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Music

8.31.2017

Ama Lou Talks Authenticity, Vintage, And Her Gangster Film Fixation

Wise beyond her years, Ama Lou is a breath of fresh air.

Black T-shirt tucked into black baggy jeans, the tee reads “REPARATIONS NOW!” and, paired with the yellow outline of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X shaking hands, is indicative of the omnipresent influence that social change and understanding have on Ama’s fluid songwriting. When she’s not skating, obsessively researching Italian Mafia clothing, or dreaming of cream colored ’64 Chevy Impalas, she’s making music.

Adorned in South American gold jewelry and with an acai bowl in hand, the 19-year-old classically-trained singer lounged in the park with MILK.XYZ for her first in-person interview to speak on her influences, personal style, and dedication to leading an authentic life.

Tell us about your classical training.

I started writing songs when I was 11. I really enjoyed it. It was fun. I used to have a guitar teacher when I was 8 years and I used to always distract him. I didn’t want to do this thing that I had been told to do so strongly, like fuck that. If my dad was like “Learn this,” in my head I’d be like, “No don’t tell me what to do,” and do the opposite. It’s the funniest thing—like any kid, if your parent tells you to do something it’s so uncool and you don’t want to do it. So I spent all my lessons distracting him and making him laugh and he’d be like, “You know some day you’re going to be a singer-songwriter,” but I hated it.… Then I was writing these songs a few years later at 11 and I actually wanted to. I did recordings when I was 12, and my dad played them back to me and it was cool, very embarrassing now but you can hear snippets of my voice, of what it’s like now. There was like good snippets and the rest is singing with no control.

I had this really great music teacher and she was like “ UM, why don’t you do classical singing” when I was 12. I started laughing and she looked at me and was like, “No seriously.” I actually really like challenges so I was like, “That actually sounds kind of fun.” I started doing it and she’s like, “You’re actually really good at this,” and my voice was developing at a really rapid rate, plus I had structure in terms of actually knowing what singing feels like in my body. I had a massive diaphragm because of opera. You build this massive muscle and I really enjoyed it because it really wasn’t what anyone else did. I lived in the inner city. I live in Central London and it’s like if you do music or learn to do music, your dad—I had loads of kids at my school whose dads were like drummers for really famous indie bands or whatever,  no one did classical singing—not many kids do. And I just carried on with it and I really enjoyed it and when I used to sing normally—coming out of classical singing, it was so easy. I learned the hardest and most controlled way of singing so I could build up all my skills and master them and then when I tried singing normally it was like, “Wow I actually have a voice here.” I could piece together all the good bits of my voice and it kind of smoothed out all the harshness.

What motivates you to keep creating?

I couldn’t do anything else. I mean, creatively, probably yeah but nothing that would make me happy like this songwriting. I feel like everyone can have something that they are really good at and no one can question that; it could be anything like peeling potatoes ,or cutting grass, or like cheering people up—everyone can have one thing to say they’re really good at and no one can be able to say like, “Actually, you know what, that time no.” So that’s how I felt about songwriting for me, because I was put in loads of different situations and even more so now, I just can trust in writing.

And that’s with no arrogance or ego, that’s just how I can feel where it comes from. I was writing songs when I was younger, they would come out all the time and I was like, “Oh some of these I don’t want to sing, but they’re good” and then it kind of situated around there because I was like in school and I did photography and maths and history and I was like, “Nothing flows well.” You can be really good at something, but where does stuff flow out of? Naturally where do you gravitate towards? That was always music.

I can situate so many things around this career—this musical thing of like clothes, or my aesthetic interests, or what else am I interested in? I don’t know, writing films?

What are you fixated on right now?

I mean, if you watch my Instagram story, I’m always on like old gangster films. I’m obsessed with old cars, which I don’t really understand why.

What’s your dream car?

So it’s like a cream ’64 Chevy Impala—the fucking longest car on earth.

What color is the interior?

