Amy S-Y and Dom Stern are two 23 year old London based creatives and are changing the game when it comes to genre expectations, production and the creative process. I first heard Amy and Dom’s music when I saw Amy share a track titled “Girl” to her personal Instagram… and the rest is history. With the duo’s unique sound and, quite frankly, some of the best production from an independent artist I’ve heard this year. I sat down to (virtually) talk to both Dom and Amy about their 2019 EP “Can’t Tell You”, their friendship, song-writing and everything in between.
Tala: Ok so hi guys! Thank you again. If you could just introduce yourselves and tell me about you.
Amy S-Y: Hi, I’m Amy! I’m 23 years old.
Dom Stern: Hi, I’m Dom Stern. I’m also 23! I used to make these terrible YouTube videos when I was like, 13. And I realised that what was missing from my videos was background music – otherwise they felt really dry. I didn’t understand at the time that royalty free music existed, so I would create my own music and found that more fun. It started off as these rap beats which were easier to do – but they were terrible. Then I made dubstep, and then that kind of lasted for 5 years. I’ve been friends with Amy for about, what, 10 years now?
A S-Y: Yeah, about that. Wow.
D: Yeah, crazy! We were always like – she’s a great singer, great pianist-
A: Thank you!
D: And I produce. So we were always like “we’ve got to get together, we’ve got to make something!”. So, we made these demos that were clearly not very well… as in not a great mix.
A: We couldn’t intermix our styles to start off with. I started doing music when I was very young – I had music lessons. I also started playing the violin at a very young age – which I was absolutely terrible at. But it helped as a springboard in a way, leading me to learn piano. I had a few piano lessons, but I taught myself mostly.
A: And then I had a few singing lessons. I really liked Lana Del Rey at the time and was listening to a lot of Lady Gaga. I have quite a low voice, so I was doing a lot of kind of slow and soulful things and writing these emotional songs that I would then bring to Dom… who would make these dubstep tracks… *laughs*
D: There’s one that we kind of finished – like 98% of the way – it starts off with this house beat, then there’s a piano ballad for like a minute and then builds back up to this house song again. *laughs*
T:. I was going through your songs last night and this morning – listening to them before talking to you. I think that’s one thing that makes your music really unique. It’s the fact that you interlope all these different types of genres of music and sounds; with both Dom’s production and your voice, Amy.
D: Well, it was a long time before I actually felt like good enough to put effort into making a big release. So when I went off to university, it was kind of the time where I thought that I didn’t really want to make EDM anymore, but more soulful music. And thankfully, we have Amy-
A: Madame serious and soulful! *laughs*
D: – who’s into that. So, we just thought, “come on, let’s make serious music now”. That’s how we started working on our EP.
A: It was also because we decided to start in the same room and start at the same time. Whereas before I would send something to Dom, he would send something to me. One of us would work on it, I would write lyrics to his beat, or Dom would make some kind of track for my song I’d written. But then we were like “no, let’s start in the same room”, in terms of the EP.
D: The EP started with “Meant”.
A: Yes! I asked Dom: “can you make piano out of my voice?”, and he was like “yeah”. He then just recorded me singing “ahhhh”. Then I started playing it on the keyboard and then we looped it.
T: How did you decide your sound for your 2019 EP: “Can’t Tell You”?
D: Our sound came quite naturally. “Meant” was the first song we kind of made specifically together. And you know Amy talking about the piano synth made just from her voice, and we just had this loop of it going, and I’d be like “oh, I have this idea for it”, and so then we’d drop the track and I would spend some time programming that. Then Amy would come up with this one lyric… So it was a very organic process.
A: It was. Once the ball got rolling, we couldn’t get it to stop.
T: So whenever you two create something together, its fairly spontaneous?
D: It’s really a mix.
A: Yeah, it depends. For example with our track “Move Like”, Dom really wanted something with taiko drums on it. So, he just did it.
D: “Move Like” was the last one we started. “Can’t Tell You” is a very low energy EP, and you always want that one song that is a bit more exciting. I also kinda wanted to flex my production a bit more. So, I love the sound of taiko drums, which Kanye West used during his album “808s and Heartbreaks”. I just thought it would be really exciting to have this drum sound throughout, so that was definitely something that was a bit more planned. “Fallen” was something that when I started making my own more serious music, I was very inspired by the whole James Blake underground, post-dubstep sound – essentially soulful sounds with some nice bass. “Move Like” was like: “I want to make this specific sound!”, whereas “Meant” was very organic.
A: We took a lot of inspiration from Banks for “Meant” for sure, definitely from her first album.
T: When you bring both your different sounds together, they’re both so unique but I think they’re really special together. Which isn’t something I think you really hear often. Honestly, when I heard “Girl” I was floored. So probably finding a genre in which your music fits in is probably quite hard – would you agree? Or do you not like to label your music and just let it be?
