You may remember Ōtautahi singer-songwriter Amber Carly Williams from TVNZ’s last season of Popstars, which included other strong talent like Jason Parker, Christabel Williams and Avya Trotter. In October she released deeply personal ballad 21 Roses in preparation for the release of her debut EP with the same name, due in November. Created through NZ On Air Music‘s NewMusic Development scheme the single deals with growing up and the death of her mother. NZM asked Williams to get talk us through her EP’s title track.
I wrote 21 Roses in my first year of jazz school in Christchurch. I was getting some lessons on songwriting and was really inspired by Phoebe Bridgers and her use of imagery at the time. I wrote it alone in a music room with my guitar (how I write every song) and just expressed some feelings onto the page.
Straight after I wrote the bare bones of this song, I got up and played it at a performance forum at jazz school. With the song being so fresh (like 10 minutes fresh!), I totally forgot that the time signature was 6/8, and I accidentally played it in 4/4. The whole thing felt so wrong, but I just committed to it. People still liked the song but I had no idea what I had done wrong until later!
21 Roses has taken so many different routes since I first wrote it. I’ve rewritten parts of the verses, the whole chorus and added a bridge, but the essence of it is still there. I wrote this song about memories I have with my mum, and the 21 roses represent all of the roses dad gave her each Valentine’s Day.They were together until she passed.
Once I was finally happy with the lyric writing of the song, two years after I started it, I got onto recording it with my good friend and producer, Terence O’Connor. I had a nice small Ōtautahi-based crew for the recording of this whole EP, with Cam Finlay playing drums, Ryan Fisherman tracking them, Terence producing the songs and Struan Finlay mixing and mastering. The production on this song is perfect, I was worried we wouldn’t find the right fit, but I’m so happy with it.
One of my favourite moments is when the drums hit in that first chorus. It just opens it up and it feels so warm. I love all of the little quirky sounds that pop in and out during the verses. Again, the production was definitely inspired by Phoebe Bridgers and Ethan Gruska.
When I got the final master back, I lay in the sun on my driveway and just wept. It was exactly the response I wanted from hearing the song. I wanted to escape the “right/wrong sounding” music brain and just go with what felt good and emotive.
I knew this song needed some visuals, so I looked for days through old family videotapes and put together a simple music video. It was so satisfying to put something so personal together myself. I’m not great at imagining what I want to visually support my songs, so I usually work with other artists, but the video for this song felt so clear to me. When I listen to it I feel transported to the beach, so that was going to be the main scene. We snuck some of the audio from the videotapes into the background of the bridge to make it extra sad, it’s super subtle but just adds another layer.
I’ve received a lot of love since releasing 21 Roses. People with similar stories have reached out to me and told me how the song has warmed their heart and made them feel less alone, and the thought of that makes me extremely emotional, I’m so happy my music can do that for people. This whole EP is a vulnerable collection of songs that dive into my growth and some battles I’ve faced, and I never saw the day that it’d finally be out in the world, but I’m so happy to finally let this project run free and start on the next.
Dec 1 – Space Academy, Ōtautahi
Dec 2 – South Island Wine & Food Fest
Dec 30 – Rolling Meadows Festival