Fuck, I haven’t thought that through. I’m thinking like you go cream on the outside and then you go a lighter cream on the inside, so it’s like white, and then you have rose gold detailing. Right? Come on?

That sounds like everyone’s dream car! You mentioned that fashion and aesthetic is an important thing to you—are there any particular designers or kinds of fashion that you gravitate towards naturally?

My whole thing is authenticity. That’s a constant word that always comes up for me. In London, we have a massive fashion-kid culture, like millennial fashion-kid. It’s the same in New York. Its not a negative thing its just a thing. You situate yourself around designers or particular groups that go for like—you know you can have the 90s raver, the English raver—where everyone wears vintage Fendi and Tommy Hilfiger and everything—I tried that for a while. I was a sneakerhead when I was like 14 and then it wasn’t really about that anymore. It was more about if I do a look, how authentic can I get it?

So if I do a look  and then what aesthetically was like  pleasing me. I was going to like 1960s kind of Italian gangsters, but I’m not like the Mafia, I’m like the one, the side person, that kid that’s kind of learning the ways and kind of has to dress like formal/casual—just in case anything happens. And so I wear Italian knits. And like he thinks he’s really cool because he a rookie in the cosa nostra—it’s very, very specific to a complete scenario, not become that in terms of like I’m away with my persona but kind of emulate it to make it most authentic. Or I’ll do a 90s skater and it’s like—okay so, they didn’t think about it that much it wasn’t like, “Oh I’m gonna go buy skater clothes to be a skater”—it’s like, “Oh, what’s practical?” so I’m gonna wear like Dickies that are two sizes too big because I’ve got to be able to bend my knees to skate properly. You know, like it has to be most authentic. It’s not just a look—and then you can mix and match.

When I shop, I will scan around and whatever catches my eye and then you can fit it together later.

It’s a story. You can very much tell a story with clothing.

It’s very much a story. OH, but then if the clothing has a story…. I can’t deal. There is this one shop, I’m not saying the name of it—I don’t want anyone to go there. I’m sorry, but no one is knowing the name of it. Everything is written. You can tell this woman loves vintage clothing so much, she writes the tags so amazingly. She’ll have so much knowledge, you’ll know exactly where they’re from, you’ll get the era with it, you’ll get the type of material—and if you ask her about it she’ll be like, “Yeah I got it from here, and this kind of person, and I’m like, “OH MY GOD. I need this in my life.” She’s just amazing. Clothes have a story.

You’ve mentioned authenticity a lot, do you find that songwriting has become a vehicle for this?

I actually need to go back and reverse. Songwriting is not something I possess. When I’m in the studio, I try not to possess it out of an ego thing. I write songs from a place and it comes through and it’s not about me, it’s not about the producer, it’s about what’s best for the project. And of course, some of my songs speak about certain things that don’t necessarily directly affect me, but they come from a perspective. So of course, I can’t claim on them. Like “TBC” for example—when I was getting press about that I’d get questions like, “What made you write this?” Nothing made me write it. I didn’t come out with this song to be like, “Yeah, I’m an activist.” This just came through and I realized what it was about afterwards. With “I can’t breathe”, I was like where does that come from.. and we’d seen it on the internet, Instagram, everywhere. You know the clip of Eric Garner, awful, awful fucking awful and it’s like the songwriting is always authentic because it comes from a very pure place and I feel like because my ego isn’t involved it’s even more authentic because I don’t taint it. It’s not like, “I want to write a song about this”… It does help me be authentic. It gives me pinpoints about what truth is.

You talk about this higher place, how do you connect to that?

It just flows through.

As young person, and having your work being linked to political causes—do you ever feel nervous to say the wrong thing?

The funniest thing is, it’s usually—it’s not so much the songs, like I said, I don’t possess them, they just come through. And because I didn’t necessarily have an agenda for them, that’s how they are. But it’s the interviews—when people are linking me back to my work—Fuck me, Jesus Christ.

