In January, Amy Shark finished just one spot short of becoming the first woman to top the triple j hottest 100 with her song Adore. And she spent 2016 becoming the go-to artist for a growing number of teen, 20something and 30somethings who heard in her songs their own stories about what it means being a 21st century woman.
But Shark, or Amy Billings as she’s known on her tax returns, still can find herself stunned into rare inarticulateness in moments like one recently in Sydney where she played two sold out shows on the one day in the same Newtown venue.
“People don’t know how many years I’ve been playing shows to empty rooms,” she says. “So when you start playing shows of your own music to packed rooms, and twice in a day and you played another packed room the night before, it’s like - well I like to remind myself how hard it was before - it’s awesome.
“Especially when you have times where you do struggle a little bit through shows, maybe you’re talking absolute shit because you’re just so taken back that people are here, you remind yourself how life was before all this and try to enjoy it as much as possible.”
This life “before all this” is really less than two years ago. Billings, who is 30, had been writing and performing music for about 15 years, though probably seriously considering it a career option for about six years, before anyone took notice.
And this not from a base in Sydney or Melbourne, or even Brisbane or Perth, but the Gold Coast, home of such major music act as ….., well, yeah, exactly.
“The Gold Coast is a very very hard place. It’s easier to stand out because there’s not as many people as cities like Sydney or Melbourne but it’s a lot of travel if you want to get anywhere or play anywhere decent and then you’ve got to beg the people to let you play before them,” says Billings.
“Over the years, that really took its toll which is why when I wrote Adore I wasn’t trying for a good six months.”
In retrospect, Adore was obvious as a direction, with its Lorde-like mix of guitars and beats, pop and something heavier.
However, having tried many genres in the 15 years before it, having listened to people tell her to go solo, or hook up with a band, or try folk or this or that, she was “confused” to the point of immobility.
“I shut down everything I wasn’t really trying, changed my name to Amy Shark and then wrote Spits On Girls. I really liked mixing guitar with beats and … I thought, that’s the sound I want.”
Spits On Girls did better than anything she had ever released, including getting a spin on triple J - “They at least played it and I was like, I’ve made it. Even if it doesn’t get played again, it got played once.” – and then Golden Fleece picked up a Queensland pop music award, confirming at last she had a direction.
Part of her may have wished she had broken through when was 19 or 20 but she does recognise there’s been some reward for waiting another decade.
“One thing is a lot of musicians, the younger girls, are writing to me saying how do you come up with these songs?’,” says Billings. “And it’s like well, I’m a lot better at digesting all these thoughts then you because you are 20 and I’ve had a lot more history than you.”
That history is on show in her confidence detailing the rawness of her emotions and reactions, and how questionable her behaviour can be too.
On her new EP, Night Thinker, Billings isn’t hiding much and if something like confessing to stalker-like tendencies in Deleted might put some people off with its less than ideal behaviour, well that’s too bad.
“Yeah, that’s a real shock sometimes,” she says. “I’ve told everyone in every frigging interview I’ve had that I don’t sit down and say I’m going to write about love tonight, or I’m going to write about this incident. It’s shit that’s in your subconscious that you don’t even know you’re going to write about it.
“That’s what’s addictive. That’s why I’ve got so many songs, because I’m always thinking ‘what’s gonna come out?’”
So maybe that’s not a case of confidence in doing this this way but rather the only way she plays it.
“That’s why people like it but I was always this raw,” Billings says. “I feel like I’ve waited out all these crazes and phases for my stuff to be in now. Because I’ve always written like that. I spoke to people from record labels and they were like, it’s a bit too edgy. But now it’s like, ‘it’s okay now, people liked Lorde’s stuff, that was pretty gritty and basic lyrics but honesty’.
“It’s not like I go out to shock people; it’s honestly just how it is.”
Which is the message Billings will be taking overseas when she makes her first tour of the USA mid-year. If they want her to co-write, for example – which is standard operating procedure these days - they may be waiting a while because that might well shut down that Amy Shark honesty.
“I’d feel really bizarre sitting in a room writing with someone else,” Billings says. “I’ve done it my way for so long and it’s working so I feel like saying you should co-write with this person, ‘well, why would I?’ Why would I give away firstly that percentage, which I kinda need right now, and two, I’d be held back because I don’t think I’m going to be as honest as I am when I’m in a room by myself.”
Pressed as to who she would choose if she was made to co-write, Billings nominates Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 (“I’m like punk at heart and a lot of my songs I steal a lot of those punk melodies and just put it into pop.”) and, perhaps not surprisingly, Lorde.
“She’s pretty amazing at such a young age. That would be pretty intense – it might just be an explosion.”