On first listen, you’d be hard-pressed to associate Ambar Lucid’s music with a specific time or place. Her voice is a dramatic instrument, equally comfortably singing just above a whisper and belting inpirational choruses. Ambar sings in both English and Spanish, a nod to her Mexican-Dominican background—and an affront to the relatives who told her to stick to one language. “They said I’d have to sing in Spanish for people to pay attention to me, because I was Latina. I always kept that in my mind, and thought, ‘I’m going to prove them wrong.’”
It’s still early, but Ambar seems well ahead of schedule. With only four songs on streaming platforms, she’s already amassed a considerable following. The artist grew up in Little Ferry, a New Jersey suburb just north of New York City. When it came time to shoot the video for “Eyes,” Ambar’s team visited the familiar people and places that had gotten her this far. The footage is candid, and shows a kid comfortably hanging out with her inner circle. That’s half of the video’s story. The other half takes place in Los Angeles, and features a hero shot of Ambar singing atop a red motorcycle. An impressive husky named Emerson smiles at her feet. Suddenly, the kid is gone, replaced by a bandleader with an incredible voice.
These are the two worlds reconciling in Ambar Lucid’s music. Her’s is a dreamy soundscape, mellow guitars to back soaring vocals. She’s just 18, but Ambar sings like an old soul. Her writing doesn’t fall prey to teenage whimsy, preferring instead to explore a vocal and dynamic range that falls somewhere between Lianne La Havas and Amy Winehouse. “Eyes,” especially, is a glimpse of what’s to come. With subtle saxophones and a chorus of backing vocals, Ambar is writing well-rounded songs, forgoing drums in favor of a rhythm guitar.
While she’s not moving to Los Angeles anytime soon (graduating high school comes before any world tours), a career in music has become more than possible for Ambar Lucid. Her first headlining show happened earlier this month, and each release is getting a louder reception than the last. The momentum has required the teenager to start to build a team, one willing to help her navigate an industry in turmoil. “I notice that it makes things a lot easier to have people who care about me,” Ambar said, “who will tell me when I’m tweaking.”
While it’s not her first video—“Candy” arrived in December 2018, Ambar eyeing the camera against a sorbet sunset—“Eyes” is our first look at Ambar Lucid’s roots. Her family and friends are prominently featured, with a notable exception: Ambar’s father was deported when she was eight. He’s currently living in Mexico, and she’s hoping to visit him in the near future.
In the meantime, however, the family has allowed Ambar to finish high school online in order to devote more time to music. If all goes well, she’ll have a diploma in hand by June—one less hurdle on the road to stardom. Watch the premiere of the "Eyes" video and read an interview with Ambar Lucid below.
So, I hear you're a fan of Rico Nasty. I, too, love Rico Nasty.
[Laughs] My little sister—she’s four, and for some reason she just loves Cardi B. So I said, aright if you love Cardi B, you need to love Rico Nasty. She loves anyone aggressive, if someone’s speaking aggressively she’ll be in love with it. So I told her I had a surprise for her, and I put on the Rico Nasty song “Rage.” She loved it, she said, “She’s so beautiful.”
Your video for “Candy” was a great visual debut, but “Eyes” has a lot more in the way of characters and faces. Who’s in the video?
A lot of the shots are real interactions with my family and my friends, except the part with the motorcycle and Emerson. My mom and grandma are in it, my band is in it, and a few of my friends. My boyfriend, my little sister, and my brother are in there too.
Was it your family who introduced you to music and songwriting?
I actually wasn’t really introduced through them. They were always listening to music, but I think my passion and attraction to music was just natural. I always wanted to do anything that created sound, I always had fun with it. There aren’t many musicians in my family.
When I was younger, I used to love Selena Gomez. The first album that I ever bought was When The Sun Goes Down, one of her earlier albums. I loved it so much. The first concert I went to was Selena Gomez, too—seeing her live and her music made me think, “I want to do this, I want to put out music.”
Are they on board with music as a career?
They’re honestly really excited, but they don’t fully understand it. The way that they know I’m actually doing this is my interactions online and on social media. It’s hard to explain, since nobody in my family has done anything like this.
