Amelia White has a new album, Rhythm of the Rain, due out on January 25th. Americana Highways had a chance to talk to her about the album, which was produced by Dave Coleman and features Will Kimbrough, and a lot of other ideas surfaced along the way. Read and see.
AH: Musically you have a rock ‘n roll style, and Rhythm of the Rain features a song with Will Kimbrough. Would you say your style is outside the standard for what women are doing in Americana right now?
AW: I’ve always felt like my music is outside the box. I’ve even sometimes had to rein it in to be a little closer to the box. I’ve been in Nashville for 16 years, where a lot happens musically and there are a lot of musicians and fans. During my time here I have tried to train my muse to fit, to some degree, within the confines of what my job is, which to an extent involves connecting with an audience. If I am touring and playing for people who are going to be sitting there listening, I want to make sure I’m telling stories that connect with them.
I also think my voice is outside the box. It doesn’t sound like the voice that women who get popular have. I don’t have the kind of voice that’s particularly fluffy and pretty. I get compared to Lucinda Williams a lot because I just don’t have that gorgeous voice that a lot of women have who get enormously popular have. But I figure I have to do my thing, that’s what I can do.
AH: People may get tired of the same stereotypical “pretty” female voice. I think that becomes formulaic.
AW: Maybe. I know my “instrument.” Not having that classically pretty voice, I’ve had to dig deep and figure out what’s going to get my message across. I’ve learned to accept my voice. That’s just how it is.
AH: Do you think that there is the same degree of pressure on men to achieve a vocal standard?
AW: I do think there is some pressure on men to have vocals within a certain range, but I also think men can get away with having a wider latitude of different sounding voices, more than women can.
AH: Lyrically, your songs have significant messages. For example, on the album’s title track, “Rhythm of the Rain,” you are addressing a wide audience asking them to pull together in the face of larger national dangers.
AW: There’s a message of we are all in this together. This is a hard time. “Rhythm of the Rain” speaks to that. I want to say: “Let’s do our best for all of us.”
AH: You continue to share another powerful message on “Free Advice,” where you point out an internal, domestic struggle within our culture.
AW: In “Free Advice” I’m really saying: “Don’t put me in this box.” It’s about women in the music industry, but it’s also really about what women struggle with in all aspects of their lives. My message is: “Stop telling women how to be.” Women should have as much a range of choices and freedoms as men do. “Advice” limiting women can extend all the way down to little things, and sometimes it’s women doing it to themselves. They’ll say things like: “You’d attract more of an audience if you stopped wearing glasses and wore contacts.” Or, a classic is: “You’re actually really pretty!” (laughs) When I hear this one, I want to say “’Actually,’ thank you!”
I want to fight on behalf of all women, and for new women just picking up the guitar, maybe. I want them to know they don’t have to sit on somebody’s lap to get what they want.
AH: Are more men paying attention to all of this, now?
AW: Yes, I think there is a lot of good dialogue now. We are all united and trying harder. I feel like there is a man in me as much as there is a woman in me. There is so much more to people than just the so-called “box” of your gender. There’s a whole range of where you can be. And I mean, I love my men, I’ve got some good men in my life.
AH: Your song “You Said it Like a King,” is a story about a boy who gets bullied, and then it shifts to imagery of adult bullies, and then it becomes a question of that boy internalizing violent bullying tendencies as normal masculinity.
AW: I wrote that song with Lori McKenna, she has children, and she brought in the idea of kids getting bullied, and the song just stretched into political figures who bully people, and then Lorne Entress, who is another songwriter from Massachussetts who had produced some of Lori’s stuff, added the part about tying the bullying back into the child, as he becomes a man.
AH: We talk about how gender roles limit girls and women. But you point out that the same stuff that divides girls and boys by gender has affected boys in a limiting way also.
AW: Yes, absolutely. It’s funny that people don’t always listen to the words, but on that one they seem to get the message. The song is amazing to sing because I can feel the chill happening in the audience.
AH: Is that a primary goal of songwriting? To reach people like that?
AW: I always thought I would “make it” but as I got older I realized – it’s hard to keep going, it’s hard to not know if you’re going to “make it” anymore. But the thing that always keeps me going is the thought that I am doing this for people. And I can make things that they need to hear. If I keep focused on that, instead of money or fame, it keeps me going. I was put on this earth to touch people like this. Even if it’s just one or two, that means a lot to me.
AH: “ Pink Cloud” is a duet with Will Kimbrough. What is it like working with him?
AW: He is the most lovely person, and so generous. He comes into the studio and it’s like a party. His guitar playing is dramatic but as a person he’s so easygoing and he puts everyone around him at ease. He’s so gifted, and everybody talks about his guitar playing, but — he can really sing!
AH: At the end of the album, the hidden “Supernova” is a special treat, and a little different from the rest.
AW: That song is the kind of song that I really like the most. It may not connect with people as much, but that one is really right up my alley. I’d make a whole album of that kind of song. I’ve learned that that style of song is a little more difficult for people to grab ahold of easily, but that makes me love it even more. Initially I wasn’t even sure what it was about, until my mother died right before I recorded the album, and it hit me – that song is really about life and death and just how fragile life is. It’s a star that can explode or implode at any moment. And I wrote it with my dear friend, who’s so talented.
AH: Is that a direction for a future album?
AW: I’m not sure if I have a definite direction for the next album. I have a whole new album already written, and there’s a song on it that reminds me of that one. My muse just doesn’t want to obey the limits of really any kind of box!
AH: What’s it like working with Dave Coleman as your producer?
AW: He’s so talented, and he can pick up any instrument and make it sound exactly like whatever you were just vaguely describing, and he can get it exactly. And he also is really attentive to the way I want things to sound, I worked with some producers who are very strong willed, and that was cool too. But right now at this point in my career it’s so good to feel like I can take the reins a little, and he’s right there to pull it all together. I don’t want to minimize his role as a producer, but his personality is very relaxed and he’ll always ask how I hear it, how do I want it to sound, and that really works. He’s kind of like a magician in both his engineering abilities and in terms of his musicianship too.
AH: Is there anything you’d like fans to know?
AW: I want to remind people that hearing live music is a really special thing. With today’s technology and the way everything in the world happens so fast, I think people get tired and they forget. When I first moved to Nashville, I would remember every night thinking maybe I’m too tired, maybe I don’t want to go out. But I would go out, and every time, it would give me a jolt of something. In a way watching live music is like the best parts of attending church.
AH: What’s on the horizon for you?
AW: The album comes out January 25th. I’ve been to Europe, and now I’ll be touring in the US. I’ll be playing these songs, and bringing them to life. And at heart I’m a writer; I’m always toying with the idea of when I’ll get to record the next one!