Amy Wadge released her first album over a decade ago, but has been writing and performing for much longer, first hitting the scene in the late nineties when she won a series of Welsh Music Awards. Nowadays she is best known for her work as a songwriter, and as collaborator with Ed Sheeran. Their song ‘Thinking Out Loud’ was an inescapable number one all over the world and is the most downloaded track ever on Spotify. But currently she is touring with guitarist and fellow songsmith Peter Riley, and Gary Raymond caught up with her shortly before Wadge and Riley land at St David’s Hall in Cardiff.
Gary Raymond: You recently gave a Masterclass in songwriting to the students at the Atrium in Cardiff. How did that go?
Amy Wadge: It was lovely – it’s always really nice to go and connect with people that are on the way up. See people who want to get where you are and it reminds you just how lucky you are, really. It’s always really good to remember the struggles and to help them understand that if you keep going you can get there.
Did you see any great young talent there? Any stars of the future?
Yes. One guy sang this song for me and he was fantastic. He put himself forward and I gave him a little critique and he was great. I can’t remember his name right now, but he was great. Ha!
Is it strange to see the art of songwriting academicised (if that’s a word)?
Well, from what I can gather they aren’t really doing that. It’s as much about helping them to understand how to do it as a job. But songwriting can be taken in that context quite easily, it can be broken down and built back up – it’s got the poetry for instance. I can see how it can be studied and analysed.
In my day we didn’t have these kinds of courses; there were just straight traditional music courses so it’s lovely to see those opportunities being afforded to people who perhaps aren’t academic like other people.
How did you learn to write?
All I know is it’s all I’ve ever known in terms of how express myself. Since I was 9 yrs old I’ve had a bug for it. I don’t really know, is the honest answer. I just started to fiddle around with the piano and I had a few lessons when I was very young, but I was never really interested in anything that might conform. It was just about being influenced as well as being captivated by the idea of putting my thoughts down and so I don’t think I did ever ‘learn’. I just evolved. That horrible word: organic.
Do you remember the first song or piece of music you ever wrote?
Yeah, I do. It was pretty bloody awful. I remember writing a song when I was about 9. I remember very well. And I did eventually go a recording studio when I was about 11 or 12 – my dad sorted that out for me. And that’s when I first got the bug, and I made a demo and I was incredibly proud of it. I’m sure it was pretty awful at the time but I loved it.
You don’t still have a secret acetate stashed away somewhere?
I’m sure my dad has. I released a single when I was 15 with a label in Bristol and I still have that on vinyl and all stuff like that is locked away in a safe somewhere. Ha!
We won’t see them coming out on a major anytime soon?
You’ve been recording a long time now, so how do you see yourself developing as a recording artists over that time?
Well, that’s a really tough one because I don’t really see myself as that anymore. I think that the difference with age is that I make the kind of music I want to make now and not the music I think I should be a making for my my career. So I think I’ve been liberated by the fact I’m not trying to be ‘an artist’ as such anymore. When you’re younger everything gets done by committee and perhaps you don’t have the courage of your convictions, now I very much see myself as an alternative country artist, but back in the day I wouldn’t have dared call myself that. It just wasn’t cool enough at the time. So I think I’ve now developed my own sound and I’m comfortable with not being liked by everyone. I think that’s the big difference.
Well, you do have a self-styled reputation now as a bit of a collaborator. What’s it like to have that label?
It’s wonderful and it’s what I’ve been doing for the last decade. Writing for other artists and with other artists is now very much what I consider my day job. Obviously having a hit has afforded me the chance to work with artists I probably wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to work with; and it’s something I massivley enjoy.
Looking forward to the St David’s Hall gig, what brought you and Pete Riley together?
We were both writing for another artist about 5 or 6 years ago and we both really really got on and ended up writing a bunch of songs together. So we have this duo now. Pete had a long career in America and wanted to come back, and my career has obviously taken a different turn, so we just do the gigs we want to do and enjoy ourselves. And are both very much cut from the same cloth. We go out and gig and have a great time. I love working with him.
And how has the tour been going?
