December/January 2021

by Sam Smith

Amamelia: Give Her Space

by Sam Smith

Amamelia: Give Her Space

Featuring in NZM as a Fresh Talent along with her Kip McGrath bandmates back in August 2016, Amelia Berry came more into her own once that band morphed into the less contentiously-named Polyester. The jangle-synth five-piece released a self-titled album in 2018, an album that fans raved over, and showed them as real competition for the musical ground that The Beths have since taken firm ownership. Sam Smith talked with Amelia about her latest musical development as solo EDM artist Amamelia.

You may remember Amelia Berry from Auckland indie band Polyester, with whom she was a guitarist and songwriter. Polyester split in 2018 and Berry has moved on from that band’s jangly twee pop, indeed taking one of the biggest local music transformations in what has proven a very busy 2020 for her.

She has multiple musical projects on the go currently, from synth-pop duo Fimo to queer punk band Baby Teeth, however, it’s been a surprising pivot towards electronica that’s caught the attention of many.

Berry calls this personal project Amamelia and she has just released her first album ‘WOW!’ through Zac Arnold’s newly created Sunreturn Records. She says the move towards electronic music came out of learning music production while in Polyester.

“I have always been interested in electronic music. I think for a long time it seemed quite inaccessible to me, but I started to learn music production mainly to record my band.”

It was here the seeds of Amamelia were sown, with Berry drip-feeding electronic music on her Soundcloud page. Following a conversation with Arnold the prospect of releasing music as Amamelia became official.

“I was talking to Zac from Sunreturn and he was like, ‘I like these tracks that you have on your Soundcloud, do you have other things? Could we put out an EP?’ And I was like, ‘Well, yeah, I will send you all of the things I have that are finished.’

“It has been very strange because you start a music project and for a long time it’s extremely casual. And then there is a certain point where suddenly it takes up all of your time, which is gratifying in a lot of ways.

“The downside of doing something where you are working by yourself is that it is really hard to know when something is finished or when something is good, especially when you are not performing live all the time. You can’t play something in front of an audience and be like, ‘…people liked that’, or ‘…people weren’t so into that, it might need some work’. It is just like you hear it and you get to a point where you don’t want to work on it anymore so what do you do? Do you put it on your SoundCloud or do you just move on to something else? So sending Zac things was really good because he was like, ‘This is good.’”

The result of this online correspondence is an album that although fitting in the electronic box is quite varied stylistically.

“I listen to quite a wide range of music. For some of the earlier tracks, I was listening to a lot of bossa nova, a lot of French chanson music, a bunch of ’80s synth pop/new wave kind of things, lots of ’90s house and jungle. I am not really a specific genre person and you can hear that when you listen to the album.

“What’s different to a lot of other electronic music is this music is tied together by the sonic ideas, rather than the tempo or the specific harmonic elements that you get in a lot of electronic genres.”

The process of recording ‘WOW!’ also necessitated a change in direction in terms of songwriting for Berry as she was no longer writing for a band, or indeed writing guitar-based music.

“It is a totally different process. I don’t think any of the tracks on this album really started as songs. Most of them will start as some kind of musical idea like a chord progression, or even a synth sound or something. The songwriting process here was much more stream of consciousness I think.”

As a result she sees Amamelia as more a production project rather than a songwriting affair.

“Songwriting is my first love and I guess there are a few tracks on here that you could describe as slightly songwriter like, Give Me Space particularly. But I think most of this I would consider music producer stuff.”

The Amamelia solo project is just one of many Berry is working on in her post-Polyester career. She says the diversity is partly down to liking so many different kinds of music.

“Part of me feels I should have just been like, ‘My artist name is Amelia Berry and I do all of these different kinds of things.’ Maybe I have never quite had the confidence to do that. When I have an idea for something for me, it is easier to compartmentalise that and be like, ‘This can go with this project and this can go with this other project.’”

Amamelia offers a freedom that you don’t necessarily get when you are in a band, freedom which she has enjoyed.

“If you can make music on your own, it just makes it a lot easier. Logistically you don’t have to organise band practices and you don’t have to be nice to people. There are certainly benefits, but there is something special about being in a band and I would never not be in a band.”

Album tracks Sad And Lonely and So Good have had good success, cracking the Top 10s of student radio stations across the country and impressing fans within the alternative music community. This leads on to the big question, is Amamelia here to stay?

“I have been blown away by the reception. I was surprised that so many people liked my music. When you are used to being in bands it is really scary to put stuff out by yourself, because when you are in a band you know that at least three or four other people like it, and they have told you the bits they don’t like and you remove them. But when you are by yourself you are like, ‘No this is all on me.’

“Yeah, I will definitely like to keep going with Amamelia. There is definitely going to be more Amamelia music.”