Go­ing for broke

Amy MacDon­ald has taken a big gam­ble by choos­ing the ma­jor la­bel path in her quest for pop star­dom. So far, the bet is pay­ing big re­turns, says John Wil­liamson

The Herald - Arts - - Arts -

Amy MacDon­ald has spent much of 2007 on the pro­mo­tional trail, and the week ahead of the re­lease of her sin­gle, Mr Rock & Roll, seems more fraught than usual. Stuck in a peo­ple car­rier in Shep­herd’s Bush, she is be­tween ra­dio sta­tions where she is record­ing idents (“Hi, this is Amy MacDon­ald and you’re lis­ten­ing to the morn­ing zoo crew on …”) and in­ter­views. Dur­ing the day, fill­ing time is do­ing press in­ter­views and record store ap­pear­ances. By night, there are gigs to play. Clearly, sleep is at a pre­mium.

“It is the most stress­ful week of my life,” she laughs, “and we have all been ar­gu­ing all the time. We have th­ese huge five- minute long ar­gu­ments where we all hate each other and are shout­ing at the top of our voices, but it is al­ways soon forgotten. We all know it is a stress­ful sit­u­a­tion, and the other side of it is that it is ex­tremely ex­cit­ing as well.”

De­spite, the chaos, the 19-yearo l d G l a sw e g i a n seems to be cop­ing not only with the op­pres­sive sched­ule of the last cou­ple of weeks – she has also played T in the Park and sup­ported El­ton John – but with the whirl­wind cou­ple of years that have taken her from school leaver to chart­both­er­ing song­writer.

MacDon­ald’s mu­si­cal as­cent seems like a par­tic­u­larly old-school, al­most out­moded ver­sion of pop star­dom, es­pe­cially in light of the wave of re­cent fe­male acts who have found their suc­cess driven by the in­ter­net, such as Lily Allen, Kate Nash and their ilk. She has also avoided years of tread­ing the live boards in un­suc­cess­ful bands like KT Tun­stall did, nor has she made her de­but re­lease on a small, inde- pen­dent record la­bel like Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes.

In­deed, in cit­ing Travis as her in­spi­ra­tion, and in pro­duc­ing a sim­i­lar kind of mem­o­rable, melo­di­ous and main­stream pop, MacDon­ald’s cards are on the ta­ble. She is in a win-or-bust sce­nario: signed to the world’s big­gest record la­bel and with their hopes in­vested in her songs, a lowkey approach is hardly an op­tion. It may not be sub­tle, but it ap­pears to work, and is the re­sult of two years of care­ful prepa­ra­tion.

She takes up the story: “I fin­ished school at the end of fifth year and was ac­cepted for Glas­gow and Strath­clyde Univer­sity, but me and some of my friends de­cided to take a year off be­fore go­ing. It wasn’t re­ally any­thing to do with my mu­sic, it was more about be­ing fed up learn­ing and be­ing lazy, but hav­ing the time and be­ing in the house did help. I could spend more time on the songs, go to see more gigs and per­form more of­ten.”

Live ap­pear­ances were as an un­der-age per­former in open­mic ses­sions in Glas­gow pubs and the more se­date en­vi­rons of cof­fee shops and book stores, play­ing acous­ti­cally. Her break also seems like a throw­back to a by­gone era of the record­ing in­dus­try.

“I saw an ad­vert in the NME,” she says, “which was along the lines of ‘pro­duc­tion com­pany seek­ing new artists’. I sent off some mu­sic, they loved it and got back to me.”

This es­tab­lished the first of the key re­la­tion­ships in MacDon­ald’s ca­reer with Pete Wilkin­son of Melo­dra­matic Records. With a small (and at that point un­proven ros­ter), Wilkin­son, who with his wife Sarah now take on man­age­rial and lo­gis­tic du­ties, set to work with MacDon­ald on trans­form­ing the ten­ta­tive record­ings into some­thing of in­ter­est to the ma­jor pub­lish­ers and record la­bels.

“We spent the best part of a year work­ing on the de­mos and get­ting them to a good stan­dard, but at the start of last year we still didn’t feel that they were quite ready. How­ever, some­body from one of the la­bels heard it and that was when the in­ter­est be­gan.”

With of­fers from all the ma­jor la­bels on the ta­ble and a pub­lish­ing deal in the pipe­line with Warner-Chap­pell, it would ap­pear that Wilkin­son took on the bulk of the re­spon­si­bil­ity, with MacDon­ald only just of an age to be legally al­lowed to sign the pa­per­work.

