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Interview: Anne-Marie

Grant Walters Grant Walters Interview: Anne-Marie
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With her fast-rising debut album, "Speak Your Mind", and a handful of big radio hits in tow, the UK singer-songwriter stops by A&R Music Bar on Monday night

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Just days after her debut album, Speak Your Mind (Warner Bros. Records), was certified gold in the U.S., British singer-songwriter Anne-Marie and I connected to preview her show at A&R Music Bar on September 10 – one of just a handful of Stateside solo headlining dates that will divert her from the stadium tour bill she’s sharing with ubiquitous fellow Brit Ed Sheeran, and Irish alt-rockers Snow Patrol this fall.

The album’s first single, “FRIENDS,” a collaboration with Philadelphia DJ and EDM producer Marshmello, was certified platinum last month by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Spinning regularly at Top 40 and Adult Contemporary radio for much of the year, the track is also nearing a half-billion streams on Spotify and its accompanying video has exceeded 300 million views globally. Anne-Marie’s most recent single, “2002,” co-written with Sheeran, Benny Blanco, Julia Michaels, and Steve Mac, was released to U.S. radio in August after making a major impact on charts everywhere else in the world.

Once a fixture as a child performer in London’s West End, and then a Shotokan Karate world champion, Anne-Marie’s pop music career began in 2013 when she cut a demo, “Summer Girl”, for Elton John’s Rocket label in 2013. Before releasing her first EP (aptly titled Karate) in 2015, she invested time in building a rock-solid musical foundation as a frequent guest vocalist on tracks by Magnetic Man, Raized by Wolves, and Gorgon City, and as a temporary member of UK drum-and-bass outfit, Rudimental. Her breakout came in October 2016 when she lent her voice to Clean Bandit’s UK number one hit, “Rockabye”, which also received significant airplay in the U.S. and reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in early 2017.

Although her musical reputation has been steadily strengthening over the past five years, the success Anne-Marie has widely achieved in a relatively short amount of time as her own entity has been humbling.

“Yeah, it’s mad,” she says softly in her Essex accent. “I still can’t really believe that that’s happened!”

Speak Your Mind, as the title suggests, is a statement of empowerment and truth-seeking – a platform Anne-Marie has been eager to use to impart messages of positive body image and mental and physical well-being to her listeners. It is also a testament to finding her own voice as an artist in the album’s recording and production.

“Uh…[laughs]…I think It’s just to be outspoken,” she explains when asked about the steps she took toward creative control of the project. “I’ve always kind of been that way, though, so I feel like that whole process just kind of came naturally rather than having to kind of battle with people. It’s more like…I think everyone just knew the way I was and kind of listened. I think my label’s really great at that, anyway. They’ve really let me be who I wanted to be and kind of…yeah, I think they just knew that I knew what I wanted, and so that was, like, a great thing to experience with them.

And I think always just speaking up whenever you feel like something’s not right – you’ve got to say it out loud. So, that’s kind of what I did.”

You’ve discussed the philosophical messages associated with the album, and I love that you’ve used the songs so precisely as vehicles for your own experiences and observations. But, I’m curious about the record’s musical structure and how you assembled it sonically? What was most important to you as it came together?

“It took me quite a while to get there. I think the lyrics and stuff like that came quite quickly, but the music kind of confused me because I wasn’t the one sitting at the computer making it. So, it took me a while to realize that I had…that I could have control over what was actually being put on it. But for a while, all of the songs sounded good but not complete, if that makes sense. It took a while to collaborate with producers and get the right producers to work with.

It did actually start to get whittled down to five producers that I worked with…well, I work with five now that made it. I don’t know how it came about – the producers and I wrote every song starting either just on piano or just with some chords on a guitar. And that’s where the lyrical content was so strong from, because you can’t really hide behind anything.

And then I wasn’t really scared to say ‘you know what? Whatever the song needs, whatever you think that it needs, just put that on it,’ rather than saying ‘it needs to sound like a pop song, by the way,’ or ‘oh yeah, by the way this needs to sound like ‘Rockabye’’. I’ve never wanted to do that – I’ve never wanted to go into a session and say ‘we need to write a song that sounds like ‘Rockabye’ because it was a hit,’ you know? I was always just very open and not scared to create something that might sound a little different for the next song. That was just a little bit of freedom and not being scared to make something a little different. That’s what this album is.”

You began in musical theatre when you were very young, so I imagine that had some sort of influence, but what was the first music or artist you heard that catalyzed your desire to make pop music?

“I think it was mainly Alanis Morrissette – like ‘Ironic,’ and ‘Uninvited,’ and ‘You Learn.’ All of those subjects that were really different from the songs I listened to at the time. And I just thought ‘oh, you can write about different things, like ‘Uninvited’ is about a stalker, and I was just, like, ‘whoa! This is blowing my mind!’ And other people like Eminem and Lauryn Hill who weren’t scared to talk about real stuff that was happening in the world and their struggles and stuff like that. So, anyone really that was kind of outspoken and tried to write something different really inspired me.

