INTERVIEW - Amba Shepherd: "Know your intention and stay connected to that. Take risks."
Image: Cybele Malinowski
Amba Shepherd first appeared on the music scene as the featured vocalist on producer Hardwell’s 2012 track ‘Apollo’. The song has collected 53 million streams to date and established Shepherd as one of the most in demand singers in the dance and EDM scene. She has gone on to work with legends such as Tiesto, Benny Benassi and Nervo, with her recent collab with EDX ‘Off The Grid’ hitting over two million streams since May. She has just released a solo single, the loved up banger ‘Something Beautiful’ and we recently caught up with Amba to find out more about her career, her music and fighting gender disparity in the music industry.
Hi Amba! So good to be chatting with you. First off, how is everything going in the world of Amba Shepherd?
Everything is great over here thanks! Its been such a wonderful year I just got engaged to the love of my life Matthew, have travelled to London, moved to Melbourne from Sydney, released a few great new songs including a collaboration with EDX, one of the most iconic house producers out there, and I’ve just released my latest single ‘Something Beautiful’ on Central Station Records.
If we take it right back to the beginning, what are your first memories of music?
My Dad is a musician so I think my earliest memories are Dad playing jazz records around the house, and me playing back stage while he was performing.
What musicians did you like as a child?
As a child I was not exposed to much pop music, mainly jazz and classical music, my Dad was really strict about this.
Was there a particular moment when you decided you wanted to pursue a career in music?
In year 9 I started singing lessons, and my love for music far surpassed everything else for me. By year 12 I was pretty desperate in my desire to have a career in music.
What did you do to get from there to where you are now?
After school I went to uni, despite my early music education as such, Dad was not happy about me wanting to be a musician and insisted I become a professional and go to uni. During uni I performed a lot - musicals, kids school holiday shows, and a number of TV commercials. I set up a really basic recording computer with Logic and a dodgy microphone and started writing songs. My first songwriting cut was for Anthony Callea’s (Australian Idol) first album. I was songwriting for a few years but felt it didn’t really fulfill me as much as writing and performing. So 2010 I wrote and performed a song called ‘I Believe’ with Nick Galea and that record went straight to number 2 on the ARIA Club Chart and stayed there for ages. It gave me the confidence that I could really do this as a career. From there I went on a songwriting trip to Sweden and wrote a number of singles that would begin to open to lots of doors for me.
Your new single ‘Something Beautiful’ has recently been released, can you tell me a little about the inspiration and creative process behind the track?
’Something Beautiful’ is about finding that one person you connect with when nothing else makes sense, when you feel lost or disillusioned with people or with life, how much that simple wonderful connection means. I wrote it with German artist Moguai who I love working with. We released another record a few years ago together with Tiesto called ‘Real Life’.
Can we expect an album or EP from you in the near future?
I feel like I am always working on an album (conceptually speaking) but have a preference to actually release singles. Maybe!
You have worked with some of the biggest names in the dance music world, is there any particular collaboration that stands out for you?
’Vandalism’ with Porter Robinson was a key record for me. I didn’t know it at the time. Porter was working on an EP, the first signing to Skrillex’s OWSLA label. He had heard and was playing at his gigs a single of mine called ‘Black & White’, so he sent me a few tracks he was working on. I sent him the vocal idea for ‘Vandalism’ and he wrote such an amazing track under it, and super fast. It was such a great project to be part of and one of my personal favourite artists that I’ve collaborated with.
Who is on your dream list of collaborators?
Pharrell Williams, Sia, Ryan Tedder, Calvin Harris, Don Diablo, Oliver Heldens to name but a few.
You have been an ambassador for APRA-AMCOS for the past two years, can you tell me a little about the work that you do?
APRA- AMCOS is an amazing organisation representing over 100,000 Australian songwriters. It’s a progressive group who collect public performance royalties for songwriters so we can make a living, but they are also very active in professional development and nurturing talent. I’ve been involved by speaking on panels such as at EMC or at APRA’s Electronic Music Songwriter Speaks events, presenting awards, I’m currently judging the epic Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition and Professional Development Awards.
You are also a mentor for APRA’s gender disparity program. What are your thoughts on sexism and gender inequality in today’s music industry?
APRA’s membership is approx 80% male and 20% female. I was really shocked when I found that out. Music is a very tough business for anyone, but I do feel that women have a much harder time thriving and succeeding in general. Obviously there are many successful women musicians, artists, songwriters out there. But I believe it’s a much more difficult road. I went to a school that taught me that women could be anything so I really held this close during all of my risk-taking endeavours like setting out on numerous writing trips all over the world all by myself, for example. For a long time I didn’t think about there being a difference between what women and men could achieve, and I just got on with doing my work. But as I started to have success I began to see how much more profile my male collaborators were gaining as a direct result of my work; more gigs, more social media fans, and infinitely higher fees and overall earnings. That’s when it started to sink in how distorted the music business is.
What advice to you have for young women who want to get into the music industry, either as a performer or ‘behind-the-scenes’ as a writer/producer/engineer?
I would recommend reading a book on creativity by Julia Cameron called The Artists Way, which will help set up your mindset. Be prepared to work insanely hard and push yourself. Know your intention and stay connected to that. Don’t let other people sway you from your vision. Take risks.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2019?
Right now I am finishing a number of new singles and exciting collaborations. I have just moved into a new studio which is a totally different experience for me. I’m trying to settle into Melbourne, which involves establishing new routines around my work so my creativity is at its best. I’m giving myself time and space to do that. Later in the year I’ll be travelling to Europe and the US!
‘Something Beautiful’ by Amba Shepherd is out now through Central Station Records.