It’s almost 20 years since German dance diva Amber’s breakthrough smash ‘This Is Your Night’ entered the Australian top 50. But although two decades have passed since its arrival, time hasn’t dulled its appeal to fans across the planet.
Amber will be back in Australia later this year as part of the ’90s Mania’ tour, sharing the stage with other top name dance/pop talent from the decade that was.
We pop on the phone for an interview with the songstress and discover just how long it’s been since she was last on our shores.
“I was thinking about that, you know… It was probably almost 15 years ago,” she reveals. “It’s been quite a while. And I know that I had offers to come into Australia in between, but I just always felt with the schedules that I had… if I’m going to come over, I’m going to come over for a tour, not just for one show.
“The time, the jetlag you have and just to come for two or three days and then fly all the way back again… I just didn’t feel like doing that. So this time when they said they had a tour, I said, ‘why not?’. So obviously the wait was worthwhile.
“I’m really looking forward to it because I really want to enjoy the outdoors a little bit more and I see I have a little bit of time within the schedule where I can actually hold a wombat or see a koala and take a picture with a kangaroo!”
Naturally, we have a little giggle that Amber (real name Marie-Claire Cremers) wants to do all the traditional touristy things we all take for granted. She’s quick to defend herself.
“You’re laughing! But when you’re really at the height of your career, all you see is a car, a hotel bed, a stage, a back room… You’re in these countries and you don’t get to see anything.
“I just got a whiff of the best scrambled eggs with salmon and banana bread at Bondi Beach. I remember eating delicious Indian food, but we really didn’t have that much off time. And don’t forget, I was a mom back then to a younger son, so for me it was very important for me to do what I had to do, but then get back home to be with him.
“So this time I have a different sense of things. My son is grown, he might even travel with me this time and I get some time off to enjoy. I keep telling people… I want to hold a wombat! Somebody had better make it happen. That’s my goal in Australia. A wombat.”
Ordinarily, of course, it’s kangaroos and koalas that get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to cuddling Australian wildlife, but Amber explains that after seeing a wombat on German TV recently, her mind was made up.
“I’ve seen all kinds of animals on pictures before, but I saw this wombat and it was just an instant match for me. I just fell in love with this animal. It was just so thick and chunky and cute-looking. The guy who was holding it was petting it because it had lost its mother.
“It was really, really cute and he was explaining that at some point, they become very aggressive. It’s kind of like they get into puberty and they’re then just wild animals, but before that, they’re very cute, you can touch them and stuff. And I was just sitting in front of the TV thinking, ‘I wanna hold one’. So I want to be able to hold a wombat. I’m an animal lover to begin with, but the wombat just got to me.”
Amber first rose to prominence in 1996 with her breakthrough smash ‘This Is Your Night’. Though the track, which just celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release, just missed the ARIA top ten, it became the first of a string of club smashes (many of them number ones) Stateside.
Looking back on it, she wasn’t even close to predicting how big that one song would become, nor that it would set her on the path to international stardom.
“At that point in time, I was just a trying musician. I always held a job down, I finished my education… I was always smart enough to say ‘you have to have a back-up and you have to have some money up your sleeve to support yourself and to support your young child’, but music was always connected to me.
“Dance music, however, wasn’t what I went after. I was doing all sorts of different stuff and being open minded. Then this producer team called me and said, ‘we heard from a friend that you were singing at a fashion show, that he really liked your voice… we were wondering if we could meet up and maybe make some music together’. So I said, ‘yeah, sure, why not?’.
“So we met up and they had a dance track and then the guy said, ‘we thought something along the lines of (sings) “This is your night… da da da da…” Go ahead’. So I got back into the room and I wrote the entire lyric and the rest of the melody, including the “Dah ba dah ba dah, dip-da-un-dey” and we recorded it.
“That particular producer team had already signed the group The Real McCoy with Arista,” she recalls. “So instantly we got a universal deal based on that song alone. And it came out, obviously, on May 21st, 1996. I remember it just exploded. It stood in the charts in America for almost a year and it’s just a blur. It’s just really a blur.
