Amber Mark approaches me with a deep sense of kindness. When I sit down to speak with her in downtown Los Angeles, she is enthusiastic and sincere. Her fervor and confidence radiate down to her gestures, an inherent display of her ability to captivate. I am automatically energized by her curiosity. I want to know everything about her: what are her friends like? What kind of shampoo does she use? Where does she hurt? Where does she buy her gold jewelry? Her neck is encircled by chains, her ears decked in hoops, her fingers sprinkled with rings. Her entire body, disseminated in gold.
Spaces shape what we do. Sometimes the place makes the person. Knowing this, I would rather be gallivanting with Amber somewhere unconventional, somewhere that molded her. I want to be nestled between her and her mother caravanning around the world. I want to be in her godmother’s apartment above an Italian restaurant in Lower East Side. I want to be in the wings before she steps on stage at The Roxy in West Hollywood, where I watched her perform a week earlier.
She was sassy and kinetic in her performance, transmogrifying the anxious audience into a tapestry of velvet. We melted in her hands, staring doe-eyed at her crimson jumpsuit and plentiful smile. The unwritten theme of the show was “a light at the end of the tunnel.” This came as no surprise, as finding solace has played a profound role in Amber’s life over the past several years. Since undergoing the passing of her mother and a recent heartbreak, she has used inspiration, light, and discovery as a means of orienting attention to a point that facilitates processing. “I think it’s all been a huge blessing, day after day. Music is a form of escape for me. I definitely write the quickest and I write the songs I’m most proud of when I’m going through something.”
On her original EP 3:33am, Amber captures the harsh winds of grief and profound change. She doesn’t go with the wind: she captures it, vocalizes it, and releases it through crescendos. The result was an aftertaste of soulful songwriting.
“I been coping, it’s been really rough
And I’m quoting, I have had enough
May still be aching but I see the sun come up
Days overtaking and I feel I’ve overcome”
– Way Back, off of 3:33am
Halfway through the performance, she dives into her hit single, “Way Back,” and the lyrical poetry and gradual modulation catalyze an awakening. The sultry keys with hints of soul, samba, pop, and gospel overlap as I am encased by the velvety weight of her voice. “Music-wise, I tend to go around the world. I try to take people places,” she explains. It’s obvious she is attracted to the journey. Her favorite narratives encompass space and galaxies, expeditions and voyages (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Star Wars are among her favorites). “I definitely try and make a story. I want everyone to go on a journey… including myself.”
Her sensual huskiness is conjugated with earnest love. When I listen to her, I am put into a dissociative trance: I am brought back to church while compulsively wanting to take off my clothes. Her set is a true aural pleasure, and it’s no coincidence that her cover of Sade’s “Love is Stronger than Pride” has over 4 million streams on Spotify. Truth be told, I have been waiting all my life to see Sade live in concert. When I stepped into The Roxy and heard Amber belting the cover, I felt like I didn’t have to wait any longer, and apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. Amber’s sister is the one who persuaded her to record the hit: “She always said that I sounded like Sade. One Christmas, the only thing she asked me for was a Sade cover. So, ultimately, I did it for her.”
In order to release the rearrangement, she had to get approval from the original writers and artist. Luckily enough, an A&R consultant that was working with Amber’s label happened to have a lunch date with Sade the following week. “My heart obviously dropped. I’m like, ‘She’s going to hear it and be like, who is this woman trying to be me?’” At this point in the story, Amber gets more emotional than I’ve seen her all day, her insecurities spotlighted. Sometimes within creativity, you are presented with a vulnerability that you’re not willing to claim. “I thought she was going to hate it. I was having internal heart attacks throughout that whole week.” But the next day, she got a message from Sade herself: a warm hearted email wishing her success and complimenting the cover.
Working alone, Amber can access her emotional impulses. Alone, she is not afraid to let down her walls and risk the messiness of creativity. That’s why, when D.R.A.M. came into the picture wanting to collaborate, she was hesitant. “It was the first time I’ve put out a song that I didn’t produce. It was the first time I put out a song where I had a feature. I was definitely nervous. But it was such a good song, and it had such a good feel…I knew it would be a fun single.” She was right. “Put You On” is a bouncy and nostalgic 90’s tour du force, clocking millions of streams since its October release.
I didn’t have enough time with Amber to satisfy my endless curiosities, and maybe I never would. As humans, we are often fooled by our own fears, our grief, our sadness. We get worked up in frenzies, we get foggy with heartbreak. Those who can cultivate these entrapments of the mind often create the most earnest art. In Amber’s case, she uses music as a powerful footwork to move forward. Her songs register the complex transformation that comes with loss, the growth and pain that go hand in hand. The stage becomes a place of refuge, for herself and her fans. She may be aching, but she can see the sun coming up.