Profile: Jamie McDell

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Jamie McDell couldn’t escape music even if she had wanted to. Growing up in her household, whether afloat on the Mediterranean while living aboard their sailboat, or at her parent’s home in Mangawhai, the air was constantly filled with music and melody. “My mum and dad are music lovers, they both sing well and play the guitar so it was normal for my sister and I to want to learn an instrument and get involved in the family sing-a-longs,” Jamie says.

She’s 24 now, but vividly remembers her first foray into song writing.

“I wrote my first song at the age of seven. I still remember it well. It was a song about wanting to swim away with the dolphins.”

She subsequently released her first single, aged 16. Jamie’s chart-topping hits include; You’ll Never Take That Away and Rewind. Her album Six Strings and a Sailboat took out Best Pop Album at the 2013 NZ Music Awards.

“My parents were really the first to encourage me to take the music I was making to the next level. They were constantly hearing new creations coming from my room. I also have some very supportive friends who were always keen to hear what I’d come up with, especially because often the song was about them. I started to realise that this was my way to relate to people and voice my opinion. Song writing is definitely my main form of communication. My songs are where you’ll really figure out what I’m about.”

Sister Tess also inherited the musical gene and has always dabbled in song writing. Apart from their blond hair, Jamie says music is about the only thing the two have in common. So in a bid to reconnect, the siblings recently returned to their beloved Mangawhai stomping ground, as part of a yearlong project to combine their diverse musical talents. The outcome produced Dunes, an album inspired by their experiences in Mangawhai, which was predominantly the backdrop of their childhood. “I have many fond memories just simply exploring the sand dunes. They really are such a magical part of the landscape here. I reckon I must have explored every inch of them now.”

Independently-made, Dunes took over a year to create because, as Jamie puts it, “We spent a lot of time experimenting and trying to have both our musical strengths co-exist in the music.”

While Jamie’s musical genre leans toward country-style, Tess’ has evolved into electronic-tempo. However, they both play the acoustic guitar and have experimented with many different instruments, tools and sounds for the album. The result, they agree, was quite a unique sound.

“I think letting someone else in to my writing process has been good for me. Some of the tracks are a journey to empowerment and others are from a very raw and vulnerable place. My favourite track is actually one we wrote about the insecurities that can grow out of comparing yourself to others on social platforms like Instagram: ‘Walking round with heavy feet, just yesterday I felt empowered, can’t believe I lost my spark to a picture’.”

Their first track Horses, was released in July, along with a video and acoustic version, and has received positive feedback.

“We are soon to release a second single. You’ll just have to keep an eye out on our social media.”

But while the sisters reconnected for the project, their diverse lives are about to separate them once more. Animal-loving Tess, with a renewed vigour for music, has just released her first solo track called Wait while continuing her Auckland job as a dog handler. Meanwhile, Jamie, whose down-to-earth Kiwi nature has led her to recently become the New Zealand women’s ambassador for Bonds, is about to jet off to Nashville to record her third solo album. But don’t be surprised if you bump into the songstress roaming the local dunes in future.

“I definitely try and get up North as much as I can. My favourite surf spots are all across this coast and, of course, I love being around mum and dad. I’m sure I’ll find myself living up there later in life.”

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