photo by Nick Helderman

photo by Nick Helderman

In March this year, I was in Gulliver’s waiting for Palehound’s support act to take the stage with little to no expectation. That support band though turned out to be Amber Arcades, the solo-project of Dutch artist Annelotte de Graaf, who performed a frenetic set of shimmering guitars and kraut-inspired drums that straddled a whole host of genres. It was one of the best support sets I’ve seen and the project has gone from strength to strength since.

Annelotte, who has previously worked for the International War Crimes Tribunal and most recently as a legal aide for Syrians seeking refuge, has since released her fantastic debut album ‘Fading Lines’ and headlined her first European tour. Later this month, she begins her first UK headline tour which ends with a show at Soup Kitchen on 30 October. We caught up with her before the start of the tour to talk about her upbringing in a commune, the ten years of savings she threw at this project without knowing it would succeed, and her lifelong ambitions outside of music:

PK: The last time I saw you, you were supporting Palehound at Gullivers. Things have changed a lot since then right?
AdG: Yeah, that was way back in March wasn’t it? Our album came out since then! And we went to SXSW, and we did our first EU headline tour… Exciting stuff.

It was a big risk to take a big sum of money to make the album. How nervous were you?
Very nervous! Well, very excited mostly when I started to make the plans. Then very nervous like the couple of days before I actually got on to the plane. And then when I got out of the plane and walked into NYC I was mostly excited again. I do live in the Netherlands so you know, we have a good social security system here, and I’d finished my studies, so I wasn’t like afraid I would end up in the gutter if the record didn’t work out. But still it was like 10 years savings so yeah, quite a step.

Not many people acquire the backing band for an album you did, how did you manage that?
Well Keven and Shane I already knew because I’d supported Quilt in Amsterdam the year before. We’d kept in touch and when I decided I would head to New York to record the album I asked them if they wanted to play on it, luckily they said yes. Jackson I didn’t know myself before the recordings but he’s a good friend of Ben, so Ben approached him. I’m a huge Real Estate fan though so I was quite star struck when I first met him in the studio, haha.

Your album feels both light and heavy somehow. It’s like an escape but somehow a realisation of reality too. Was that intentional? Is that something you feel about the album?
I don’t really have any intentions making music so no it wasn’t intentional. I just write whatever comes out at any given moment. But that feeling of lightness and heaviness at the same time is like my state of mind 90% of the time so I definitely recognize that and I’m sure that mood finds its way into my music.

How did you feel before the initial reviews started to come out?
Well it took quite a long time before the record actually came out. It was recorded in May 2015 but wasn’t released until June 2016. It was pushed back a couple of times to get better time frames and more time for promo etc. So mostly I was just really happy to finally be able to release it. I tried to not really think too much about what the reviews were gonna be, there’s no way to influence that anyway.

amber arcades

photo by Nick Helderman

Are you happy with how it has been received?
Yeah of course! Like I said, I tried not to think about it, to not expect anything. It’s amazing to see that people are into it. Sometimes when I read a review in which someone really digs deep I get kind of emotional even like, “oh this person really understands it!” Haha, kinda lame I know. But it feels nice to think you’re being understood.

You’ve played a lot of festivals recently, how is this headline tour going to differ?
We just did our first headline shows in early June and what I loved about it is that all the people who are there at the gig actually bought a ticket to specifically see you. I guess at a festival it’s a bit different, you buy a ticket and there are loads of bands you want to see. It makes me feel very honoured (and still a bit surprised tbh!) to see people coming out to shows just to see our gig! Feels really special. It makes it easier for me to open up to the crowd I think.

Your job sounds very hard hitting, is your music an escape?
No, I don’t think so. I love my job, too. Although I had to quit before going on this US tour unfortunately… I need time to focus on writing a second album at this point.

Is your job the sort of job that you bring home with you when you finish?
Not really no. I’ve done this type of work since forever (before this job I worked at the court and before that at an international criminal tribunal) so I’m used to the heaviness of it. And so are all my colleagues so if something is especially difficult you can always confide in a colleague and talk about it. That way it’s possible to leave it at work.

I imagine you’ve had to make some tough decisions, how do you make peace with them?
My job is to follow the government’s policy. Of course it can happen that you don’t agree with some parts of the policy but if the decision is right from a legal point of view I can have peace with it. I’m a lawyer, foremost, so that’s how I try to look at it, from a professional legal perspective.

You’re one of the first musicians I’ve spoken to whose ultimate career goal isn’t to be a musician. What is it that compels you to make music then?
I love the creative aspect of it, getting lost in my own head and nerding out on a song. I also love the traveling and touring aspect of it, most of the time. It’s definitely what I want to be doing as much as I can at this point of a life. But I also still have the ambition to become a lawyer in a couple of years.

What are the reasons why it isn’t your lifelong ambition?
Well I’m sure I will always be a musician in the sense that I won’t all of a sudden stop making music. I’d love to keep releasing stuff for as long as I live. But there are so many things to do in life and so many things to learn from all of them, I don’t want to limit myself. I have a lot of friends who are working as lawyers now and I find it intriguing to hear about their cases and clients. I think I’d get a very different sense of satisfaction from doing that kind of work.

I believe you lived in a commune which didn’t really believe in medication. How has that upbringing affected the person you are now?
I definitely took from that a “seeking” nature, that’s always looking for new things to experience, new lives to live, trying to understand life from a lot of different viewpoints and trying to feel connected to “the whole”. It has also given me a deep distrust of any form of organized spirituality or people who claim to know more than others in that particular field. I don’t think this kind of stuff can be really taught, it’s something you (or at least I) can only teach and experience yourself.

What does the future look like for Amber Arcades?
I quit my job to start working on a second album, so as soon as we’re back from this tour I am gonna start doing that! Very excited about it, actually. I really feel up for new things, musically. Not sure which direction it’s gonna go yet. Also I guess more touring, there’s a ton of countries I still wanna go to! Would love to go to Italy at some point, spend more time in Spain, see Scandinavia, etc.

Full UK tour dates can be found HERE

Amber Arcades Official Facebook Twitter

Paddy Kinsella

Hi all, my name is Paddy and I have a love for everything from African music to indie to house (basically anything other than heavy metal). Gigging and listening to albums are genuinely the things I most value and love doing.