Getting to Know Amanda Pearcy

Amanda Pearcy’s music is riveting.  Amanda has had a hard luck life;  no one in their right mind would want to trade places with her.  However, the moment is now and she has transcended her past with some absolutely lovely tunes that reflect the deep recesses of her soul, yet reflect hope for a better day.  Amanda’s luck may has turned—she’s gotten recognized as one of this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Emerging Artists.

Falcon Ridge is celebrating its 25th anniversary the first weekend in August and the Emerging Artist showcase is always one of the highlights of the festival. The musicians are chosen by a three-member jury and are given the opportunity to perform two songs (not to exceed ten minutes).*  The audience votes for their favorites and three or four acts are asked to return to the main stage the following year.

Check out Amanda’s music and more about her life over at her website.

Here’s a video of Amanda doing her song “Better on My Own.”

And because I can’t resist this one—here’s Amanda covering “Ode to Billie Joe”   I can’t remember a time when anyone has covered that tune.

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Do you have a favorite aspect of being a singer-songwriter?  Do you like the songwriting part?  The performing? The creativity involved in spinning stories into song?

Until recently, I would have answered that I didn’t really prefer the performing part.  So much can go wrong with the sound you can’t control, and audience turnout can be iffy, which if it’s a low-ish turn out, it’s hard to play to just a few people without it feeling awkward and embarrassing.  In Austin, if you want to do the show with accompaniment, you have to have a bench of players to call on since most everyone plays with lots of different folks.  This is especially true for singer-songwriters who don’t always perform with a band, so when I get a new player, there’s anxiety about it if the one and only rehearsal everyone is able to meet up for will be enough, especially because my songs aren’t the easiest to learn.  But I had such an amazing time at my last show just this past Saturday night at Strange Brew in Austin, with the energy between me, and the full room audience, and the band, that today I say I love that part, too.  And sometimes at a show, I’ll sing the song a little differently than how it got recorded and that’s fun because I don’t pre-plan that and it just happens.

But my most favorite is the songwriting.  I never expect to write.  I never assume that there will be another song.  So it feels like a gift when it happens.  And during the process I slightly acknowledge to myself “oh wow, this is cool, another song”– like I’m kind of thinking that, but then I’m so focused on the process and don’t want to jinx myself, that I just let that acknowledgement happen as a quiet bit of gratitude and then place it to the side to finish the song.  The creativity involved is surprising, too.  I don’t set out with a plan.  I just start with a line, and it’s really interesting to see what takes shape and where the song wants to go.  And I think it’s similar to maybe painting, in that there’s a point where you have to stand back and not add any more paint.

 As your bio states, you’ve endured many tragic experiences during your life–more so than most people.  Do you feel that those experiences helped form you into the songwriter that you are today?

Absolutely.  I did not intend to write songs.  They started coming to me after I had had lessons for about five or six months.  My first song was about my dad, my husband, my son, my grandmother, my aunts, my grandfather, my sisters, me, and my brothers-in-law!  It was a cathartic thing to get everything I needed to say about that into a three-minute song.  Unfortunately, I’ve got quite a bit more experiences than I tell about in my bio.  But to put it all out there would either sound unbelievable or like just a huge downer.  Some of the experiences have already landed in songs, maybe not literally to the listener, but I know their origins.  And some of the experiences may take a little more time for me to sit with before they show up in song, as was the case with the first bunch.

Did you ever have any guitar lessons?  Or did you just take to the instrument when you picked up your late husband’s pawn shop guitar?  

Before he died, I plucked around a bit on his, trying to learn from a book.  We lived much too hand to mouth, always coming up short on rent, and I was a stay at home mom (cloth diaper/clothes line dry advocate– ha!) and he worked in the oil field, so we couldn’t afford for me to have lessons.  Then when our son was older, and I was in a better place financially, I started taking lessons.  I’d never touched an instrument other than a couple of months of Suzuki method violin lessons when I was about 7 or 8 years old (I quit because the dog would howl when I practiced and my mother and oldest sister would laugh at that.  I see now I would have laughed, too, but I was too sensitive then {still am!}).  Early on in the guitar lessons, I would often ask my guitar teacher (who now plays gigs with me) if I was wasting my time – if I was doing it right, etc.  If only one thing comes out my meeting my musical self, it’s to let other people know that it’s never too late to try something that is nudging at you, pulling at your sleeve.  Several years went by of me thinking about trying to play, and then immediately telling myself I was too old and it’d be a waste of time and money.  I got to a life event that had me reconsider, and that’s when I decided to take the lessons.

 Do you have any songwriting heroes?

Although several come to mind because of my admiration of their work, as for a hero, I’d have to say Mary Gauthier since she, too, if I understand her story correctly, didn’t begin playing till later in life and didn’t begin until a turning point, which was the same for me.

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The production of Royal Street makes your ears and heart listen.  There’s something very old-timey and sweet about it.  Was that your intention?

