'It’ll be alright in the end and if it isn’t alright, it isn’t yet the end.'
10/10/2019, Ash MCAULIFFE
October 4th 2019 sees the release of Amy Studt's third record "Happiest Girl in The Universe". Her first release as an independent artist following 2 albums for Polydor, this new record gives people a candid and raw insight into her life and journey in the interim. The change in musical direction certainly shines a bright light on the immense songwriting prowess she has always possessed, resulting in an emotionally charged, incredibly strong album. It was an immense pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Amy and have her be so open in her responses.
What is your earliest musical memory?
Probably dancing around my living room or grandparents living room naked to various records of my dad’s like the Jeeves and Wooster soundtrack, the big bopper, and other weird songs like ‘They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha Ha’. I remember being aware of my folks giggling as I tried my new dance moves out and expressionist dance style.
Most people will remember you from your pop days. Your first album “False Smiles” is now 16 years old! Where has the time gone? Songs like “Misfit” and “Just A Little Girl” still sound fresh today. How would you sum up that time upon reflection and how do you feel when you hear these songs now?
Some parts of me feel like it wasn’t my life. Like my memories are someone else’s. They are distant and dreamlike. But then it may be more because those experiences were and are so out of the norm that I think anyone thinking back to their childhood memories, if those memories were quite extreme would feel a similar way.
But to sum up my time upon reflection, I was just a girl who wrote songs from 5 or 6 years old and didn’t fit in who was discovered at 13, signed a massive deal by 14 and suddenly thrown into this completely different world. I always said as a child “I’m going to be a well-known singer-songwriter” and before I had blinked it was happening. I was given this incredible opportunity and amazing experiences. All the good and all the bad. I learnt a lot. Working with fellow writers was so joyful and something I hadn’t experienced before having only ever written alone. But I didn’t like the separation from normal life during that period when fame started creeping in and I became very socially anxious. When I hear these songs now, I think, damn, they sound like they could be on the radio now?! They still sound really fresh. I also think that there are very few, maybe no weak tracks and I remember all the fun I had writing it and taking in all my ideas to these new producer friends I’d made and writing and recording with them. Scaring Gary Barlow (apparently) with my youthful angst. It makes me think of laughing, a. Lot. And exacting my revenge by song to anyone who crossed me.
What was your experience of working with a major label?
Hmm. Well, 19 and Simon Fuller kept me very well protected and separate from a lot of that stuff. I only really have good memories of my time with Polydor/Universal and the people I worked with there. I remember Lucian Grainge being a fairly formidable character to my 15-year-old self and not really being sure what to say to him. I remember some wonderful characters I got to work with. Taking me to meet my idol at the time Marilyn Manson at his Night of The Grotesque Burlesque and getting to chat to him. (gush) I met Keith from The Prodigy that night and Dita von Tease. I was so grateful for this. Magic night.
You posted an interesting post about dreams on your Facebook recently. Are you interested in spirituality/philosophy? Do you subscribe to any spiritual path or philosophy and has this had any influence over your musical journey?
When I was younger, I went to a Christian school and said my prayers before every meal along with the other school kids as was part of the rules but I never felt like I was Christian. I connected mostly with Paganism from around 12-13 years old onwards… But later I changed my mind. I think I just liked feeling like I was one of the girls from the movie The Craft. But I did study it and loved learning about its history and its connection with nature. In the end though, it wasn’t for me. I don’t really like prescribing to one particular rule book on religion or spirituality. I always end up doubtful and wondering who wrote it and whether as imperfect as humans are, I would or could agree with following someone else’s thoughts to the letter. I always liked the idea of joining a cult...which I know is a weird thing to say but again, following one person and their ideas and not my own...wouldn’t work for me. I think if I were to join any cult it would have been following Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the ’60s and ’70s but break off after that. Just as principles wise it matches a lot of my own, freedom, sexuality, mindfulness, therapy, unity, love, celebration, courage, creativity, and humour. It was incredible at the beginning. But if you’ve watched Wild Wild Country we all know how that went so not something I would have liked to have been involved in later! I’d like to learn more about all religions. I’d like to read the Quran, learn more about Judaism and Buddhism has a lot in it that, with my anxiety, has brought me a lot of peace.
Philosophy wise, I do have a myriad of views and stances on things, but I am open and interested in other people’s lives and beliefs both religious and philosophical. Unless they strike too hard against my own and involve cruelty and control. I am a feminist for example. And it is still so sad to have to say that what I mean by that is equality. EQUALITY. Which involves both men and women. (sigh).