D: That was definitely a struggle when it came to finishing it and uploading it onto streaming services. You have to put in the artist, the title, etc etc. But then when it came to genre, we were a bit stuck. I don’t know if I would call it electronic because of the piano in the track “Favour”; you’ve got alternative – which we went for. Mainly because it encompasses a lot of sounds and doesn’t particularly fit one genre. We didn’t want to go for R&B. either…
A: It’s soulful, but it’s not soul. It’s not indie soul, or electronic soul, it’s difficult to say what it is…
T: That’s why when I was trying to ask you about how you would describe your sound – because you’ve both given me very separate answers but put together its really fascinating. You can then combine them and make something really unique.
A: For several years before I met Dom, I was so into Jai Paul and I just loved BTSTU and I remember to you that that song didn’t have a genre, but it was good.
D: It’s just good.
T: Tell me about your favourite song you’ve worked on – either one that you’ve worked on together or your favourites each, and why you like that song. If you had to choose one.
D: If I had to choose one… for me it’s between two tracks. “All Fallen” means a lot to me, and its more specifically the sound I’m embarking on when I make my solo music. But, “Meant” is such a defining song of the EP, and it’s usually the first one I play to people. It’s the song that definitely came about the most organic. It’s got some of the cooler production on it – from my standpoint – just the way it samples Amy’s voice in so many layers and tiny details that we put in there – that probably nobody else has noticed.
T: And Amy?
A: Oh God! I also have two!!
T: Okay yeah, go on – you can tell me two.
A: I loved “Favour” – it is also my mum’s favourite song.
T: That’s so cute.
A: I mean “Favour” was the only one that didn’t have a solid story behind it. It was a feeling we went with and it was kinda improvised. I like what we came up with at the end, I find it very atmospheric. I also love “Girl” so much.
T: Me too…
A: I think “Girl” is one of my favourite things I’ve ever made.
T: Why do you hold that close to your heart?
A: Ooh! In terms of what? The meaning of the song or-
T: It doesn’t even have to be the meaning, it could be the production or just some lyrics you wrote that you particularly like.
A: For me, it was probably because it had the most of me in it? Dom let me take the reins and we both agreed it was going to be under my name. In the same way that “All Fallen” is the kind of music that Dom wants to make on his own, “Girl” is the closest thing to what I would make. They’re all our baby children.
T: *Laughs* of course! I mean, it’s so scary putting something out into the world. Especially when you’re young and you’re creating stuff and putting yourself out there… it’s such a vulnerable thing to do. Throughout both of you doing music, how have you felt about the reactions to it?
D: I received a lot of comments and compliments from people I hadn’t spoken to in ages. So that was really great. It was a surprise to me – not because I doubted the work itself, but just because a lot of the music is sad and very melancholy. It’s just how I channel those emotions. It was really nice to hear a warm reception, and it has made me more confident for future work.
A: The same for me. I was glad that it was well received by people who were all coming out of the woodwork – including you! *laughs*
T: *laughs* haha yes, hello!
A: It just felt so genuine, that people wanted to have this response to it.
T: Well thanks for putting it out, because none of us would have ever heard it!
T: So you use the word “atmospheric” which I actually think is the perfect way to describe your music. Besides your music being a really interesting and beautiful piece of music to listen to and the lyrics – are there any messages there in your songs or in your pieces of work? DO you ever create with a particular audience in mind or is it just whatever you’re feeling?
A: In terms of trying to translate a message… I don’t think there was a consistent message in the EP. There was nothing we wanted people to specifically take away from it, but it was mostly written from a position of a woman scorned. Angry and sad women or people – are the people who might enjoy it lyrically.
D: Each song starts with a real-world experience. This is something that happened to me, and I want to put that energy into a song. And from that the writing will come naturally and we will keep going. But sometimes it’s like, “ok, what now? What’s another story we can tell?” So it definitely started form a real place, but sometimes its’ just telling a story. “All Fallen” was the one I had most input in like we said earlier. For me that came from a stint where I was feeling a bit lonely and defeated. Even after I had moved on from that emotion, I still wanted to tell that story in life. For me it catches that time.
A: At the time of the EP, I was in a relationship that I am no longer in… I think my subconscious wrote it and I didn’t even realise I was feeling those things.
T: I like that you use life stories and experiences at the forefront of your music and using sound to represent those changes too. I love the way you play with sound and with Amy’s voice in the songs. It works so well. I love the fact that I don’t know what to expect when I listen to your music. That’s what happened to me the first time I listened to “Girl”. I was so thrown – but in a good way. Is that intentional, that element of surprise in your music?
D: A little it.There are definitely moments where we have an idea, and we think that would be really interesting, or follow a certain structure. But also, I feel like I fall into that trap of after listening to something so much, that it’s no longer a surprise for me.
A: I mean his favourite word is “beat switch”. *laughs*
T: I have to ask this question, even though I know it’s silly. But, how long would you say it takes you two, on average, to create a track from beginning to end?
A: “Komos – Interlude”originated from this voice note I found on my phone from years prior. It was Dom’s idea to play around with my voice.
D: Yeah, that was a short one. But the EP as a whole took… 2 years?
A: But you started “All Fallen” ages ago?
D: Yeah, I wrote “All Fallen” when I was at uni.
