With 'Let's Go Dancing' whipping up a storm in clubs, iDJ meets a vocalist who says she wants to be "dance music's ultimate rock frontman"
It may only be January, but 2019 is already looking like it might just be Amy Douglas’s year. The US singer-songwriter has just released the funk-filled Let’s Go Dancing with Horse Meat Disco, her follow-up to last year's massive Never Saw It Coming. She has a further two songs on the upcoming Horse Meat Disco abum, and a forthcoming Philly-style disco EP on Soul Clap. In addition, this year Amy will be releasing tracks with Luke Solomon, The Black Madonna and Crooked Man, and is putting out an album as one half of electro-disco outfit Peach Melba, too.
Although her vocals and lyrics currently gracie some of the finest house music around, Amy Douglas never actually intended to be a dance music artist: after getting her music degree from NYU she performed in jazz combos and rock bands. But her love of disco, her innate songwriting ability and that voice make her a perfect dance music diva-in-waiting.
We chatted to Amy about bringing her rock star moves to house music...
How did you end up making house music?
"For so long, people in my past were like, "You should sing on dance records because you have such a big voice," and I was like, "Ugh"! I wanted to scream and yell and bang on a piano in front of sweaty gnarly dudes - but people convinced me."
What were your first dance music releases?
"The first singles I did were with Luca Venezia, AKA Curses, under his other alias Drop The Lime on Trouble and Bass. Not long after that, Juan MacLean and I met and formed Peach Melba. From there, more and more people asked me to do this over and over. Sometimes this was really challenging."
In what way?
"It was hard for me to get a footing, because I'd always want to make things into pop songs that make you want to dance, as opposed to dance music. But now I've figured out how to get into a headspace that still affords me challenges where the writing is concerned, but also gives the DJ/producer in question what they want. The woman who wrote Never Saw It Coming is the same woman who co-wrote Let's Go Dancing. They're very different beasts, totally different vibes, but I have to give each master its full bend at the knee.
"From there, Peach Melba released something on Classic, Luke [Solomon] started to work with me, and bam! there was Light You Up. He brought me in to work on the Horse Meat LP, then my single got signed to DFA, and from there it's been snowballing into something really cool."
How did Never Saw It Coming happen?
"In 2011 I met my songwriting/production partner Tim Wagner. Back then, he was in a rather popular NYC group called 33Hz. Tim and I have a very special creative dynamic: he's a brilliant musician, writer, producer, the whole nine yards. We started writing songs together and put together a project called Sunrise Hwy - very jazzy, sophisto-pop and dance music blended together - and we released an EP on Tensnake's True Romance label…
"Never Saw It Coming was the last song we'd done while living in different cities and I really saw it as a potential lift-off to a solo dance/pop/rock venture. So we rolled the dice on it, and whammo! I'd been working with Parrot AKA The Crooked Man on his own project (and on a bunch of material we'd written together that's still under a working title), so I wanted to get his opinion on it. And he liked the song so much he offered to bless us with those remixes, one of which absolutely took the dancefloors by storm!"
Never Saw It Coming is a very strong song. Tell us a bit about your approach to songwriting?
"Words are IMPORTANT! Better still, good melody is important with good words! Did The Beatles leave nothing behind to bequeath unto these black T-shirt wearing DJs?
"I really believe that where dance music is concerned, it's taking over everything. That if the focus doesn't return to songs, and solely focuses on things that sound good in a moment and then are forgotten about a moment later, it's going to crash and burn and that just seems so horrible to me.
"For me, great dance records are no different than any great pop record: a song is a song is a song, and it's hard not to look at women like Donna Summer when you’re a really little girl and make very little distinction between her and Bowie!"
Is disco an important inspiration for you then?
"Disco for me is really important, first and foremost because it was a creation of gay and black communities and the creative spark that was born out of the necessity for safe spaces. It was the bringing together of people to be free and uninhibited at a time when you could still be hauled off to jail if you were gay, or beaten within inches of your life. I think disco is a beautiful example of tragedy bearing beautiful fruit. Disco is also about sexual ownership and self-governance. As a woman who refuses to give up the right to her own self-governance, that's incredibly potent and appealing to me.
"That said, we must always remember the communities that bore disco, and why this cultural phenomenon took place. It's too easy to forget about the important angles of rebellion and homophobia, and also issues of racism, with entirely forgotten neighbourhoods in inner cities left out to dry. Disco is ultimately music of rebellion and release, and it's easy to forget that because it became such an immensely successful, albeit intensely appropriated, culture."
So you think there’s a place for activism within dance music?
"Absolutely! Nitzer Ebb proved this long ago, as did Public Enemy. Drop Fight The Power in the middle of almost anything you'll ever spin in a set and watch people hit the floor with a vengeance. While not "dance music" in the modern sense, James Brown's music has been a conduit for this headspace, as have Sly & The Family Stone and Funkadelic. I think it's possible to move bodies and move attitudes and thought processes simultaneously!"
Looking to the future, what else do you want to achieve in your career?
"A career a lot like Nile Rodgers's or Prince's or Q's! I want to be recognised for my artistry of my own accord, and also write hit songs that make other artists shine."
And how do you feel about your musical journey so far?
"I love my collaborators and am blessed to get to do this. I really like where things are going. I want more: I'm just getting started, really. I aim to be dance music’s ultimate rock frontman!"
Words: Harold Heath
Horse Meat Disco feat Amy Douglas's Let's Go Dancing is out now on Glitterbox Recordings