Amber in Elephant & Castle, 2019. Taken by Luthiem Escalona
Amber is the lead singer in the indie rock band Foundlings, and she also works as a nurse in the NHS. Amber is from South London and lives there with her boyfriend Oliver and her cat Amelie.
We met through a common friend, Tom. Foundlings was looking for a photographer to take band photos of them. Tom, our friend, put us in contact with each other and we’ve been friends and worked together across multiple projects ever since ︎
Were you always interested in music?
From a young age, I was always really interested in performing and used to put on shows for my mum in the living room. I think I was aged around 13/14 when I got more interested in music and making my own music.
I enjoyed singing and knew I wanted to be involved in music in some way but I didn’t seek out to front a band. I've spoken to other lead singers and they are often people that never really wanted to be the centre of attention. It just ends up that way.
︎Do you still find that challenging now, being the front person in a band?
I think the front people in some of the biggest bands tend to always be quite troubled and insecure. There's definitely a weird juxtaposition there, not wanting to be the center of attention, but also feeling like you've got something to say that you want to share. It's a weird balance.
I guess it can be a struggle sometimes, having all these eyes looking back at you, but I do really enjoy the connection to an audience and performing. Also working with people that you trust and feel comfortable around such as yourself for photos/videos really helps!
Foundlings taken by Luthiem Escalona and Silje Bergum.
Elephant and Castle, 2019.
︎ Did you study music?
I did a foundation in music in Brighton. I stayed in Brighton for just over a year, then I moved back to London where I went to Goldsmiths University to study popular music, which I really liked. I was in a band there with Olly, the drummer of Foundlings.. He was studying English and we formed a band but when that band finished we went on to form Foundlings.
︎ How did you decide you wanted to be a nurse?
I know, it sounds quite random, because music and nursing aren’t very connected. I think when I finished school, I did think about nursing. My mum worked in social work and teaching so I’d been brought up to always consider others and I wanted to have a job where I helped people.. I feel like the school system in this country is not great because you're made to choose what you want to do for the rest of your life when you're like 15?! Obviously, you change so much in those years and the things that I was best at were the more creative subjects so I chose them.
When I was studying music, I didn't always feel that inspired. I'd find it a bit overwhelming when you're around so many other people doing exactly the same thing and it gets weirdly competitive. Even though I think I'm someone that tries not to let that affect me, you can't help but get sucked in by it sometimes.
I used to find myself when I was studying music not really creating a lot because I had all this time to create. I didn't feel that inspired because I felt that all I had to write songs about was just students, house parties and pubs. I didn't feel that I was fired up by anything. Definitely now, in my life, I have much more that inspires me and I feel that my job is quite politically involved. Whilst I was studying music, I started volunteering for a charity that helps older and vulnerable adults and I got a lot of enjoyment out of that. I started doing choirs for older adults and I really enjoyed using my music skills to help them. That's when I started considering nursing because I wanted to do something that was more connected to people and giving something back to society.
Foundlings live at The Finsbury, 2018. Taken by Luthiem Escalona.
I know exactly what you mean about the competitive energy at uni, I found that sometimes tutors would make it even worse, comparing students a lot of the time. Did you find that as well?
In any sort of subject like art or music, it's so subjective. I personally feel that you can’t help but to have a gravitation towards something. I used to compare myself to other people, whereas now I don't have that kind of competition with the people. I definitely thrive more in an environment where I'm not around everyone else doing the same thing.
︎ That’s great that you’ve found a way for music and nursing to fuel each other! Which one would you say it’s your first choice?
Music is definitely my main passion.
I think it’s very difficult in the arts, even if you work really hard at it and do all the right things, sadly nothing is guaranteed and a lot of things come down to luck. In your early 20s, when you're at uni, you don’t have much responsibility and you've got this student loan so you’re more carefree, well I was! However, it got to a point once I’d graduated I was finding it very difficult to be a freelance musician whilst living in London. I ended up doing a lot of 0 hour contract jobs and scrabbling around here and there. I really wanted to continue living in London and figured if I could find a job that I was interested in, with an ok salary, that I could still do my music and not have all the stress of just trying to survive on a daily basis. As I’ve got older I’ve learnt more to compromise. Of course I’d love to do music full time.
Foundlings, Elephant and Castle, 2018. Taken by Luthiem Escalona.
What’s it like being a nurse and a lead singer in a band?
I’d say that I keep the two quite separate. Not intentionally, more for the fact that they appeal to different parts of my personality and they require different skills.
It's really important to have balance. If I didn't have some creative outlet, I wouldn't be able to do my job as a nurse. Nursing can be stressful but it gives me a lot of inspiration for songwriting and themes, you meet so many people from all walks of life, who put their trust in you and tell you things they may have not even told their own family. It’s humbling and a privilege.
Normally, I go to work and then we rehearse every Monday in the evening after work. I'll work through the week and then we might have a gig on the weekends. Behind the scenes, me and Olly tend to do most of the band’s social media. I don't really have a particular schedule for that, I just try to fit it in, as I'm sure you know, you just have to do it.
What do you like the most about what you do?
I love creating with people. With the band, the music comes from somewhere quite vulnerable but you will bring your own thing to it. For example, Olly might come up with a chorus or something and then I might write the verses, or vice versa, Matthew will often will send a guitar track he's been working on and we'll write lyrics over the top and then Ben adds the bass. I think that's quite special, the way everyone creates their own thing as a collective.
I also love just being able to tour with my best friends, playing our songs around the country. As a nurse, I enjoy being able to help people and hopefully make a difference.
Do you get inspiration while you’re at work?
Yeah. I have a notebook and will write lyrics in there as they come to me. Sometimes I've gone to the toilets to record a melody on my phone that’s in my head and just hope that no one's else is in there!
Foundlings, Brighton, 2018. Taken by Luthiem Escalona.
Is there anything that you do just for the feeling instead of the results?
Definitely music. We create music because we feel the need to get something outside of us and document that in some way, on paper or guitar. I do music as I feel a need, but all the kind of stuff that you then have to do on top of it, like the social media, putting it on at the right time, and does it have the right filter? It’s a lot sometimes!
No one really ever talks about how much self admin you have to do and no one really ever teaches you that. When I studied music we never really got taught about publishing or marketing, which are really important. It was much more about the creative aspect, which of course is the core thing, but you also need other stuff if you want to promote that. A lot of time it's just trial and error.
︎ How do you feel as a woman in the music industry?
At the moment, there's emphasis on womxn in music having a good experience and not being taken advantage of. However, there's still loads of work that needs to be done.. I definitely feel like we're in the movement and progress really is being made especially with some festival lineups. There are events we've been involved in recently, like The Bechdel Sound Test, which had an all womxn lineup, that was great.
I'm quite assertive, if I feel people are speaking to me in a certain way, I've questioned them. I don't think “they're talking to me like this because I'm a woman”, I would think “they're talking to me like this because they're a dick”.
I think my job as a nurse has really helped me to be more assertive, it’s a job where communication is so important. You constantly have to advocate for those that are vulnerable or can’t use their voice and that’s been really useful in music situations, if I feel myself, or anyone else, is being treated badly and to speak up.
Extracts of the music video Enemy by Foundlings,
edited by Luthiem Escalona, 2019.
How is it to be in a band with three other guys?
I don't ever really feel like “oh, I'm a woman with these guys around me”, it doesn't really enter my mind like that.
They can get quite silly when they're all together, Matt and Olly are like brothers and they wind each other up. Ben is quite new, he's super chilled and lovely.
edited by Luthiem Escalona, 2019.
Are there any women that you look up to?
My mum would definitely be at the top. I think because she brought me up on her own I was never really aware of stereotypical gender roles. She played both parent roles for me.
In terms of musicians, I really love Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, I think she's amazing and done a lot for women in music, I loved her book Girl In A Band. I also love Stevie Nicks in Fleetwood Mac and Debbie Harry. They're the women that, when I was growing up, I used to listen to and think they were so cool. I loved Amy Winehouse as well. At that point in music, I felt that there were no women that were edgy like she was. Other female musicians were very polished and I loved that she was just real.
I also loved the Spice Girls growing up, like most girls in the 90s. I also listened to a lot of female R&B/rap in my teens like Lauryn Hill, Destiny’s Child and TLC. They inspired me in music even though the music I make now is very different.
Is there anything specific that you struggle with or would like to improve on?
I think it's really hard not to compare yourself to other people, especially with social media. In terms of doing anything creative, you're always going to compare it to someone similar to you or someone that's doing something you want to be doing, it's just human nature, but sometimes I wish I didn't do it.
How do you find dealing with money? Especially in the music industry?
I'm quite awkward with money still. I attended a talk recently for women in music and they asked us to rate our awkwardness for the following things and one of them was money – and that was the thing I found the most awkward.
I think it's about valuing yourself ultimately. We used to play gigs for free when we first started and then it gets to a point where you realise you are spending more money on playing a gig than making it.
It is hard, but sometimes you have to weigh it up. If the person putting you on a gig is doing it because it's more of a passion and they're not making any money out of it themselves, then it's fair enough to not pay very much, but if it's someone that's actually making a profit, sometimes you have to say no.
In a band, it's really helpful if you have merchandise: t-shirts and CDs. They are really important and people want to buy those things because they want a bit of something you've made to keep. That can really help you financially. I don't find that hard to put a price on but with a gig it’s more complicated. People think it's just the gig, but it's not just the gig. It's the traveling there, the rehearsing, the writing of the songs – there's a whole sort of process leading up to it.
Son “I Love You All” song cover by Foundlings..
Artwork by Luthiem Escalona
Artwork by Luthiem Escalona
︎ What do you dream of?
I'd love to be able to do music all day every day, but then so do millions of other people. It's very competitive. My dream would be to be a musician and that'd be my sole job and income. But even if I did that, I’d probably still do something on the side that was helping people or I'd set up some sort of charity.
Olly and Amber, Brighton, 2018. Taken by Luthiem Escalona.
︎ Is there anything that you would tell your younger self?
Not to worry so much about what other people think. As you get older you definitely do that a lot less.
I also used to be quite suspicious of people if they were trying to help or get involved in what I was doing. Now I'm a lot more open to collaborating with people, I think it's really healthy to do that now. I would tell myself to collaborate and trust more.
︎ What would you like to know from other creative womxn?
Just other ideas of how to balance it with working full time I guess. I enjoy being in a band so much but it isn’t without its own stresses. It is like running your own business, with all the social media, admin, booking gigs and replying to emails. I don't have much time after I've done both my day job and music to have much down time.
I'd like to know from other creatives what they do and how they create that time. I try to practice self care and I’d tell any of my friends to look after themselves, but I'm quite bad at doing it to myself. Even though I know exactly what I need to do, actually implementing it’s hard.
Extract of music video of Unknown Places by Foundlings.
Edited by Luthiem Escalona, 2020.
This interview was done under the Covid-19 pandemic, here are some questions related to that:
︎ As of today, 19th of April, we are under lockdown and it’s affecting us all differently. How have you felt during these five weeks?
It saddens me greatly, obviously. The constant reminder of lives lost, people losing their jobs and livelihoods. I’m very concerned for the impact on people’s mental health that this will cause. Those who are vulnerable will suffer even more than they do already and that breaks my heart. I worry about the arts, the independent businesses that won’t survive this, the music venues that are on the brink of closure, the list is endless.
On a personal level, I am quite an introvert so I thought I’d be so well equipped for this. I feel like my life hasn’t changed drastically as I’m still working. I’m really missing playing live music, seeing live music, touring, rehearsing and seeing Matthew & Ben.
When I have time off I’m definitely enjoying the slower pace of life. I always used to plan things to do on my days off, like a weekend away or meeting up with friends, but it’s quite nice to be at home and have time to read and make music. The weather has been pretty much amazing throughout lockdown which I think has made such a difference, this whole thing would’ve been more depressing if the weather matched the mood. In the same breath, looking out at the sunshine through the window now makes me yearn for a bit of freedom!
︎ How has work as a nurse changed for you?
My normal job has totally adapted to how we are working. Normally we'd see patients have all kinds of health concerns but now we have to screen people for Coronavirus. It seems like all the other health problems just disappeared, which of course they haven’t. I feel proud to be part of the NHS and have a lot of admiration for my colleagues.
︎ Since we're home more than usual, there's not as many distractions around us. This forces us to face struggles or emotions we would normally avoid. For example, I’ve been dealing with a lot of self image and exercise. Is there anything similar that you feel has come up during this time?
As humans we put so much pressure on ourselves. When this all started, people felt pressure to achieve a lot, the world seemed to be using isolation to learn a language, build pizza ovens in their back gardens whilst meditating upside down. It’s important to realise that this is a really unusual and stressful situation and even if you don't achieve anything or do any exercise, that’s ok. Right now we need to be kind to ourselves.
︎ Do you think there's anything we can learn from this whole situation?
I think especially when you live in London, you're programmed to rush all the time and do a million things at once. It’s been nice not having to keep on top of things. I'd like to keep that and learn to slow down.
Foundlings, Brighton, 2018. Taken by Luthiem Escalona