LIMF Academy 2021: Amber Jay
“We can all do anything, and I want to give that to people.”
Born and raised in Liverpool, Amber Jay balances delicate vocals with experimental production toys to create an exciting, artful form of pop.
Her musical training began at the age of nine; “My mum’s friend was the drummer in a Beatles tribute band. I remember being in Costco and seeing a drum kit, and asked if I could have it. She said ‘No way!’,” she laughs. “But I did get it in the end, and her friend gave me lessons. I went to an all-girls school, so it was strange for people to see a drummer.”
Jay’s earliest musical memories are clear; she remembers loving soundtracks and movie songs – everything from The Lion King’s The Circle of Life to Dolly Parton’s iconic theme to the 1980 film 9 to 5.
This is a love that has never truly left her. She still finds inspiration from popular culture in her songwriting, admitting that she often uses a film or television programme she has been particularly engrossed in as the source of inspiration. “It is like I’m writing my own soundtrack,” she says. ”It’s how I see it as I’m watching it. Then I don’t want it to end, so I’ll continue the narrative and try to stay in the world a little longer.”
One example of this appears as the lead single from her debut EP Never Too Far from a Dark Thought, the Huw Stephens-approved Pencilled Brims. Written as a response to the British spy drama Killing Eve, in particular reference to the ring which reads “It doesn’t matter what they think of me, it’s what I think of them”.
When she began writing music it was all acoustic and didn’t really have much direction until she met producer Kurran Kareal in early 2020. “That was a complete 180 degree turn. I could see where it was going. It was how I always wanted to hear my stuff. I thought I would have to go down the folky path, but this collaboration changed everything.”
Kareal’s production style added unique elements that perfectly complemented Jay’s style, in particular certain sounds that evoke video game soundtracks, which broadens the world she has already built through her own soundtrack influences.
Jay arrives in the studio with acoustic versions of her songs, and she and Kareal forge the sound together. Despite her pop sensibility, she doesn’t want the big production work of Lady Ga Ga or Beyonce. She thinks more like Billie Eilish or The Japanese House; “Those artists were the first time I heard people with my voice, a bit more quiet and delicate.”
Her current single, Equal, was initiated by the 2019 documentary Knock Down The House, showcasing women in America running for political office. Jay understandably related to the misogynistic themes in the film, and the song itself is a giant leap forward for her artistically.
“I felt like I could relate to a lot of what they went through,” she says. “The verses are more specific; gender and pronouns, sexuality, my perspective on those human experiences that are seen by others as not correct, but being frustrated and not fully accepting because we have been consuming societal norms, created by people who are now dead and we still live by them. I wrote the chorus with that message of full acceptance of ourselves and the confidence within us. We can all do anything, and I want to give that to people.”
The song not only points to a greater future for all of us, but perhaps the artistic future of Amber Jay.