“It was a hec­tic pe­riod,” she re­calls, “and I was quite lucky in that I al­ways had Pete with me, so I was never thrown in at the deep end when it came to deal­ing with the record com­pa­nies. There was a fair amount of win­ing and din­ing, but I no­ticed that all stopped once we had signed!”

The la­bel in ques­tion was Ver­tigo, part of Uni­ver­sal, who was hot off the back of huge suc­cess with The Killers and Ra­zorlight. The deal was of suf­fi­cient mag­ni­tude that she has been able to buy her first home ear­lier this year.

“There has been noth­ing re­ally bad that has hap­pened so far,” she says, “and lots of great things, like meet­ing El­ton John and Fran Healy. Of course, there is pres­sure in­volved be­cause ev­ery­one has put so much into it, but that should mean that ev­ery­thing works out OK. We are all ec­static at how far it has come so far, and while we are all keen for the sin­gle to do well, it is more im­por­tant that the album does well, al­most as a pat on the back for ev­ery­one in­volved.”

Al­though the huge bill­boards an­nounc­ing the album, This is the Life, in­di­cate the se­ri­ous­ness of the record com­pany’s in­tent, they also put such an un­tried artist un­der a de­gree of pres­sure to suc­ceed that would not be the case were a more in­cre­men­tal approach ap­plied. Typ­i­cally, she re­mains prag­matic and self-ef­fac­ing about the sit­u­a­tion.

“At first it was a bit weird see­ing th­ese posters,” she says, “but when I went to T in the Park a cou­ple of weeks ago, I saw this huge dis­play, about the size of eight nor­mal posters, ad­ver­tis­ing my album. Un­for­tu­nately, there was a guy stand­ing uri­nat­ing on it – so you can­not take th­ese things too se­ri­ously, there are down­sides to it as well!”

The mar­ket­ing of the record has not been solely down to the ma­chine at Ver­tigo, and MacDon­ald’s MyS­pace blog gives a good in­sight to her thoughts on both her ca­reer and the more mun­dane parts of her life.

“I don’t do the blogs as a mar­ket­ing thing,” she says. “No-one has ever bought a record be­cause of a blog. It is just for peo­ple who are in­ter­ested, and it is a great way of bridg­ing the gap be­tween artists and fans. When I was a mem­ber of one of the Travis mes­sage boards, I re­mem­ber what it felt like when mem­bers of the band con­trib­uted.”

In spite of healthy signs of cyn­i­cism ev­i­dent on­line about the in­dus­trial na­ture of the sales process, MacDon­ald has a bal­anced and down-to-earth approach to her sit­u­a­tion and re­mains proud of the songs on the album, sug­gest­ing that she had lit­tle choice but to take her chance.

“I have had two years to live with the album,” she says, “as that is ef­fec­tively how long I have been work­ing on it, even though it is new to ev­ery­one else. I am re­ally com­fort­able with it, even though there are a few parts we now hate and won­der what if we had done some­thing else, but I guess that is nat­u­ral.”

“My par­ents said that I would prob­a­bly never get a chance like this again, and if it all goes belly up in the fu­ture, then I can look back on it and view it as a case of ‘well, I had to go for it.’ I am glad ev­ery­thing is go­ing well at the mo­ment, but who knows what will hap­pen in the fu­ture. There is plenty of time to go to univer­sity and get a de­gree – I think I would like to do that some­time in the fu­ture.”

More im­me­di­ately, MacDon­ald’s life seems to be more of the same – tour­ing and pro­mot­ing the record day and night. It may be de­mand­ing and at times de­flat­ing, but MacDon­ald is de­ter­mined to cap­ture her mo­ment, and the re­ward of a Top 20 sin­gle is ob­vi­ous pay­back for her in­dus­try.

“At the mo­ment the shows vary from sold-out are­nas and fes­ti­vals to play­ing for 10 men in suits at some kind of cor­po­rate event,” she says, “but the ex­cite­ment of it all keeps me go­ing. I have no spe­cific aims other than to sell enough to keep do­ing this and make an­other record.”

PIC­TURES: REUTERS/SCANPIX DEN­MARK/CLAUS FISKER

Since leav­ing school two years ago, Amy MacDon­ald has opened for El­ton John and met mu­si­cal in­spi­ra­tion Fran Healy from Travis

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