"My Paper Made Men" is one of my personal favourite records of all-time which was sadly neglected at its time of release, but I know many people who share my deep appreciation for this album and its longevity in our personal lives. The CD itself has become a collector’s item! "She Walks Beautiful" is particularly special as it is the song that bonded and solidified what is becoming a lifelong friendship with my best mate. What do you remember about the creative process behind this record as compared to "False Smiles"? What informed the change of direction? What do you think of the record as time has gone by?
Ah, that’s lovely! Yeah, it was kind of amazing that it became a collector’s item. And that’s lovely about you and your best friend.
With False Smiles, it was a faster more humorous process. There was little to no thought on my side as to how sonically it would represent me as an artist being that all I had ever been prior was a slightly odd songwriting girl just piano and vocal-based and that False Smiles was going out into the world. I just had fun and was fascinated with all I was learning, who I was meeting and working with, the studio and recording process.
With the second album, I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to create, and it was a harder process in that sense. I had to fight to make things how I envisioned a lot more and it was still, in the end, a compromise to some extent. I was told for example if I didn’t do Nice Boys as a single (and actually it was only written as a joke because I was told I needed a more obvious sounding pop single) that the album would not exist at all in physical form. So, I had to make that compromise and I think you can tell it sticks out like a sore thumb on the record. I’m proud of the second album though and think it is a good record full of interesting songwriting and exploration as a writer.
What do you find most beautiful about being an independent artist?
The freedom and the full control. I wanted to make music without the input of others unless that other person was fully trusted creatively to understand me, my influences and choices, and so I was able to make something that was exactly how I wanted it.
Has what it means to make songs changed throughout your career?
Yes, in lots of ways. Both how I feel about it personally, the way I feel about writing and also its validity and worth as far as the public consensus goes. Now it is almost seen as everyone’s right to have and consume as much as possible of people’s writing without having to pay for their time and hard work and years of expertise and training. You wouldn’t think twice about having to pay for a lawyer who studied and worked hard through schooling, uni and training and yet often songwriters have worked for more years learning and honing their craft than most lawyers and yet it is seen as disposable. A hobby of sorts. I think that is more than a shame and highly offensive. I’ve seen and been a part of the shift from the days when people would rush to HMV to buy singles on cassette to the emergence of Napster and labels freaking out to where we are now with YouTube and Spotify and social media world.
Who have been the greatest influences on your new sound? How would you describe your new music to a complete stranger?
God, that’s hard. Well, my instinctual writing style is still very hooky and traditionally dark and sweet, and I wanted with this record to dirty myself up sonically, so I put myself on a musical diet for a long time. I learnt about Postpunk music and read ‘rip it up and start again’ and researched all of the band and artists it mentioned. Got really into Talking Heads and Suicide. When making it we kept in lots of ‘mistakes’, most of the tracks are live takes, we played with distance recording vocals far from the mic so at times you hear the walls of the room which was interesting to me. Collected jars from the house, filled them with water and tuned them to play as percussion. There are Dictaphone recording bits of conversations between me and Toby from when we were writing the songs in the actual songs themselves. I wanted above all to keep the breath and the life alive in it. I didn’t want to squash anything with autotune and make things too perfect. Aside from that influence wise I’ve always loved movie soundtracks (Juno, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Frances Ha…) and Scott Walker, he was a big influence on me especially lyrically. Mazzy Star and The Shangri-Las. Add in a bit of Nancy Sinatra, Cat Power, P J Harvey and Regina Spector and I’m somewhere gliding around in there I think...But hopefully still something all my own.
Your new record is called "Happiest Girl in The Universe". What inspired the title?
It’s the name of the final track on the album. I wrote this song about a girl called Lisa who became an important friend to me in a psychiatric facility where I went in 2012. While I was in there letter writing was quite important to all of us and so it felt right to write this song as two letters. It’s about looking back and also to the future and the way you want to live. Your hopes and dreams of overcoming the obstacles you face and how you aspire to live your life, overcoming your fear.
What are the main themes of the record?
There are two main narratives to this record. One is of love and the transition between two great loves of my life. Letting go of one and moving into the future with another. And the other narrative is of losing sanity. Of struggling for answers and finding yourself very lost and the long hard journey out of that place.
Is it safe to say it is all autobiographical?
Ha, yes. Definitely.
The album cover is very powerful in its simplicity! What inspired this?
