Amber Mark Channeled a Famous Destiny’s Child Song for a Seductive Hit
Scoff all you want at the people urging you to write your personal King Lear in quarantine, but R&B singer Amber Mark is game to use her time indoors to get stuff done. Every other week, since April 1, she’s been releasing a song as a part of her new “Covered-19” series to keep us entertained while life is on pause. So far, the collection consists of a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box,” a demo of her own track “Waiting,” and a trap original titled “1984.”
“It’s kind of just taking it day by day, kind of like how people are just taking their life right now,” Mark tells BAZAAR.com of the endeavor. “There wasn’t really any plan or anything like that.”
When she’s not writing, recording, or producing at home in her West Village apartment—or shooting her own videos on the patio below—Mark is reading, playing video games, and catching up on TV. At the time of our chat, she was wrapping up the final season of Schitt’s Creek.
Mark is making do at home while the rollout for her next album (like many others) is on pause—music videos, promotion, and all. However, she was able to squeeze out a single, “Generous,” and visuals right before the world shut down. Inspired by Destiny’s Child’s “Cater 2 U” and sampling Henry Mancini’s “Lujon,” the song is more outwardly seductive than Mark’s past releases—the 2017 EP, 3:33 AM, and 2018 EP, Conexão—which evoke a smoother, subtler, Sade-like appeal.
“It was definitely a new area for me,” she says. “It was very fun. It was also kind of weird having my godparents hear it for the first time. [Laughs.] But, yeah, you have to get past those things.”
If “Generous” teaches us anything, it’s that Mark is ready to usher in a new era with this album, though it may have to be from indoors. “I don’t know when it’ll be out now, but I’m definitely going to continue to put out music even if it’s just demo ideas and stuff that I’m making in my bedroom.”
Tell me a little bit about your song “Waiting” and the inspiration behind it.
We’ve all been FaceTiming our friends and family, and everyone, and it seemed like a lot of them were away from people that they love. Luckily enough, I’m with my family, so I felt a little bit for a lot of my friends and family. I wanted to write a song that day, and I figured, why not write something about what was currently happening? I didn’t really put that much thought into it, really, just the conversation I had had prior to trying to write something. I was just like, “Why don’t I just write about the conversation I just had with my friend,” and I kind of made it for her, for friends that I had spoken to that were away from their parents or couldn’t be near their parents or their grandparents. And those who are seeing someone, and how everything has been put on hold.
I know you were born in Tennessee and grew up traveling around the world and even spent some of your childhood in India. What was that experience like for you?
It was amazing. I loved it. There were definitely moments where I really wanted to be back in New York, especially when I would come back for the summer during the monsoon season. But I really loved the experience. I was a kid, so I really took in as much as I could. You also take in quite a bit, much faster than you would’ve as an adult, I think, just because your brain is growing much quicker.
But I think it really helped to inspire me with my music, especially in the beginning with the subjects I was talking about. I was talking a lot about my mom and dealing with her loss [in 2013] and bringing those feelings through, and I really wanted it to kind of sound like her. She was German, but she definitely lived out the rest of her life in India. She was the one that took me to India and gave me that experience as a kid. I really had her to thank for the way I perceived making music or the way I wanted to create music, because it was a huge inspiration for the first EP and the sounds I chose, the small accents I used.
I always take from little places that I’ve been to, because my mom loved to travel, and I think a lot of people dream their whole lives of, like, traveling around the world, and she gave me opportunity to do that as a kid.
Speaking of that global sound, in your first two EPs, you kind of embraced bossa nova. How did you fall in love with that genre of music?
My mom would listen to a lot of bossa nova when I was a kid, like Stan Getz or João Gilberto. They did an album together that she really loved. I would listen to a lot of that and João Gilberto’s daughter as well—she’s quite a popular artist—and I really fell in love with it then.
When my mom was really sick, we traveled to Brazil. We didn’t really go that far. My mom wanted to see a miracle healer, because she was very holistic in that way. That was the kind of experience I had as to Brazil and bossa nova itself, but I’d always wanted to utilize that sound. And when I was writing the second EP, I was talking a lot about love and sensuality and finding love again, and all of that. I just thought, “Well, I should probably incorporate the Brazilian sound, because I think it’s such a sensual genre. It’s such a romantic genre, so it kind of just works hand in hand.”
