon as any new dates come in! And thank you so much!
Amy Studt‘s releases are all available:
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