My mom is Dominican and my Dad is Mexican. He lives around Cabo San Lucas. A lot of my family is still in the Dominican Republic—I lived there from about age 5 to 7. I probably remember 30% of my time there, I don’t remember a lot but I remember the beach, and the mountains, and it being really beautiful. I really want to go back. I haven’t been to Mexico, but I’m going soon and I’m really excited. Sometimes I have trouble with early memories, figuring out if they were just dreams or memories.
Were you always writing songs in both English and Spanish?
I think that it motivated me a lot early on. I remember being younger, and Hispanic family members telling me that people wouldn’t pay attention to me if I sang in English. They said I’d have to sing in Spanish for people to pay attention to me, because I was Latina. I always kept that in my mind, and thought, “I’m going to prove them wrong.” I decided to do both for fun—in school I took classes in Spanish where they really taught me how to read and write the right way, and I feel like that benefited me a lot.
They said I’d have to sing in Spanish for people to pay attention to me, because I was Latina. I always kept that in my mind, and thought, “I’m going to prove them wrong.”
When I started writing songs, I was thinking, “How can I make this more interesting?” So I started writing in Spanish and English. I got to prove everyone wrong, that I can do both. I can choose to do either and people will still listen, because it’s music.
Who are some other artists or songwriters who had a big impact on you coming up?
Mon Laferte had a really big impact on me. She was the first Latin artist that really spoke to me—I never heard anyone that I could really relate to on a creative level like that. She completely blew my mind, and I didn’t think I could find someone who could. And a woman, too! She’s Latina, she speaks to me so much. Her singing is absolutely beautiful, her art has inspired me so much, and listening to her music has made me a better creative.
She sings with a lot of passion, and her lyrics mean something. She means what she sings, and I think that’s...when listening to an artist, the most important thing is that they mean what they’re saying. And you can feel it. If you can feel it, they’re doing their job as a musician.
Talk to me about playing live—you had a big show at Baby’s All Right recently.
I’m playing with my band, it’s three guys: drummer Sam, bassist Duncan, guitarist Osmin. I’ve been friends with them throughout high school, and we’ve been a band for about a year and a half. We’ve been practicing in a basement, we’re gonna be poppin’. Honestly, I enjoy playing with a full band a lot more than playing by myself. It’s a lot of fun connecting with other musicians and playing as a group. There’s a lot more you can do.
I’ve done a bunch of shows at this point, but it’s fun seeing how other people interpret my songs. We’re changing the songs up a little bit for the live versions, it makes the live experience more intimate for the crowd. They’re getting a unique version of the songs. But I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is how much I love playing with other people.
Are you taking it on tour? Do you have to finish school first?
I’m finishing school online, so that’s not a big issue for me. But the other guys—one of them is still in high school, so they’ll be done in June.
How's that been going?
It’s a million times better than actually going to school. It’s harder in the sense of motivating myself—when you’re in school, you’re there to actually do stuff and get work done, but when I have an entire day to myself I have to really focus. I just turned 18, and I don’t want to be doing school. So I’ve just been telling myself, “Okay, I have to get this done.” It’s not like I have a teacher saying, “You have to get your schoolwork done.” I have to do this or I won’t get my diploma. The thought of me not getting my diploma is enough to get my laptop open for work.
Was that a music-related decision?
Yeah. Last year I lost all desire to be in school, I thought it was a waste of time. I just thought, “I could be doing music right now.”
How’d that talk go with the family?
Horrible, at first. My mom thought it was unrealistic, but with the help of Kerick (Stevens, Lucid’s manager), we were able to convince her that this was a smart move, and not just me leaving school to leave school. I had a goal in mind, and the deal was for me to get my diploma no matter how I got it. That’s what convinced her.
It helps to have someone else to back you up, making it seem that much more real.
Sometimes when I tell my family things, I feel like they don’t believe me. But Kerick just confirms that things are real, and it’s not just me being delusional.
And you’re one of the first people to go down this path in your family. What are you realizing about yourself as an artist?
It’s important for me to surround myself with people who respect me as a creative, people who are passionate about what I do. I notice that it makes things a lot easier to have people who care about me, who will tell me when I’m tweaking.