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Interviewed by
Jess Nicholson
Tuesday 5th April, 2016 11:03AM

Waterfalls is the solo project of Wellington-based artist Amber Johnson, who over the last few years has been carving out a name for herself in the capital city's live scene with entrancing performances of her self-described "post-man pop". Now, Waterfalls is extending her reach with the release of her debut EP, which is set to be unveiled in April - and will be accompanied by a three-date tour. Eyegum Collective's Jess Nicholson had a insightful chat with Johnson following her appearance at Eyegum Wednesdays last week to learn more about "post-man pop", balancing music with being a single parent, and pre-show rituals. Have a read below, and then check out what is coming up for Eyegum Wednesdays this week....

You describe your music as “post-man pop”, where did you discover such a genre and what is it?

I just made it up! The EP was made while I was going through a heartbreak so a lot of the feelings and thoughts that surfaced through the confusion and grief were of course intertwining with and, like, a part of the music I was making- so in this respect it's literally Post-Man Pop. But also, I was just being tongue and cheek; you kinda have to pick a genre to describe your music and I don’t really fit into a genre - I balance a few genres, pop I guess being the overarching one 'cos my songs are pretty catchy. Some would maybe call it post-pop, I could imagine that happening- people like to bung 'post' in front of things so I did it too! I liked the ring of it. But it does fit as a descriptor and quite nicely encapsulates a meeting of my political philosophy and music - Waterfalls is this hybrid project and I move between different styles and I was thinking about how that’s a bit like rule-breaking and who made the rules… men… So yeah I also wanted to tap into the idea that it’s a bit of a rebellion against rules and genre.

How long have you been playing live and has the experience changed over time?

I’ve been performing live since… mid to late 2013? It has changed, I’m a lot more assured now, a lot less nervous and I’ve got a stronger sense of what I’m doing. I do love performing, I always have, and the buzz has never left me, like, I LOVE performing. Oh yeah, when I first started out for some reason I thought you had to look at the audience the entire time, it was a little bit like "jazz hands and smile"! Now I just focus on playing and singing well and kinda just get immersed in that whole thing and my performances are better for it. I have dancing audiences now too and that's something that's changed with me performing the songs on the EP, they're really rhythmic and dancey and audiences have been getting into it which is wonderfully energising from a performers perspective. So fun!

What has your experience been as a solo female artist?

Largely it’s been really positive. People have been really positive. Because I’m a solo mother it’s by necessity that I’m making this music- it has to be a solo project because I'm at home with my son a lot. I can’t really fathom being in a band, I've never really known a band dynamic. One day I'll get to experience playing with other people and I look forward to it heaps but I'm happy with Waterfalls being my thing too. You work with what you've got. My music is made after my son has gone to bed, I have a little unwind then get onto it. So that’s one element of it, like, solo-parent equals solo-project. The other elements, I don’t know, like, earlier on I felt very vulnerable on stage - it felt like there was a lot at stake and I used to practice heaps before shows because I was so scared that if I made a mistake I'd not be allowed up on stage again. I got over that, I mean I still practice lots, there's seldom a day when I don't play music for a couple of hours at least, but I'm more relaxed about it all. It can feel really strong being on stage by yourself and knowing that you’re representing yourself and what you do – and that’s quite a cool feeling – and I do feel an obligation to women especially. Like, often after shows women will come up to me and tell me that they want to play music, or a young woman’s girlfriend will say: "my girlfriend makes music, she wants to play, she's really good, I want her to do it, I want her to play on stage, and how can I get her to?". I think it’s really neat that people feel they can come up to me and talk about it. There seems to be a big drive in a lot of women to be on stage or to make music but there's a barrier and that’s when people talk about, what’s the term? It’s like a “crisis of confidence” and women are more susceptible to it than men in terms of getting on stage – and I certainly felt like that working up to being on stage. The more women we see on stage, whether in bands or up there alone, creates more confidence in women artists I reckon. Eyegum has this great goal of creating “Safer Spaces” and I think having women on stage contributes to that. I've always tried to find other women musicians to perform with and often we are just drawn to each other and create supportive communities around each other. That said, there have been dudes who have been incredibly generous, encouraging and supportive as well.