It kind of made me realize that even if I wrote something down on a piece of paper, it made me feel good. And if you’re listening to music – kind of without you even knowing – it makes you feel something, makes you feel better. Or makes you feel worse, or makes you feel something in some sort of way. And I love that idea, so I always…as soon as I wrote my first song, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I just kind of went from there, really.”

You mentioned how you identify with other artists’ take real-world issues and personal struggles, and you’ve been quite candid about your own contention with anxiety and a recent diagnosis as an empath. How have you negotiated that as a creative person?

“Well, mine has been an ongoing learning process about myself. I think when I first started writing I didn’t actually understand anxiety and I didn’t know what I had. And then it wasn’t until I was meeting new people and speaking to people who also had it in the industry that I was, like, ‘oh! I have that.’ And also with being an empath, I’ve always found it to be kind of a downfall to me, you know? I always found it to be a massive struggle. And then I met someone who was kind of, like, ‘you know, that’s actually kind of a gift. You can feel what other people feel, which means you can write about other people and understand what they’re going through.’

Each of those things that I’ve struggled with, now, I’m trying to see them in another light, and that’s only through being creative. And I think if I hadn’t have been a songwriter or in this position I never really would’ve understood anxiety or being an empath. So, I’m kind of glad, really.”

You’ve been a vocal body-positive advocate, and I do think it’s important that people hear empowering messages from those they look up to or follow in a broad sense. But knowing that body image has been a problem societally for hundreds of years, how do you think people can de-program the day-to-day ideas and constructs that have propelled it so that those perspectives actually change?

“For me, I think the only way people are going to start to change is if someone says something. You don’t just wake up one day and say ‘oh, I’ve been thinking wrong,’ because you’ve been taught that way. It isn’t until you see something or you hear something that you think ‘oh, yeah – I actually feel that way about that!’ So, what I think that I’m trying to do is just say everything that I feel, and then hopefully someone sees that and they can start changing the way they feel about themselves or the way they’ve thought.

And, yeah, I don’t know – I think for me, I read a lot of books and watch a lot of YouTube videos of women speaking about themselves, and that has taught me. And I feel that if someone doesn’t have the same journey as me, and they don’t go to a book or go to YouTube and they don’t have that, then hopefully they have my Instagram or something and then they see something that I’m trying to say. Yeah, I agree – it’s been hundreds and hundreds of years of just being drilled into us. I think the main thing I’m trying to get across is that every single one of us is different, and that’s actually an amazing thing rather than a bad thing. So, it starts as that, really.”

You seem genuinely in awe of the success you’ve achieved thus far in your career, and I think it’s quite heartening to see someone who is truly appreciative of what’s happening to them and is trying to use their place and position to do good for others. It must be amazing to see the investment you’ve made in your craft being returned to ten-fold.

“Yeah, it’s actually…it’s all that you could want, really. You initially create music because it helps you and it makes you feel good. But, as soon as it starts connecting with other people, that’s when it really kicks in that you’re making a difference or you’re making something that’s helping other people. Even if it’s not, like, in a deep way and they just love your music to listen to in the shower – that’s a good feeling, you know?

I always try to have my eyes open to everything that’s happening to me. I don’t like to look into the future, but I like to look at everything that’s happening right at this very moment. And I think that’s what helps me not adjust, but appreciate, what is happening right now rather than going through life and looking back and going ‘wow! I did that!’ I just kind of feel like I need to do that now rather than later.”

Can you find moments where you get to step back, breathe it in, and make sense of it?

“It happens at the weirdest times. You think ‘oh, I have a day off,’ and then I’ll think about everything and then it’ll sink in. And sometimes you have days off where your mind is just blank and you’re just in bed Netflix. But today, I had, like, an overwhelming feeling and I just started crying my eyes out. And it’s just, like, ‘oh, great! Really inappropriate time!’ But sometimes it just hits you and you kind of just have to deal with that moment and wipe the tears away and carry on.”

Speak Your Mind is just taking off, but are you writing and recording while you’re on this tour?

“Yeah, I think if I’m not in the studio I always have ideas in my head, so it’s great to have a phone nearby so I can record them and sound like a crazy person in a taxi. Which is what I do most of the time. [laughs] But I think on this trip, it’s been the first time I’ve written a new song in quite a while, because obviously I’ve been on tour since the end of April with Ed Sheeran, and I haven’t been in a studio environment. In L.A., when we got there, we had some time to get into the studio and it just felt great. I love being in the studio – I think it’s a really big outlet for me to just be in there with creative people in a different way than on stage.

It’s just been great. I’m constantly writing. I don’t think I could ever stop. My head is always getting ideas – even from conversations and people that I meet, so it doesn’t stop.”

Anne-Marie will perform on Monday, September 10 at A&R Music Bar, 391 Neil Avenue in the Arena District. Special guest is Canadian singer-songwriter Goody Grace. General admission tickets are $16.00, plus taxes and fees, and are available via Ticketmaster. Visit Anne-Marie’s official website to purchase or stream “Speak Your Mind,” and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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