Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #132. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Less than a year removed from her debut album, Amy Shark has cemented herself as a national treasure, her heart-on-sleeve pop bankers making Australia move like nothing else. Ahead of her biggest headline tour yet, Matt Doria runs through the past, present and future of Australia's self-professed love monster. Photo by Brayden Smith.
Anybody with a sibling will understand how no tool wields as much vehement, motivation-spurring power as spite. Sometimes it can lead to small victories, like whipping up the best chocolate cake on Earth to out-do your big sister’s custard tart, or getting better marks from an exam because you channeled all that rage over your brother’s last unfairly fruitful report card into study fuel.
But every once in a blue moon, spite will trigger a whirlwind of success that leads to international superstardom and choice spots in magazines like Australian Guitar (ahem). Such were the origins of Amy Shark: while the chart-annihilating pop queen never saw music as a viable career option in her formative years – “I thought I was too busy to learn an instrument;
I just wanted to hang out with my friends,” she tells us – the sight of her younger brother Mitch learning how to shred the guitar sprouted a deep-seeded resentment that, by way of the $50 secondhand Ibanez she was gifted by her parents, blossomed into a genuine passion for the craft.
“My grandparents had bought him an electric guitar, and he came home from a lesson one day and knew to play a Red Hot Chilli Peppers song,” Shark says, holding back laughter. “And I was like, ‘This is bullshit!’ I couldn’t stand the thought of that little dweeb being able to play the guitar and me not. I had to beg my parents for lessons, like, ‘I wanna do them too now!’ So I got a couple of lessons, and as soon as I left my first one, I was just hooked. That’s all I wanted to do after school; I would get home and lock myself in my room with a guitar, come out for dinner, then go back in and just keep playing and playing and playing.”
Petty as it may have been, Shark’s determination (which we almost described as shark-like, but didn’t, because we respect ourselves) paid off. After years of slugging it out in pubs to catch the eye of local punters, the Gold Coast strummer struck gold in 2017 with her Night Thinker EP. It was in a matter of days that Shark went from a lowly kid with big dreams to a Top 40 favourite – she’d uploaded “Adore” to Triple J Unearthed as an independent single, before it was quickly noticed, and snatched up, by the big dogs at Sony Music.
With a lucrative record deal under her belt, Shark began hashing away on a record that would captivate Australia’s pop sphere in a way that hadn’t been ruptured so viciously since the aughts: 2018’s Love Monster. Spearheaded by leviathan singles like “All Loved Up”, “I Said Hi” and “Psycho” – the lattermost featuring none other than Mark Hoppus in a duet that had crowds falling head over heals everywhere from London to Launceston – the LP debuted at #1 on the Australian Album Charts, scored nothing but praise from normally pop-hesitant critics, and went on to nab the top prize (Album Of The Year) at the 2018 ARIA Awards.
“It still feels so great,” Shark says looking back on the past year. “I’m like a big, proud mum of that album. I was so passionate about everything to do with it, and I spent so much time making sure everything was as perfect as it could be. Even when I hear a song from it on the radio when I’m out and about, or if I see someone post about it online, I always get so proud. Because when it’s your first record, you don’t think anybody is actually going to hear it. I’m still in shock that it won Album Of The Year – like, it’s all these little songs that I wrote in my bedroom, and I never thought people would connect with them as much as they did.”
Undoubtedly aiding in the record’s adaptability with fans is how down-to-earth it is. Love Monster is a pop album through-and-through, though Shark actively bucks against the saccharine apathy that floods the genre, instead reigning in a very laidback rawness with her open-heart musings, lowkey production and unsullied swathe of live instrumentation – namely, the mountain of acoustic guitars (Shark mostly plays a Yamaha AC3R) – that pops up on almost every track.
“It’s a very fine line to walk,” Shark explains. “I was lucky to have Dann Hume [producer] work with me on Night Thinker, because together, we found that balance between the beats, the electric guitars, the acoustic guitars and the synths, and have them all mesh together without sounding messy. I feel really confident my sound now, having done that EP and now Love Monster; I feel like I have a really good grip on what ‘the Amy Shark sound’ is, and I can sort of pull that apart and play with it – y’know, if it’s too trap-y or if there’s too much guitar in the mix, I know how to make it work.”
Just under a year since the record landed, May will see Shark flaunt Love Monster to some of her biggest crowds to date, headlining sold-out arenas up and down the east coast (and Perth) with a set she teases will feature “some crazy stuff” – whatever that means. No matter how insane the venue capacities grow, however, one thing that remains crucial to Shark’s performance is the intimacy she shares with her fans. Between lashing after lashing of bonafide bangers, Shark is known to pop off the guitar and shares the stories behind them; other times, she’ll point out the interesting scenes she spots in the crowd, or crack jokes about the weird shit she’ll have encountered on her way to the venue.
Shark ruminates, “I grew up going to shows every other weekend, and when I look back on them all, I think, ‘What were the ones that I really connected with, and that I can’t stop thinking about and really had an effect on me?’ And it’s the ones where the artist really breaks down their barriers – they tell you a little bit about the songs, and you just sort of get to know them a bit more. And so I love doing that, because my songs are my songs and nobody else’s, and I love talking about them and being able to connect with everyone over them. That’s such a big part of my show, to the point where we’re looking at how long it actually goes for, because I want that space and that freedom to talk about the songs if I want to.”
Looking beyond the tour, Shark is characteristically giddy to announce that plenty of new music is on the way. She was recently spotted in the studio with Billy Corgan (a team-up she boasts as “the coolest thing ever”), and has been hinting at a second record coming much sooner than any of us would anticipate.
“I’m always writing,” Shark declares. “Like, the second I finished Night Thinker, I was already halfway done with Love Monster. And it’s the same thing now – I finished Love Monster a long time ago, so it would be scary for me if I hadn’t written anything since. I hear about artists that don’t write stuff for years, and I’m like, ‘How!? You’re not going to get any better if you don’t keep writing!’ I guess maybe it’s because I haven’t been a full-time musician for very long, so it’s still fun to me.”
As for what the new material sounds like, Shark is similarly eager, yet hesitant, to spill the beans – y’know, major label management not loving the idea of leaks, and all. She describes a few new tracks she’s working on as ‘huge’, but assures fans who swooned over Love Monster that whatever stylistic leap she takes won’t be one too drastic.
“I’m always going to be pushing the boundaries,” she promises. “Especially lyrically – I love to push things as far as I can when it comes to storytelling. But I think everything is going to be in the same vein [as Love Monster] because I really love the style of that album. It’s weird – I can’t watch myself live and I hate hearing myself speak, but I love listening to my own album. I love what it sounds like, and I love what [Night Thinker] sounded like as well, so I don’t want to shift too far from that.”
Saturday May 4th - Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth WA
Friday May 10th - Hordern Pavilion, Sydney NSW
Saturday May 11th - Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne VIC
Friday May 17th - Riverstage, Brisbane QLD
Friday May 26th - Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide SA
Friday May 31st - Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne VIC