Magazine Sixty Interviews Ammonite

Having just released a brilliant debut album Blueprints for Ransom Note vocalist and creative composer Ammonite talks to Magazine Sixty about all things musical and about forthcoming live performance on July 12 at The Albany Studio (London) for Unravel.

Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Amy. You Don’t Know Me will remain one of my favourite pieces of music from this year. The voice is such a powerful instrument. When did you discover you could use yours in music?

I’m so glad to hear that, it’s one of my favourites too. I really love playing with just one looping lyric and seeing how it can develop with the music.

I’ve always been singing since I was a kid, but when I was in my early teens I picked up the guitar and started writing songs and singing. I loved so much folk music and singer-songwriters back then, but I eventually went to Goldsmiths and my sound moved on a little. I met so many amazing students and teachers who inspired me and showed me lots of new music which really impacted the way I write and use my voice. I’ve continued to use my voice in many different ways across several genres, from more electronic stuff to stripped-back piano and vocal-led projects. A lot of this music was focused on the voice, but this is the first time I’m just using my voice to make music.

Are there other singers or producers that inspired how you utilise vocals on Blueprints, treating them with effects to enhance their character?

Yes, there are quite a few! Firstly, I think a lot of trip-hop has inspired my vocal sound. There’s this closeness with the vocal recordings but a distance to the overall sound of the music. I practically had Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack on repeat throughout university. I think Björk has been a big influence too — Vespertine is probably the album I’m drawn to most. And when I was at the end of making Blueprints, writing the last songs like ARP and Too Close, I was pretty addicted to Laurel Halo’s Quarantine. The singing is so purposefully pitchy and uncomfortable, and I suppose I’d never thought of using my voice like that. When you’ve been taught to sing in tune as a singer, that feels pretty wild! But I used this as an influence to be a little freer and improvisational with my voice. I like that my voice is sometimes distant and cold, while other times more close up and warm throughout the album. I think some of the vocal processing has also been really inspired by Koreless’ early music, as well as James Blake’s first album, but there are many influences.

Pieces like ARP are so deeply emotional, yet uncomplicated and direct. Almost orchestral. Can you talk us through how you created and produced it?

ARP was one of the last tracks I wrote for the album. Before this, most of the compositions had been more moody and melancholy. I felt the need to explore some more rhythmic elements, so I started playing around with my voice and arpeggiators, and it just happened.

ARP doesn’t have a lyrical vocal line but it does have some effected voice notes where I’m talking through my process, and trying to understand what this music represents. These were initially much clearer voice notes – you could hear me say things like “I want to find the perfect ways to utilise my voice” and “trying to escape this need for perfectionism, just letting what happens be”. But Calum Duncan (who helped me finish the music) and I, ended up making these a lot blurrier and intense so they fit better with the track. I think the sentiment is still there though, and this is really underlying throughout all of the tracks on Blueprints. He also helped me to really make it sound much more epic!

The song actually just got used for Dior’s Haute Couture AW 24-25 runway, which was a bit surreal. It was right in the middle of two Philip Glass pieces, so that’s pretty crazy, and something I would have never anticipated when writing this track at home!

Where did you learn about the art of production?

I’m not sure I really know the “art of production”… I learnt a lot about music production while I was studying but always felt pretty uncomfortable with it, I wasn’t confident. There were lots of other people who were way more into it. But then I just started experimenting with what I knew. It wasn’t necessarily the right way to do things but I came to realise that this is what made the Ammonite music unique. There are all these moments which come out of nowhere, and these probably wouldn’t have happened if I knew what I was doing or if I was doing exactly the “right” thing. Though I’ve learnt there isn’t really a wrong or right with production which is pretty liberating…

Once I got the tracks into a good place, and where I felt I didn’t have the tools to elevate them further, I worked with collaborator Calum Duncan to finish off the productions and he also mixed the music. Calum taught me a lot about production and now I have more plugins and other bits of gear. I’m still trying to keep an open mind with it though, it’s fun to just experiment and to come up with songs without really knowing what you’re doing! If it gets too techy, I just lose interest…

Does it feel more liberating not to use drums?

Yes! Making music with the limitation of my voice and electronic processing is one of the most freeing things I have ever done. By restricting myself, I’ve opened a world of possibilities. For now I really love the idea of sticking to this process, and I’m currently working on lots of new music using this method, but maybe one day I’ll add in more instrumentation.

