A few days before the release of her debut Single ‘Made for Us’, ARK sits down with Sassy to talk about the catharsis of songwriting, the celebration of female artists and understanding oneself.
ARK’s debut EP is filled with lyrics presenting emotionally mature ideas embedded within sophisticated melodies and compositions. During this interview ARK allows for the honesty and truth heard in her music to shine through. A calm and focused woman whose sweet and playful sense of humour reminds us of her youthfulness. These genuine characteristics remind us that ‘what you see is what you get’. Having worked as a singer/songwriter since her early teens, ARK reflects on the importance of her personal choices being heard and what it’s like to be a woman in the music industry. Tell us about what inspired this song?
This song was a reaction to me living in London, as the lyrics say ‘Flying through all the motions’ of going to work, developing a lazy attitude and guiding myself out of that. I had to give myself a kick up the ass. But it was by writing this song that I recognised how I was feeling and where the problems in myself lay.
Are you happy with Made for Us being your debut Single?
Originally, I wasn’t even going to release this song as a single. It’s extremely personal and in my eyes, didn’t conform to commercial ideals. But when I sent it round for feedback, everyone loved it. Which is why people’s reactions were such a nice surprise.
I have a lot more faith in my style of writing now because I know people like what I’ve made. How have you found co-writing with other people? Have there been any differences between writing with females and males?
It was great writing Made for Us with another female, Rhiannon Mair, she understood exactly how I was feeling, what I was saying and we smashed it out in a day. I find that in a lot of sessions with men, without meaning to, they tend to jump on the bass, drums or guitar and I’m presumed to be on vocals. I speak to female friends about the need for more women within the music industry, increasing how many female producers and songwriters there are to work with. That’s why I’m happy to have females on my team.
By working with females do you feel more supported? Is there less pressure on creating an image?
I’ve always been wary of being sexualised as an artist; being told what to wear on stage, presenting a certain image. Working with my team and the women at my label, there’s none of that pressure, they encourage me to be myself.
Has your identity as ARK developed over time?
I used to always take every bit of criticism and feedback to heart, but I’m singing about personal things and I’ve had to learn what my persona is, to detach myself slightly. There’s me as an individual and me as a performer. I’ve been told that I’m very English, I’m super sensitive and I’m emotional. A couple of years ago, if someone had told me that, I would’ve maybe seen those traits as negative things; I always wanted to be a strong and fierce woman. But I still can be! Just in my own special sensitive, emotional and English way.
Do you feel they’re the correct three words to describe you?
Yea, I am all those things! I think honesty is important, to confront yourself about how you feel and recognise who you are. If I look at who I listen to and idolise, they are all powerful and courageous. I admire these characteristics. But at the end of the day all you can do is be yourself.
And who are those idols?
Joni Mitchell (ARK looks up and laughs at a picture hanging above her sofa, there’s Joni Mitchell enshrined on her wall) because of the honesty reflected within her bizarre and wonderful songwriting.
Beyoncé. No brainer.
And Feist, I really admire how she’s always stayed true to herself in everything she’s done. Every album has its own place in time and nothing ever feels rushed. Her songs are consistently meaningful and genuine.
Do you feel like these women have branded themselves?
Well, I guess you could say that Joni Mitchell’s brand is that she doesn’t have one!
Beyoncé‘s been building her empire for years. She seems to be in control of what she’s doing, how she’s presenting herself.
Photo courtesy of ARK/Alex Neal
What kind of relationship do you have with fellow female artists?
Many friends working in music are sources of inspiration to me, as is the rise of people in the arts who express themselves freely. However, there’s a pressure felt between female artists, usually on recognising that you have similar influences, or you’re the same age, and then instantly you become a threat. Which is sad. I feel that if you like an artist and can connect with them then they shouldn’t be seen as a threat but an inspiration. For example, people will state that my sister (who is also a musician) is my competition, that I’m following in her footsteps, but we celebrate that by recognising similarities in our voices and our mannerisms. If I had a brother, would people say that? People don’t compare me to similar sounding male artists because they’re a different gender.
I think it’s a good discussion to engage in, to acknowledge this gendered competitiveness, because it does exist. All you can do is support other people and encourage a healthy relationship, and if someone supports you back then amazing but not everyone will be of that mindset.
How can you prepare yourself for this competitive behaviour, so as to stay true to yourself?
I think it’s all about the people you surround yourself with. You meet a lot of sharks in the world, especially in music. I find, from other’s stories, some people might only want to be your friend because they can smell your success. I think it helps being from such a close family, they are my constant as are my close friends. I’m very lucky that I’ve grown up with this support network around me who will always tell me if I’m doing something stupid, or if I’ve been an asshole! Do you think making music has helped you through personal experiences such as relationships?
I think music has helped with many things including my relationships, fears and insecurities. It’s what I write about, and I find that very cathartic.
I’ll write songs in the moment, about something I didn’t even know I was feeling. It’s on reflection, listening back that I’ll think “What?! Where did that come from?”. However, it’s important not to over analyse the music if it feels natural. Maybe having the internet and seeing other people being so honest and open, seeming to not give a shit, has made me freer with my own personal work. There are so many artists at the moment who’ve put stuff out and they’re having a lot of success with something that doesn’t conform to a genre or an expectation. I find this encouraging.
I’m starting to realise that everything’s temporary, so if I feel an emotion or write something that I feel very close to, then I should just roll with it. I think this has come with time and age. I’ve been slogging away at it for so long and I guess that’s given me the courage to do things my way.
How important is it to know your music is heard and liked?
If one person likes it and can relate, then I’m happy!
And finally ARK, where do you see yourself going from here?
My aim is to be able to travel and play my music. I think having goals and ambitions are so important because sometimes you can get really lost on the journey. Someone might suggest something and you go with it. But afterwards you might question that decision, what kind of artist that makes you. My focus is to make the best music that I possibly can whilst staying true to myself and the process.
‘Made For Us’ is out now. Listen here