Eighteen months ago, Australian pop singer Amy Shark was just another artist making ends meet by playing cover songs in local bars.
It was a tough period for the 32-year-old artist; not only is the music scene Down Under relatively small in comparison to the United Kingdom and the United States, but the fact that Shark was conducting her affairs from a small beach-side town in Australia's east coast made it virtually impossible for her songs to reach the ears of those who matter.
But pop music history has often proved that quality songs find a way to seep through to the public consciousness. And since her independently recorded single, the bruising electro-ballad Adore, was picked up by influential Australian youth radio station Triple J, Shark's phone hasn't stopped ringing.
The track not only introduced us to a supremely talented young singer-songwriter, but within a week of the song’s radio debut, she was on a plane to New York for meetings with major record label executives and eventually signed a deal with Sony Music.
Speaking to The National last week, Shark was in the midst of celebrating her debut album Love Monster topping the charts at home and in New Zealand.
“Everything has been moving so quickly, and I am trying to find the time to soak it all in,” she explained. “I have been really busy with touring and working on the album, but this moment is not lost on me. This is not something that can happen to anyone.”
While her transition to pop-stardom – which included a much coveted spot performing on the television talk show The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in March – has been sudden, it comes on the back of years of struggle, during which she admits to playing "soul crushing" gigs to almost empty bars.
What kept her going, she explains, was not so much a burning self-belief but a lack of plan B.
That quiet desperation comes through the songs on Love Monster. The 14 tracks are mostly mid- to slow-tempo, with hooks that prefer to creep up on you as opposed to smacking you over the head through repetition.
The best feature of the collection, however, is Shark’s lyricism which eschews grand statements for something simpler and affecting. There are no schmaltzy declarations of love here.
Shark is interested in the finer details of life instead, such as the simple pleasures of "my head's getting heavy, pressed against your arm" in Adore or how heart break is not a big bang but often a corrosive process as detailed in the throbbing pop number All My Life: "And I know that you still love me too. Just a little bit less than you used to."
The songstress says her lyrical lens is shaped by growing up away from the hustle and bustle of the city. “I was in a pretty cruisy and laidback beach town. Everything there was pretty relaxed and because of that you can zone in on the little things as nothing really crazy happens where I am from,” she says.
“There are also so many things to celebrate in life or with whoever you are with, like a partner or friend. So many little things bypass us in life every second, and I kind of made it my job to bring out those moments.”
That same minimalist approach is also applied to the sounds Shark plays with in the album, such as subdued keyboards, the use of loops and hazy dreamlike production.
It immediately speaks to the aesthetics of New Zealand pop-star Lorde's debut album Pure Heroine and is probably what caused record labels to scurry for her services.
Shark's style also caught the ear of Jack Antonoff, one of the pop world's biggest producers who was recently behind albums by Taylor Swift (Reputation) and Lorde's critically acclaimed Melodrama.
Their collaboration on the triumphant synth-pop of All Loved Up is probably the most anthemic moment of Love Monster.
"He really makes you step out of your comfort zone," the Aussie singer tells us. "Before we worked together, I had never really sang in falsetto. The idea used to give me nightmares, but he could hear me do it, and how beautiful and dreamy it would all sound."
With Shark’s stature growing rapidly in the music industry, a move away from the relaxed beachy surrounds of home to a major international city could be on the cards.
“I wouldn’t say no to it,” she says. “It is not something that I really need to do right now, but when the chance comes, I definitely wouldn’t shut down that idea.”