At the Aotearoa Music Awards on Thursday 30 May history was made. For the first time, all three finalists in the Best Electronic category were female-identifying, and Amamelia became the first trans artist to win the award. The humble musician discusses her journey, transition and success with YOUR ex.

All finalists in this year’s Best Electronic category at the Aotearoa Music Awards were non-male. What does that mean to you personally?

I’m really proud to be nominated, it’s such tough competition. Women have been doing incredible work in electronic music for a long time, but it’s just hard to get your foot in the door at that top level. The awards have felt like a bit of a closed shop for a long time, so it’s great to see them opening up more to the other stuff that’s going on in NZ music.


Your nomination was in recognition of your album Bananamelia – what can our readers expect from that record?

Describing your own music is so hard! It always sounds different to you than to anybody else, and you care about different bits that nobody else does. Bananamelia is an exploration of a bunch of sounds from the 90s that have this deep emotional pull for me – bringing together jungle breaks with big loungey chord progressions and playful synth melodies. It’s summery, nostalgic electronica.

How will you be celebrating your win?

I’ll just cry and cry and maybe buy myself a new synthesizer!

How have you found the experience of being a trans woman in the NZ music industry?

There’s a level where any kind of difference is difficult because there aren’t a lot of us, so it can be isolating. And when you do succeed, there are people who will think it’s tokenism. However, I’ve made a lot of incredible friends. With music, you get to communicate with people on this deep emotional level where you make connections you can’t make anywhere else. One thing I’ve learnt from being trans anywhere is that you have to celebrate the things that make life worth living and tell everyone else to eat it.

What is your advice for queer Kiwi musicians hoping to be signed?

Think about what you want to say with your music, and how you want it to make people feel. Then figure out how you can make that happen with a song. It’s too easy to get caught up in the bullshit of YouTube audio engineering tutorials and looking a certain way or playing a certain character. Make music you believe in, that is reaching out to the people who listen to it, then go out and put yourself out there. Send demos, email radio stations, go to gigs, and lurk around Audio Foundation. You might not get signed, but you’ll get something worthwhile out of it either way.

Where did you grow up and how was growing up there for you?

I grew up on Auckland’s North Shore. I had a miserable time at school. When I turned 15, my parents made me get a weekend job at the supermarket, and so every Saturday I would get the bus to town after work and go to Real Groovy to buy bargain bin CDs – ones where I’d heard the artist’s name or the cover looked cool. Additional advice for queer Kiwi musicians – buy bargain bin CDs!

What did your journey to coming out as trans look like for you?

That was also miserable! Today, I saw this movie where the character says, “The longer you wait, the closer you get to suffocating.” That’s what it was like. I couldn’t let myself come out, and it turned me into this shell of a person. It just eats at you and makes you sick. I had a bit of a breakdown, and after that, I thought, ‘fuck it, if I’m going to be alive, then I need to actually live.’ It was like a switch flipped. I know a lot of people who kind of ease into transition. Not me!

Do you have any advice for readers questioning their gender and feeling overwhelmed by that?

It is overwhelming! It’s important to remember that nobody knows you better than you know yourself. So much of society and prevailing ideology is telling you all this stuff about gender so that even if you’re the most open-minded person in the world, there are parts of questioning that will feel transgressive or frightening or just weird. But you don’t know what something will be like until you try it, so why not try it?

What’s next for Amamelia?

I moved to Australia about a year ago and am working on another album. I love music that transports you to another place, and creates a space that you can just live in for half an hour – so that’s something I’m focusing on with this new album. Lots of big squelchy synths and strange wooden percussion. A few field recordings with the different cicadas they have here. I bought an instrument called a ‘jaw harp’ that arrived today, so that’ll probably be on there too. The working title is ‘The Joy of Living.’ I’ve also been working on mixing a new album for my friend Aaliyah (Baby Zionov). I love with mixing that you get to help someone realise something in their music to bring out the thing that it has the potential to be.

Amamelia’s music can be found on Spotify and Soundcloud. Follow her on Facebook @amamelianz and Instagram @extravagant_pudding.

Photo | Francis Carter.