Especially because it’s always writing, this is my first in-person interview. They’ll send me a list of questions and I’m seriously dyslexic. I can write creatively so I go in my space and come out and it’s like word vomit and my sister is so intelligent and neatens it up—because we’re so close, she gets it. But when she’s working EVERY FUCKING DAY, she’s always on set. I’m panicking, this needs to be on this deadline! Seriously, I’ve had so many times—I’m not a crier, that’s not how I deal with things, but I’ll literally have like a breakdown crying if I put a full-stop or a comma in the wrong place and I’ve sent it off and it makes the sentence mean something else. Fuck. Honestly, it’s that specific. I have to go over this and make sure I’m saying it in the most truthful way and I can go over it and we can speak, but when it’s on paper, oh my god! I don’t want to offend anyone, because also I want to try and explain that it’s not really about me. I don’t ever want to be that person that’s like, “I’m an activist.” I’m trying to claim on that to like you know make my music mean more – that’s not what it’s about, because then I’ll go write something that is about something else—it’s just authentic.

But yes. Yes, Oh my god. Yes, yes. I’ll go over a draft ten hundred times and especially if it’s political because I’m so sensitive to how other people can feel and how many perspectives there are in the world—but usually it’s like just ask the universe. I would have already channeled into the universe the most authentic. And then people are like whatever, mistakes come and they are also authentic. If that makes any sense.

It’s a massive thing. No one’s ever asked me that before.

What do you think of what’s going on in America right now?

I mean, my dad moved to Massachusetts from South America when he was 12 and they were the only black family within 30 miles, in their school, everywhere. He experienced such harshness that still exists now, and so I have that perspective.

I was raised with so many different perspectives. My dad went to university when he was 15, And then my mum is also someone who is extremely well read and they brought me and my sister up as mixed children. My mum is white and my dad is black with loads of other mixes in him, so that’s the short answer. Perspectives, that were really holistic, in terms of what’s needed for your soul—in the least hippie kind of way, but on a serious level.

Me and my sister are 18 months apart and we’ve never been compared. I don’t get competition that much. I don’t really get it in terms of me comparing myself to you. As women, we were never told that beauty is something you use. It was always like, learn all of these different things, go to all of these different places, and kind of take your human-self out of it. I think sometimes we are very conscious of us as beings and how we place ourselves in the world, but really if you think of yourself being a kid you were very rarely conscious that you had hands. You’d wake up in the morning and you could see out and you were just this kind of energy that moves around in a human body, but you were never really aware of it—but then our parents, depending on how they were brought up, they kind of bring stuff up or put stuff on to us like, “You need to be like this,” or “You can’t wear your hair like that,” or “You don’t look cute like that,” or “You’re a boy you should treat girls like that,” or “You’re a girl you shouldn’t do that.”

My parents never really did that. We were left to completely form ourselves organically—given we  had our own responsibility and they  will support us in whatever we want to do. Never really lying to us, always telling us how it was.

Also, I feel like sometimes we are very heavily influenced, if you’re a brown person, from that kind of side because there is such harshness that went against your parents that give you that coloring or that culture and my dad didn’t do that because he was so…he came from a place where being south American was—you didn’t’ have that—being chased over ice fields with kids trying to kill you and coming from south America where he was running barefoot in cane fields and being like, “Why am I in this now?” He never really had hatred because it would of crushed him. He just ran away and was just like, “This is really not the fucking way to live. I’m not even going to hold any hatred towards white people or anything because my energy can live so much higher than that.”

With the Donald Trump situation, you can be so angry and you can be like actually,  what the fuck is this teaching everyone in society, because so many people that were going to be quiet forever if Hillary won, they were like FUCK THIS when Trump did. It changed everything in quite a positive way in terms of getting people to actually be together, so now it’s like—this is not our president. In America there is such a massive separation from the government. But we are going to be people now. I think it’s refined people’s opinions. People who were that “fake” neutral, now have to actually do research and refine their own opinions.

