Letting in the Magic
Jul 06, 2016
Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Issue # 57 - M83
"I was reading Carl Jung's Synchronicity while writing a lot of the songs," Annelotte de Graaf aka Amber Arcades explains. "It's a cool book. In theory, the power of positive thinking is a very nice idea—shaping your own life—but I also can't help being a little cynical towards it. You can think positive all you want if you're born in Syria or other warzones but it's not gonna get you anywhere. I'm not sure if it actually works, though often I feel it does."
This Dutch native's road to making her first album, Fading Lines, in New York City with Ben Greenberg and getting signed to Heavenly Recordings has been full of the coincidences and magic she's been reading about. "The phrase 'Amber Arcades' is in a story by Godfried Bomans that my dad used to read me as a kid. It's about this hermit living in the forest. A gloomy tale but it's also about finding the magic in everyday stuff. I definitely have a tendency to see a lot of meaning in everyday things like coincidences. I noticed [them] a lot when I was recording in New York. I took them as a good sign that I should be here at this moment making this record. It made the whole experience very special. And when I finished the album and was looking for labels, I hooked up with Heavenly via a Polish girl who used to crash on my couch for the Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht. There's a song on the album called 'Apophenia,' which means 'seeing meaning in random data,' a condition that is not necessarily a good thing. I want to believe in all this magic but it could also just be in my head."
"My parents were hippies so they installed that magical realism thing in me," de Graaf adds. She attended a Steiner school and the family lived in communes when she was young. Strong believers in developing creative ability in children, her parents insisted she learn how to play an instrument. After three years on violin, de Graaf switched to guitar at age 13. "When I first started to get really into music, I was a teenage goth listening mostly to Joy Division. Then I got into folk music and broadened my view. When I first started writing songs it was mostly melancholic folk songs." There is still a folk element to what she does, but one can now trace her musical evolution even further, incorporating what was on her stereo while she was writing the album: "a lot of Broadcast, Yo La Tengo, Deerhunter, Stereolab, and Suicide." The spacey drive of single "Turning Lights" is a good example of this mesh of styles. "But whenever people ask me, I just say I make 'pop music' because everything's pop music," she laughs.
Besides doing music, de Graaf studied law and is a legal aide at the Home Office in The Netherlands, working with immigrants from Syria. "Another of my favorite books is Siddhartha. It's loosely based on how the Buddha lived 10 lives in one. That's something I aim for. A little later on I'd also really like to buy a farm somewhere with chickens and a home studio and try the whole self-sufficient living thing." For the near future, having had "an amazing time" at SXSW, de Graaf would like to do a much larger U.S. tour and see the European countries she hasn't visited yet. Let's see where the magic will take her.
[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]
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