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Bravely peering around the corner, Lily Blakeney-Edwards channels the spooky, spine-tingling atmospherics of the electro-pop star.
AMBER JAY hates scary films, something she confesses sitting in her family home, surrounded by her pets and the sounds of suburban mundanity. It’s a truth that offers its own jolt of surprise.
Anyone who’s come across the young artist’s eerie, dark-pop sensibilities would expect her to be a horror flick fanatic. Eventually, however, there’s a telling explanation. “I always obsess over the soundtracks, though,” adding to her earlier statement. “I love it when songs have a haunting influence on them; it gives them such an intriguing atmosphere.” She pauses, before continuing. “You know, that white noise they play in horror films sometimes? The kind of noise where you don’t realise it’s there, but it creates a really unnerving atmosphere? It scares you without you even knowing, it’s like a subconscious effect. When you can introduce that in music, it makes it so much more interesting.” She struggles to contain laughter when concluding: “The darker the better!”
We tail off and natter about how much we long for pints and fuzzy nights out. Her warmth is transfixing, but alongside it resides longing, a glimpse in her eyes that signals the young artist’s ambition. “To be honest, I just want to get back into the studio and record,” she admits, with noticeable drive.
Despite only appearing on the scene in a few years back, Jay has already carved out an artistic persona that shines among the crowd. Inspired by spooky synth-pop and modern-day indie darlings, she has quickly built up a collection of tracks that walk the line of brooding and bouncy – the ideal recipe for earworms. Her work ethic that has granted impressive results, with the artist releasing her debut EP Never Too Far From A Dark Thought in March.
“It’s my first real body of work out there,” she tells me. “I recorded a whole album when I was about 17 and, as soon as I finished it, I hated it and never put it out. So, while I’ve been writing and recording and performing since I was a teenager, I’ve never had anything that really captured me as an artist. To have a full body of work out that really demonstrates what I do is amazing; I can’t get over how happy I am with it.”
While Jay’s appetite has always motivated her to push her musical abilities, she previously struggled to match her talents with her identity as an artist. That was until last year, which marked a dramatic transformation in the artist’s persona and sound. “Previously, when I was in this spoken-word band, we always used to write about topics like the NHS or homelessness and create a power anthem around it,” she tells me. “I really miss it, [but] as fun as it was, I had no idea of the direction I wanted to go. The artist I was previously was good, but it wasn’t the sort of music I want to make.”
This soon changed as Jay started working with Scouse staples ZuZu and Munkey Junkey, who quickly helped her find her sound. “I think working with different artists around Liverpool really helped me embrace different perspectives,” she explains. “I saw a post on Instagram from Kurran [Karbal, aka Munky Junkey] saying that he had set up a studio space. I sent him a message out of the blue asking if I could record there. He was really lovely about it. I think they were expecting me to want to stick to the sound of my previous work, but I was ready for my tracks to have a new energy. I wanted it to sound playful, to have fun and be experimental, so I basically told him there were no rules.”
Jay seems ecstatic now, thinking about the wide-open parameters of the recording process. “I definitely think that working with them has made such a positive impact on my sound. They were so encouraging as well; I’m not someone who’s mega confident, but they really helped with that just by telling me to be myself.”
With that, Jay evolved into an artist rooted in what could be loosely regarded as horror pop. Littered with looming synths that fester under Jay’s subtle vocals, the acoustic backbone of the tracks remained, only electrified by an eerie flair. “I write all my songs on guitar, so that acoustic element is just there naturally. That’s the nature of it, it all starts out from my guitar, but then, when I get into a studio, I can introduce those beats and electronic elements that make it sound edgier,” she tells me. “I also take a lot of notes from Billie Eilish and artists who have softer voices like mine. When they’re put against non-traditional productions that you would associate with that type of voice, it sounds amazing.”
The EP consists of five tracks that each present a different persona within the overarching atmosphere of the record. The House plays on the panic of being apart from someone through relentless synth stabs and distorted vocals. The closing track, Person, is softer and ballad-like, utilising stripped-back arrangements to detail the void of heartbreak.
“A lot of the songs are inspired by my own relationships. Break-ups and heartbreak I felt, all that lovely stuff off life,” she says with a grin. While Jay’s own experience forms a large part of the narrative, it’s not entirely autobiographical. “I’m inspired a lot by TV and films and I like to write about the stories I see,” she explains. “With TV, especially, the emotions are all there for you and it’s so hyper and dramatic that I find myself getting lost in it.”
The tracks are wildly diverse in intent, yet despite the range of influences, it becomes apparent how much work across the project was done single-handedly by Jay. “For artwork I actually bought an iPad because I was trying to find an artist who could work with me, but because of lockdown proved very hard, so I did it myself. Can you tell?!” We both laugh. “But really, I loved doing it because it feels home-made and every bit of the release comes from me. I love collaboration, but when you’re trying to communicate what you want to another person, you’re always afraid it can come off as something different from your previous vision.”
The dedication shows. From the dramatic vocal pauses on Stay The Same, to the wall of harmonies on My Own Way, Jay dissolves her personality into every aspect of the works to a charming effect. What could have been likable tracks in raw form are transformed into playful, electronic stompers.
“I really hope my personality shines out in it. A lot of the songs, although about dark subjects, are really playful,” she says, with a smile. “If people can connect to them, and maybe see a bit of themselves in the songs, I would love that. When you listen to a song, you write yourself into the narrative. The best songs are honest, because people can really connect with them.”
It’s impressive that Jay is able to show so much of her artistic persona so early in her career, but has an outlook that surpasses any sense of herself. “By putting things out and sharing them with people, you can really criticise it and pick it apart, because then it’s not just your own. It’s such a strange thing that happens,” she tells me. “As much as I love the EP, I’m still looking out for ways it could be different, or what I want to do next time.”
The call to the future may seem surprising considering how recent her last release was, but Jay’s ambition shines through once again. “I’ve got so much stuff I’ve been sitting on for a long time, so I just want to get back into the studio and record,” she announces with vigour. “Only by doing can you get the ball rolling.”
Never Too Far From A Dark Thought is available now.