You might just remember Amy Studt. The Brit teen pop sensation with the pre-Raphaelite hair, the charcoal smudged eyes and the skinny, stocking clad legs. Granted, she never had a drug problem or a celebrity boyfriend to keep her in the limelight - but – having been discovered at the tender age of fourteen by 19 Management’s Simon Fuller, she did boast a string of chart hits from two albums and singles such as ‘Just a Little Girl’and ‘Misfit’ often peppered the soundtrack to angst-y teen dramas of the noughties. Magazine articles called her ‘the British Avril Lavigne/Britney’ and it seemed 19 Management and Polydor records were keen to nurture this comparison. Her videos were glossy, her curfews were early and her eyes – in press shots – had a faraway look. She even had the words ‘Be Good’ tattooed on her waifish wrist.
A classically trained musician, whose conductor father worked with The Beatles and Shirley Bassey and whose music teacher mother encouraged the family to sing around the piano, Amy’ soul cried out to make original music from an early age. By her teens she not only played the keyboards, oboe and guitar but had also penned several hundred songs. Being a pop princess – with all its trappings - was a role too saccharine sweet for her…
But every British princess knows it is all about securing the right prince and becoming a queen. Ten years later – all grown up and together with boyfriend Toby Kidd (himself in London band du jour Hatchem Social) Amy has emerged from her cocoon in a new guise - which she calls Mercy – and aims to create music in a brand new way, thus claiming her crown in the Indie hall of fame.
Mercy is a revolt against the radio-friendly voice production techniques used without second thought. The monopolies of tools of the trade Melodine and Autotune – in layman’s terms, what makes a pop tune so ‘Mmmboppy’ and pitch perfect – mean that even supposedly 'live' performances going out on TV are Autotuned and even ostensibly ‘big voices’ are sanitized. Amy wanted Mercy to have a sound that was true, raw – and sometimes disturbing.
‘I don't think that people know what a real voice sounds like anymore. There is a whole generation of young people growing up thinking this is what a singer should sound like,’ laments Amy. With Mercy Amy mixes her love of moody post punk like Suicide and Lizzie Mercia with an adoration of big pop singers like Annie Lennox and the Shang Ri La’s. She uses her delicate but powerful voice to engage the listener to the passion within her sound – both present and that which is held back – giving her fans the chance to interpret the songs with their own emotion.
Her childlike curls are gone too. With a crimped bob and a nod to colour-blocking, Amy’s look is all her own now. With eccentric nods to grandmother’s knits and Reebok classics; these days her style is less Victorian nursery and more cosmopolitan bright-young-thing. Another quirk: Mercy’s haunting debut single ‘Sleep Walker’ is recorded on a C1000 microphone - a controversial choice amongst producers and sound engineers. The C1000 is seen as a dogsbody microphone. Dirt cheap to buy and generally scoffed at as today’s producers opt for a Rode or Neumann model for manufactured vocals. But not only did Amy made this very intentional choice she also used in it an unorthodox way.
‘In almost any studio, when recording vocals you are told to get as close to the mic and pop shield as possible. This giving it a very small and boxed-in sound…very intimate, being able to hear all the little clicks and saliva slaps. Easier for a producer to work with Melodyne -removing all the soul from the take…’
Every contrary, Amy did the opposite. She found that with this little microphone she got a great sound standing at the other end of the studio! As a result, one hears much so much more of her voice as the sound take captures the room’s ambience as well as the singer herself. ‘We approached the recording with a Joe Meek mantra: If it sounds right, it is right,’ says Amy cheerfully ‘,we kept in any scuffles and bum notes and to me it feels much more exciting. The vocals are recorded in one live take, harking back to the days of recording on a reel to reel (8 track, tape machine) which frames and highlights the beauty in reality. Showing all the ugly bits that when mixed with raw talent is what makes something truly magical.’
‘Sleepwalker’ is released on the Cool for Cats label and Mercy play live in London at the Queen’s Head, Islington on 9th February.