Amber Arcades, the moniker of Dutch musician Annelotte de Graaf, is the new kid on the block when it comes to exciting new sounds for summer. Doing the rounds of the festival scene this year, you’ll most likely find her serenading the crowds with magical melodies and ethereal compositions that transport you to another world, perfect for chilling out with a cider in hand in the sunshine (fingers crossed for that one). When she’s not buried in human rights laws helping people leave Syria that is! With her debut album Fading Lines released on 3rd June, I caught up with Annelotte to talk about recording the album, what influenced her sound and the exciting paths that have led her to where she is today.
Your story so far has been pretty awe-inspiring, not only putting out your debut album, but also working as a legal aide on UN war crime tribunals – with so much going on, what made you want to branch out into the music world too?
Well first of all, I like to do a lot of different things in my life. Humans are complex, there are so many sides to one’s personality one could develop, so why would you stick to just one? If I were to do only law related stuff I would miss doing something creative. And vice versa, if I would only make music I would miss the intellectual challenge and the feeling of doing something meaningful. But then why specifically music and not painting or poetry, I don’t know. I just really like making music and it has always had a more direct impact on me than other art forms.
Do you find that these other elements in your life heavily influence your sound or your songwriting?
They used to more than they do nowadays. When I first started writing songs it was during my first years of study. I was really into criminal law, philosophy of law and heavy stuff like that, I wanted to write deep lyrics about guilt, free will, punishment – the works. I did that for a bit. Those songs were never put out though! Nowadays I don’t really approach lyric writing like that anymore. It comes more from personal memories, experiences, whatever is on my mind at a particular point in time, more from my subconscious.
I read that you’ve been known to invite strangers to share your Utrecht squat, and that’s how you forged a friendship that led to you signing with your record label – which sounds like a great story! Can you tell us a bit about how this came about?
So there’s this annual festival in Utrecht, my hometown, called Le Guess Who?. The festival started a couch-surfing project a couple of years ago, asking local festival-goers to offer their couch to foreign visitors. I posted on Facebook that I would be happy to offer my couch, and a Polish girl, Karolina, replied – and so it happened. She came back to the festival the year after that, and the year after that, and so we became friends. Last year I went to visit my brother in London in April and met up with Karolina there too. She’d just gotten a job there at Heavenly doing press stuff and told me about the label. I hadn’t heard about them before but found out they put out a lot of great records. We e-mailed them the record when it was finished in summer and I guess they liked it so here we are!
You have quite an ethereal, magical sound – what influenced you to make your music in this way?
Nothing in particular, to be honest. I start somewhere and then this is just what comes out of my brain. It’s not some preconceived plan. My brain is influenced by the same stuff everyone’s brain is influenced by. Neurotransmitters, hormones, memories, experiences, interactions, music I’ve listened to, books I’ve read, etc… I can’t pick out something specific that’s influencing my music. Just living life I guess. It’s all a big spongy mush.
What does your writing and recording process look like in terms of coming together with your band – do you write a song and compose the sound together, or does everyone have their individual set roles?
For the upcoming record that was recorded last May it went like this, I wrote the basics for all the songs – the chord progressions, the melodies, the lyrics and some guitar parts – by myself on a guitar. I then approached Ben Greenberg as a producer and sent him the demos I’d made and we e-mailed some ideas back and forth before I went over to New York. When I got there we spent a couple of days in the rehearsal studio with the team, before recording, throwing ideas around and trying out different arrangements. It was a very open process, everyone made suggestions and was eager to be involved in the creative process, which was really cool.
You spent your life savings getting to New York to record your album. Why did it mean so much to you to record it in that particular city, rather than somewhere a little close to home?
I wanted to work with Ben as a producer. He just happened to be living in and working from New York, so that’s where I went. I could’ve asked him to come to Europe I guess, but where’s the fun in that?! I thought it would be more inspiring to go there and find myself in a new and unfamiliar environment, I like having to reinvent myself from time to time. Going there to work on the record also had the added bonus that I could ask my friends Shane and Keven from Quilt to join me in the studio, which turned out to be a dream collaboration.
Are there any memorable moments that stand out from the recording process?
I kept waking up super early because of the jet lag, so one time I decided to go to the studio early and found that Keven was also there already. He was jamming out to this krauty bassline. I had had this idea for a song already before I flew to New York but it was too raw and unfinished to record it, or so I thought. The melody for the song I had in my head fitted smoothly over the bass line that Keven was playing so I decided to go with it and jam out on it for a bit. Before we knew we’d finished the song in an hour or so. Ben came in and recorded what we had. The Jackson came in and recorded some lush synth parts over it. And that was pretty much it. That was the best morning, everything just came together perfectly… Made me feel the magic for sure.
So your debut album is set to be released soon – and it sounds gorgeous! Is there a particular song that stands out from it that means the most to you, or that really evokes a certain memory from your journey so far?
I guess the title track ‘Fading Lines’ is the most personal track for me. It was written shortly after my grandfather passed away and I was thinking a lot about death, what it means to live a good life, acceptance, the fading of time and memories and the utter weirdness of existence. I was kind of in a weird state of being constantly overwhelmed, feeling sad and blissful at the same time. This song still brings those feelings back to some extent.
You’ve got a few festivals lined up for the summer, how does it feel to be getting out there and presenting your music to an audience on a larger scale?
I’m very excited about the prospect of playing more shows, especially festivals! It’s a very different side to this musician life than nerding out in the studio, which I also love, but in a different way. I still get massive adrenaline kicks out of performing, not sure I’ll ever get used to it.
Fading Lines is released on 3rd June via Heavenly Records.