“I had seven consecutive No.1 hits in the United States, so it was just a lot of touring, a lot of interviews… life really flew by and that’s why finally in 2003, I decided to ask for release from my recording contract with Tommy Boy. I’d already separated from the production team, because they were just too simple-minded for me and they took too much of my publishing and my rights while I was doing the bulk of the work.
“I was always the kind of girl that stood behind the scenes when they were doing stuff, listening and learning, thinking to myself that I could do this on my own. So I first got away from my producers, bought myself out of the contract, then I had a direct contract with my label as the production company and then I hired people to do the jobs that I wanted them to do.
“After that album, I felt that my record label wasn’t really supporting me the way they should have and luckily that record label boss then let me go. Sometimes you can get really really unlucky and get shelved for years where you’re not allowed to release music – which is criminal I think – but I guess I must have struck the right tone with him that I wasn’t happy. He was a bit of a spiritual guy.
“Then I set up my own label and hired a few people that taught me the ins and outs. They were very kind. A lovely group of people, which is rare to find in this industry sometimes. And then I went about things on my own. I made sure that I kept the master rights and that I kept the rights to my publishing and to my work.
“That’s how I became independent. And that’s something that I really enjoy, because right now I’m in charge of my own schedule. My priority is not to become a billionaire.”
We suggest that perhaps if Amber did wish to become a billionaire, she may be in the wrong profession.
“Well when you start off these days, the chances are very small,” she says. “Adele does it. But it’s only meant for a select few. The bottom line is that a lot of these people give up their private lives to the tabloids, which was never my thing to begin with. Because my private life is my damned private life.
“I give you my all when I’m on stage and I connect with my fans, but I really felt very much that my private life and my son were always my priority. That might not have sat very well with my record label back then… they obviously wanted to exploit every little interview. But I live a very simple life.”
We ask Amber whether, given her negative experiences with the record labels of her past, she finds songs like ‘This Is Your Night’ and ‘Sexual (Li Da Di)’ difficult to perform.
“I have very well understood that this is bigger than the labels, than time, me,” she explains. “You become a story to peoples’ lives with those songs. People have so many memories and moments connected to them and even though if you go through some painful experiences in your life, it’s for you to organise them and set them in the right perspective.
“So even though I maybe had some bad experiences, the bottom line is how to react to them and whether you draw and learn from them. So the next time around, you watch your back a little bit better and you know what signs to look for. That’s how everybody’s life goes, no matter which subject.
“But regarding the music, I’ve met amazing people, I’ve done countless shows and I’m still working with these songs 20 years later. What’s not to be thankful for!? A lot of artists have drowned and are not doing anything anymore. So I think it’s a mixture of having the appreciation for your fans, being on time, not giving the impression that you’re better than the people in front of you. The relatable, grounded factor has always been a big part of my life and my career.”
Amber does admit, however, that there was a time in her career that she wanted to mix things up a little, and (alarmingly) put some of her most beloved chart favourites to bed.
“After a few years, I was adding repertoire and I said to my road manager that I should look at cutting off ‘This Is Your Night’ to make some room for the other tracks,” she admits. “I did that two or three times and my road manager came to me and she said, ‘listen… I think that if we want to leave the venue alive, just think about perhaps adding ‘This Is Your Night’ again’. And I guess at that point in time, I started understanding that it wasn’t about me anymore.
“My thing right now is that I’m very appreciative of these massive songs because it’s not about me anymore. It’s about the connection that you have… the stories that are told with the songs. It’s just bigger. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s a blessing to have.”
Ask Amber to pick one of her songs as a favourite, however, and she struggles to decide.
“Oh my god,” she exclaims. “See the thing is… once I’ve finished recording all these songs, I never really listen to them too much. It’s just not me… I don’t listen to myself. When I’m in the moment, I love the creative process. That’s the most exciting thing… when everything’s still fresh and you still have to go through mastering and production and the like.
“What’s the favourite though…? I guess the song ‘I’m Free’ is one of my favourites. It’s just a very simple piano ballad and I wrote the lyrics to it, my mother did the piano and that song really symbolises my creative freedom. It’s on my second album and it’s the last track. And it’s also the first song that I was allowed to put into my own publishing company so I owned my publishing parts completely.
