Amber Mark is the genre-splicing polymath that music needs now. Raised across Europe and Asia, and based in New York, the 23-year-old artist weaves her deep knowledge of international styles into a stunning musical tapestry which reveals new intricacies on every listen. Adding to the unique magic is the fact that Mark writes and produces all of her music herself. “I enjoy working alone because I can be most creative,” says Mark. “There’s no compromising.” Following the emotionally raw R&B of her critically-lauded debut EP 3:33am, her new Conexao EP dazzlingly blends slinky soul and Brazilian bossa nova with sublime pop melodies, delivered in her deeply resonant, smoky vocal tones. The singular release confirms her as one of 2018’s most inventive new artists — and it couldn’t have come from anyone but Amber Mark.
Mark’s point of view gives a powerful intimacy to her poetic lyrics. That’s more clear than ever on her irresistible new single “Love Me Right,” in which she confidently lays out the terms for a relationship over pared-down, purposeful R&B rhythms. Like all of Mark’s music, the song is an honest reflection of her complex, real-life emotions. “I was really angry at my boyfriend, and trying to have a ‘me day,’” recalls Mark. “But I was at the gym and really in my head — after 20 minutes I ran home, because I needed to get my emotions out.” In her home studio, Mark quickly created a piano chord progression, a drum track, and worked out the melody through singing “gibberish” into a mic. The end result is true sonic sorcery.
Her unorthodox approach to life started early. Born on a “spiritual midwifery farm” in Tennessee to a mother with nomadic instincts, Mark moved home every few years — from Germany to New York, and from Goa to Nepal. Appropriately for an artist who creates new pathways through global genres, Mark’s early taste showcased a borderless approach to music. In India, she fell in love with the East-meets-West innovations of Prem Joshua; in Berlin, she discovered the electrifying possibilities of pop performance at Michael Jackson’s HIStory tour. Through her music-obsessed mum, Mark discovered the Brazilian bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto, whose exuberant percussive elements shine through on new songs like the stealth dancefloor anthem “All the Work.” “Bossa nova really influenced me,” explains Mark. “I actually took Portuguese in high school because I wanted to sing in it — it was the most beautiful way I had ever heard a language.”
At 12 years old while living in Berlin, Mark asked her mum for a piano. The family couldn’t afford that, but scraped together the money for a guitar, and Mark taught herself to play simple chords via YouTube tutorials. “I was also obsessed with Garageband,” Mark says, speaking about the basic production program included on Apple computers. “I would always be asking my friends that had Macbooks if I could come over and use them. I started singing along, and people responded well. I always knew that I wanted to do something creative in music.” Joining an music program while at high school in Miami (she compares it to a contemporary School Of Rock), Mark’s natural on-stage charisma began to shine, as she performed new versions of songs by a diverse range of artists, from The Beatles to CeeLo Green. She became more determined than ever to embrace music as her calling.
Mark’s first project, the 2017-released EP 3:33am, addressed the tragic passing of her mother, in a song suite centered on seven stages of the grieving process. But on Conexao, the multi-instrumentalist broadens her perspective. “It’s about my process of finding love again,” she explains of the project. “I try to be honest with my feelings, so it’s like you’re reading a book about my life and it’s the next chapter.” The title track is Mark’s most sexually forthright song to date — a masterclass of seduction in which she commands, “Don’t you take your eyes off of me.” Meanwhile, eccentric production peppers “All The Work,” as Mark triumphantly asserts, to a no-good lover, “Just give up / I’ve moved on.”
As a formidable new voice in a world where women account for less than 5% of music producers and engineers, Mark is determined to be a strong example of a woman artist who is as active behind the boards as she is on stage. This summer, she’ll perform at renowned electronic festival Moogfest, as part of an all-women line-up. “Music production has been such a male dominated industry,” she says. “It’s definitely important for me to champion women producers.” Mark is leading by example, and talks with pride about receiving messages from young women producers who are inspired by her. Mark’s message to them is simple: “Keep doing it — and put your music on SoundCloud.” In the next few years, Mark says she’s aiming to start producing other people, as well as expanding her own sound. Any other ambitions? She breaks out into a laugh: “A Grammy wouldn’t hurt!”
Acclaim is already starting to pour in from Mark’s musical idols. On her new EP, Mark puts a stunning flip on Sade’s “Love Is Stronger Than Pride,” bringing fresh life to the 1988 soul classic by adding skittering beats and her passionate vocals. “I was really nervous because Sade had to approve my version,” Mark says. “But I got a message from her, saying “I love your voice, you sound amazing on the track, and I love what you did with it. I’m wishing you so much success.” How does it feel to get a co-sign from a legend so early in your career? “So amazing,” Mark gushes. “I now have those words from her in my head all the time.” With early supporters like Sade, as well as her natural aptitude for creativity, the sky’s the limit for Mark. Don’t be surprised if that Grammy isn’t too far off.