In 2004, John Marrs interviews Amy Winehouse for a weekend magazine.
In this Huffington Post interview, John sat down with Amy in a Turkish restaurant in Camden and chatted for 45 minutes.
John talked with Amy about her training at Sylvia Young Theatre School, when music became important and who inspired her.
As well as her family, idols, rebellion, fame, image, body art, personality, celebrity, love, her Frank album and how Amy would like to be remembered.
Here’s John Marrs unpublished interview with Amy Winehouse from 2004.
Amy Winehouse Unpublished Interview From 2004 – “I Never Want To Remember Anything Bad In My Life”
In January 2004, journalist John Marrs was sent by a weekend magazine to conduct an interview with a barely-known singer by the name of Amy Winehouse.
Four months previously, she had released her album ‘Frank’ which initially only reached number 60, but word of mouth saw it rise to number 13 in January 2004, which was why John was sent to interview her.
John sat down with Amy in a Turkish restaurant in Camden and chatted for 45 minutes. John describes Amy as being “at a good place in her life – pre-drugs, healthy weight, very chatty, minimal number of tattoos.”
Amy had just started dating Blake Fielder-Civil, the man who would become her husband and share her descent into a very different lifestyle that later claimed her.
This interview was never published. John’s editor later decided it wasn’t worth running, as Amy was never going to be popular enough with the magazine’s readers.
Here is the interview in full …
You trained at Sylvia Young Theatre School from the age of 13 but you don’t strike me as being your typical stage school brat.
“When I was a little kid it was my dream to go to drama school, but it was never something I thought would happen to me. I was a Jewish girl from North London and things like that don’t happen to Jewish girls from North London called Amy Winehouse.
“I was doing drama classes and thought I’d go to normal school with my friends and it would be cool. I was half way through the year at secondary school, and I’d been on report for about six months when I told my headmaster I was gonna go to stage school. It was just me being rude and my plan had no basis. I saw those Sylvia Young stage school kids in their track suits and I was like ‘fucking bastards;’ I hated them because they were always the kids that got the jobs on auditions – well turned-out and precocious kids but some of them were very polite. For every little wanker there was a kid next to them telling them that they were a wanker.
“People think stage school is a little star factory but the truth is kids like me learned about being in a team situation and going out to work earlier than a lot of kids did. I don’t know anyone from drama school who’s now sitting on their arse doing nothing.”
Is that when music became important to you?
“Music was my ultimate ambition but I liked all of it. I wanted to discipline myself in dance and acting too and I’d done all three since I was 9-years-old. I could sing, but I didn’t become a great singer. I probably didn’t become any good until I was about 15 and I left Sylvia Young. I still wouldn’t say I’m a great singer now, but I’m a good singer. And growing up I was never like, “I wanna be a singer, I wanna be a singer.”
Who inspired you?
“My dad always had music playing around us and he was always a happy chirpy man with a beautiful voice. I was always singing around the house and I assumed that’s what all families did. It wasn’t until I went through that nasty teenage stage that I started to realise that wasn’t the case. I’ve always written poetry but I didn’t realise it was a therapy for me until I was maybe 15. That’s when my singing started to come together as well because I was listening to so much jazz. What I love I will always embrace. When I was at Sylvia Young I had a real stage school voice and I could do loud things, but it’s not about being loud, it’s about sensitivity and subtlety in music. You can do so much more with a quiet voice than with a belter.”
Who did you share a class with?
“In my history group it was me, Matt Jay (now Willis) from Busted, and Billie Piper. We were all clever and in the second from the top set but we didn’t push ourselves or we’d end up in the top group and have to work harder. It was rowdy school. I don’t like Busted’s music but Matt’s a sound, sound boy. Billie was such a pretty girl and all the boys liked her and she knew how pretty she was but none of the girls hated her for it because she was the sweetest. But she was never a musical girl. We were in a music class together and it would get to her turn to do a solo and everyone would just look at the floor.”
Growing up, who were your idols?
“I wanted to be Snoopy’s girlfriend and when I got older I wanted to be Bart Simpson’s girlfriend. Then I couldn’t decide whether I wanted marry Snoopy or Michael Jackson – because he was God to me – or to just be them. When I got older it was Salt-n-Pepa and Madonna. I wanted to be in Salt-n-Pepa so much that my friend Juliet and I started our own band, Sweet-n-Sour when we were nine. I was Sour. We had some funny songs. We had two little boys to be our little bitches who would dance for us. We wrote a song called Boys Who Needs Them? and in the middle of the song they’d come on and list girls names while we dissed them. We performed our songs at school assemblies and had a dance routine where we’d be grinding. The tiny kids in reception would be like ‘yuk, what are they doing?’ But we were too short to see if the older boys at the back could see us.”
