Last year, Amy Shark was working as a video editor for an Australian rugby team. Her task was to create content, write lines, then film the — as she lovingly refers to them — "big dumb football players" reciting them. Today, she's a bona fide indie-pop star, with millions of followers on Spotify, a chart-topping EP, and a (largely) sold out international tour.
For the Australian-born singer-songwriter, the fame has been overwhelming — but well earned. Now 30, she's been playing guitar and making music since high school. Equally enthralled by film, she had enjoyed her day job with the Titans. But when her 2016 single "Adore" began shooting up the charts in Australia, it seemed like she might have a change of plans. The song — which was voted number two on Australian radio — is addicting. Nearing 20 million streams on Spotify, it's an edgy and elegant ballad about the intoxicating nature of love.
With the release of her six-track EP Night Thinker in April, she's proven there's much more where that came from. But while hers is a new name to many, it's one that the Titans have been fans of all along. When I ask if the rugby players she worked with are a part of her increasingly large fan club, I hear her chuckle. "Oh, yeah," she says. "I feel like they're calling every second."
Abby Haglage: Growing up, were you always musical?
Amy Shark: Actually, not really. I never sang at school because I went to school with girls who did the whole Mariah Carey sort of singing, and they had really great voices. I didn't class myself as a singer at all. I actually loved acting and film, but my grandparents told my brother and I we needed to learn an instrument and that if we picked it out, they would pay for it. So I chose guitar and then I just got so addicted to it. I would come home and play and play and play. I had a really great tutor, who would teach me songs that I wanted to learn, like Alanis Morissette's. I think just because he wasn't teaching me the boring old classical guitar, that's what got me hooked.
AH: Did you start singing pretty soon after that?
AS: No, it took me a while to sing. I was in bands and stuff, and I would just play guitar. Then one sort of girl band I was in, the singer wasn't really singing the melody the way that I had it in my head, so I was just giving her an example of how I would have sung it. And then she was like, "Hey, you're not shit. You could do more." So I was like Oh, OK. After that band broke up, I started dating this guy, and he was like, "You've got really strong songs, and I think you need to set up a mic on-stage." So he did that for me, and the rest is history.
AH: Wow. That's crazy. So how long ago was that?
AS: I've actually been doing it for a very long time! I'm 30, so I've been writing music and sort of dabbling in it, trying to make some little waves in my own little town, for a very long time. And it never really happened, but I feel like it was because I was kind of lazy. I didn't really travel to Sydney or Melbourne and go and work with great producers or anything. I did everything myself in friends' kitchens and bathrooms — recording shitty, rough acoustic demos. People were liking them. I'd play at parties, and it'd be all very rough and sort of trashy. And that's what I liked at that time. I wish I didn't waste so much time — but then again, I think everything's happening now because I've had more experiences, so what I'm writing about now is resonating with people.
AH: That's interesting to look back and see that there was a point to all of that, that the useless days add up to something.
AS: Yeah, I feel like it kind of happened at the right time, you know? Even though all those years I felt I was banging my head up against a brick wall.
AH: I saw you mention in another interview that you only like to write songs when you are in a kind of melancholy mood. Do you have to sort of seek that out, or is it easy to access?
AS: I'm just depressed. [Laughs.]
AH: [Laughs.] I mean, I wasn't sure …
AS: No, no, I'm just emotional. I always have been. I look so deep into things and always overanalyze and worry about everything. I'm actually a very happy person, and I'm really happy in my life at the moment, but I guess because I've had so much shit go on in the past, so much shit that I went through as a kid with family or with relationships and friendship breakdowns, I've just got all this stuff that you can kind of draw from. I guess every now and then … I reminisce a lot, and it's a weird feeling. I was talking to my nan the other day, and I just happened to ask her about one of the wars that they went through. And she just started crying because she just remembers all this stuff, and she just breaks down in tears. And I think I have a lot of that in me. Like sometimes I think about a certain thing that happened in high school, a conversation I had with a friend or a guy or a girl or whoever, and I just think, Ah, remember that day? I can teleport myself back to that time really quickly.
AH: So as someone who has been writing and performing music for so long, is it frustrating to have people obsessing over one song specifically?
AS: Totally. "Adore" is not even the best song! Everyone asked me, "So when you recorded 'Adore,' did you know it was a hit?" And I'm like, "Fuck, I've been playing music for so long and I had so many songs, I [don't] think anything is a hit anymore." I mean, of course I didn't think it was a hit, I haven't had a hit! [Laughs.]
But yeah, once that was getting a little momentum, everyone was knowing me as the "Adore" girl, and there was a while there when people would come to shows just knowing "Adore" because I didn't have anything out, but now it's awesome because people are hearing the whole EP and people are loving and enjoying the entire show. So it's really cool.
AH: It was pretty quickly after "Adore" that you came out with Night Thinker. Was that the plan?
AS: Yeah, I'm probably a punish to work with, because I just want to keep showing people music. That's why that EP got turned around so quickly. I was just like, Get me in that studio and let's get this released! I'm always writing and I'm always making stuff.
AH: Is Shark your real last name?
AS: No, I wish it was Shark! No, I'm just obsessed with sharks. Always have been, and Jaws is my favorite movie and I know every word from it. The score, I know the music to it. All the cast. I just got obsessed with Jaws, and then I got obsessed with Jaws 2, Jaws 3, Jaws Revenge, and then Deep Blue Sea and anything to do with sharks.
AH: You can watch that many shark movies and then go swimming after and be fine?
AS: No, no way. I shit myself every time. Even in pools I'm like, "If someone snuck a shark in …" No, I surf a little bit, but I only surf in Waikiki, Hawaii. So I'm not going in [Australia's] waters, because in this area there's a shark attack like, every second day.
AH: Whoa, yeah. It's interesting to hear about your anxiety though. I think in your songs you come off as pretty fearless.
AS: Yeah, the way that I've used music over the years is literally just therapy, and digesting personal moments that I've had and conversations that I've had, feelings I've had for people. There's nothing polished or shiny about my music, which is why I'm surprised it's on commercial radio and things like that. I never really wrote it for that. I never sit down and say "I need a poppier chorus or a better bridge" or something because I want it to be on the radio.
Even the start of "Weekends," [whose lyrics talk about] sleeping pills and codeine, I was like, This is never gonna get on commercial radio, but I don't actually care because I don't want to edit.
AH: Well, "Weekends" is already a huge hit, so apparently it worked.
AS: Yeah, I'm probably a real pain in the dick to work with, but I feel they're gonna get the best out of me if they just let me do my thing.
Abby Haglage is a journalist living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, Glamour, Marie Claire, and the Daily Beast.