Today marks the highly anticipated release of AMA’s sophomore EP ‘PIXELHEART’ under Dirty Hit Records. Following her signing to the future-forward independent label back in 2018, AMA released her acclaimed 2019 debut “SCREENLUV” to raving reviews. In doing so, unleashing her hard-hitting, genre-defying sound to the masses and cementing herself as a rising star to watch out for in 2020. For those of us who can’t take the anticipation any longer, the day has arrived for AMA to share the sequel to her debut, with an EP that both sonically and lyrically explores “love from a Gen-Z perspective”. This time around, AMA approaches elucidating “the emotions [she] felt throughout her teens”, by telling the story of how she found self-acceptance by reflecting upon “the ups and downs going on in her pixelated heart” whilst coming-of-age.
Bolstered by cutting edge production from both sides of the pond, producers Jim-E Stack, Santell, and Daniel Hylton Nuamah provide a diverse sound-bed for AMA’s originative songwriting. The result, a 6-track R&B experimentation that draws as much influence from Soulection as it does Dubstep and Grime. AMA is truly an artist of the times, and with this new offering, we’re sure to see her idiosyncratic sound reaching audiences far and wide. Below, NBGA gets the chance to catch up with AMA a few days ahead of PIXELHEART’s release to discuss how she got her start in music, the creative processes behind recording the new project, and the nuanced nature of finding love in the digital age.
Tell us about how you got your start in music?
Well, I grew up on the outskirts of West London with my mum and older sister; at that time my mum was very strong in her faith as a Christian, so I actually grew up primarily listening to Gospel music at home. Also, my dad is a talented Gambian musician – so, when my sister and I would go to visit him when we were younger, he’d have all sorts of world music playing in the house. I have some fond memories of listening to Dr.Dre for the first time whilst over there – I was completely mind-blown because in my day–to–day life I never came across any of that stuff. Also, being that he’s an instrumentalist, he’d teach my sister and I to play, and naturally, this became a hobby of ours.
I appreciated most of the music I was exposed to throughout my childhood, but when I got into my early teens, that’s when I started developing my own personal taste. I think a lot of this had to do with me discovering Soulection Radio – I would listen to each episode on SoundCloud and that really opened me up to learning about new sounds. Also, around that time, my older sister had a big hand in introducing me to new music as she began DJ’ing and producing beats. She was really into Dubstep at the time and would listen to artists like Mala and Benga. I would hear a lot of stuff through the walls that would pique my interest and then I’d go knocking on her door asking, “Who’s this artist?”. There were two vinyl’s I always used to ask her to play: “SX- Woo Riddim” and “Kuhn – Slime Beach”. Those two tracks are super nostalgic for me – to this day I’ll bring them to the studio as a reference for where I want to take my music sonically when I’m working with a new producer.
I guess then you could say that I found my start in music quite organically, it’s always been an outlet for me. The first song I ever made was produced by my sister, I just decided to get on it and started uploading my tracks on SoundCloud – it was still a hobby for us back then. Once we started doing that, I began getting approached by producers to work, and eventually, management reached out to me. At that point, I decided to take it more seriously. I was sixteen, and also around that age where people were beginning to try and socially condition me to “live in the real world” and “get a real job”, and I just wasn’t having any of it. I’ve always been prone to pursue the things I’m passionate about and I didn’t ever give music a second thought. Once management started reaching out, I started to see a career in music as attainable and that was it.
How has growing up in a city as diverse as London inspired your sound?
I think it’s taught me how to be open-minded about music. Growing up here you’re constantly exposed to different sounds and genres – it’s almost as if you have the world at your fingertips. I think in terms of creativity there’s no social norm to limit you when you grow up here, so it’s unusual to feel out of place, or like an outsider because of your interests. It’s ultimately quite a freeing city to grow up in. I feel like growing up in a city as diverse as London was pivotal in me learning self-confidence – I’ve never been afraid to try new things.
Can you give us a little insight into the creative process behind recording your sophomore EP “PIXELHEART”? Did you approach writing it as a continuation of your 2019 debut “SCREENLUV”?
To be honest, the music you’re about to hear on this new project has been done for a minute now. Yeah, I’d say PIXELHEART is a continuation from SCREENLUV because all the songs from both projects were recorded around the same time. I like to look at “PIXELHEART” as the sequel to the first project. Sonically, they’re very much on the same page and that’s why I’ve been excited to get it all out there, although the tracks are relatively old to me, it’s going to be a completely new experience to see how these tracks are received by an audience.
The opening track on this record “Bright”, by far took the longest to record across projects, as I wrote the bulk of it back in 2018. I ended up trying to make it multiple times, with loads of different producers, but for a long while it just wasn’t coming out how I wanted it to; it never sounded quite right. I had to fight for the song at the label, as at several points in the recording process my label and management tried to convince me I had already made the best version of it, but I wasn’t letting up. I guess because I wrote the song before the production stage I was adamant about the potential it had sonically.
Eventually, one of my favourite producers came in and helped me evolve the sound in the way that I wanted, we used some pre-recorded vocal stems and built the track back up from scratch. I ended up loving this version of the song so much that I made it the opening track on PIXELHEART – so, shout-out to Dan for always coming through. It’s the oldest track on the new EP, but also the track I feel the most attached to. I love the writing and feel like lyrically it’s the strongest on the record. Another honorable mention would have to be the track “Signal”, only because when I was writing it, I was feeling super bossed up and in control – I love the lyrics on that song as well.
One of the predominant themes explored on this EP is looking at love from a Gen-Z perspective. Would you say that living in the digital age makes finding love easier or more difficult?
I feel like finding love in the digital age has its pros and cons. On one hand, I feel like social media gives people the opportunity to be quite superficial. Whilst in the other hand, I feel like it facilitates us to be more accessible to each other. I feel like our generation treats social media as a tool and often individuality and subjectivity can easily become an afterthought. After all, everyone is different – someone can be super confident online, and then when you meet them, they’re actually shy and vice versa – everyone uses it in their own way.
In my experience, it’s not always smart to judge people based on how you perceive them to be online. Aside from that, I’m all for forming connections using technology because if someone’s a G in real life, they’re a G always and you can’t take that away from them because of how they may have portrayed themselves online. I think it’s a nuanced thing to find love in the digital age. It’s easier in terms of connectivity but not in terms of seeing people for who they truly are.
Do you think growing up with the internet and social media has impacted the artist you are today?
I can’t say. I honestly feel like my opinion on social media is constantly changing. I guess in the early days I was kind of intrigued by the notion that you could be a character online, and that was okay because everyone was much more light-hearted in their approach back then. Nowadays, I’m a little more confused by its purpose and only tend to use it when promoting my work. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a brilliant tool, but I just think it shouldn’t be overthought. Personally, I like to live in the present and don’t feel any pressure to take my phone out and record what I’m doing throughout the day.
What is the predominant message you want to convey to listeners with “PIXELHEART”? Is there anything you want fans to take away from the record?
There’s a big message of self-acceptance underlying every track on PIXELHEART. I think it’s super important to strive for self-acceptance, especially when living in this age of social media and digitization because we’re constantly bombarded with content and social commentary. In amongst all this, I think it’s necessary to sometimes take a step back and focus on learning about yourself, and further learning how to accept yourself so that you can move freely and be comfortable with your own identity. I think tracks like “Hour We On” and “Signal” summarise this message perfectly – the former is all about not sweating the small stuff, and the latter touches on not relying on other people for your happiness. I think the most important message I want to convey with this project, is that the ultimate goal in life is finding your inner-peace; and I think the process begins and ends with self-acceptance.