Were you a rebellious kid?
“I wasn’t a tearaway but I definitely wouldn’t conform to anything. I was bad with authority and didn’t want to be told what to do. I’ve never been an idiot – I was a smart girl but I’d do stupid things like go around Asda and nick stuff because my friends told me to. I was a good girl as a teenager.”
Are you enjoying the fame success is bringing you?
“Yes and no. The fact I did get the Brit nomination (Amy was nominated for Best Female Solo Artist in 2004) was cool but the media thing will die down now which is good because I need to write and to be in my own headspace as much as possible. The upside is that as many people as I can possibly reach can hear my music and that’s what matters to me. I’m not trying to stay away from being a celebrity, I’m not saying, ‘I’m sooo not famous,’ I’m trying to continue being a musician in a time when everyone is very celebrity-led. I’m not Amy the star, I’m Amy the girl with the guitar.”
But you’ve admitted in the past to being fascinated by celebrities yourself. In fact didn’t you work for a showbiz news agency writing about them?
“Yeah, but when everyone is bored and frustrated with themselves and they look around to celebrity. If I go to a fucked up place in my head that’s when I start talking shit about people. I’ll (look through magazines) and go, ‘well look at her with that hair.’ When I’m happy within myself I really don’t give a shit.
“When I worked for the news agency I wrote all the showbiz stuff. Posh Spice could say one line like, ‘I like the colour brown’ and I’d write a whole story about it. I enjoyed writing about people I didn’t like because you could always knock people down. I knew that if I made someone a certain way, it would be sold to 88 countries and they would look like a prick and that was a good feeling. But if I read a story (one of my colleagues wrote) about Michael Jackson where they called him Wacko or mental or something, that really used to pissed me off. I’d go to the writer and say, ‘Michael Jackson is not fucked up. Don’t write it again.’ I’d get really upset.”
What do you think of your American contemporaries?
“Christina Aguilera has her own style too, so good on her. I don’t think anyone’s every told her to put on some leather chaps and get her noonie out. She’s an amazing singer but a lot of her music I can’t even hear, it’s the same with Britney’s music. I can’t listen to things when they are wasting Timbaland’s talent. Pink is wicked because she talks her mouth off and doesn’t give a shit.”
You have plenty of body art in common with Pink.
“She’s got many tattoos and I’m trying so hard not to get more. I’ve only got three which I got all before the age of 18 and I swore to myself I wouldn’t get another one til I was 21. My Indian feather represents strength and bravery and I have a little Betty Boo on the bottom of my back, which I got when I was 15. It was supposed to be non-permanent and it’s terrible but it’s still there. And I have a big bird on my back with an Egyptian symbol around it and the American flag inside because my mum’s from Brooklyn.”
How much say do you have on your image?
“I’ve always had my own style, I’ve always been different like that. I don’t like to wear anything that anyone else is wearing because it’s very important for me to make a statement. I just like to mix it up and wear all different stuff together. No-one has ever said to me ‘lose some weight’ it’s always me looking at bits of my body and saying ‘is this chunky?'”
Are you happy with how your debut album Frank turned out?
“I feel like the Frank album is like an EP and the second album will have a lot of volume to it. There will be a lot of songs on it because they didn’t let me put that much on Frank as it was my first release. They were very right to do that; to give everyone a taste and not too much all at once. In some ways I want to take Frank back from everyone’s houses and keep working on it for five more years until its perfect then give it back.”
It’s a very personal album – does that make it harder to perform those songs in front of an audience?
“Yeah and that’s why I’ve never heard ‘Frank’ from start to finish. Never. There are certain songs I cannot hear because they are so personal that it hurts me to listen. I re-recorded stuff like ‘Take The Box’ so many times but they (the producers) still liked the initial versions because I sounded so fresh and young in them. You can hear a real difference in the early songs in my voice than the later songs and they wanted it to sound like it did when those feelings were raw. They said, ‘You have to understand Amy you might sing it better now but to us you really meant that then.’ But I always try to write a song to work things out with myself and I want to do it with a little punchline at the end, because I never want to remember anything bad in my life. A song marks an occasion in my life and that’s how I live my life, by songs. I know definitive points in my life and in relationships because of my songs. I write my music so that I’ll never be bored of it.”