How do you balance music, work, and family?

Well, I’ve got a little gardening job and a cleaning job - I work part time and have jobs that I can fit into my son's school hours. How do I balance it? It is tricky. As I was saying before I do work nocturnally on my music and my son is actually at a really good age where we can both do our own things. That’s been really great for Waterfalls. I can’t imagine it working with him being a younger boy - being a solo mum, without a support network, it wouldn’t have been possible- kids are A LOT of work especially when they're little and doing it alone is full on. I’m really lucky that his dad is involved in his life so that, if I have a show, he can go stay with his dad. If his dad wasn’t around, I don’t know what I’d do. So yeah, it's a busy life. It's busy but I get it done.

What are you most looking forward to during the nationwide tour for you album release?

Well, I love going out of town. I’m looking forward to going to Dunedin and playing with two wicked bands – Embedded Figures and Elan Vital – they’re mega favourites of mine. I am super looking forward to letting go of all the material I've worked so hard on and playing it, getting something finished and performing it is an amazing feeling and I'm happy with how the EP sounds and am so excited to share it. Hanging out and catching up with people, relaxing - because I plan my tours around Dell's school holidays because he goes to his Dad’s during that time. It was great to realise I could do that because then I get to recharge plus work at the same time! Auckland's going to be great too - my good friend Luke, Disasteradio, is coming up to play the show and Ducklingmonster is playing too and she blows me away with how great her music is, so just I guess I'm looking forward to playing with such talented people and to have curated these really great gigs. And I get to party with them all too! I reckon the Wellington show on the 7th May is going to be special too-  everyone will be there and I'll probably do something dorky like cry from happiness.

You like to have flowers with you on stage, why is that?

I’m really into flowers and herbs, and their magical, medicinal and symbolic meanings. When I first started out I had an amulet which had in it a few little shards of crystals, a piece of gold glitter from the glitter canon at Beyoncé’s concert – I picked it up and I was like “BEYONCE!” – and layers of herbs and flowers I'd gathered. When I first started playing I was so nervous so needed a good luck charm. I’d go around my garden and pick herbs and flowers and put them in my amulet. It was just a way, you know, it would help psych me up before a performance. I'm less nervous performing now but the ritual has stuck, I lost the amulet last year so I've been making a little stage posy since. I like the ritual of foraging in my garden and seeing what's popped up that I can use for my performance, it's relaxing and part of helping to focus on what I want to convey with my music and performance. The flower and herb charms always smell so lovely and look beautiful so it's a lovely thing to have for getting in the zone. It smells familiar. When I'm playing out of town I still construct a posy, like, I'll go pinch some wee sprigs of this and that from botanical gardens or wherever and take a walk around to find herbs and flowers... I know what they do, say, chamomile is good for relaxation or borage is one that I always have which is for courage – they're a couple of my base bunch find the ones that are gig specific to calm my nerves or get some focus. But then when I'm wandering around I get surprised by what pops up and I'll go, "perfect!". I did make a special posy for the Shakti Fundraiser I played at the other week where I chose a lot of herbs and flowers for their healing and protective properties and took time when I was gathering them and binding them together contemplating domestic violence and imaging a different world and, like, really carefully putting together the charm for women who get hurt.

How do you relax after a gig?

Umm… well mainly I just get on the piss [laughs]. Yeah I guess, I’m often on quite a high – it’s quite euphoric performing – and I like to go out and mingle, I’m a social person; meet some people, chat with friends and have a few drinks.

Eyegum Wednesdays will feature performances from Madison along with Cookie Brooklyn and The Crumbs on 6th April at San Fran in Wellington. Head over here for more information

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