It’s been great. Frantic – I’m in London three days a week so I’ve been going from London to Durham and then Durham to Blackpool and it’s quite difficult to fit everything in. But we’ve loved it.
What is it about Pete’s work that turns you on?
He’s a phenomenal guitar player – literally world class. And he’s a great songwriter – we both like the same kind of music and our voices just work really well together. And personally it’s just very easy. He’s in a good place in his life and I am in mine, so it’s just a very easy thing.
Working with so many different people – is there a different dynamic with different people?
Now, because it’s what I do all the time, I’m quite used to it. A lot of it comes about through conversation. When I’m with an artist I’ll be with them for 3 or 4 days so the first day will just be talking and getting to know that person. It’s very important to me that the stuff we write is of them and not of me. So I want to get to know that person and find out what they want to write about. And every session is totally different. Some people don’t play instruments, but I prefer when they do so I can just concentrate on melody and lyrics which is kind of what I go into sessions to do.
So when you write with somebody new it sounds like you’re the one doing the adapting and moulding yourself to the other persons specific needs and talents?
Well, it depends. If it’s someone like Ed [Sheeran] – we’re a bit like a tag team. If it’s someone new they might need loads of guidance. If it’s someone more established it might be more just taking what they’ve got. And a lot of the time the label has already said the type of song they need for the album – we’re looking for a ballad or whatever, so you have guidelines. But I like it better when you just meet and chat and a song comes out and you try not to think too much about the cut at the end of it and will it make the record. I think you can go mad thinking that way, so I just get on with it and just enjoy my time with that person.
You labelled yourself earlier on as an ‘alternative country artist’, and when you’re at St David’s you’re part of the folk season they have – what are thoughts on the label of ‘folk music’ nowadays because it seems to be a vastly broader church than it has ever been in the past?
Definitely. It’s the same as the term ‘popular music’ now. It connects with all sorts of different people. I’ve always skirted around the peripheries of the folk scene and that has always allowed me to play some great folk festivals which I’ve always been very grateful for, but I don’t think of myself or class myself as a folk artist. I am inspired by artists who are considered to be folk. But for me the classic singer/songwriter nowadays – people like Ben Howard and Ed – were rooted in the folk scene to begin with. I have huge respect for the old stalwarts, but equally I love the fact we’re getting that new wave with people like Mumfords and Laura Marling who have brought folk back into the mainstream.
So where is the greater love for you, is it in the singer or the songwriter part of what you do?
It’s the songwriter, for definite. It always has been, even when I was a ‘singer-songwriter’. I would never say I was the best singer in the world – I would never say I was the best songwriter either, of course – but I think my strength is my songs. And being a mum would make it so difficult to retain a presence in that world of performing – now I have hundreds of voices who can do that for me and I can go home and be a mum and not be recognised in the street and not have to deal with all the trappings of being a famous person.
It’s quite an elite group – you and few others who have that kind of Tin Pan Alley thing going on, being behind the scenes and making the hits.
Well, exactly – it’s always been that way. I’m signed to Spilt Milk who represent people who make me look like a minnow when it comes to writing for other people. All of them have this sort of slightly elusive air about them. People like Eg White who’s had hundreds of hits but people don’t really know what he looks like and I love that. It’s very important that it’s about the singer, the artist, and not the songwriter. We write for them and they have to go and do all the hard work. Ed has to sing ‘Thinking Out Loud’ every night for the rest of his life, not me. And it’s his song, not my song – he’s made it his song.
You’re a Bristolian who’s lived in Cardiff for twenty odd years. Has Wales adopted you or have you adopted Wales?
I don’t think anything would have happened in my career if I hadn’t lived in Wales. Wales has always been very open to people coming and trying out their thing. I was lucky to be starting out during that Cool Cymru era with the Manics and the Catatonia and the ‘Phonics and everyone was always so supportive of me and obviously now my husband and my kids are Welsh speakers and I live in the valleys and I absolutely love it here. I go up to London and I have a life that’s very different but I would never ever leave Wales as it keeps me grounded with what’s important which is my family and friends.
Amy Wadge and Pete Riley perform at St David’s Hall in Cardiff on Friday June 23rd. For Booking info click here.