I did the photography for all of this project which is a first for me. From the single covers to the album cover and artwork. The way I normally take my photos is to firstly get out of my own head with the fact that ‘I’m trying to get a photo of myself’ I shoot film/video instead in different places, maybe with my head out the window of a car or me doing strange movements and dances. Later I go through the footage and pause at interesting points and take screenshots. I then arrange them into different sections and layouts. Simply, I hate normal posing and glamour posing, it doesn’t interest me and kind of turns my tummy a bit. It doesn’t feel real and I didn’t feel it would suit this record.
I’m really fascinated with eyes especially, and the face when it is doing something people don’t usually see. I then worked on the design of the single covers and album with Finnigan Kid (who also did all the albums drums) and I said I wanted the title to be like a tear rolling down my cheek. He is exceptionally talented, and I love working with him in any capacity. He’s my brother from another mother and I think his work on the design and artwork has been so extraordinary. Such a joy to collaborate with him.
The album sounds so majestic in its rawness and its melancholy. For the entire duration, I had goosebumps. You've definitely tapped into something deeper than deep with this record. There's something almost primal about the sound that really pulls the listener into a state of introspection that also allows them to use that as a safe place to channel their own pain through. Is creating a connection with the listener at the centre of your compositions and how important is this to you?
Firstly, thank you very much for saying all of that. I’m very moved and flattered it had that effect on you. Beautifully written! Thank you.
As for connection, definitely in the times when I’ve been my most silent or silenced by my illnesses my search for connection has been deafening. I used to write poems and letters to strangers, to anyone who might find and read them on little notes and wrapped them in ribbons and used to tuck them between tube seat just to make some kind of connection. I always wondered if anyone found them.
Maybe there is an undercurrent in me that strives to be understood and for connection. But that is never the object or at the forefront of my mind when I’m writing. I’m just trying to get how I think and feel about each topic down to music and on paper. I don’t consider the external world at all as I think that might confuse things or make the lyrics less sincere somehow.
A friend of mine who was one of the first to hear this record in full said to me it was a really hopeful album and made him feel really uplifted. That was the first time I realised that this was a hopeful and strangely triumphant album in a sense and not the full depression album I first thought.
What are the key instruments and equipment used on the album to give it that atmospheric almost chamber-gloom vibe?
A LOT of real Wurlitzer and Organs, slap delay, old tape delay, lots of old reverbs, some surprising sounds from an old 90’s Yamaha keyboard we discovered, jangly crunchy guitar with some holy grail reverb pedal and RAT distortion pedal amongst other magic tricks that Toby has on his Reaper (we use Reaper and not Logic for production) but I use an old beautiful silvertone amp that’s crackly and its tremolo is divine. Toby Kid is a magic maker as far as the guitars and bass go and getting that sound and his production. And Finnigan Kid with his reverbed percussion (lots of tambourine) and drums just clicked it all into place.
Will you be touring the new record? Do you still enjoy touring?
I love touring. And definitely it’s my aim to tour as much as I can with this new record. I’m interested in finding odd venues, old falling down theatres, old chapels, more interesting spaces for me to perform in. I’m also very passionate about acting and interested in the merging of theatre and music in a different way of moving forward. (I have a project in the pipeline for later...)
What is your favourite song to play live?
At the moment it is ‘Happiest Girl in the Universe’ maybe because it is the final song of the set and the end of the story, but I can also feel the audience's response to it as well as my own when it’s stripped back and live. It’s like it relieves the tension and leaves you with this exultant feeling. Emotional!
What is your main hope for “Happiest Girl in The Universe”?
I guess I’ve already realised my original hopes with this record which was just to live to complete it and release it, making it a real physical thing and exist in the world.
I’ve learnt not to hope too much to do with the music business as it is fickle and moves on so fast. But if I was to hope for anything it would be for as many people to hear it that are into this kind of thing as possible so that I can continue to make more music and keep touring and continuing my art. But even if that’s not the case I will still be happy that it simply exists. I can die happy! Ha.
What attracts you to the darker more intimate side of songwriting?
I’ve always just naturally written in a darker style even from childhood by short stories were always fairly shockingly along that theme. It seems to be where I am most at home. Using it as a means to explore and express how I feel. But who knows, maybe this will change. I’ve had a lot of darkness in my life and I really do search for the joy and light now. So maybe my writing will follow. Who knows? 😊
What has your musical journey taught you about yourself and about the world as a whole?