Who are some of your dream collaborators?
Quincy Jones. Q-Tip is number one for me. He’s like the god as far as production, and then Timbaland is a huge one. Beyoncé, of course. My friend Gabriel Garzón-Montano, I always want to collaborate with him, but that’s already a dream that’s being fulfilled.
Have any celebrities shouted you out on social media or slid into your DMs?
So, top of last year, it was a really weird month where the Kardashians were all posting “Love Me Right,” and another song, I don’t remember which one. They were all like posting on their Stories. And then they said Kylie Jenner had posted it on her actual feed, not the image of it, but it was playing in the background with Kendall Jenner singing along or something like that, from what I remember. I think that, like, Swae Lee had [also posted] a few weeks back, telling me that he liked my music.
What was your reaction when you saw those posts?
I was really confused, honestly. I personally didn’t think it was real, but then a bunch of people started tagging me in it. And it was all, like, these kind of broken-hearted love songs, and I was kind of like, “Damn. Like, if Kendall Jenner posted it, then she must be going through something.” I don’t know. I was actually kind of shocked, but it’s cool. It’s awesome. I mean, I’m thankful for it, it definitely helped other people connect with my music and discover a new artist. Pretty dope. I guess they have good taste in music then. [Laughs.]
For “Love Me Right,” was there a moment when you realized that it was a hit?
I’ve always loved that song. That song is still one of my favorite songs to this day. I wrote it, like, in an hour. I was really upset with my boyfriend at the time, and I felt like I wasn’t getting through to him when I would have conversations, as many people do when they are in a relationship. I remember I was really frustrated, and I had just gotten to the gym and got on the treadmill, and then literally within 10 minutes, I got off the treadmill, and I was like, “I need to go back home and just write about this.” Then I went home and just started writing about what I was feeling.
The second I heard it, I was obsessed with it, and it had been a demo for, like, two years. We would always update it, and it’d be hard for me to hear the updated version, because I just liked the original so much. It took me at least two years to find the balance between the two, still have the same feeling that it had at the beginning. Still to this day, that’s the one that people love.
What’s been the biggest high of your career so far?
I guess hearing people sing my songs, even singing along to “Monsoon,” which is such a personal song to me. … The fact that people connected with that one quite a bit, it’s amazing to me and always gets me emotional to hear people singing along.
And then I think another “Wow, this is crazy” moment was probably going to a Grammys after-party last year that Alicia Keys was hosting. There were a lot of people I look up to there, as well. I didn’t really talk to any of them because I was too scared, but it was definitely pretty surreal.
I was introduced to Quincy Jones, but it was, like, three in the morning, and I was very drunk and I was like, “I can’t. I can’t have a serious conversation with him right now.”
Hopefully, that plants the seed for something in the future! Was there an album or artist you couldn’t stop listening to when you were growing up that was really influential for you?
What my mom was listening to when I was really young, that I was listening to, so it was a lot of Sade and Stevie Wonder, and she went through a very small Gloria Estefan phase. We were living in Miami at the time, so it was kind of mandatory to like her. Off the Wall was kind of a big one, or Songs in the Key of Life from Stevie Wonder was a really big one too. And then Earth, Wind & Fire. And Bob Marley. I don’t really remember this, but my mom said when I was really little I loved Bob Marley, and the only way she could get me to stop crying sometimes was when she would sing “No Woman No Cry.” She always used to tell me that. I would use her Walkman when we were going somewhere, and people would ask her what I was listening to, expecting it to be Barney or something like that. “No, she’s listening to Bob Marley.”
What can we expect from the album whenever it’s out?
It definitely talks a lot about insecurities I’ve had as an artist, as a person, physically, emotionally, mentally, all of that. It has this whole storyline of where I gain confidence as well. There’s some more songs that kind of have the same sound as “Generous.” We kind of go throw it back a little bit sound-wise to the first EP. It’s a mixture. It goes all over the place as far as sound, but subject-wise, it really talks about the insecurities and the moments where I gain confidence and lessons learned in that.
Every time I put out music, it’s just been what I’ve been going through in the past or something I heard through a friend or something I’ve connected with. It’s like an update on my life. It’s like an update on my therapy sessions, or something like that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos courtesy of Amber Mark and Getty Images. Design by Ingrid Frahm.
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