Unswayed by celebrity, Scottish singer keeps music first

Amy MacDonald launches US tour after her debut album hits No. 1 across Europe.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    ‘THIS IS THE LIFE’: The singer-songwriter picked up a guitar at 12 after hearing the Scottish band Travis. But it’s being at home, not life on the road, that inspires her to write, she says.
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When a pop star sells over a million copies of an album titled "This Is the Life," it conjures up images of a lifestyle a lot more glamorous than the one Amy MacDonald is leading. On this particular afternoon, the Scottish singer is en route to record her second TV performance of the day, but her van is mired in traffic "somewhere in Holland." Not even a crackly transatlantic line can filter out MacDonald's enthusiasm – or dilute a Glaswegian accent that makes one wish for a phone equipped with subtitles.

"It's all crazy, but it's all good crazy," says the young singer, whose first US single, "Mr. Rock 'n' Roll," is a hit on AAA format radio. "We can all moan and say, 'Oh, it's so hard, and it's horrible having to travel.' But it's a much better position to be than being stuck at home and twiddling my thumbs."

MacDonald's fingers won't be idle any time soon. The acoustic guitarist, renowned for singing life-affirming anthems in a Celtic dialect, is about to crisscross America to promote last month's US release of "This Is the Life," a No. 1 debut album in Europe. But the songwriter is almost gleeful about venturing to venues that are smaller than the ones she's accustomed to playing.

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"It's nice to know that you can go to Europe or back home and play lovely venues," she says, "but then you can still go and play the more intimate places."

As a teen, MacDonald honed her live repertoire at a Starbucks. She'd picked up a guitar at 12 after a concert by Scottish band Travis left her ears forever hungry for melody. Just three years later, she was writing songs such as "Youth of Today" while fantasizing about playing at Glasgow's Barrowlands Ballroom. "This Is the Life" includes a song about that particular dream, which she fulfilled last Christmas in what she describes as "the best gig we've ever done."

Much of MacDonald's album focuses on themes of making the big time or starting a band. (She rues the fact that it's her name on marquees and not those of her band mates.) But one song, titled "L.A.," cautions against comparing oneself to superstars and celebrities.

"Although most of us want to be in a blockbuster movie or be nominated for an Oscar or a Grammy or score the winning goal at the World Cup, we do still achieve things," reflects MacDonald, who was snapped up by a major record label at 18. "People do still achieve things with their life even though they may not be seen to be as impressive as that. It's a song about still valuing all your dreams and being happy when you do achieve one of your goals."

One thing MacDonald doesn't aspire to: celebrity stardom. She's always been about the music first and foremost, she insists in a no-nonsense voice. You won't see tabloid photos of her emerging from a nightclub at 3 a.m., she says, because she's not that kind of person. So much for those press comparisons to that other British singer named Amy. Or for that matter, ingénues such as Duffy and Adele that MacDonald is so often bracketed with in media coverage.

It's lazy journalism, she says, because there's no similarity music-wise.

The young troubadour's tour extends until at least the end of the year, which means she'll be stuck in a van making up playful songs with her band. Just don't ask her to write any serious music on the road. "There's nothing that inspires me right now because, although I get to travel the world, I see absolutely nothing," MacDonald says. "Right now I see hotel rooms and motorways on the way to the airport. I just need to have a normal life again ... that's when I'll get inspired to write."

For tour dates, visit www.myspace.com/amymacdonald.

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