Perhaps an odd question, but given how people absorb a more diverse range of music these days, do you feel contemporary Dance Music is saying anything? If so, what kinship do you have with it?

I like the repetition of dance music, and I’ve definitely been inspired by a lot of it. I used to work at Mute and for their sub label NovaMute, so I listened to lots of techno and went to various clubs over the years to hear it live (a highlight was sitting in the Mute studio listening to demos with Daniel Miller)! Some of my friends make dance music too, which is awesome or dance-adjacent music but I think a lot of it is pretty hedonistic. But that’s great. I’m not sure music has to say something to be important. I suppose for me, it just needs to feel relevant or be timeless, it needs to make me feel something, and I need to be connected to it in some way.

Tell us about your favourite musicians/ singers both old and new?

I’ve always loved singer-songwriters like Rufus Wainwright, Joni Mitchell, and I love jazz singers like Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald too. I suppose a lot of my foundation comes from them. This music is obviously very different to what I make as Ammonite, but it’s still really inspiring to me. But I also love artists like Goldfrapp, Malibu, Julia Holter, Moses Sumney, Duval Timothy, Kali Malone’s organ music, Caterina Barbieri… and I’m really into Caroline Polachek and Charli xcx’s new record. I’ve been told that Ammonite is kind of like broken and messed up pop music which I think is pretty nice. I also have some friends who make amazing and very inspiring music, like Calum’s project Dot Never, jl. Segel, Rosie Lowe, Semi Precious, Dweller, Lapalace… the list goes on and on and on.

Would I be wrong in saying a thread of regret or loss runs through the album? What motivates you most when writing words?

(Album Artwork and visuals by Yasmin Vardi)

I definitely use writing to get feelings of regret or other emotions out. I’ve written lots of classically formed songs over the years with verses and choruses, but this record gave me the opportunity to not be so fixated on the lyrics. I improvised a lot, and in most cases just let whatever came out be part of the song. With this process, I think a lot of raw lyrics came up without me being able to control them and rewrite them over and over. It’s also fun to have one repeating lyric and manipulate it again and again. As you move through this process, you realise the sentiment of the lyric has sometimes completely changed by the end of the song, as you’ve edited it or changed the music underneath it.

You’re performing at The Albany Studio for your next Unravel night on 12 July. How do you feel about playing live to an audience rather than recording music in a studio? What are the key instruments you will bring with you? Do you have a particular microphone you like?

I do really enjoy playing live, but I overthink it sometimes and want to know exactly what’s going to happen on stage and be aware of everything that could go wrong (which is pretty impossible)! My partner Avi is a musical director, and he’s helped me to get my live show up and running. He says it’s best to be confident with it but not over prepared. He thinks it’s good to have at least some nerves!

My live set consists of just me on stage using my voice, two controllers and lots of effecting and triggering things. I also use Yasmin Vardi’s incredible visuals wherever possible. It’s been really fun and interesting to see how I can do this project live since it’s all made with my voice— it doesn’t sound exactly the same but I think it’s special in a different way! Obviously, I love being in the studio too but the processes are very different.

Buy Tickets for Unravel at The Albany (London)

Outside of music, which painters, poets, or writers inspire you day-to-day?

I do really like art and going to galleries but I’m not super clued up about the art world. I went to see the Women in Revolt exhibition at the Tate recently, and for the last few years, I’ve been more aware of writing on gender— there’s this book called Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell which I absolutely love and has been a big influence on my practice. I also run quite a bit and get the train a lot, so I listen to so much music and podcasts while on the move –– one of my favourite things is Woman’s Hour. I enjoy listening to different female perspectives and getting the news in this way. I also just read this beautiful book called August Blue by Deborah Levy which I loved and found very relatable. It’s also blue and about the colour blue which immediately makes me more connected to it… hehe.

And finally. Can you share any plans for moving into the future with your music?

Yes, I’m working on several demos at the moment! I’m still just using my voice and electronic processing but I’ve been playing with more rhythmic elements, and just trying new things out. I can’t wait to share more music soon. I also have some exciting remixes of tracks from Blueprints coming out in the near future, so stay tuned for that, and I’m working on a really nice collaboration which I hope will come out this year.

Download/Stream Ammonite – Blueprints on Ransom Note Records
Ammonite on Instagram
Ransom Note on Instagram

Share this post: