Amy Macdonald returns, collaborating with a songwriting partner for the first time and gearing up for a new tour
Ten years ago when Amy Macdonald was a bright-eyed teen contender, hoping to make a career as a performer and songwriter and embarking on her first rounds of publicity, one question kept cropping up again and again – where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
“I would always just say ‘I don’t know, you don’t know how things work with the music industry, it’s extremely fickle, but if in ten years’ time I’m still doing what I do now then I’ll be really happy and that will be a great achievement’,” she recalls, able to trot out the response as if it was yesterday when, in fact, “now it is ten years’ time and I still seem to be doing what I do.
“You start to think about it a bit more and it feels crazy because this is the only job I’ve ever had and what I’ve done for a third of my life. There’s never been a lot of time sitting about with my feet up.”
Put in those stark statistics, there is little wonder that Bishopbriggs-born Macdonald is so appreciative of her lot but also so comfortable with it. That innate confidence was in evidence when she recently played her first hometown gig in four years – that’s if you discount a couple of intimate wee shindigs in 2014, opening the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup – in order to introduce material from her forthcoming fourth album Under Stars.
Old beyond her years when she started, Macdonald now exudes the poise of a seasoned performer, yet she will readily admit that showcasing a new batch of songs is one of the most nerve-jangling positions she could put herself in.
Under Stars breaks convention for Macdonald in that she has co-written its songs for the first time in her life, not with some bigshot collaborator as can be the way with even the most independent singer/songwriters, but with the bassist and keyboard player in her band.
“It’s something that I’d always wanted to try but I’m very embarrassed and nervous in that situation,” she says. “When I write it’s only myself I’m needing to be critical of but when you’re putting your ideas out to other people it feels a bit nerve-wracking. I couldn’t be that person that’s shipped off to LA to write with the hitmakers, I would be too shy in that situation. I need to have it a bit more low-key than that. But Jimmy [bassist Jimmy Sims] is very similar to me so we seem to be the perfect fit of two constant worriers, crippled with self-doubt about everything!”
The “swampy, folky” track Down By The Water is already out there for our consideration, taking Macdonald into new gospel-tinged territory, though the rest of the material she has aired publicly so far is very much in the upbeat, rootsy pop vein of her previous three albums.
“I’ve never set out to sound a particular way,” she counters. “I just want to write songs that I enjoy and that I think other people will enjoy and I didn’t stop doing that because I was suddenly working with others. I need there to be a meaning there because I always think if the songs don’t mean anything to me then how can I expect them to mean anything to anyone else? It’s still fundamentally me, it’s still my voice, which is pretty distinctive, but it’s maybe a bit more interesting, a bit more exciting.”
Returning after four years out of the limelight, the most noticeable difference in Macdonald is actually a superficial change. The fast cars-and-football-loving girl-next-door has indulged her love of tattoos by acquiring a sleeve of skin art down her left arm, which has provoked some unexpected reactions.
“It’s definitely a conversation starter,” she says. “I have had a lot of negative feedback, a few people saying they won’t listen to my music anymore, which is ridiculous. I’m not really sure you listened to it in the first place if you based your musical choice on how somebody looks.”
Macdonald can joke about it – she informed her record label that Under Stars would be a heavy metal album – but she has also found greater personal resonance in the track This Pretty Face which she wrote years earlier about not judging by appearances. “That’s something I’ve always believed, but I think I’ve felt even more connected to it because I’ve been in that situation loads myself recently. There’s other songs I play that might have meant something totally different in the past that have grown a little bit with me.”
Macdonald may no longer be asked where she sees herself in ten years but that doesn’t mean that her days of fielding stock questions are over. As she braces herself for supreme visibility in 2017, it is time to pose another cheesy old chestnut: what are her hopes for the coming year?
Without missing a beat, she has the answer at her fingertips. “My hopes for the year are just more of the same. I’m super-excited about the tour, really pleased that people seem to be buying tickets in huge numbers because I always worry that they might forget about me, and really excited for people to hear the album, because there’s been a lot of work put into it. It has been nice having a good chunk of time at home for the first time in ages but after two years of being at home I’m ready to hit the road again and do the usual living out a suitcase for God knows how long.” ■
Under Stars is released by Mercury on 17 February. Amy Macdonald plays the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 5 April, Inverness Ironworks, 12 April and Aberdeen Beach Ballroom, 13 April, www.amymacdonald.co.uk