A: And then we fiddled with it and then we put it aside for like, a year and then we brought it back out.
D: Yeah. There was something else I was going to be writing with another friend, but then we stopped making music together. So I kinda… chopped his part out and gave it to Amy. So that song too wasn’t one constant period of time. We wrote in sections. “Meant” was probably something we worked on for the longest time.
A: I would say it could take anything from an afternoon to literally, years for us to make a song.
T: That makes sense.
A: It didn’t really help that we were so far apart for so long while we both at university.
T: While you were apart would you just email each other snippets of things?
D: There was a lot of back and forth. A bulk of the work was done in-between term time, when we were both back in London, able to work on it together in the same room.
T: How have you found quarantine for creating?
A: It’s been a bit rough. I really like to work with the piano, that’s more where I find myself. That’s where I write most of my songs. I didn’t have access to a piano either. There was one on campus which I used to use quite a lot. When I was home, I didn’t have a piano but I did have a guitar – I’m not very good at the guitar. I wrote I think… one song? That we started working on.
A: I also tried to teach myself how to use Ableton (music production software). So I could do more production… but it didn’t go very well. *laughs*
T: Oh no!
A: So, it’s been a bit crap – but it is also an opportunity to sit down and create.
D: For the first couple months of lockdown, we didn’t really work on much. There was one demo – which I think Amy sent – which we have started working on again. But in general, I’ve still been working. And working from home… I actually find a lot more draining. So it gets to the end of the day, and I wanna get out of the house and go do some exercise, make something to eat. And by then I just want to…
T: Go to bed?
D: Go to sleep! *laughs* I get most of my sparks and ideas when I’m on the train and bored or out for a walk. And there’s been less of that, as well as Amy and I not being able to see each other in person – and like I said that’s when we get most of our work done. It’s a blessing we’re able to be in bubbles now.
T: It has been such a weird few months for everyone these days. I feel like I’ve said that so often.
D: It’s like when people ask you what you’ve been up to, and you’re like-
A: Dwelling. *laughs*
D: I’m healthy? I mean I’ve been doing the same since we last spoke.
T: Well I’m glad that both of you have had decent lockdowns and been safe and healthy with everything. I feel like a lot of people in this time are either over creating or not creating at all. I don’t know if you guys ever feel the pressure from social media to constantly be creating things? As there’s been such an influx of content in the past few months.
A: Because it took us so long to get “Can’t Tell You” finished, I’m very much in the mood that I don’t want to release ANYTHING that I don’t feel like is great and that people won’t love – at least that I love. I wouldn’t want to succumb to the pressure of social media for the sake of just creating content. You know, it’s not like we have a label to appease. We’re just doing it for ourselves.
D: I definitely do feel that there is pressure, because I’m seeing so many independent artists that I follow fully taking advantage of this time. Maybe they’ve started YouTube, Twitch, TikTok. You know, like quick covers or 30 second video demos. But I’m the same as Amy. I’m someone who likes to finish and make a polished project and then put that out there. I’m not much of a social media presence. I know it’s the future of marketing but I just… can’t get into that. It’s not me.
T: I feel you. Social media is an odd one isn’t it? It helps you but also hinders you in some way. I completely agree with you in regards to your comment about . You want to make sure you have a solid set of say, 10 songs, rather than 150 because you’ve wacked them out.
T: Amy, I know you said you were happy not to make more music for a while… but I have to ask… have you got anything in the works?
D: We’ve actually just started our second project – in the past few weeks, But kinda related to what you said about not knowing how long it’s going to take – but it might not see the light until 2022. Or we might end up making something where we’re like “oh, I want to put this out immediately!”
A: We never know! Sometimes something just hits us and its like “BAM”. Like “Girl”, that kind of came out of nowhere. I was like, “we have to do this now!”.
T: So how did you come up with the concept for “Girl”?
A: I wrote the whole of “Girl”, and obviously Dom added his production skills to it. The concept actually came from this conversation I had. I was talking to this dude – nothing serious, just fun – and during that time he got a girlfriend. Which wasn’t really a big deal, but then he started talking to me again, and I was confused. I was like “would your girlfriend be okay with this?”. I’d go and stalk his girlfriend on Instagram to find out that she was MUCH more attractive than he is.
A: And I’m thinking: “I wonder if I tell her what’s going on with him, maybe she’ll be my girlfriend. *laughs*
T: I love that.
A: You know! Like, your boyfriend is RUBBISH and terrible, and you should be my girlfriend because you’re cute. So then I wrote a kinda funny song, and Dom added his amazing production to it, to make it this amazing upbeat track. He then added this AMAZING drum beat that’s present all throughout the chorus. The whole thing changed and it just became some kind of bleeding heart love song for this girl who you want to break up with her boyfriend and be with you because you love her.
T: I go on about that song a lot, but I have genuinely never heard production like that Dom. And Amy your lyrics are very special in the sense that you say things very simply and very beautifully.
A huge thank you to both Amy and Dom for taking the time to talk to us. You can find their socials and music below: