Emerging singer Amber Mark is preparing to drop her first album this summer. She has already produced several EPs, “3:33a.m.”, released in the summer of 2017, being the one to put her on the map. Growing up in New York City, Berlin, and India, she draws on different cultural influences to shape her music. She has performed at several large music festivals, including Gov. Ball in New York City, and looks forward to performing for her first time at Coachella this spring. Her new single, "Generous", was just released on January 31st and can be found on Spotify.
Photographer Julia Comita
Talent Amber Mark
Makeup Raisa Flowers
Hair Niko Weddle using Amika haircare and Sensationnel Hair
I was so delighted to photograph Amber Mark. Her music had recently come into my life, thanks to Pandora’s algorithm, and I couldn’t get enough. It was the catchy melodies and hooks that immediately caught my attention, but the stories behind them that kept it. At the youthful age of 25, Amber sings deeply personal songs that she writes + produces (mostly) by herself. Growing up around the world in different environments including New York City, India, and Germany, she draws on her experiences and cultural influences to inspire her songs. Her lyrics and unflustered attitude seem beyond her years, and I imagine she must be an old soul. With several E.P.’s under her belt and her first album coming out this summer, Amber is quickly blazing her own trail in the music industry. You can also catch her performing this spring for her first time at Coachella. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this interview with her as much as I enjoyed conducting it.
Julia: Your first EP, 3:33 AM, was released in 2017 and was a raw expression of your emotions surrounding your mother's passing. Does the new album follow a theme?
Amber: It does. It definitely does. There's going to be three parts right now [...] the first part deals with quite a bit of insecurities I have, whether it's music [...] or whether it's my love life or just my physical self. Just insecurities I have. And then there's part two, [where] I start to gain confidence and I want it so that it gradually grows throughout the section of part two. And then towards the end of part two it's like I gain too much confidence [...] there's interludes between each part and there's an out of body experience that happens and then part three is kind of this “lesson learned” section. I wanted to kind of take you on a little bit of a journey, but I don't want it to feel
[like you] have to know what the subject of the album is in order to understand the songs or to feel the songs or feel good about the songs ... I want it to be like if you are listening to the album and then you read an interview you think "Oh, wait. This album actually follows a storyline," and then you go back and listen to the album and then you hear it. You see it. You're able to visualize it or hear it in the song.
Julia: What inspires you to write, generally? Does it come easy to you in that way?
Amber: It depends. If I'm really feeling something, [like if I'm] feeling sad about something, it'll come really easy. But it's harder to write happier songs for me personally because I would take them so seriously and I think the key with happy songs is to just have fun with it and to not really stress on what wording you're using. I think you'll get there eventually, but I think the most important thing is just kind of writing what comes to mind, what feels good. I have had times, especially in the past, when you deal with ups and downs, the insecurities in yourself and whether or not you're actually a good artist or writer or good producer or good singer or whatever, which is all things I felt, especially earlier this year. I felt like once you start to really question yourself, it's even harder. You put so much more stress on yourself. So I definitely went through a phase where I felt like I wasn't getting anything that I really liked. And it's really like a roller coaster, honestly. There's some times where it flows out amazingly and there's some times where it just doesn't happen. I spend hours at the computer trying to come up with something and it just doesn't work, it doesn't happen.
I think it's also because I gather a lot of information just from life experience, what I'm going through. If I'm dating someone or falling in love, I obviously take from that as much as I don't like to because I find it to be really cheesy. But it's kind of hard not to talk about those things. Or if I'm dealing with a breakup. Or if I'm having stress with the label or something like that. I try to take from all of those places or anything that I go through, because people just want, people are so craving to just know the person. Even in social media. We just want to know the honest people. They want to see people, these people that they listen to, they want to see them being themselves. So I think that that's really important to do in music, because I think that's how we connect one another.
Julia: Do you feel with so many fans and social media at the forefront of everything that you have any responsibility as an artist putting out content?
Amber: Yes and no, because I do think it's important to utilize, like especially when you start to gain like a bigger following, like you have more ... I hate to say it, but you have more power. And so I think that it is important to use that power to spread what your opinions are and stuff like that. But then there's also a part of me that's [...] not a huge fan of social media and I go through phases and my digital team gets really annoyed with me because there's times where I just don't post at all. And they're like, "We need you to be more consistent." And I'm like, "I don't know how to do that." But then they want to have people do it for me on social media, [and] I don't trust them. So they just have to deal with me being not consistent. There's a part of me that feels like it's important, then there's a part of me that [feels] people should be able to, I don't know, have their own opinions. Sometimes I feel like things are so steered in a certain way because everyone's posting about it... so, I get a little unsure when it comes to things like that. I don't like to post too much, unless there's something I feel really strongly about. Mainly a lot of animal cruelty videos, because those always get me. But [otherwise], I don't know. That's a hard one for me to answer, because I feel so pulled from both ends when it comes to that type of thing. In a way, I feel like we live in a very contradicting time. We feel a certain way. And it's really hard to be a good person and to do the right thing, because I feel like no matter what you're still
... Have you ever seen that TV show The Good Place?
Amber: It's this really, it's a very clever TV show, but basically it deals with what happens in after life and it's done in a very corporate way. It's quite a funny show. They tell a storyline where it's like you get certain points and the amount of points you collect towards the end of your life will decide whether you go to the bad place or you go to the good place. They figure out in the end that it's basically impossible to get in the good place because you'll buy flowers from the store for your grandmother for her birthday or something like that and that'll be something nice, but it turns out that the flowers that you're buying are made using child labor or something horrible like that. So in the end, you're actually not doing something good. I feel like it's so hard to figure out, I don't know, I always have such a hard time deciding what is the right thing to do, because I always think about that.
I get pretty stressed out about it. But you can only do your best and you can only try your hardest. You can try recycling, who knows if it's actually being recycled. But you can at least attempt to start recycling, you know?
Julia: Yeah, totally. I think that's a great response. Jumping a little bit into your history,
you had a pretty eclectic childhood. Can you just talk a little bit about that and
how it's influenced you?
Amber: Yeah. I mean, my mom was German and she was a Tibetan Buddhist and we kind of traveled around a lot when I was a kid because she was an artist and she had the ability to. She didn't have a job that kind of held her down [and] I was homeschooled when I was a kid. We moved to India when I was nine, and we were living in New York prior to that. I mean, it was pretty formative years for me... nine through twelve. I really loved it. I really loved being in India and the experience that I got there, and even as I'm older, I'm even more thankful to [have been] able to experience that at such a young age. But yeah, especially with 3:33 AM, there was a huge influence from that time because the album I was writing, the EP I was writing was more about my mom and dealing with her loss and stuff like that, and I kind of wanted to have her sound. Even though she was German, she definitely would've lived out the rest of her life in India. So I really wanted it to sound like her [...] I tried to do a little bit of hybrid. And then I don't know, we lived all over the place. We lived in Berlin after the India phase and that kind of got me into house music and stuff like that, so I think that's kind of where the house influence comes from. Then of course New York will always be my forever home. If I were to add up all the months and years I've lived in one place, New York would be the one that I lived the longest. And I was there for my later high school years and that obviously, that's when I kind of fell in love with hip hop and tribe and all that stuff. Being in all those places influenced the music I listened to. I listened to all kinds of music, so it's hard for me especially to choose a genre, and it definitely influenced little bits and pieces of the type of music I make here and there.
Julia: Okay. So you said when you were younger and you went to India, you were being raised as a Tibetan Buddhist? Is that correct?
Amber: Yeah. Well, I mean, it kind of just happened because we lived, when we moved to India we lived in a monastery that was located like an hour away from Darjeeling, which is in the West Bengal, like in the mountains, the Himalayas area. My mom was ... I kind of just naturally did it with her, you know? Especially because I was homeschooled and all my friends were monks, so I always did what they did. It wasn't a forced thing, but I definitely ended up going ... Do I practice it now, not really. But it's definitely the spirituality or the religion that I connect with the most for sure.
Julia: Was there a moment when you decided, "I don't subscribe to this exact belief system any longer"?
Amber: No, not really, because I never really felt like I was a Tibetan Buddhist. Maybe there were moments where I was proud that was what I believed, because it's such a beautiful way of believing in life and after life and all that stuff. And still to this day, I don't know, I take some little things here and there and I don't really, it's one of those things where it's like no one really knows the answer. I guess you can just kind of go with, I don't know, you kind of make up your own little story of what after life is and what spirituality is and stuff like that. I definitely went through a phase in my life where I did not believe in God at all. After my mom died, I was like, "God does not exist." I kind of questioned it. I had this thought, I kind of had a moment where I was like, I feel like after life and this whole heaven and hell thing and whatever it is, this man up above or whatever, it's like all there [just to] keep us mentally stable just so we're not afraid of dying, just so we can deal with loss better. I definitely had a phase where I felt that way. Now, I've had moments where I've just felt like there has to be more. I don't know what it is. I don't know what it looks like, what form or shape it takes or whatever it is, but I know that there's ... I just feel like there's something out there.
Julia: But this idea of "God", that's a very western idea. Where did that influence come from?
Amber: I guess, I don't know, I guess the western side. My godmother is very religious. She goes to church pretty much every Sunday. She comes from an Italian family. She's first generation American. I guess that's probably where it comes from, but again, I don't really believe any ... I believe that stuff less than I believe the other stuff. As a kid, I would talk to God. I remember being younger and asking him for things. Any time I would make a wish, I'd make a wish to God and I'd be like, "I wish that my mom lives till 102 and that there's world peace,"
"And I get this toy for Christmas." I would talk to him as a kid. You grow up around people that believe in it, so you kind of start to believe it as a kid. You're believing in Santa, so the most popular way of believing in after life is like there's a man up above and his name is God. I guess that's how that kind of was implemented in my life. You grow older and you just start ... some people continue to believe it, some people don't. Or believe it in a different way, I guess.
Julia: Provided that your music is so personal, do you have a hard time separating yourself, Amber Mark the person, from the music?
Amber: Not really, because I feel like I'm not, or at least I haven't ... Who knows what'll happen, I could have a whole new persona at some point in my career, I don't know. But as far as now, I've kind of just stuck to just being myself and putting out music that feels like myself and that means something to me. So I definitely haven't felt like this feeling. Even in the beginning when I first started it, I was kind of like, maybe I should have a different name, an alternate name, my artist name should be different. But then [...] this music is so personal, so if anything it's kind of scary putting out music that's so personal, so close. Especially when it's very recent, if something's recent that's happened, it's kind of scary doing that. But other than that, I don't really feel like there's a difference between my artist self and my [actual] self. I feel like they're the same person. It's definitely a little hard with the social media thing, having to post all the time. But then [...] I've just kind of stuck to just being myself and seeing how that goes. You can't really apologize for being yourself.
Julia: No, definitely not. I think that's a great message. Did you always know that you wanted to be a musician?
Amber: I think so. I've always loved music. I wanted to be a dancer when I was really young. I was nine, I was kind of set. I saw the Honey movie and I was like, "That's what I want to do." Music has always been something I was into and I always wanted to learn how to play the piano as a kid. But we were traveling around so much and didn't own a piano, [instead] my mom bought me a guitar when I was... about 14? Or 13 maybe, we were living in Berlin and she bought me a guitar, and that was my first introduction into playing an instrument. Then I joined a choir and I started singing. I just started fully progressing and I kind of was like, "Oh, maybe this is what I want to do," I went to a performing arts high school in New York for my first two years, and I ended up joining this after school program that was very similar to School of Rock when I lived in Miami for my junior and senior year of high school. [The program was] called Rock Ensemble and we would perform at local charity events or school events or whatever. I would sing like Oh, Darling by The Beatles. I think that song Fuck You was really popular at the time from Ceelo Greene, but obviously I couldn't sing that version. I had to sing the Forget You version, but we did that song. That was my first taste of being on stage and that was when I confirmed this is what I want to do. I love doing this, I have the best time performing, I want to make music, I want to be an artist, I want to be a singer.
Julia: What's your next big dream for yourself and your career?
Amber: My next big dream, I don't know. I've always just wanted to be able to do this as a job, so I guess to keep doing this and getting paid to do this. It would be the best to just get paid to do what I love. It's definitely stressful at times, but the fun parts of it and the exciting and goal accomplishing parts of it definitely weigh out all the stressful moments of it. So hopefully I can keep doing that, this, and hopefully people continue to connect with my music. Right now the goal is just to get the album out the way that I want it to be. So far, that's the goal and hopefully
it does well, people like it.
Julia: I'm sure it's going to be a big hit. I cannot wait for it to come out. Okay. My last question is do you have any inspiring words for young musicians wanting to make a career out of their passion?
Amber: Yes. To keep trying, no matter how long it takes, and if you're uncomfortable and if you're nervous about something like I was and you don't feel like you're good enough about something, you just got to let go of that feeling and just dive into it and just do the best you can. And who cares what you sound like, just be active and put yourself out there, no matter how hard it is or how nerve wracking it is. You don't need all these people. I felt like I, even after doing this I still feel like I could do this on my own. Just be yourself and just keep putting out things, or doing things, or expressing yourself in a way that feels true to yourself. That's what I would probably
Julia: I think that is very sound advice. Putting the critic to the side.
Julia: Whether the critic is external or internal
Amber: Who cares if you're wrong in the end? Then you've learned that now you do it a
different way, that you keep trying.
Julia: Absolutely. Of course. It's not that all feedback of course is bad, but I think that's
right. If you listen to too much criticism from too many people or take it too
personally, however will you grow? I think criticism can be the biggest stunt of
Amber: It really is. It's definitely just a creative crusher. Just ruins it.
Amber: I mean, once you start, you really just have to kind of, you have to just keep listening to your heart, as hard as it is, because it's like you always want to take advice from people.
Julia: Yeah, of course.
Amber: And you trust a lot of people's opinions because some of them have been doing it for a while. But no matter what, in the end if you just keep doing what your heart tells you, even if it ends up being not the right path, you learn from that experience and you're the one that made the decision, that you can just keep moving from that.
Julia: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you, Amber. This was such a pleasure to get to talk to you.
Amber: Thank you!