A fifth album is a very telling thing. By this point an artist may or may not have gone through a wringer of experimentation and sonic identity crises – but for Scottish singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald, she has never sounded more like herself.
In her triumphant fifth album The Human Demands, she unpacks a host of experiences which will surely resonate with her listeners (old and new): getting older, dealing with mental health issues, and the elation and terrifying nature of falling in love with someone you want to spend the rest of your life with.
World tours, four Top 5 albums and six million album sales can change and harden a perspective, but for Macdonald, she has never sounded more introspective, open and raw in her new record, which sparkles with lead single “The Hudson”. An upbeat, stirring rock anthem inspired by the stories that Amy’s dad used to tell her about going to New York with her mum in the 70s – it is rich and textured, and sounds like nostalgia but possibility in the same breath.
We caught up with Amy Macdonald and talked about lockdown, getting wiser, and the main takeaways from the album.
Hi Amy, how has lockdown been for you? Has it changed your outlook musically or creatively?
Lockdown has been fine. I’m not going to say I enjoyed it but I feel lucky that I am healthy and I am surrounded by supportive family and friends. We have all tried to keep each other going. It hasn’t really changed my musical outlook, I always need real life to be inspired. Real life moments and stories. I would never want to have an entire album about lockdown as I don’t think anyone is going to want to be reminded of this time. Music should be an escape.
Congratulations on your new album The Human Demands – why the name?
It’s an album about life and the ups and downs that come with it. It’s never easy for anyone and I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit sometimes. We’re just expected to constantly be going 100mph all the time and that can be demanding for anyone. I wanted the album title to reflect the reality of life for the majority of people.
How long has it been in the works and what was the biggest challenge of working on it through lockdown?
I started writing these songs back in 2018 and continued through 2019. I started the recording process in February this year. Like everyone else we stopped in March and didn’t get back to it for 3 months. I was worried that it would have a negative impact having a huge break in the middle but thankfully it was the opposite. Myself, my producer Jim and all the wonderful musicians were just excited to be making music again. We felt genuinely lucky to be in the position that we could have a bit of normality back in our lives.
You’ve spoken candidly about how many of the song themes are about you getting older – do you think this is your most personal and raw work to date?
I think it is definitely more personal than anything else I’ve written. I felt a bit of a change when I got married. You start to see things a bit differently and as you get older you realise more and more what’s important and what isn’t. I think as a woman with a career it can be quite challenging getting older. You are constantly bombarded with questions about having kids and the impact on your career that it can be quite a strange time for a woman in their 30s. I think subconsciously that’s come through in a lot of these songs. I’ve been doing this since I was 17 and now I’m 33.
And other themes on the album include dealing with depression, falling in love with someone you want to spend the rest of your life with – they’re really universal, how do you want to make fans feel with your new record?
I want fans to feel liken they’re not alone. I think music can be such a wonderful way to connect people. I feel so lucky that I have fans that have been with me from the very beginning. I have fans that have told me how much my music has helped them. I feel deeply honoured to be in that position and I just want to return the favour with a collection of songs that I think will resonate with all these people.
How do you think you’ve progressed sonically since landing your first record deal at 18?
I can physically feel how much stronger my voice is. I’m a much better singer and performer now than I was even a few years ago. I finally feel with this album that everything has clicked. It’s unmistakably me but with some added oomph. I loved working with Jim. He’s an incredible producer and a lovely human. He’s really done an amazing job of getting it just right.
And your single “The Hudson” talks about the stories your dad used to tell you about New York in the 70s – was it amazing bringing a piece of your personal history to life?
My dad has loads of stories and the stories of him and my mum travelling around the US when they were younger are amazing. He had been telling me about staying in a hotel in New York that had 3 bolts across the door. The next day I was writing with my friend Matt – in my dining room – I have a massive painting of the George Washington Bridge in NY on the wall and it all just clicked into place. Listening to it now it feels like part 2 of my early single “Mr Rock n Roll”. It explores all the same themes of life and wondering if you’ve made the right decisions and taken the right path but it feels like it means so much more to me because of everything that has happened through these years.
The single also looks at love, romance and relationships – what do you think is the main takeaway from it?
My main takeaway is probably that you’ll never know if you’ve done the right thing or made the right choices in life. We’ll never know if there’s something better for us. We’ll never know if things would be different and that’s ok and it’s part of being human. We reminisce, we look back, we think what could have been and then we carry on.
Do you have any favourite lyrics from the album?
I think my favourite lyric is from the song “Human Demands”: do you ever really feel like you’re all alone when you’re surrounded by the people that you love the most. I think it’s incredibly poignant and will speak to so many people.
What advice would you want to give any musician starting out who wants to have career longevity?
I think it’s important to just be yourself. I think people spend too long trying to be someone they’re not, or trying to get some sort of unique selling point. I think ultimately it just puts you under immense pressure. From the start I’ve just maintained that I write songs and perform them. That’s who I am, there’s no gimmicks.
What’s next for you? What else are you excited about this year?
I’m excited about having things to look forward to again. I think a lot of stuff is still up in the air. As humans we like to plan and have events, holidays, dinners that we look forward to. Right now we’ve not had that for a long time and I will really appreciate it when we can go back to making plans. It would also be amazing to get some live gigs booked in again. I can’t wait to be back in a venue or at a festival with all my band and crew. I miss them all.