Amy MacDonald: A Self-Taught Scot At 20, the guitarist and songwriter from Glasgow has already sold 1 million copies of her debut album overseas. On the eve of the U.S. release of This Is the Life, MacDonald played a few songs and spoke with Scott Simon.
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Amy MacDonald: A Self-Taught Scot

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Amy MacDonald: A Self-Taught Scot

Amy MacDonald: A Self-Taught Scot

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Amy MacDonald is not so well-known in the United States, yet that may be about to change.

(Soundbite of song "Barrowland Ballroom")

Ms. AMY MACDONALD (Scottish Guitarist, Singer and Songwriter): (Singing) Oh, won't you take a ride with me through the Barrowland, our history, And I'll sing you a song or two. People they may stop and stare, But baby I just don't care, It's only me and you.

SIMON: She's a self-taught guitarist, singer, and songwriter who's been playing gigs since she was 15. She's all of 20 years old now. Her debut album, "This Is The Life," has sold more than one million copies. And among those making a purchase was a particular fan of hers, Sir Elton John. Though we're guessing he probably got one for free. Amy MacDonald has visited 10 U.S. cities to promote this album. We managed to track her down to the studios of our member station KGNU in Boulder, Colorado, for a performance chat. Ms. MacDonald, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. MACDONALD: No problem. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How do you teach yourself to play the guitar?

Ms. MACDONALD: You just have to have a song that you're desperate to play along to. And for me it was "Turn" by the Scottish band Travis. I went to see them headline the Scottish T in the Park festival. So after that festival, I went home and taught myself all of the Travis back catalogue with an old guitar and a little chord book.

SIMON: I find your accent utterly charming, but I'm understanding only every three or four words. So you got a - you got a chord book, right? You saw this Scottish group and you went home, you got an old guitar and a chord book. You're there with your guitar, there in Boulder. Could we get you to play the title track, "This Is the Life"?

Ms. MACDONALD: Yes, of course.

(Soundbite of song "This Is The Life")

Ms. MACDONALD: (Singing) Oh the wind whistles down, The cold dark street tonight. And the people they were dancing to the music vibe. And the boys chase the girls with the curls in their hair, While the shy tormented youth sit way over there. And the songs they get louder, Each one better than before.

And you're singing the songs, Thinking this is the life, And you wake up in the morning and your head feels twice the size. Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna sleep tonight?

And you're singing the songs, Thinking this is the life, And you wake up in the morning and your head feels twice the size. Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna sleep tonight? Where you gonna sleep tonight?

So when you're heading down the road in your taxi for four, And you're waiting outside Jimmy's front door, But nobody's in and nobody's home 'til four. So when you're sitting there with nothing to do, Talking about Robert Riger and his motley crew, And where you're gonna go and where you're gonna sleep tonight.

And you're singing the songs, Thinking this is the life, And you wake up in the morning and your head feels twice the size. Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna sleep tonight?

And you're singing the songs, Thinking this is the life, And you wake up in the morning and your head feels twice the size. Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna sleep tonight? Where you gonna sleep tonight?

SIMON: Ms. MacDonald, thanks so much. That was terrific.

Ms. MACDONALD: No problem. Thank you.

SIMON: This seems to be - and a good little evidence would suggest - a very good time for a female artist from the UK. Amy Winehouse - though maybe she's not having such a great time at the moment - Dale(ph) and Duffy, KT Tunstall. You, however, seem to be a little more calculatedly Scottish.

Ms. MACDONALD: I've lived in Scotland all my life. I'm extremely patriotic, and I love the fact that I'm from Scotland. So I think that that probably comes across a lot more than it does with other artists.

SIMON: You're awfully busy at the moment.

Ms. MACDONALD: Yeah, I mean, I've been playing gigs since I was 15. And for the past two years I've had to basically travel the world without having anybody there, basically. So you do grow up a lot quicker, and you become a lot more independent.

SIMON: Are your parents along with you?

Ms. MACDONALD: No, not at all. My parents have got to work unfortunately. So luckily for me, I have my band with me who are some of my closest friends in the world.

SIMON: There's a song on your album about love, loss, giving your all for love, heartbreak, called "Run." Could we hear that?

Ms. MACDONALD: Yes. Of course you can.

(Soundbite of song "Run")

Ms. MACDONALD: (Singing) Will you tell me when the lights are fading? 'Cause I can't see, I can't see no more

Will you tell me when the song stops playing? 'Cause I can't hear, I can't hear no more.

She said, I don't know what you're living for. She said, I don't know what you're living for at all.

He said, I don't know what you're living for. He said, I don't know what you're living for at all.

But I will run until my feet no longer run no more. And I will kiss until my lips no longer feel no more. And I will laugh until my heart it aches. And I will love until my heart it breaks. And I will love until there's nothing more to live for.

He said, I don't know what you did it for. He said, I don't know what you did it for at all.

But I will run until my feet no longer run no more. And I will kiss until my lips no longer feel no more. And I will laugh until my heart it aches. And I will love until my heart it breaks. And I will live until there's nothing more to live for.

And I will laugh until my heart it aches. And I will love until my heart it breaks. And I will live until there's nothing more to live for.

SIMON: Boy, that's nice, Ms. MacDonald.

Ms. MACDONALD: Thank you.

SIMON: When did you realize your voice could reach people?

Ms. MACDONALD: I don't think I've realized yet, to be honest. So I feel quite honored that I'm able to sing and write songs.

SIMON: Do you like the United States?

Ms. MACDONALD: I absolutely love it over here. It's so much more exciting. I mean, I've been on loads of promotional trips in so many other countries, and most of the time you just want to go home. But I absolutely love New York. Every time I go there, I still get excited. When you come over the bridge and you're coming towards Manhattan, I still get goose bumps every time.

SIMON: We're going to have you play us out with "Mr. Rock and Roll." What can you tell us about the song?

Ms. MACDONALD: Well, it's a song I wrote after thinking about my time at school. And I remember that so many people were striving to be in a group of certain people, or they wanted to be friends with the ones that were classed as popular. So it's essentially a song about not feeling that you have to fit in with anybody.

SIMON: Before we hear it, thanks so much.

Ms. MACDONALD: No problem. Thank you.

SIMON: It's been wonderful talking to you.

Ms. MACDONALD: Thank you.

SIMON: Amy MacDonald from member station KGNU in Boulder, Colorado. She's going to play us out with a song now. And you can hear more of her performance on our Web site, npr.org/music. Her debut album will be available in the United States on August 19. Ms. MacDonald, let's listen.

(Soundbite of song "Mr Rock N Roll")

Ms. MACDONALD: (Singing) So called Mr. Rock And Roll, Is dancing on his own again, Talking on his phone again, To someone who tells him that his balance is low. He's got no where to go. He's on his own again.

Rock chick of the century, Is acting like she used to be, Dancing like there's no one there, Before she ever seemed to care. Now she wouldn't dare. It's so rock and roll to be alone.

And they'll meet one day, Far away, And say, I wish I was something more. And they'll meet one day, Far away, And say, I wish I knew you, I wish I knew you before.

He'll say, I wish I knew you, I wish I met you, When time was still on my side. She'll say, I wish I knew you, I wish I loved you, Before I was his bride.

And so they must depart, Too many more are broken hearts. But I've seen that all before, In TV, books and film and more. And there's a happy ending, Every single day.

And they'll meet one day, Far away, And say, I wish I was something more. And they'll meet one day, Far away, And say, I wish I knew you, I wish I knew you before.

SIMON: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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