Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors May Be an Indie Musical Goddess Now, but She Grew Up on TLC
You might say that Amber Coffman is the strongest female voice in the indie collective Dirty Projectors, masterminded by David Longstreth. She's been singing with the band since 2006, when she moved out to Brooklyn, a place she'd barely visited before, from San Diego. It was a fortuitous decision to relocate. Dirty Projectors are superhot right now; their newest album, Swing Lo Magellan, released in July 2012, has been praised, discussed, and analyzed all around the web. So, instead of badgering Coffman with questions about the band or the album, we thought we'd talk to the 20-something songstress about herself and her predilections. She shared about her youthful love of Mariah Carey and her current affection for singing Loretta Lynn karaoke.
New Times: When you were with Sleeping People, did you imagine then that you'd be where you are today?
Amber Coffman: I've been singing my whole life. And I guess I always had big dreams. You can't ever expect what's going to happen. It's, I guess, it's surprising and delightful. But it also feels really right.
You collaborated with Major Lazer (on "Get Free") and Rusko (on "Hold On"). Both are really beautiful songs; they kind of remind me of like '90s dance music, a little R&B, a little housey, especially the Rusko song. How was it to work with them?
I grew up singing a lot of R&B music. That's how I got into singing until I was a teenager, and then I got into rock music. I have, like, dozens of R&B albums memorized from the '90s. So it's very different to step into that world, but there's also a part of me that has that in my heart. It's really fun to be able to do that and then come back and do our thing in Dirty Projectors.
What was one of the R&B albums or artists that you enjoyed listening to when you were younger?
My first-ever CD was Mariah Carey's debut album. I had all of her albums up until just before that song "Honey" came out. And then by that time, I started getting into rock music. Also SWV's It's About Time. That album was huge for me. TLC's Crazy Sexy Cool. Janet Jackson, her self-titled album, was a big one. Whitney Houston, for sure.
You didn't like "Honey"?
I like that song. That was just sort of that time when I started just getting a little older, and you're in school, and there are all of these identity politics. Like, what sort of music are you into? And what does that say about who you are? I sort of started identifying more with rocker kids. [laughs]
So, there's been a ton of press surrounding the new album, Swing Lo Magellan. Is there anything left to be said about it that hasn't been said yet?
Well, I think it's the best thing Dave has done. I think it's really special and, I don't know, it's really thrilling to be out there playing this music. We've never been so excited about the band; the lineup we have right now, it's really great.
In the Dirty Projectors' film coming out soon, Hi Custodian, you did a lot of dressing up. Is there an outfit you liked the best?
I liked the braided-hair thing. Where Haley [Dekle] and my hair was braided together.
That looked really neat.
That was fun. There were so many! I was dressed up as kind of a Florence Nightingale type. It was fun to be in this old gown thing. Haley was a nun. It was pretty hilarious when we were dressed up as the rich socialite kind of ladies. It was such a wild difference from anything we ever wear. It was funny when we stepped on the set; everyone was a little shocked.
Was it fun, not horrifying, to have to change so many times?
It was a long, hard day, but it was a blast. The crew, everyone, was just working really, really hard to get the best thing that we possibly could get in the amount of time we had.
Someone at the paper just interviewed John Waters, and he said he was a Dirty Projectors fan. Any reaction to that?
That's cool! When we played Coachella and we were shown to our dressing room, his dressing room was right next door. I remember he said, "Oh, Dirty Projectors, you guys are doing great!" I didn't realize he was a fan, but I know now. That's awesome!
We asked what he was listening to now, and it was you guys and Justin Bieber, I have to tell you...
Hilarious and great! I'm an aspiring actress too, so get Waters on the phone.
Next time, for sure! Hopefully we are the people who bring you guys together. Have you acted in anything before? What would you like to do with that? Stage, film, television?
Well, I used to think it would just be film, especially living in New York. But in the last few years, television has been pretty amazing. So I've gained a lot of respect for it. I am, by and large, interested in film.
Do you still ever make your own music?
I will jot ideas down. I feel like I'm still trying to sort of figure out what I'd want to do with that. Still kind of searching.
Not to be rude, but how old are you?
I just turned 28.
Well, then you have time to figure it out!
I think I do! [laughs]
One dumb question. Do you ever do karaoke?
I love karaoke.
Me too! What are the karaoke songs that are yours and, like, no one else can sing them?
It kind of depends on my mood. If I feel like my voice is doing really good and I feel like going crazy, I'll do Beyoncé or Whitney Houston. But I usually start with Loretta Lynn or Patsy Cline. I love to sing "One's on the Way" or "Don't Come Home a' Drinkin'."
I love singing Patsy Cline karaoke, but obviously my voice is far inferior to yours. Do you intimidate people when you sing karaoke? Is everyone like, "I don't want to go after her!"?
I don't know. Usually when I go and sing karaoke, I'm singing with a whole bunch of other singers too, and they're all great!
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.