Woman to Watch: Amber Mark

Photo: Ryan Plett

Photo: Ryan Plett

Amber Mark is at home in New York’s West Village. Well, usually. Right now, her home—the family building, owned by her godparents, where she and her sister live—resembles a film set, for she is shooting the video for “Lose My Cool," a song on her forthcoming debut EP.

Earlier, Mark was in the garden smashing a tower of glasses—an intense scene she replays proudly on her phone with a huge smile. In the middle of the living room is a rail full of outfits, the kitchen table is covered in makeup and other paraphernalia, and a number of people are buzzing around or working on laptops. It’s the first of two days filming, and in four days Mark will fly to India to film promotional material for her song “Monsoon."

Things are hectic, to say the least, but the 23-year-old is used to that by now. After three years of working unsuccessfully with a few different producers, she decided to take things into her own hands. They would tell her that they understood her sound, but, as Mark exclaims, it “really wasn't the sound I was going for!”

The goal was just to connect with people on an emotional level.

By striking out on her own, drawing on her self-taught knowledge of GarageBand and Logic Pro X, Amber came up with “S P A C E." It was the first time she wasn’t embarrassed to show her work to friends and family. “I didn’t cringe while hearing the track, so I was, like, ‘Hmm, okay—this feels right!’ ” says Mark.

In February 2016, finally feeling that her recording and execution of the song matched her idea of it, Mark uploaded “S P A C E” to SoundCloud. It began to attract a lot of attention—in fact, it’s the kind of stuff from which rock ’n’ roll and pop dreams are made.

“I was getting really frustrated that I didn’t have anything out,” she says, “so I just threw that online. Then Polydor Records contacted me, and a licensing company contacted me. My friend is studying to be an entertainment lawyer, so I went to her for advice, and she put me in touch with her mentor. He’s the one that got me to a manager, and, long story short, everything started picking up from there. Zane Lowe started playing it, and I got signed to PMR Records in December. It was all really quick, and there are still moments when I don’t understand what’s happening, but it all feels really right.” 

Listen to her songs, though, and it’s easy to understand what’s happening—as well as why. On her SoundCloud page, Mark describes her music as “a mix of alternative R&B mixed with a little tribal and topped off with a little soul," but that really only scratches the surface, both musically and emotionally. That’s partly because the two are inextricably intertwined. Mark spent four years of her childhood in India, and she incorporates some of that country’s traditional music into her own—not only as a tribute to her time there, but, more importantly, to her late mother, who had taken her there.

I want to be able to do what I love and touch people’s hearts.

“My mom liked to travel a lot,” she explains. “She studied Tibetan Buddhism and thangka painting, which is traditional Tibetan art, and she wanted to further her studies. She’d already been to India with my older brother, and so she wanted to bring me [there] to experience it. I really fell in love with the sounds there—the different types of percussion and the classic Carnatic singing. So I tried to utilize it in my music. I was writing about my mom, and about losing her, and the grief that I was going through, and I wanted these songs to be something that really explained her and her personality. I wanted them to sound like her.”

As such, songs like “S P A C E” and “Monsoon”—a beautiful and poignant tribute to her mother—are intensely personal and true to her own experiences. But she’s getting more used to the idea of total strangers hearing them, mainly because other people’s music has helped her through similarly difficult times.  

“My EP is about something that everyone goes through. Losing someone is going to happen to everyone. You are going to lose someone important in your life, and I know I really like it when I hear a song I can relate to when I’m going through something, because it strikes a chord. It’s a song that will stay in your life forever. That emotion is something I’ve always wanted to give to other people.”

To that extent, although Amber Mark is only at the very start of her career, she’s already achieved what she set out to do. “The goal was just to connect with people on an emotional level,” she says, “and it’s kind of already happened. When I put out ‘Monsoon,’ I would get emails and Facebook messages telling me stories about people they’d lost in their lives and thanking me for putting that song out. It’s the most amazing feeling, and, having accomplished that, I just want to continue being able to do it. I want to be able to do what I love and touch people’s hearts.”

Words: Mischa Pearlman

From Issue Two of Us of America, available now at Barnes & Noble and quality US newsstands, as well as for worldwide purchase online here.