Bumpy: the neo-soul storyteller makes her personal, powerful solo debut

As Bumpy, Squid Nebula frontwoman Amy Dowd tells her own unvarnished stories, light and dark, in her singular, show-stopping voice. She talks to NME about her debut EP ‘Morning Sun’

Bumpy, the solo project of singer-songwriter and proud Noongar woman Amy Dowd, has been years in the making. Dowd began forging Bumpy towards the end of the 2010s, after years of fronting neo-soul outfit Squid Nebula, but her momentum was interrupted by the half-dozen pandemic lockdowns Melbourne endured. The delays, though, were blessings in disguise – as now, almost two-and-a-half-years removed from her debut solo single ‘Falling’, Dowd has both a greater clarity and control over the sound of Bumpy.

“From the first song I released, I wanted to be able to say ‘this is my voice, and these are my stories’,” Dowd said of her decision to go solo. “That continues on into this EP – a lot of these songs existed in some way even before the band did. They’ve all stemmed from just me and a guitar or a piano. Just me and my thoughts.”

The EP that Dowd alludes to is ‘Morning Sun’, her first release under the Bumpy moniker. It’s both the starting point for her 2023 and a cap-off to an extremely busy 2022 – which included appearances at the likes of Bigsound, Vivid Sydney and Boogie Festival, not to mention a win at the Music Victoria Awards, the Archie Roach Foundation Award For Emerging Talent.

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Bumpy and her band
Bumpy and her band. Credit: Georgia Mein

The songs on ‘Morning Sun’ may have all begun as Dowd’s own intimate compositions, but Bumpy has a backing band, which coalesced into its current iteration in 2022. Onstage, and now in-studio as well, Dowd is joined by fellow singer-songwriters Isadora Lauritz and Emma Volard on backing vocals, as well as keyboardist Jake Amy, bassist Noah Hutchinson, drummer Ben Yarram and Squid Nebula bandmate Mick Power playing guitar.

“It was definitely a journey to find the right crew to facilitate the space I wanted my songs to live in,” says Dowd. “Every time there was a new song, it was always quite daunting because I’d be like, ‘this is a personal story, and it’s really important for you to know exactly where this came from’. To be able to explore, encompass and interpret how I was feeling is really special. It’s a real family bond that we’ve all created together, and I feel really safe in this project now.”

“I’ve always written for connection – whether that be to myself or to someone else”

With Dowd’s powerful, harmonious voice at the centre, the ‘Morning Sun’ EP is an assured addition to Australia’s contemporary catalogue of R&B and neo-soul – and one of the country’s most confident and direct releases of late. It’s named after a beautiful and stripped-back highlight of the tracklist, which also happened to be one of the earliest tracks Dowd wrote on her own away from Squid Nebula. “When I think about the phrase ‘morning sun’, I think about the first light or the first entrance or something like that,” she says. “It’s a really raw song, and that’s kind of where Bumpy all began.”

That rawness is palpable throughout the deeply personal EP. On ‘Return Home’, she lays bare her innermost thoughts when reflecting on her heritage: “I feel your power flowing through my blood / But I don’t know my native tongue,” she croons over sparse, jazzy guitar and understated drums. Elsewhere, on ‘Hide & Seek’, Dowd flirts with a new romance over sizzling funk recalling D’Angelo or Jill Scott: “Closer your proximity, so I can have you on my own,” she coos. “Come and see what could be in store.”

Few projects encapsulate such a wide range of emotions and textures across just five tracks. This was very intentional on Dowd’s end – if she only has your attention for just 20 minutes, she’s going to make it count. “So many of these emotions and moods are happening simultaneously,” she adds.

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“You’re feeling the really deep side of things with me digging up trauma, as well as having this more playful and light side. It was nice to explore all of those different emotions at once. It didn’t feel like it was a particular way in one world… I found it really important that not only was I sharing all the different moods that I’m feeling, but also the different interpretations of them within this project.”

Following the release of ‘Morning Sun’, Dowd will inevitably be taking her seven-piece band back out on the road and showcasing that striking voice of hers to anyone who’ll take the time to listen. She’s excited to start writing again, too, even noting that she’ll start writing with the band as opposed to bringing them existing compositions. And what are her hopes for the ‘Morning Sun’ EP? The answer is not chiefly commercial success, nor critical acclaim: “I just hope that it gives people company,” she says.

“I’ve always written for connection – whether that be to myself or to someone else. I hope that these songs provide a space for you to feel comfortable; to feel held and supported. I think music is such a powerful vessel to deep dive into what we’re feeling, and I hope this EP creates a safe space for someone to feel like they can connect.”

Bumpy’s ‘Morning Sun’ is out January 27 on Astral People Recordings

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