Thank you for your kind words.  No, that never came up when my producer, Tim Lorsch, and I would talk about vibe, etc.  The scratchy old record sound on the last track was done when I had recorded the song for a separate project:  “Wish I’s in Heaven Settin’ Down” is a traditional spiritual often attributed to Mississippi Fred McDowell.  It was recorded one day in Austin for Donna Johnson’s NPR and New York Times reviewed (and Oprah Fall Book Pick!) memoir, Holy Ghost Girl.  We recorded it as a trailer for the website for her book about growing up in the tent revival circuit in the south.  It took two years to get the rest of the cd done– I had to keep putting it on the back burner– and I think we just focused on serving each song individually and got lucky that it came together so beautifully as an album in the truest sense. Along with my financial instability, I had other life crises going on (seems to be my m.o.), and had to work around things that needed my attention more than the record did.  One of the many difficult things about dragging the recording project out on a record, is new songs are written, and I was determined to add two of them and drop at least one, maybe two.  I’m glad I listened to Tim about not dropping the other one I was thinking of, because a lot of folks seem to like it.  So I trusted him completely to do the right thing with them.  The only other thing I can recall that I was adamant about was adding a gospel choir to “A Thousand Tender Recollections.”  And he found the perfect voice for that and together they came up with her parts.  It was so beautiful and perfect to me, that I cried the first time I heard the mix (heck every time for a while there).

Have you done much touring or do you spend most of your time in Texas which is one heckuva musical heaven!

I’ve only had the pleasure of touring a little bit, and most of that has been West.  I’m hoping with my exposure at the Emerging Artist Showcase at Falcon Ridge, that that will open up some other opportunities for me.  Since I’m kind of floating around now, without a home base, putting more miles on my car playing music across the country would be the right thing to do now.  I prefer not to play too many dates close together in Austin.  Due to the extraordinary amount of live music happening on any given night, it makes it more difficult to get a great turnout for a show.  Add to that a lot of musician friends, or friends that have other musician friends asking them to  come to shows all the time… it just seems to bring a better draw when I can tell them that the show I’m asking them to attend is my only one there for two or three months.

Do you have any musical aspirations that you’d like to attain?

To earn the respect of my musical peers is my highest aspiration and would be the biggest and best compliment to me.  Folks taking the trouble to learn a song of mine to play and add to their set lists would also be a true honor.  But in the long run, funny as it may sound, the musical aspiration I’d like to attain is to learn how to really sing the blues and retire to New Orleans doing that.

*The Falcon Ridge judging panel changes year to year. Many thanks to this year’s panel, Carter Smith, producer of Common Ground Community Concerts in Hastings-on-Hudson NY, Dennis O’Brien, talent buyer for the Newtown Theater in Newtown PA and Kathy Sands-Boehmer, booker for the Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead MA now in its 43rd year of presenting great acoustic music.

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One comment

  1. Hi, Amanda –

    We are really looking forward to the House Concert at Doug and Brigitte Small’s house in Virginia. You will really enjoy all the folks and the food — the venue is extraordinary!

    After perusing your website and some of your songs on YouTube, the attached lyrics might be fun for you to play around with — a take-off on “Orange Juice Blues.” (The Band)

    So here it is, do what you want with it: I have fun singing in the shower (good thing for the family!)

    Obviously, this is a blues riff; here goes….1,2,3,4:

    I got no blues for breakfast, baby

    No mo’ steppin’ over your tenny shoes.

    Ain’t makin’ you no mo’ coffee

    I got nothin’ left you can possibly use

    I’m off to get my mornin’ started

    (An’ it’s) lookin’ like it ain’t with you.

    DA, da, da,–DA, da, da, — DA, da, da – DUMB….hmm—hmmm

    Ain’t got no blues for breakfast, baby.

    Don’t see no blues in the afternoon

    Ain’t no blues in the evening either,

    Everything is pretty cool .

    Been tryin’ to tell ya,

    (Tryin’ to tell ya, tryin’ to tell ya,)

    We’ve been over,

    through (and through and through.)

    Break: –It started out:

    Whatta lot of fun! adventure and explore! (CHACHOO!

    Lot’s a fun comin’ in an’ out of every door, (CHACHOO!)

    Got to know each other, (BLam!)

    had some really great times, (PAWPOW!

    and then the times just ended..

    There’s a reason: ain’t no rhyme

    (No rhyme, No rhyme, No rhyme….)

    (So I,) got no blues for breakfast, baby.

    I Wake up bright and free and clear.

    No blues for breakfast, baby,

    So glad I finally jus’ don’t care.

    Ain’t never gonna have no blues anywhere

    No more, no more reason to go there

    BREAK

    I got the sun a-shinin’ on me (CHACHOO!

    Got my moonbeams by my side (CHACHOO!

    I got all this stuff behind me (BLAM!)

    On my way now — gonna fly VROOM!

    Got no blues for breakfast, Baby, (can I tell you the truth?)

    (ThankYou!) ….. YER the reason why

    DA-da-da, DA-da-da, DA-da-da DUMB!

    ( DOO-WAAA)

    HA…:)

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