With the arrival of her debut EP this weekend, several months ahead of her 19th birthday, Christchurch’s Amber Carly Williams proves herself a genuine and impressive self-starter. Just last year she was a Cashmere High student and runner-up in Rockquest’s Canterbury regional final. In February this year NZ On Air’s NewTracks compilation included Lights Down Low, her first proper single release – though she has been posting videos of her own songs and covers (Tori Kelly, Stephen Wilson, Lady GaGa, Yebba, Lennon Stella etc.) on Youtube for several years.
Having taken a few years break from doing covers videos, she says she’s been getting back into them lately, and plans to do more in 2020.
“It’s just good fun, but also helpful if I meet people and want to tell them where they can see what I do and enjoy,” Amber explains.
Well, now she can also point them to ‘Ocean Of Confusion’, her brand new EP that combines a couple of pop tracks with two better labelled as soul/RnB.
“I think honestly I am still finding just what my music is, just seeing where I sit I guess. Last year I started learning production and finding I really like the pop and soul thing. So it’s kind of mixing it together, but if I were to pick one genre definition it would be probably indie pop.”
Her self-released EP takes its title from a song of that name she first posted online back in 2019.
“The song is about being in a whirlpool of confusion, whether that’s about someone or something. For me it relates to how long I take to make decisions, and I never really know if what I’m doing or saying is right… but do any of us? When it comes to things like relationships, I struggle to know what to do and how to go about it, and that’s the basis of the song.
“I wrote that a few years ago, and it wasn’t really personal at the time – for all the songs really, I just put my head in a position of what I wanted to write a song about. It’s the most chill one, but I really like the title of it and I felt it sums up the EP pretty well.”
Released individually earlier this year, the EP’s other tracks are Think About It, Lights Down Low and Little More.
“The whole EP is kind of linked with similar themes. For Lights Down Low, which is my first single, I just made up a scenario and went with it. I came up with one line (‘He only likes you with the lights down low’), and followed along with it. I usually settle on a mood and melody that I’m going for, and then lyrics seem to fly in to fit that. The hard part for me is coming up with a topic to write about.”
As her music room videos reveal, Amber already has some mastery of three key songwriter tools in the acoustic guitar, piano and loop pedal.
“Originally it was always guitar that I started on, but now my songs are a lot more keys based. I find that a lot easier, to see the chords and what I’m actually trying to come up with melody-wise. But piano often leads me to write sad songs, which is not what I’m aiming for at the moment!”
She’s currently studying at Ara in Christchurch, in the first of a three-year contemporary music vocal course – which she hadn’t really planned on, but says she’s glad to have been persuaded into. Ahead of that she’s been developing her singing chops at Nathan Phillips Vocals (NPV) for the last six or so years, and specifically working with former Moorhouse member, Marley Sola, over that time. He produced her EP, has been guiding her songwriting over the last few years and more recently has been helping her learn the art of production.
“With these I wrote the whole songs, played them acoustically and told Marley what I wanted them to sound like. We recorded them and then over a few months played with them more. For Lights Down Low I rewrote the chorus and verse about seven times cos I was never fully satisfied! But now that I know more about production and I can use Logic Pro, I’m trying to take any new songs further by myself. I want to do as much as I can by myself – and then Marley can show me how to fix it up, kind of thing!”
Clearly comfortable behind a microphone, her vocals range widely in dynamics, register and tonality within each track. Overall she’s not unhappy to have her voice described as ‘vulnerable’.
“I like to make sure there is a purpose to what I’m singing, so it can be heard. With this EP, I wrote it over a year ago, when I was getting into the whole songwriting thing. I think what I am writing now is more of a felt thing, more personally detailed.”
Despite having her first year of tertiary education messed with by Covid-19, 2020 has already brought success. She won a Sole Academy songwriting competition that got her up to Auckland and into the Spark Sessions, which in turn led to her getting a slot at the Nelson Bay Dreams festival early next year.
Self-starting, practical and organised, Amber actually staged her EP launch party months ago, so timed because many of her school friends were heading away from Christchurch after finishing school last year. She’s okay about not making too much fuss about the actual release of ‘Ocean Of Confusion’, knowing there will be plenty more songs and opportunities ahead in her career.
“I’d rather go 100 or chill on any release, and I think I’d rather wait until I have the right kind of single before I do go 100…”