Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse
At this moment in time, there likely isn’t a hotter, more widely accepted artist than London, England’s Amy Winehouse – especially in the city of Toronto, where the deep-voiced diva has completely sold out two performances at the Mod Club Theatre on May 12 and 13. A pop star in the UK since the release of her jazz-inflected debut album, Frank, in 2003, Winehouse has blown up full-scale with her chart-topping second effort, Back to Black. Invoking the diva soul of big-time ’60s belters like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Bettye Swann with the help of in-demand producer Mark Ronson (Lily Allen, Christina Aguilera, Robbie Williams) and some full-on sass from the Dap-Kings, Winehouse has found a niche that spans generations of fans and genres. The heavily tattooed, bouffant sporting 23-year-old, however, has run into a series of incidents that have found her repeatedly drunk in the public eye (including on stage at her shows) and an ongoing subject of tabloid journalism, but as she told Cam Lindsay over the phone in her Boston hotel bathroom she just doesn’t give a fuck.

Cam Lindsay: With Frank you seemed to be focusing on the a jazzier direction, which was very much in vogue back in 2003. And now with Back to Black you really threw that style out the door and re-established yourself as this divine ’60s throwback singer. What contributed to this change?
Amy Winehouse: The biggest difference is when I made my first album I was only listening to jazz and hip-hop, and when I made this record I was listening to 60s music. What I was listening to changed, so I’m influenced by what I’m listening to — that’s pretty much it!

What led you to work with Mark Ronson for this album? And how much responsibility does he have in shaping the music?
We’re both published by the same company, and my friend who runs EMI Publishing in the UK told me I should go work with him. I was quite reluctant to though, because I didn’t know any of his stuff and I pretty much work by myself, but I’m really glad I met Mark really.
I’m a musician, I’m not some girl with teeth and tits that’s trying to be someone. I had a clear idea of what I wanted and Mark is someone who had the guts to try and do something different.

His new album, Version, sounds as if you inspired him. What do you think?
I wouldn’t say so. I mean, me and him work really well off each other, so no, I guess it’s all just a matter of opinion I suppose.

You contributed vocals to one of the tracks, right?
I did a track called "Valerie,” which was done by an English band called the Zutons. Yeah, it was really fun working with him again; I have a lot of time for Mark, he’s like my best friend.

You hired the Dap-Kings, Sharon Jones’s band, to play on the record…
I was trying to get my record done quick; I had written the songs and I was really proud of it. I trusted Mark to do stuff with the band that he knew I’d like. They’re good boys and I’m glad I’ve really got them on board. I’m doing shows with them now and yeah, they’re my boys. Sharon’s amazing, which definitely keeps me on my toes.

Were you a fan of Sharon and the Dap-Kings when they came on board?
I had never even heard of Sharon until I started working with the boys. Her stuff’s amazing though! I’ve watched her show, and I can sing and do my thing on stage, but Sharon has the audience eating out of her hand. She’s such a talented woman.

You also worked with Ghostface Killah for a new version of "You Know I’m No Good.” That was a pretty hot collaboration. Did he come to you or did you approach him?
Again, Mark works with whoever he wants really, so it just came up like that. Mark called me up and said Ghostface wanted to do a verse, and I was obviously beside myself. He’s someone I’ve really admired for some time so it meant a lot.

[In the background a door opens.] Hello, sorry! My drummer just came in and I was all half-naked. [Laughs.] Half naked on the phone with my hair all over the place!

Do you have any other collaborations in the works?
No, but there is more I’d like to do. Jay-Z did a verse for "Rehab,” which I’m really excited about, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with it. Again, I can’t believe that such a big boy has even heard it, let alone worked on it.

Do you feel the attention surrounding the story behind "Rehab” overshadowed the song at all? Did it get to you?
Well, I don’t really give a fuck, d’ya know what I mean. I don’t really give a fuck. It was the first single, so it was bound to get attention and that’s a load of bollocks. I guess so… I’m really bad at interviews, sorry. It’s fine. It wasn’t a desperate time in my life or something, it was just a bit of a mistake on someone else’s part that was funny — so I wrote a song about it.

How do you feel about being portrayed as such a bad-ass in the media? Do you think there’s too much focus on your personal life?
I don’t really think I am. But, I don’t mind and I don’t care. I don’t notice things or read any of that stuff. All news is good news though, and I’m not really bothered. Hang on a sec, just let me put my hair up. Sorry… Songs I’ve written on my album are things that have happened to me where I’ve had to sort trouble out for myself. So it’s all in the album, there’s not much more to ask me about that stuff.

Finally, can we expect an unofficial compilation of Sweet ‘n’ Sour’s [an amateur "little white Jewish Salt ‘n’ Pepa” Winehouse formed at the age of 10] greatest hits any time soon?
[Laughs.] No… but that’s funny.

Are there even any recordings to produce such a thing?
Yeah, when we were little kids.

For those unable to find tickets for her two Toronto shows, Amy Winehouse returns to Canadian soil to play the Virgin Festival at Toronto Island Park in Toronto on Saturday, September 8 and the Osheaga Festival at Parc Jean Drapeau in Montreal the following day on Sunday, September 9.

Click here to check out the video for Amy's latest single "You Know I'm No Good."