If you’ve turned on the radio at any point in the last two years, it’s inevitable that you’ll have heard the voice of Anne-Marie, even if you didn’t realise it.
During this time, she’s had chart success with tracks like ‘Alarm’ and ‘Ciao Adios’, but it’s her features on songs by Clean Bandit and Marshmello - the former was Christmas number one in 2016 - that have been her biggest hits so far.
With her debut album ‘Speak Your Mind’ out now, Anne-Marie hopes the release will give people an opportunity to get to know her as an artist in her own right.
“A lot of people know me through the collaborations that I’ve done,” she tells HuffPost UK. “So I just really wanted something that explains the way my brain is and how I feel about things. And I think that this album does that for me.”
All 16 tracks on ‘Speak My Mind’ feature a co-writing credit from Anne-Marie (apart from the aforementioned Clean Bandit collaboration ‘Rockabye’), and she notes that her new music is “very autobiographical”.
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“I love to get inspiration from everywhere,” she says, “But definitely the initial feeling [for my songs] comes from personal experience. So it’s very personal, and I think that’s what makes the album ‘me’. I couldn’t have had it any other way, I just feel like I needed to be really honest, and that’s what I did.”
It turns out, going into a studio and bearing your soul to musicians and co-writers you hardly know is every bit as daunting and uncomfortable as it sounds, even for someone as outspoken as Anne-Marie.
“When I first started to write with other people, it was a bit weird,” she remembers, adding, with an infectious laugh: “I don’t think I actually ever got the best out of what I was trying to say, because I was probably trying to hold stuff back, and not show them, like, my whole damaged heart.
“I feel like the more I worked with [the same musicians and co-writers], I ended up getting a close group of people together, who I got totally comfortable with. So I could just go into the studio and be like, ‘this has happened, I need to write about it, help me write it’.
“That definitely makes me realise that putting the album out now is the best thing, because [earlier in my career], I would have been a different kind of person, and a different artist, and I would have created different… not as good music.”
Years in the making, Anne-Marie says, again with a giggle, that she had been feeling “a mixture of every emotion possible to the human brain”, in the lead-up to the release of ‘Speak Your Mind’, admitting that certain setbacks made her fear the project would never come together.
“At times, I totally felt like it was never gonna come,” Anne-Marie recalls, “It just seemed to be always going back and back and back… but yeah, it finally did, and now I have all the songs on it that I feel like my album needs.
“I feel very excited because it’s finally coming out, but also very nervous because it’s scary putting out something that you know you can’t adjust or change a little bit. To know that I can’t do that anymore is quite scary. I’ve wanted to put an album out every year for the past five years, so it is a total relief. But still, like… the nervousness and excitement is overriding that at the moment.
“I know I’m really proud of it, and I really love every song, so that’s, like, the first hurdle to get over when you’re putting an album out. I just really hope that everyone else likes it too.”
‘Speak Your Mind’ covers a range of themes, from heartbreak and toxic relationships to nostalgia and self-empowerment. Anne-Marie notes: “That was one of the main things that I wanted for this album. I wanted it to mean something. I wanted to have a lot of different subjects on there.
“I grew up listening to amazing artists like The Streets and Christina Aguilera… when people actually said stuff and wanted to talk about different things and have a meaning to [their music].
“I want people to go away from it feeling happy, feeling strong and feeling like they can speak to someone if they’ve got a problem. I just want people to feel good after they’ve heard it and make them think about things.
“I honestly always really try to get people to share their feelings. I always say to everyone that communication is key. And the struggle is, no one really talks to each other anymore. We need to just tell people how we’re feeling. So hopefully, the album will make people feel like they can do that even more.”
When Anne-Marie speaks to HuffPost UK, she’s in Milan (“I don’t really know how to say that, I don’t know if it’s Mil-ann or Mil-arn,” she laughs), and the more we talk, the more it becomes apparent just how much she values making her voice heard.
“I was always quite outspoken as a teenager, and quite cheeky in school and stuff,” she explains. “My sister’s a very strong woman, I surround myself with really strong females so I feel like that’s just naturally came as I’ve got older.
“I just think this career would be a really different experience for me, if I chose not to be that way. I made it a point that I was always going to say how I feel.
“I just couldn’t be any other way. I wouldn’t be able to hold in how I feel about something. For me, speaking my mind is a big part of my life, and I encourage other people to do that as well.”
The singer’s fresh honesty isn’t limited to just voicing her opinions on important subjects close to her heart, though, as she’s also brilliantly unfiltered when she’s on stage.
During her gig in London back in March, for example, she was heard asking the crowd if the heavy bass in the venue was “making anyone else’s arseholes go all funny”. That same night, she commented on her own sweaty top lip, before laughing to herself: “No, not that one.”
Her uninhibited and always-candid stage patter (or, as she puts it, “chatting shit”) is something Anne-Marie has over almost all of her peers on the emerging British pop scene, and it’s an aspect of her show that fans have grown to love.
“When I go on stage, I just talk a lot, naturally, in between songs,” she says. “I didn’t realise I did that, and I actually stopped for a while... but my band was like, ‘We really miss when you used to talk to the crowd. That’s when people really get to know who you are’. People can get to know you through the music, but I want them to feel like they know me as a person too.
“And nothing’s ever planned, that’s what helps as well. I don’t have a rehearsed speech in between songs, which is probably why it feels so natural, because even I don’t know what’s going to come out of my mouth.”
As talk turns back to the album, Anne-Marie says the song ‘Perfect’ is one of the album’s more personal offerings, revealing she hopes it will serve as a modern-day empowerment anthem, but without the clichés and tired tropes that similar songs often employ.
“On the way to the studio I had been watching loads of TED Talks on YouTube,” she recalls. “They were talking about body confidence, and loving yourself and feeling good about yourself, stuff like that. I arrived at the studio and I was like, ’I really want to write a song like this, but I don’t know how to do it without sounding really preachy and, like, ‘yeah love yourself, girls’!’. I never really knew how to do it.
“So, Jennifer Decilveo, who I wrote the song with, was like, ‘Anne-Marie just tell me everything that you don’t like about yourself, or that you’re insecure about, or the weird little things that you do, that you feel like no one else does’. So I literally sat down and told her everything, and she wrote it down on a piece of paper. And that became the song.
“I really wanted to do a song for other people to feel better with. When I was younger I used to play ‘Beautiful’ by Christina Aguilera so much, because it made me feel good. And I wanted to have that song for other people now, so, hopefully that makes people feel better.”
At the other end of the spectrum is one of the album’s more unorthodox tracks, ‘Bad Girlfriend’, in which Anne-Marie outlines the various ways she got revenge on those who mistreated her, when she first began dating.
“Say, for example, if I was with someone now and they cheated on me, I would just leave,” she says. “I would just be like, ‘whatever, your loss, see you later’.
“But when I was younger, I definitely didn’t have that attitude. I wanted to hurt them like they hurt me. So, ‘Bad Girlfriend’ is basically me just telling people what I was like when I wanted to basically give them their karma. It’s fun to sing that one live… it’s actually nice to just mug them off for a change.”
And if any of the exes written about should actually hear any of the many personal songs Anne-Marie has written about them, is she a little concerned?
“Oh I feel fine about that,” she says, with her distinctive laugh. “Yeah. If an ex hears it… I don’t care.”
Anne-Marie’s album, ‘Speak Your Mind’, is out now. Listen to her new single, ’2002’ below: