On the release of Ms Amy Birks debut solo release Progradar’s John Wenlock-Smith asked the velvet-voiced songstress a few questions…
JWS – I’ve listened to the album quite a lot and I notice the album falls into several different parts, all apart from ‘Jamaica Inn‘, the next few songs are divorce related, there is the song about the abuse you suffered and a couple of historical related tracks. We get the travelling song in Colombia and then ‘I Wish’ and the album closes with a song of hope.
AB – Yes, ‘Not Every Night‘ & ‘With All That I Am‘ both carry the pain and frustrations felt in divorce but both very different sounding – ‘Not Every Night‘ has a much more forgiving and delicate tone (I’m a big fan of the delicate right hand of Dubussy and Chopin so I took a bit of inspiration from them on this album) – And delicate perhaps because I wrote this song 2 years or so after my divorce.
‘With All That I Am‘ sounds much more raw and closer to the detail with lyrics like “Who is she? You owe me that at least”. I wanted the instrumentation in this track to echo the raw tone to the lyrics so both Caroline Lavelle’s cello and John Hackett’s flute both play their part in creating a splitting of directions and the classical sounding piano holding this piece together, with it’s more formal and rigid feel.
The track ‘More’ is written about my difficulty with siblings and I’m sure it will be a pain in my life that will be hard to separate myself from completely. That’s why you hear dark and brooding instrumentation with clashes and a big crescendo that sounds almost confrontational and aggressive in nature.
‘Say Something’ is written about two key things that have happened in my life – first being at the age of 14 when I was attacked by a fellow student in my music class – the boy well expelled and by coming forward to say something, 5 more girls from the same year said that he had done similar things to them. The second incident coming a few years later – I was a model and the photographer who was also managing the start of my music career took advantage of a 17 year old girl. I won’t go into detail but a lot was said during a 2 year period of my life that will stay with me forever.
JWS – This album is very different, several years after the events its kinder and more forgiving really
AB – Yes, with time I have allowed myself reflection and the ability to try and understand moments in my life and bring out the melodies in a more uplifting way. You see, although the lyrics take you somewhere with pretty dark undertones, the melodic feel is meant to uplift and take you past these painful meanings so you get a better balanced feel.
JWS – You obviously love history and are drawn to certain figures, the same with literature with Daphne du Maurier and Jamaica Inn.
AB – Absolutely. I’m a huge fan of the National Trust and English Heritage and have spent many a weekend visiting the great houses and gardens (I’m a keen gardener) throughout England. My parents also play their part, taking me to places such as the Bronte country and Howarth for holidays. The work of the Bronte’s will for sure feature on the next album but for this album I chose the work of Daphne De Murier, and the character of Mary Yellan; A strong but romantic character where I could position myself firmly within to create the video for ‘Jamaica Inn’. I’m a huge fan of South West England, again, holidaying there as a child so it was a perfect excuse to hire a few horses, carriage and to wake up at 5.30 in the morning to don the beach in a very Poldark-style dress, handmade by my seamstress mother, Sylvia.
JWS – Where is the album’s rear cover picture taken?
AB – At the back of St Andrew’s Church in Leysters – Herefordshire. My dear friend and photographer for the album artwork, Richard Shakespeare lives in nearby Leominster.
JWS – What would you say are your musical influences?
AB – Natalia Merchant, Suzanne Vega, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Carol King, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, Dario Marianelli, Debussy, Chopin, JS Bach, The Beatles, Jeff Buckley, Jethro Tull… I could go on haha
JWS – I know album 2 is ready and will be released next year, what can we expect from this?
AB – Quite possibly a bit more guitar and drums, works of the Bronte sisters poetry but basically an extension to what you hear on ‘All That I Am & All That I Was’, with string orchestration because I love to write for cello and violin, a classical, progressive feel with ornate polyphony.
JWS – Where do you get your ideas from?
AB – Real life – I always think, write what you know, then your true feelings and character will come through without having to think, “how should this sound?”. You shouldn’t have to think if you write from your heart. I studied English Literature, Art, as well as Music so I draw inspiration from many things. I remember penning a song whilst stood in front of ‘The Kiss’ by Klimt, so that may turn up at some point. Books of course and music… I’m often listening to JS Bach & Erik Satie and feel inspired to jump on the piano to write. Places also inspire me. I’ve written in Colombia, France and Italy, where I’ve found local melodies and instrumentation push me to write and of course, sun, a glass of Chianti and a beautiful view seem to aid in putting pen to paper.
JWS – Who would you most like to work with?
AB – The violinist, Angele Dubeau, lead vocalist and writer for Pain of Salvation – Daniel Gildenlow, Composer – Dario Marianelli and Steven Wilson!
JWS – I really feel that this album is a very strong statement from you and I think it will be acclaimed by many but how do you feel about it?
AB – Thank you and I’m grateful to know that and I feel a real sense of achievement. I’ve been through a lot, especially over the past 4 or 5 years and I’m glad that I have been brave enough to write about it and to discover that I can produce, engineer and mix, so I’ve picked up many skills, equipping for the next album.
JWS – There was mention of a more guitar driven version, will that be available and, if so, how and when?
AB – Yes, plenty of material and ideas kicking around. It’s just trying to figure out which ideas to put forward first but I should imagine an acoustic version of these songs and possibly my version of the Beatrix Players’ ‘Magnified’ at some point in the next 18 or so months.
JWS – Have you any other plans for when lockdown ends?
AB – Yes, I’ll be heading to France for a dip in the river Vienne, a spot of painting in my French house as there’s lots of work still to do before I can use it as my writing studio, and a chance to catch up with my parents as they’re now full-time in France. I will also be scheduling many more gigs over the next 12 months, so watch this space.
JWS – Have you thought about what other historical figures could you write about?
AB – Well, there are still four more wives of Henry the 8th to write about and plenty of Bronte characters that really inspire me. I’m a big fan of Kate Mosse’s books, such as ‘The Burning Chambers & Sepulchre’ so who knows…
Thanks to Amy for talking to Progradar, look out for John’s review of the new album coming very soon and you can order the new album, released 3/4/2020, here: