• Amy Macdonald.

    Amy Macdonald on Inspiration.

    The Moment of inspiration is impossible to describe, says the Scottish singer. There’s no such thing as creativity on demand.

    Protocol: Nadine Wenzlick | Illustration: Jörn Kaspuhl

How does inspiration feel?

It’s as if someone flips on a light switch. All at once that little bulb above my head comes on and I get this overwhelming urge to reach for my guitar. It can happen anytime, anywhere. Not so long ago I was playing a concert in Colmar, France. The show was near-perfect, and the atmosphere in the audience was brilliant. At that moment I suddenly felt totally happy and deeply inspired by everything and everyone around me. The Ancient Greeks believed inspiration came from the muses or the gods. And according to Christianity it is a gift from the Holy Spirit. In my own case I feel it’s something that comes from my subconscious. What I do know is that being a musician, and therefore always looking for inspiration, I’m a lot more observant of my environment than I otherwise would be. The world has become so fast-moving that for many people life is just one long, mad rush, with no time to sit back and think. Yet there are so many great stories if only you look more closely.

Amy Macdonald.
Amy Macdonald.

Inspiration comes from everyday things.

A lot of my inspiration comes from ordinary, everyday things – maybe something I saw on the news or that happened to my friends or family. I’ve written songs about my grandmother, or about football or the San José mine disaster. My new album is like that, too, with lots of different themes. One song is about how it feels to lose someone you love. There’s another one I wrote for my best friend who moved to New York last year and was terribly homesick. I visited her there a few times. It was amazing – New York in winter is totally different from New York on a scorching summer’s day. I enjoyed leaving Glasgow for a while and absorbing all those new impressions. But though travel can be inspiring, I’m not someone who has to travel to find inspiration.

You never know when to expect it.

The best ideas come to me when I’m walking my dog, driving around in my sports car or watching a Rangers match. Familiar themes mean people can identify more with my songs than if I wrote about distant, exotic places many of us have never been to. Also, I can be much more precise in the songs if they’re about things we can all relate to. Nothing is ever too small or unimportant for me to make a song about it. That moment of inspiration is impossible to describe. It’s as if everything suddenly starts happening of its own accord. My mind just takes off on a journey. Unfortunately you never know when to expect it. Something happens and it just triggers a feeling inside me – it may be positive or negative.

This can happen four times in one week or just once a month. And sometimes the inspiration just dries up altogether. My colleagues always say that’s one of their biggest fears. I try not to let it get to me. Good ideas take time.

Amy Macdonald.
Amy Macdonald.

No idea where I got my creativity from.

Try to control or force it and you won’t create anything worthwhile. If you don’t believe in something yourself, who else is going to do so? It’s funny – I can’t really explain where I get my creative streak from. Nobody in my family is artistic in any way. Maybe that’s why I didn’t start writing songs till I was 14. Music means a lot to me, but at times I do wonder whether this job really serves a useful purpose. I only have to think of my sister who’s a doctor and works really hard. Nobody thanks her: they just expect her to be there, helping people and saving lives. It’s crazy how celebrities get idolised, yet someone like my sister, who’s doing great and valuable work, doesn’t get any attention. Her job’s much more important than mine. I’m not clever enough to be a doctor – I only wish I was!