Amber Arcades interview: From dusk till dawn in New York City

Annelotte De Graaf performing as Amber Arcades expands on her chance signing to Heavenly Recordings and the path of her glimmering debut album Fading Lines.

Ben Smith

Date published: 24th Jun 2016

Image: Amber Arcades

Having just released her debut album Fading Lines, Annelotte De Graaf isn't exactly your archetypal upstart. She still works as a legal aide at the international war crimes tribunal and hadn't heard of Heavenly Recordings until not long before she signed to the label.

Operating on stage as Amber Arcades, Annelotte's beautifully mapped dream pop is awash with glimmering melodies tinged with psychedelia and pulsing rhythms that blossom with each hush of her blustery vocal.

Her music washes with a real sheen, which doesn't come as a surprise when her backing band enlists members of Real Estate, Boston psych rock outfit Quilt and Kevin Morby's guitarist for a small juncture.  

Ultimately it could be said that couch-surfing forged the path for this debut album; an incredible back-story that Annelotte revealed when speaking ahead of a tour date at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham on Tuesday 18th October

Who is Amber Arcades and how does she differ from Annelotte de Graaf?

Amber Arcades isn’t like an alter-ego or something, it’s just the name I gave to this ongoing project. But it’s really just me, Annelotte, writing all the stuff, so I wouldn’t say there’s a difference.

How did the recording process of Fading Lines go, and what are some of the inspirations behind the album?

I wrote all the songs on my own back home and when I finished the chords, melodies, lyrics and some guitar parts I flew to New York to record with Ben.

I worked with some NYC buddies as a backing band. I was in NYC for a month and we were in the studio for 2 weeks from dusk till dawn. It was awesome. Everyone was super involved, throwing ideas about arrangements and parts back and forth, trying out a lot of stuff, really special to get that energy from people.

Some inspirations (musically) are bands like Yo La Tengo, Deerhunter, Broadcast, Real Estate and Stereolab. Lyrically inspirations come from many entangled thoughts and memories.

Tell us more about your work as a legal aide on UN war crime tribunals...

I did an internship for a couple of months at the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia). Currently I work for the Dutch Immigration Service where I have to decide on requests for family reunification. I love my job as it makes me feel useful, I see very concrete results so it’s easy to see the relevance of the work I do. I like that. I like music too, of course, but the satisfaction I get from that is more abstract and probably more self-oriented.

Your squat in Utrecht was the birthplace of your relationship with Heavenly Recordings, describe the series of events that led to you being signed by them.

I met a girl through this couch-surfing project at Le Guess Who? Festival. She crashed at my house for a couple of years during the festival and so we became friends.

Later she got a job at Heavenly doing press. She introduced me to the label (I hadn’t heard from them before) and I thought they would maybe be into the record so I e-mailed it to them once it was finished and I guess they were into it cause they agreed to put it out. 

Why did you want to record your album In New York so badly?

I didn’t necessarily want to go to New York, I just wanted to work with Ben, who happened to be based in New York. Although I do love New York so it was definitely an added bonus to be able to go to that magical city and spend some time there. Also an added bonus was that this enabled me to enlist my NYC buddies as a backing band.

Why were you intent on being produced by Ben Greenberg?

I thought it would be a very interesting match, musically. We skyped a lot beforehand to talk about some production ideas and his background is more in heavier music stuff, like NYC hardcore punk and all.

I am really into louder/freakier music as well - I was a pretty dedicated goth during my teens - and I wanted to find a way to give some more substance/an edge to the songs that I had written, cause they are in essence very sweet and poppy songs. I felt like Ben would be the right guy to help me with this because of his background.

Tell us more about the band who helped record your album, who were they and why did you choose them?

They are Shane Butler and Keven Lareau of the band Quilt and Jackson Pollis from Real Estate. Also Meg Duffy who currently plays in Kevin Morby’s band joined in on a tune. Shane and Keven I met in the Netherlands when they were doing some shows with Quilt and I supported them. We hung out after those shows and had kept in touch.

Meg is a good friend of these guys and she just happened to be in NYC during that time. She randomly dropped by the studio one evening to hang out and it was perfectly timed as Shane wasn’t there that night and we wanted to do some slide-guitar tracking so she jumped in and nailed it. I didn’t know Jackson before recording but he’s a good friend of Ben and I love Real Estate so I was really enthusiastic when Ben approached him for the record.

How excited are you to embark on a UK tour?

Pretty excited! We just did our first headline tour in Europe last week and it was amazing. But there were only 2 UK dates on that one so I look forward to getting back to the UK and seeing more of the country. Is it October already?!

Looking forward to anything in particular this festival season as a fan? 

I really look forward to playing at End of the Road and also seeing some other amazing bands there. Their line-up is so good! I’m definitely gonna try and see The Shins, Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, Thee Oh Sees, Thurston Moore... like, I wanna see every band there basically.

Amber Arcades play at Hare and Hounds in Birmingham on Tuesday 18th October - tickets via the box below.

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