Your lyrics can be quite angry, are they reflective of your personality as a whole?
“I try not to get angry about anything because once you start hating one aspect of your life, you look around and think everything is fucked up. It’s much more beneficial if you only take goodness out of everything.”
You don’t seem afraid to be speak your mind. You come across as very honest.
“Honest or just stupid?”
Honest, and you don’t seem to suffer fools gladly.
“No, I’ll suffer a fool, again and again and again. I really don’t mind unless that fool is going to hurt someone in my circle. There are a lot of stupid people – I’m a stupid person – but I have a good heart and that’s what counts. If someone is a knob and they’re rude, I’ll tell them they are a dick.”
What makes you happy?
“A pool table, because I love pool and if I could invent an eighth day of the week, the morning would be spent playing the guitar and the night I’d be a pool shark.”
If you hadn’t made it by now, would you have gone down the reality TV route?
“No, I’d have been doing gigs right now probably. I never went round to loads of managers saying ‘this is what I have, this is my product and I’m going to be famous so you’d better sign me up.’ They came to me. I was like, ‘I don’t trust you, I don’t trust you,’ for a long time. I told them if they were honest and telling me that I can 100% make the album I want to make then I will sign their contract. It was only a year and a half after working with them that I started believing them.”
You were nominated for a Brit but lost out to Dido. Were you disappointed?
“I wasn’t at all disappointed because it’s not an award that says you are the best in this field, and even if it was I don’t know if I’d be that bothered. I knew Dido would get that award.”
Have you met any of your current idols?
“I was performing at a private party for Missy Elliot and Timbaland last night and their table was right in front of me. They were bopping along to my songs and I told them from the stage I couldn’t look down at them because the two of them were my idols. I met them afterwards and put my arm around Timbaland … I didn’t want to be that sad bitch but I was. He said, ‘Hey I want to work with you’ and I’d have cut my left arm off to work with him if I didn’t need it to play the guitar. I told Missy I couldn’t believe how much she has done as a woman in a male-led arena and that she’s an inspiration to me. When I got into the lift back to my room to get changed and go home, I broke down in tears.”
Have you met anyone you weren’t so keen on?
“Brian McFadden came up to me at a bar one night and said, ‘You’re Amy Winehouse’ and I said, ‘You’re Brian McChip Shop’. He said he wanted me to come and write something in his studio but I said no, I can write by myself thanks. His mate Shane Filan was a really sweet boy though.”
Is there a man in your life, and are you hard work to take on?
“Yeah, there’s a guy in my life (Amy was in an on-off relationship with Blake Civil-Fielder). I wouldn’t have time for anyone I think would fuck me around. I wouldn’t be with a man who was scared of me, but I don’t think men are scared of me – look at me, I’m tiny. I don’t think I’m capable of putting anyone off. I’m a nice girl.”
What kind of personality attracts you?
“It’s important for me to be with a musician or someone who has a creative mind. I like honesty, I mean sometimes it’s cool to play games, its cute … but some men I have liked have been too cool and ‘yeah, you come to me’; that in the end I stopped caring. I can’t be arsed with game players. I’m more ‘I like you, do you like me? Let’s go and do something about it.’ I’m a very straightforward person like that. I like stylish men although I’m someone who sees a man who’s not dressed right and think what I could do with him to make him cute. I’m a typical Jewish woman like that.”
Does domesticity appeal to you? Being a wife, having a family etc?
“Oh I do see myself settling down, getting married and having kids. But when I think about a family life in the future there’s rarely a man involved which is kind of weird. I think I’d be a good mum, well, I hope so. I hope I wont be a shit mum. When I have kids I want to have loads of them, at least five. I’ll always work from home and have a studio in my house. I imagine I’m recording downstairs in my basement and the kids come down looking for their mummy then they’ll pretend to sing into the microphone and it’ll be cute.”
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
“Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby. I’ll have out my second album and a couple of concept EPs, and my real honest music will be saved up for the big albums.”
How would Amy Winehouse like to be remembered?
“I’d like to be remembered as someone who wasn’t satisfied with just one level of musicianship … as someone who was a pioneer. I’ve got all this time to make that happen, that’s what’s so exciting. I’ve got years to do music.”
Amy Winehouse went on to sell four million records – nearly half since her death – including classic albums ‘Frank‘ and ‘Back to Black.’ Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning on 23 July 2011. Her album ‘Back to Black’ posthumously became for a while the UK’s best-selling album of the 21st century.