Ames Talks Writing With Kelly Clarkson & Premieres Donnie Darko-Themed 'Picture In My Mind' Video: Watch

Matt Alves
Ames

Amy Kuney prefers the unconventional route.

“It’s hard for me to do anything straightforward,” the singer/songwriter, who performs under the moniker Ames, tells Billboard. “I kind of always need something to be a little f---ed up.”

That perspective is clear with the rollout of her new single, “Picture In My Mind” (premiering today on Billboard.) Rather than roll out the single with a traditional music video, Kuney opted to debut the track with a live performance -- where she and her bandmates sport the iconic, menacing Frank the Rabbit costume from Donnie Darko. The result is bizarre, but perfectly captures Kuney’s twisted sense of humor.

Ames talked to Billboard about the performance clip (which was approved by Darko director Richard Kelly, by the way), writing for Kelly Clarkson and Michelle Branch, and the woes of living in the age of social media after a break-up: “If they’ve found a new person, you see exactly what’s going on, whether you want to or not.”

Billboard: What is the inspiration behind “Picture In My Mind”?

Amy Kuney: It’s about how even when you break up with somebody, you are still pummelled continuously with images of their life. If they’ve found a new person, you see exactly what’s going on, whether you want to or not. You can go stalk them, but it also just kind of shows up in your face if you’re on any kind of social media whatsoever. It’s one of those things we didn’t have to deal with 20 years ago; maybe you’d go out to a bar and you’d see your ex with someone and you’d leave. But now, you get to see this horrible thing unfold in front of you and it’s fucking awful. You don’t really have the luxury of leaving that to the imagination anymore.

I’m in a happy relationship now, I’m engaged. But I’ve dated a lot and my fiance has dated a lot, and we have a similar story of anyone who we broke up with, we had to see the horrible shit that ensued. It’s just really painful. I’m happy for them, but also -- they’re like flaunting this stuff. I shouldn’t have to see that. It’s not natural.

So how did the Donnie Darko rabbit costumes come into play?

When someone asks me, “can you do this, and just do it straight down the middle,” I can. But then I have to make people a little bit uncomfortable, I guess? It’s just my way.

I know the director of Donnie Darko and I sent him a picture while we were filming to get his blessing and he was like, “oh my god, this is ridiculous.” It’s Halloween, and I love that movie. It just seems right.

It was hella hot in those costumes. We had to turn off the air conditioning to record the video. We returned most of the costumes to Amazon, but one of them -- my guitar player sweat so bad, so they wouldn’t accept it. So we had to buy one.

You’ve written for several artists, including Kelly Clarkson. What was that like?

I was writing with Molly Kate Kestner and Nick Ruth. We wrote a song called “Slow Dance” for Molly and it was kind of her life experience dating in a small town in Minnesota. She’s on Atlantic and Kelly is on Atlantic and somehow, by accident, it got to Kelly’s A&R. Kelly was like, “I love this, I’d love to have it,” so we were, of course, like, “absolutely, it’s yours!”

She flew us out to Nashville twice and we had about a week of solid writing. There were like four different groups of people writing in different rooms and she would come in and listen, and if she liked it, she’d cut it. So we wrote “Move You” and she cut it, I think that day or the next day.

She was really constructive. She would come in and listen to the song all the way through. If there was a part she was kind of iffy about, we would change it. She’s a really amazing person. She tweaked a couple lines actually on “Move You” and, you know, the thing to do -- anyone who messes with the lyrics, they get a percentage -- and she said, “I absolutely don’t want a percentage,” even though she tweaked the last verse quite a bit. And I just thought that was really gracious of her. I heard an interview with her about the songs on the album and she was asked if she had anything to do the writing on that song and she said, “no, it was all Amy and Molly.” She’s just really cool, and she gets to know your name. There was no “diva” at all.

How did you get into the world of songwriting?

I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I think the first time I wrote lyrics was when we saw Sister Act and there’s that song, “I Will Follow Him.” I re-wrote the lyrics, just for myself, about a “her.” I would sing it to myself -- I was probably about twelve?

But as far as co-writing for other people, my manager at the time was also managing Michelle Branch, so she put me in a room with her and we wrote together for almost three years for her past album, Hopeless Romantic. That was the best experience because she is an amazing writer, but she also took me in to the best producers. I went out to Nashville and wrote a few songs with her and Patrick Carney -- which was another insane moment.

Michelle is such a gem. When “Hold On” came out -- the last song I put out -- she just blasted it out. She has been so good to me. I have her to thank for a lot.

So what’s next for you?

I’m going to be putting out an EP in January, I think. There’s going to be six songs. I put out one single already and then this. And then I have a song called “Mama It’s Me” that’s coming out around Christmas, I think. It’s a letter to my mom about how much she worries about me -- just kind of setting her mind at ease.