Oh my god! Ok, my musical journey has taught me firstly about myself that I should always stay true to my guts when it comes to creativity. Not to bend to the opinions of others and doubt your choices and tastes. That things are never as big and serious as they seem. That pressure is just an illusion. To always strive to be honest and kind. With yourself and others. To never get sucked into the bullshit game of “I’m signed now and now they are filling my head with all this ‘you’re amazing! AMAZING!!’ ego-boosting rubbish designed to make the artist feel and act like a star” Something which labels seem to think is important to do and which I see so many of my friends go through being sucked into that change. (eye roll), It has taught me that I am fragile but not in the way people or I initially expect/ed. It has taught me to be careful who I surround myself with both personally and creatively. It has taught me to ‘stay true to my family’ as it were. My musical family, and those I’m close to. It has taught me not to say anything and everything that comes into my head to just anyone and to be discerning who I let see inside my head.
And what my musical journey has taught me about the world as a whole is first that fame does weird things to human beings. All the myriad of reactions I’ve seen painted on the faces of the people I met during that time and is still a puzzle to me. Kind of amazing, wonderful and horrible to experience first-hand. It has also taught me that there are a lot of outsiders out there just like me who always felt like they didn’t fit in or as I like to say just hadn’t found their crowd of fellow outsiders yet ; ) That there are a lot of people suffering in the world out there and are in search of connection also. It taught me that if someone has a problem with you it’s usually a problem they have with themselves. It has taught me about the business world, a cut-throat efficiency world, a protection world, a secretive world, a teasing and only showing some of the view world, a money world, a celebrity world, a damaging world of excess and premature death, I could go on, but safe to say my musical journey has been my journey. And has taught me so very much.
Choose one song from each album and say why it’s significant to you.
False Smiles – “Seconds Away” - This is one of two of my favourite songs on the first album. I actually prefer the original demo I did with Cathy Dennis but the album version is nice too. I love this one because it’s about my first sexual encounters and trying to describe it. Which makes it fairly unlike any of my other songs I’ve written to this day. It’s really hooky and I used to play it on repeat on my headphones to fall asleep to on the train.
My Paper Made Men – “Furniture” - I think this might be one of the best songs I’ve ever written... The lyrics are so well written I even surprised myself when I wrote it. And I guess I’m just really proud of it. I wanted it to be confessional, so I recorded the vocals under a duvet, I wanted it to sound like I was telling someone my secrets. I wrote it about a relationship I felt I had become an ornament to them in. A theme that occurred a lot during the time that I was a recognised face.
Happiest Girl in The Universe - I love them all. But for the sake of having to choose one I will choose “One Is the Only Number”. It is an important song for me because I am a person who never used to believe in regret. I have always felt it was a wasted emotion. But though I have very few if any regrets in my life I do have one. And this one was what I wrote One Is the Only Number about. I had been slowly and corrosively eaten away by this regret for many years. The seed had been sown and started to wind weeds and vines around my heart and mind and began travelling up my veins. It changed me, held me back, held me down, kept me up at night, kept feelings alive that should have naturally diminished with time. I started having night terrors about it. I felt I needed resolution, absolution, forgiveness. It took nearly a decade for me to realise the blame was made to look like I was fully responsible for it when actually it was only partly. This convincing me of my full responsibility nearly killed me at a time when I was very ill. This song was my way of trying to let go, asking for forgiveness, of exploring this regret knowing I could never go back or get the closure I needed.
In parting, if you could impart one wisdom to the world what would it be?
It’ll be alright in the end and if it isn’t alright, it isn’t yet the end.
STALINGRAD VALKYRIE • The old world will be collapsing pretty soon!
ENZO KREFT • Many tracks from 'Control' are about the relationship between humans and technology and the dangerous consequences of this in the near future.
TREVOR DUNN (MR.BUNGLE,FANTOMAS, TRIO-CONVULSANT...) • 'The hard thing to do is to keep it simple.'
UNDERTHESKIN • Try To Leave The Listener In A Certain Reflection, And Maybe Bring Some Kind Of Relief
MICHAEL GIRA (SWANS) • 'Having a strong presence of death in your mind all the time is very healthy thing!'
MIKE WATT(JUMPSTARTED PLOWHARDS) • In a way, the project is a total collaboration!
PAUL Q.KOLDERIE • 'There has to be a song that I feel needs to be recorded…'
NEON INSECT • A Conversation With Neon Insect
CHMCL STR8JCKT • An Interview With Chmcl Str8jckt
JAMES MCGREGOR (THE CLOCKWORKS) • 'Our dynamic is genuinely a gang scenario'