Does your writing change based on your surroundings? What’s the best environment for you to create?

I try not to have any limitations on what I do. As creative people we can get very nit-picky about how we create and it actually limits us. “I need to create in this kind of space, in this kind of quiet, I need this to happen, or I need to this before a show.”

We create these kind of structures around us—which is human, we like structure—but, I used to think I didn’t have any limitations and I started traveling around and realized I did and I didn’t want that. I want to be able to be in the middle of traffic and write the most banging song, just as  I would do in quiet somewhere else. I try to live so that my creative self is in a bubble that just comes with me everywhere and it’s like I don’t even have to have certain conditions to do stuff. It’s just like I have this little place up here and I can go there and do whatever. So if I was going to write a song, or a treatment for a video, or design my merch, I could to it right here, as I could do anywhere—on the plane or anything. I actually work hard not to have limitations because I don’t ever want to have to inconvenience other people on my team by slowing this down because I need THIS before I can do anything. It’s self sabotage, covered in “This is how I am.” No it’s not. You can be so much higher than this and so much more fluid and be in flow all the time.

How do you maintain that way of thinking when society doesn’t?

I don’t know if it’s a maintenance thing. With so much changing within my work environment, I kind of do sometimes get into this place of like panic or irrationality and I don’t penalize myself for it. I’m like okay that happened; why did it happen? I like understanding. I am so obsessed with learning.

…In terms of self-reflection, I stay on path because I’m interested in it. I’m interested in why I do things and why things happen. I like to do it to other people too. But don’t do it from a judgmental perspective, do it from a learning perspective—from something that is giving you more information on how human beings work. And don’t categorize them. Do it specifically to that single second of when you realized it. Mental exercise, all the time. It’s so fun! It’s actually making me excited just thinking about it. If I get upset, let’s go! I’ve got another project.

What inspires you?

It’s funny, in terms of inspiration I don’t really listen to that much music. My sister is the same. But opposite. She works in film and doesn’t watch that many films, but listens to so much music.  I listen to NWA, and Nirvana, and Sonder—and that’s about it on my Spotify list. But I watch so many films. I used to go on Netflix and just watch every film I came across. I’d read the description and if it related to me at all, I’d just watch the whole thing. And documentaries so many bloody documentaries.

What’s your favorite film?

Goodfellas, Godfather 1+2, Catch Me If You Can, Paid in Full. Loads loads more but those stay at the top.

Do you watch Italian film?

No. I was forced into watching every French film on earth, every film. My parents love it. My dad speaks Spanish, German, and French fluently. I understand French really well because two of my best friends are French and all my dad’s friends are French.

What attracts you to the cinematic gangster/Mafia lifestyle?

The violence and the calculated psychology thing. Mixed with the fact that they have the best fucking clothes. And I’m a Taurean, so I love things—unapologetically. I love nice things. But there also comes a point when you have so much money, and it’s so lavish that it gets really tacky and I’m super interested in how that works. Aesthetically, how everything is placed too. Why do I like gangster films? I don’t even know. I don’t even know how I got into them. I’ve always been into crime films. I’m really into Pablo Escobar saga. I love Narcos so much. Again with the obsessive thing, I did so much research.

To my shows, I open up with the Narcos theme song and people go “FUCK YEAH NARCOS.” I’m kind of on the borderline of idolizing the concept and actually not because he was actually quite an evil human being, so I kind of toy between those two.

Same with how I emulate that culture in terms of fashion. What does that culture represent? I toy between the morals. Go back and become a human again and think about what that culture represents and if you can and you can explain all of that, it’s okay to pop culture it a bit. But you really do need to understand the gratitude of what you represent or what you put on—from every perspective.

What’s next?

This new project is very different from what’s out. It’s still authentically where I am, but I wrote those songs last year, so of course it’s going to change. There will be a new video and shows in the US coming up. My sister shoots all my stuff. We edit them and do it all together.

Stay tuned to Milk for more rising stars.

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