She used to be Amerie, but now she’s Ameriie – and underneath that musical moniker, she’s always been Amerie Mi Marie Rogers, born in Masschusetts to an African-American father and Korean mother. But whatever you know the singer as today, she’ll always have one song as a comprehensive calling card. Not just one song, forever, but certainly ‘1 Thing’. You can’t not know it – it’s sewn into the fabric of pop, an outstanding example of timeless composition that borrowed from the past to withstand the shifting trends of music’s future.
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‘1 Thing’ (2005)
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A smash hit in 2005, ‘1 Thing’ – from Ameriie’s second album, ‘Touch’, was followed by further success: 2007’s ‘Because I Love It’ album broke the top 20 in the UK and Japan, and 2009’s ‘In Love & War’ collection drew a great deal of critical acclaim, as well as charting well in the US and overseas. But then, silence. Five years of it, between the Trey Songz-featured single ‘Pretty Brown Eyes’ and 2014’s comeback track, ‘What I Want’, a song preceding the release of not one but (at least) two new Ameriie albums: ‘Bili’ and ‘Cymatika’. Clash grabbed 10 with Ameriie to see where her head’s at in the here and now.
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‘What I Want’ (2014)
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Five years have passed since you were last on pop radars. What do you think has changed in that time, in the industry – both for you as a returning artist, and the challenges that newcomers face in 2014
Well, I really don’t pay too much attention to what is going on in the wonder industry. For me, I don’t want to create ‘for the market’ or anything like that. I just really want to make whatever I’m feeling. Every album, it’s a snapshot of where I am, which is why I don’t usually listen to my own old music – once it’s off my chest, I’m onto the next sound. So, I honestly just create, and that’s kind of it.
As for new acts, now the internet is such a thing, there’s a greater degree of discoverability, so emerging artists can find an audience easier. It’s easier for them to be seen and heard. There’s this greater forum for them. But, also, I suppose that there can be so much going on that it can actually be hard to break through. We reached this point where the internet suddenly became such a crowded place, and now it’s so busy that it’s hard for one artist to get all of the ears and all of the eyes. There is a sense of that. But, generally, I think there’s more opportunities for new artists, even when people are uploading every single thing that they do. Which can make it difficult to work out what’s worth getting into.
And you’re not somebody who likes to reveal a great many teasers on their way to a new, finalised set of recordings?
No, I really like to work in private, and I’m not the best at opening the doors to what I’m working on for so long. Even when I was working on my second album, I didn’t even want too many people I didn’t know being at the video shoots. It’s not that I take myself super seriously, but I take what I do very seriously. I don’t want a lot of chatter behind the scenes, distracting me, because I’m busy. I like to put things out when they’re ready – I don’t really utilise these social media sharing platforms as some artists do, as the creative process is my favourite part of everything, and I keep that as private as I can, to me.
And with two albums, at least, on the go at the moment, is this an exciting period for you? Or are you so busy that you can’t get that distance, that perspective, and appreciate the fun you’re having?
Oh, it’s a lot of fun for me. The whole writing and recording process. I can feel everything building up to that release, to when I get it out. I love to see how the sounds I want to explore can change, even during the same record’s creative process. Everything is moving to one sound – but then a record can continue to build, in another direction. You might think you have everything ready, in place, but then it goes elsewhere. So, I’ll be speaking to someone, and they’ll say: “Oh, I thought you said you were, like, 70% finished with the album?” And I’ll say: “I was, but then the sound started changing, and now some of the songs don’t stick, and now I’m 40% finished.” So it’s like a river – it keeps moving.
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With music, it’s so personal, that I can’t see myself doing it now if I wasn’t loving it. That’s why I struggle to take songs from other people…
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Which takes us onto these two separate albums that you’re working on, ‘Bili’ and ‘Cymatika’, which presumably were flowing in such opposite directions that they couldn’t be merged into a single project?
I mean, ‘Cymatika’ is so different from ‘Bili’, and is the first part of a trilogy of releases I have planned. They couldn’t exist as the same project, it just makes no sense, sonically. They’re definitely their own projects. I’m still waiting to just finish off ‘Bili’, but that will be done soon, while I’m having ideas for ‘Cymatika’ all the time.
So is ‘Bili’ still set for a 2014 release, if it’s not quite done?
It’s going to slip into 2015 now, probably in the spring, or the first quarter or next year. It’s probably two or three songs away from being totally finished, but I’m recording those now, and there might be one or two songs that come off – like I said before, it’s constantly changing. I really want the record to sound really coherent.
It’s funny speaking to something who is, obviously, a pop artist, about their commitment to the album form, at a time when apparently nobody is interested in putting together such bodies of work, from that end of the musical spectrum.
I really love albums. I know that’s not the way that the pop market generally looks at them, but it’s always been my goal, from the beginning, to make albums. I want these coherent releases. And it can be hard to do that, when you have a great song that blows up, and then, if you’re lucky, maybe another. But those songs can fit – it depends on how you glue it all together.
The title ‘Bili’, is a reference to 2007’s ‘Because I Love It’. But is that also a motto by which you live your professional life? I get the impression that if you weren’t loving this, and believing in it, five years on from your last album, you just won’t do it…
I really believe in following your passions, and living a life that’s driven by them. The creative process aside, everything else that comes with doing this, it can be fun, but it’s not the thing. It’s not the point of it all. I have to really want to do something, outside of creating, to actually do it. With music, it’s so personal, that I can’t see myself doing it now if I wasn’t loving it. That’s why I struggle to take songs from other people. Sometimes people will send me something amazing, but those are rare exceptions, because I really feel that I have to write for myself. That’s kind of the point of it all. Would you send a painter a picture and say, “There you go, just sign your name at the bottom of this?” That would defeat the whole purpose.
There are other pop performers out there, such as Charli XCX and Katy B, who’ve had to explain to people that they write their own material. But I think it’s assumed, sometimes, that these performers, especially female ones, are merely mouthpieces for someone else’s song.
I think it depends on what area of music you work in. It’s like in hip-hop – whoever you are in that world, you have to write your own rhymes. It’s just a requisite. And nobody would expect anything different. In R&B, it’s less that artists have to come up with their own material, but more about their individual voices. When I’m listening to an R&B singer, I want to know about them, and I want to hear their character. Every artist has their own voice, their own way of saying things. So, sometimes that they don’t necessarily write their own material, that doesn’t have to matter.
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Words: Mike Diver