“Everything before that was put in the publishing company by the other producers, which was a pain in the ass, because… I don’t understand how people can function that way. Whatever belongs to you belongs to you, whatever belongs to me belongs to me. That’s how simple it is. This industry is very tough like that. ‘I’m Free’ symbolises that step towards freedom and also brings back a little bit of my classical music roots that I also love to listen to.
“‘Sexual’ also symbolises a little bit of freedom. It was my second album and I’d already explained to my producers that I wanted to get out of the contract. But they wouldn’t let me go at that stage, so I said I wasn’t going to write with them and that I needed to find another outlet so I felt more creatively comfortable.
“So ‘Sexual’ was a song that was written within 15 minutes with Billy Steinberg and Rick Nowels, who are great writers… They’ve worked with Whitney Houston, Madonna… everybody. And that song I knew instantly was going to be amazing. It was also about being a bit more liberal in terms of having a song about sexuality sung by a woman. I had a lot of flack for that, I must say. Radio stations were not willing to play it and they wanted me to change lyrics and all kinds of stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s been a while,” she admits. “I had a lot of things going on in my life, let’s say. Obviously setting up an entire new catalogue and production and stuff… you have to understand that it’s actually very costly and with the illegal sharing that is going on… it’s not even assured that you’ll get the funds back that you put into a project. It’s a very risky business these days.
“At this point in time, I felt I needed some form of break and whenever I feel like writing something, I have my little laptop and I write my lyrics. We’ll see what happens in the future, maybe. Something else might come up, but I’m not feeling that pressure anymore. We’ll see what happens.”
Given the financial risks involved with investing in and putting out new music and, as Amber mentions, the possibility you may not get a return on said investment, we ask her whether she’s considered the crowdfunding model.
“Unless I have a clear concept, where things are clearly laid out and where I’m really convinced about something, I wouldn’t even dare go towards a crowdfunding situation. And for me, that also means again some form of dependence. You know what I mean? I can survive very well with what I’m doing. Because I do live a very simple life. I don’t have a castle that I have to support or a butler. I don’t have to have the latest, newest car every month. It’s just not the lifestyle that I live.
“For me, it’s more important that you have inner peace and that you’re doing okay and that your closest friends are okay and that your son is okay. That’s priority for me at this point in my life. And that I can really get to enjoy what I do and not be pressured and pushed from A to B. So I’m really at that time in my life right now where I enjoy that I can make my own choices.”
Of course, she has made the choice to make her way to Australia from early September for the first time in almost 15 years. She’ll be in the country to perform alongside the likes of Haddaway, La Bouche, Black Box and Ace Of Base songstress Jenny Berggren as part of the second outing of the popular ’90s Mania’ concerts. We ask her who she’s most looking forward to sharing the stage with.
“La Bouche I toured with in ’97 and I know what happened to Melanie, unfortunately. Black Box I have no relation with. The other ones I’ve never been on tour with, but I would probably say Haddaway. I believe, if I remember rightly, our music was in the same movie. I believe the movie ‘The Night At The Roxbury’,” she recalls.
“There were these two guys behind the wheel of a car shaking their heads collectively to ‘What Is Love’ and then there’s a disco scene where there are two girls and two guys dancing to ‘This Is Your Night’. I’ve met a lot of celebrities in my time, but I’ve never met Haddaway. His career started off a little earlier than mine. But he strikes me as a really nice guy. So Haddaway, I’ll say.”
With concerts like this, punters always run the risk of only experiencing a couple of songs from the artists they buy tickets to see. But Amber assures us that she’s been told she has half an hour of stage time to fill.
“So my challenge has always been… when I go into a venue, they want to hear the hits. And the more hits you have, the more problematic it gets. So years ago, I came up with a concept whereby if I left out one song, I’d always hear two or three people bitch that I didn’t do their song.
“So what we’re going to do is put them in medleys. It’s a continuous half hour hit medley. So they all get to hear good parts of their songs and everybody’s happy.”
Amber will join Haddaway, Black Box, La Bouche and Jenny Berggren from Ace Of Base on stages across the country as part of the ’90s Mania. Catch them performing at one of the following five dates;
September 01 : Adelaide (HQ)
September 02 : Melbourne (Trak)
September 03 : Brisbane (Eatons Hill Hotel)
September 09 : Perth (Metro City)
September 10 : Sydney (Luna Park Big Top)