Amy Shark’s sophomore album is finally emerging onto shore; we spoke to the humble and eloquent artist about the blessing-and-curse of pain, bombing in front of Ed Sheeran, the triumph of the songwriting game, and the rest of the hectic journey towards Cry Forever.
There’s a moment during the first seconds of the first episode of Amy Shark’s (first ever) docu-series Forever, Amy Shark – currently being drip-fed to YouTube in the lead-up to second album, Cry Forever – in which the singersongwriter says: “It’s pretty unbelievable what music can do for you, and where it can take you in life.”
Of course it’s true for Amy in the professional sense – music was the torpedo to which the Gold Coast singer-songwriter was strapped in 2016 when her single Adore tore up charts both at home and overseas – but it’s also true, she says, from her perspective as a listener. “I remember having those kind of ‘A-ha!’ moments with bands: ‘Oh my God! This is what I need right now, and I’m totally relating to this song!’, and it helped me through so much,” she says. “I think ‘cos people say it so often it feels like it’s diluted, but there’s no other way to say it: When you listen to a song that you can relate to and connect to, there’s no stopping it. It’s a real love for that band or artist.”
That’s the kind of love that Shark devotees harbour, and even the famous ones aren’t afraid to holler it: “Hardly exaggerating when I say you saved my life these past few weeks” famously tweeted Girls writer and star Lena Dunham in May 2017; “She is the next HUGE thing” gushed Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge just a few days later, after having met Amy and her husband Shane at the couple’s home.
(Shark has now collected the whole set of three Blink-182 bandmembers; DeLonge’s friendship was followed by a duet with singer-bassist Mark Hoppus, Psycho, on debut album Love Monster; and the new album includes giant single C’MON featuring drummer Travis Barker.)
But the international Late Show slots, besotted fans and truly extraordinary chart and sales stats haven’t produced the ironic ‘relatability slump’ that can occur when an artist gains popularity for their accessible lyrics, begins writing music about their success, and consequently loses popularity because listeners can’t see themselves in the music any more – and that’s because Shark has a special talent for accessing a kind of emotional trapdoor which leads to the past. “Sometimes it’s a curse,” she says, “but I can really teleport myself to situations and conversations and experiences that I’ve had like it happened yesterday. All it takes is for me to go home back to the Gold Coast, and I’ll run into someone I haven’t seen for ages, and they bring up something that happened in the past – like how crazy we were and how lost we were – and I get this feeling in my stomach.”
This phenomenon is precisely how one of Cry Forever‘s stand-out tracks, Baby Steps, was born. “I was flying straight from [the Gold Coast] to New York, so it was a big journey, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about running into this person and what we were talking about, and it got me on a roll. I jotted down a couple of things and when I got to the hotel, Baby Steps just came out.”
The song highlights Shark’s art of mixing a potion of perspectives: All in one rushed tumult of commentary, the lyrics go from emotional lamentation (“I feel about as low as I can go”) to describing the immediate scene and directly addressing characters within it (“I’m dressed and ready, let’s go out”) to detached observation of events (“My friends are fixing up my hair, pulling down my skirt”) to observing bodily reactions (“It’s so warm in this car”) and back to the internal preoccupation (“I know it’s over now”).
“It kind of sounds really panicked, that song,” Shark says, “and that’s exactly what I wanted to do, because it’s about when I hit rock-bottom – maybe even a bit lower. It’s a time I look back on and kind of admire, because it’s given me a couple of albums out of that mind-set!
“I’ve never been that scared to feel the pain,” she adds. “You know how some people just avoid it, they just shut up. And I [have] this sick addiction like, ‘No, I need to feel this, I need to experience it and just sit in this pain’, and then get on with it. I can really soak it up – probably for too long sometimes. I also overthink everything.”
That’s where the therapeutic part of songwriting comes in, but like sit-down-with-a-psychologist therapy, it takes work – much like Shark’s commitment to this journey as a whole, from way back in 2008 when she released her first EP under the name Amy Cushway. “Some people are gifted, the way they just fall into it and can do it, but for me it definitely was something I was just really passionate about,” she says. “I wasn’t like, ‘I want to get good at this, I want to be playing shows, I want to be Amy Shark. I just love the feeling I get when I nail it – when I can listen back and think, ‘I’ve just said everything I wanted to say there, and I didn’t even need to edit anything, it just all came out.’”
And the fact that ‘nailing’ a song is an abstract target – the way to your goal isn’t via an objectively defined set of tasks – makes the achievement all the more triumphant. “It’s very addictive really, ‘cos you just don’t know – if you just change that chord there, you might fall into a really nice melody, and then some other words might be inspired to come out,” Shark describes. “It’s a big, big game that you play.”
Shark has stepped further into multi-player mode on the Joel Little-produced Cry Forever, proffering the afore-mentioned C’MON with Travis Barker (“He was so accommodating! He’s such a busy superstar. He sent me that breakbeat all the way through and it deadset sounded like the Prodigy – it sounded so sick – but it was a very alternative sound so… he was kind enough to do a hybrid half-time mix”) as well as single Love Songs Ain’t For Us, a gorgeous country-licked ballad featuring Keith Urban and written with Ed Sheeran. “Ed got us started with the chorus hook – which was incredible – and I think I had the chords,” Shark says. “It was weird because I was already playing the guitar chords when he walked in; then we met for the first time and started talking, but he’d obviously listened to what I was playing as he was coming in, because he was straight into, ‘So what were you playing before?’ and I was like, ‘Ooh, you remember that?’”
The song emerged as a relatively effortless beast, with Sheeran’s “calming” acoustic mixed with keys, slide guitar and some extra twang. “It was always going to be such a different sound for me, but I was really excited for that – this is the album where I’ve pushed beyond where I thought I could go – even in my [singing] register,” Shark says. “I never thought I could sing up there, and Ed was the one telling me: ‘I can hear that you can get up there. And if you do, it it’s going to sound really pretty.’ When I did it, it was so lush! It was a challenge, but in all the right sorts of ways.”
It’s certainly a scary thing to push yourself into possibly failing territory. “Especially when you’re with Ed Sheeran!” Shark laughs. “I definitely bombed out a few takes! But it was cool that he cared enough to really push me. You never know how much [guest artists] really want to do it – is this just a favour? But the fact that he was really into this song, and didn’t settle for just any lyrics – we sat there and made sure we had the right words; we didn’t want it too lovey-dovey, ‘cos that’s not my vibe. He was just super respectful, and he cares a lot.”
Add Ed in, then, to the growing school of Shark fans – guaranteed to increase with the release of Cry Forever. Once you get in the water, you’ll never want to get out again.
Cry Forever by Amy Shark is out April 31 via Sony.
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.
Amy Shark will be on tour in June and July of this year; dates are below, and you can get all extra info and tickets here.
Friday 11 June 2021 | Newcastle Entertainment Centre
Saturday 12 June 2021 Sydney | Qudos Bank Arena
Friday 18 June 2021 Melbourne| Rod Laver Arena
Saturday 19 June 2021 Hobart | Wrest Point Lawns
Friday 25 June 2021 Gold Coast | HOTA
Saturday 26 June 2021 Brisbane | Riverstage
Thursday 1 July 2021 Adelaide | AEC Theatre
Saturday 3 July 2021 Perth | RAC Arena