It's been a hard road for easy-listening singer Amber Claire, but the future is looking considerably brighter, she tells MIKE HOULAHAN
After a year of heartbreak and loss, the sun has started to come out for Auckland singer Amber Claire.
Last year the former Wanganui woman had to cope with the death of her father, the end of a long-term relationship, the drowning of a close friend, and the aftermath of two car crashes.
While all that was going on, Claire was trying to put the finishing touches to her debut album, Love And Such.
"I knew I had to settle myself because I knew I had to launch the album," Claire says.
It's a record which has set sail in spectacular style. Love And Such debuted at No 16 in the album charts, a more than respectable performance for a singer working the unfashionable adult contemporary market.
Claire attributes her success to the New Zealand music quota opening up a gap for singers in her genre at the notoriously hard-to-crack easy listening stations.
"I wasn't expecting much until At Seventeen [her second single and a Janis Ian cover] started to do well at radio," she says. "People were calling up and asking about the song all the time.
"It's not one I'd chosen as a single myself, but people were just loving it. It was actually chosen publicly rather than by ourselves, which I quite like.
"Because we have a 20 per cent quota we can do this now, this turnaround in the popularity of New Zealand music ... we have the opportunity to branch out and try new things and push something like my music here."
However, a budding music career was the furthest thing from her mind when Claire moved to Auckland from Wanganui. Despite completing a course on getting a job in music, she worked as an illustrator when she moved north.
For fun, she started singing with a group called the Sugar Babes, and then joined the Mermaids, with which she still sings seven years on.
Claire, Pauline Berry and Joe Cotton (of TrueBliss fame) are backed by guitarist Martin Winch, to whom Claire showed some songs she was writing.
Winch produced a demo version of the songs and passed them on to Sony Music, and soon after Claire was signing a contract.
Sixteen songs were recorded for Love And Such, but just two of her original songs made the final cut of 11 tracks. The remaining nine songs are an eclectic mix of covers, ranging from Bic Runga and Janis Ian, to Jackson Browne and Tim Buckley.
To add extra spice to the mix, pop producer Simon Holloway was brought in to see what would happen if he mixed an adult contemporary artist.
"It was interesting," Claire says.
"Simon was fabulous in the studio, and I could always reach out to him when I was recording, and he just had this incredible manner. I felt really trusting and free in the studio because of his ability.
"I think visually, and when I go to sing a song it is often a visual place I start from - I can see a song in my mind, and from there the song is delivered.
"Simon had a special knowledge of that, and often I'd have to ask Simon, 'please, what can you see right now', and he'd come up with something. I think that adds to the atmosphere of the lyric."
Claire has no long-term plans beyond simply releasing Love And Such, although with a top 20 album under her belt, the sky may soon be the limit.
"Really, I don't know what's going to happen with this album - nobody does - but I feel totally lucky Sony has backed something new."
*Who: Amber Claire
* What: Debut album Love and Such
*When: Out now