When she's not writing songs with her pal Kehlani or collaborating with folks like Ryan Hemsworth and Pell, New Orleans singer-songwriter Ambré is making movies in her head. She builds characters and narratives in the songs she records under her own name, but it all starts with emotion. One of the biggest is love: whispering about it in the moonlight, hiding from it in school bathroom stalls, cruising with it in a nighttime car ride. She makes love its own character in her own coming-of-age story.
Her debut album, Pulp, released in November 2019, undulates with gorgeous, languid R&B that she turns urgent with her lyrics. "Can I practice on you? Can you practice on me, too?" she asks on "Band Practice," admitting, "Girl, you give me the blues." At the end of "Free Drugs," she ties the object of her affection directly to the visuals she loves. "I put the moves on you like you was a GIF," she sings. "Motion picture when I'm with ya."
"I really wanted to create my own world that feels that you could feel the emotions of this world, but [that] sonically, when I close my eyes, it takes me somewhere else," Ambré told MTV News. Translating those visions to actual music videos and mini-movies is, of course, a whole lot of fun. She's gotten to hang off motorcycles, in "Fubu," and let panoramic vistas play out across her face, in "Color Blind." For "Slip," her latest single, she's both lying in the grass, having a smoke, and fencing in golden sunshine.
Perhaps common for a collaborative songwriter, Ambré's videos are intended to capture an overall mood as hazy, humid portraits of everyday life, rather than vehicles to place herself in the spotlight. When she's working on music with, say, Kehlani, she said she's "just a tool" in the larger creative process. "I kind of blend in and be a chameleon with that and take a backseat, but still assist," she said. It's the same with her Grammy-winning work on H.E.R.'s 2017 debut — she has the Recording Academy's award plaque in her home, but if you didn't know it was there, you might miss it.
"I have it hung up in my stairway. When you walk in my house, it's on the wall there. But it's not noticeable, really, which... I think that's cool," she said. "I like that."
Ambré isn't interested in blockbusters yet, but her scope has gotten bigger. Today (July 31), her debut album gets a reissue, fittingly titled Pulp (Director's Cut), with her firmly in the director's chair. Armed with five additional songs that "complete the picture of the story," Ambré spoke to MTV News about how bringing her visions to life, what she's been watching lately, and why Kehlani is "fam."
MTV News: A lot of film influence shines through in your work, as the title of this new Pulp (Director's Cut) reveals. What have you been watching recently? Any new films or anything that you've been exploring?
Ambré: I haven't been watching that many movies, but I've been into [TV] series. But a movie that I saw recently was this blaxploitation film on Amazon. I can't remember the name of it, though, but it was super fire. I think it was called Uptight. I've been watching Insecure on Amazon. I started watching I May Destroy You. Westworld is super good, too. I finished that some weeks ago.
MTV News: Were you always into film and music when you were a kid? Were those kind of your go-to outlets for creativity?
Ambré: Definitely. I used to make little movies on my phone of my brothers and cousins. I used to make them act out my little stories and try to make my own little movies. I used to be in a film club in high school, and anime club. I was a little nerd, but it's OK. It's always been a big part of my creativity, and something that inspires me to be creative.
MTV News: I saw you tweeted not that long ago that you thought that we're all living in The Truman Show right now, and I was curious why you thought that.
Ambré: That's one of my favorite movies. But the reason why I tweeted that was because — I don't know, I just had a moment where I was [like], "Wow, this is like some TV shit." Everything that's going on in the world right now feels unreal, feels like somebody planned this. Just going out in the world, it feels like everybody's a robot or something, or actors.
MTV News: There's definitely a case to be made because of the increasing number of cameras in the world. Not only security cameras, or street surveillance set up by police, but we are all literally carry around cameras with us at all times on our phones.
Ambré: For sure. And we willingly show our lives. So that part, too.
MTV News: Considering Pulp (Director's Cut), I would imagine that makes you the director, conceptually. What new stuff does the director's cut hold?
Ambré: Well, sonically, there are some things that were there originally that I ended up having to cut to fit for my first deal. But conceptually, I feel like these songs just kind of paint a fuller picture of what I had already released. There are a few songs with a little bit more bounce and that kind of gives the other songs that balance. I think it just completes the picture of the story that I was trying to tell, and it takes you through the rest of the journey in a different way.
MTV News: As we talked about, you're a pretty visual person. When you were making Pulp, what were you inspired by? What were you thinking about?
Ambré: During that time, I was obviously watching Pulp Fiction a lot, so I think, subconsciously, that word just kind of stuck in my head. But I was watching a lot of coming-of-age movies. One of the movies that definitely inspired me was Dazed and Confused, which is a movie from the '90s, but it's about the '70s. And I kind of copy a scene of that on one of my single covers where they're lying on the car, and I was just lying on the ground, or whatever. Just a lot of coming-of-age movies, and just the idea of being young and confused and just kind of on a journey of discovery about yourself, about the world. The Truman Show was also one of those because it has that kind of element, just trying to figure out the world that you have to live in and what that means.
I think the common theme in those films is people are at a young age and they feel like that. But with my project, I wanted to have that energy, but also I feel like we never really lose that. We're always learning. We're always trying to figure things out, and I think that's what life is about. [In the music,] I relate to these emotions, but it takes me somewhere else.
MTV News: So, say you kind of have an idea you want to explore. Is melody the first thing that you start playing with for a song?
Ambré: Yes, usually it's the melody first. Sometimes, I'll know what I want to talk about, which is rare. But usually I start with the melody, and then sometimes the words just come out afterward. I don't really have control over that when it does that. It's just a channel.
MTV News: Pulp came out last fall. Does what you're trying to do next feel a little bit different than that, or does it feel like it's kind of along that same trajectory?
Ambré: I'm in a space where I'm still figuring out where I want to go next, but in my heart of hearts, I feel like I'm kind of moving away from the vibe of Pulp. Obviously, I'm still me, but the things that I've been creating lately have been a little bit darker than Pulp and a little bit grittier.
MTV News: You and Kehlani have obviously been tight for years now. When you're working on something together, I'd imagine that's a lot of fun, but does it also feel like you're deepening your connection?
Ambré: Oh, definitely. I mean, regardless if we make music or not, that's just fam. When we're in the studio, it's good times. We enjoy the same type of music. We're hanging out, we're listening to our favorite music, and we're connecting in that way, so when we're in the studio, we're [like], "Oh, this is cool. I liked this," or, "Oh, this is cool. I like this." It's really just we're enjoying the art of music, and then we end up making some stuff.
MTV News: You co-wrote "Water" with her, and you've also worked on some other high-profile R&B and R&B-pop releases. What's it been like to see the reception of those records?
Ambré: Man, I'm just happy to be a part of things that people enjoy that much. I've definitely been seeing people that — "Do you know, this is one of my favorite songs of the project?" — for both songs, and I'm [like], "Wow." I'm just humbled to even be a part of those things. Both artists are, I feel, so talented and they could do it by themselves. So the fact that they allowed me to be in their space and a part of that is really special, and the reception makes it 10 times better.
MTV News: Obviously 2020 has been challenging for a lot of reasons. But what are you feeling optimistic about right now?
Ambré: I'm feeling optimistic about new music. I'm excited. I feel like people probably have been holding onto music for a while, because everything is so up in the air right now. And I think that there's going to be a surge of music drops, which I'm very excited for. I'm just excited to hear what everybody's been up to for these past few months.