If you’ve ever attended an open mic night at the Byre or followed the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s events here at St Andrews, you’ve probably seen Amy Hill, if not heard her perform. With her her curly blond hair, singer-songwriter ease, and fellow St Andrews fourth-year Cameron Newell, Ms Hill, a 22-year-old musician from Dumfriesshire, is preparing to release her debut album, Getting Ready for a Swim. Ahead of Ms Hill’s album release, The Saint sat down with her to discuss what inspired the album, how it feels to be a young woman in the music industry, and what she considers success.
The Saint: How did you become a musician — what are the roots of your experience with music?
Amy Hill: I started playing classical piano when I was about five. Then at about 14, I picked up guitar and taught myself. Since I had music theory knowledge, it was quite easy. When I was about 17, I started getting more guitar lessons, and the guy who was teaching me encouraged me to start writing songs. I had been singing since I was very young, but I had never sung in public. He really encouraged me to actually sing. I started developing my own vocal style. When I got to university, I really started performing and writing a lot more. I decided this year I would just focus on my project, because it can take a really long time to get to a point where you think you have songs worth releasing. The album is only five songs, which I am really happy with since I didn’t want to add anything that I didn’t think made the album better.
TS: Can you talk me through the inspiration for this album?
AH: That’s really difficult to answer because songs you write are inspired by a whole host of different factors. But the songs were all written over the four years I’ve been at university, and it’s kind of got a seasonal sort of framework behind it. The tracks aren’t specifically about seasons, but they move through the time period of autumn, winter, spring. The album was kind of inspired by the friendships and relationships you develop in this time. I don’t think it’s about St Andrews, but it’s more about personal change and how that’s reflected in the seasons in a funny kind of way.
TS: How does the title of the album, Getting Ready for a Swim, play into that?
AH: It took us ages to settle on a title. Most of the decisions on the album were made with Cameron. We had this huge debate about the title, and I was really set on this because it’s a lyric from the last track and it’s supposed to be about how there’s this big tide coming towards me, and I can see the water is coming, but I’m just going to swim through it, and it might not be great, but I’m going to do it. So it’s kind of like a metaphor.
TS: Talk to me about the actual recording process:
AH: We recorded all the instrumentals in Crail and then I did the vocals in London. We were going to record it all in Crail, but we had a limited amount of time. When I listened back, I think the stressful environment we were in really affected the singing and feeling. So I ended up going down to London for a day. The people I was doing it with were really great and helped me and seemed to kind of understand what I was trying to get at. I’ve only ever performed live. I’ve never done anything else. It’s really strange to try and perfect a song, because when you’re live it’s much more about connecting with the audience and trying to draw them in, so if you make little mistakes, it doesn’t matter at all. When you’re recording, there’s a lot more pressure, and it’s quite weird because these songs are really personal to you and you have to lay them bare to someone you maybe don’t know that well. It makes you feel very vulnerable. I was really lucky because I managed to do it with people I trusted and felt comfortable around.
TS: How did you make the connections to get recording space and time?
AH: In Crail, it was my friend Andrew who had this kit, so he helped us out. And then in London, it was one of my dad’s friends, who was a musician. His wife is the Swiss vicar of London, so I recorded vocals in a Swiss vicarage, which is totally random and really nice.
TS: Obviously you’re Scottish, and a lot of your songs are about the sea and travelling on trains. Can you talk to me about how personal experience plays into the role: the distinction of being a songwriter instead of just a singer?
AH: I found songwriting a really strange phenomenon. My favorite songs that I’ve written always are written in about ten minutes, and it’s super weird. I disagree with the idea of sitting down and trying to write a song. I don’t think that works because I do think it comes from somewhere else, whether that’s inside your brain or existential, I don’t know. It depends on who you are and what you think. I do keep a notebook with me, and if I think of a lyric, I write it down, and that can end up forming a framework, but the melody and the tunes definitely just come from an inspirational flow. Cameron is from Orkney, and one of his friends out there gave him a book of Orkney reels, which are like Scottish dance tunes, and for the second track he played me the reel and then I wrote this song based on it, which was really fun. So each of the tracks, they are written in different ways.
TS: What was your experience working with Cameron Newell like?
AH: He’s one of my best friends at university. We met in first year. He is obviously a really important part of the album, so we released it as a joint project. He plays fiddle on all the tracks and has been there for the whole process. It was really nice to do this first EP with someone that I really trust, because then you feel a lot more confident about where it’s going. I also think the fiddle is such a beautiful instrument and the way he plays is amazing. He’s been playing since he was about four and he learned by ear, so he can play anything, and it’s unbelievable. But that is a really tough thing in the recording process because Cam always just improvises. So when we were recording, it was quite weird for him to have to sit down with a specific tune and keep playing that again and again. We definitely came through with a finished product we were really happy with.
TS: Moving on to confidence as a young female musician and coming out in this space — we already talked about vulnerability — but how you did feel about putting yourself out there?
AH: I find self-promotion very uncomfortable. I think part of being a musician and releasing music is to accept that a lot of people aren’t going to like it and they’re going to be critical about it, which is really scary. I have confidence in the music to an extent, but obviously there are moments of self-doubt. The thing that pulls me back is it’s not about whether people think it’s good or bad. It’s just about making people feel something, and that’s kind of what art is. So even if they think it’s really bad, that’s actually fine. I feel like a lot of the sentiments on the album are things that people, and girls our age, can definitely relate to, since a lot of it is about transition and feeling lost and confused and worried about other people. Anxiety is a big thing and I think every girl I know that’s our age is feeling all of those things most days. My favorite thing about listening to other people’s music is hearing a lyric and you’re like, “I get that. That’s how I feel.” I really hope that somebody hears that and feels that because if they do, that’s the point. The point isn’t to be famous. It’s to try and make other people feel like what they’re feeling is real, and they’re fine and it’s ok. It’s basically just about trying to connect people.
TS: What’s next? You’re graduating, and you’ve embarked on this whole project…
AH: Hopefully this summer we’ll get a couple of gigs. I actually just received an R&A travel scholarship through St Andrews, so I’m teaching and playing music in different countries around the world as a part of that for a year.
TS: Is there anything else you wanted to add?
AH: It’s quite hard to articulate what’s going on because you feel so differently every day, but I really liked your question about women because recently I’ve realised how, all the time, women are made to feel like their feelings don’t matter –– even by other women. When I started out on this album, that wasn’t really the basis for it, but I really want people to listen to this and feel stronger as a result. That’s why I was so set on this title, because that’s what it’s about: everyone can do it. Tides of life are hard, but there’s still something worth it in the end.