Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amy LaVere: dark, suspenseful and fun

Think there’s only room for one redheaded spitfire woman who started out playing a mix of early rock and earthy Americana but has evolved into a more mature, finely textured artist? Well, move over, Neko Case. Memphis-based singer/songwriter/double bassist Amy LaVere is not just on the road, she’s on the road to recovery. Her new album, Stranger Me, is a collection of goodbye songs, composed in the wake of losing a guitarist to the Hold Steady, a drummer — her boyfriend — to a romantic break-up, and her mentor, legendary Southerner and producer Jim Dickinson, to the great beyond. Such times would surely undo a lesser mortal, but LaVere perseveres. The drummer returned to make the record, and a new producer, one whose previous project was engineering last year’s Grammy-winning Album of the Year, by Arcade Fire, was hired.

LEO: Are you able to do music as a full-time job?
Amy LaVere: Well, I would say mostly full-time. When I have a little too long of down time, I end up getting in a situation, scrambling around to put up work. Typically, I do music full-time. At least, I’ve been able to for the past 5 months…

LEO: Your persona in your songs is that of a bad-ass. How much of that is what you’re really like, and how much is playing a role?
AL: (laughs) Interesting question … I don’t know. I guess I’m pretty comfortable. Some days more than other days, but… I guess I do have some pride in the fact that I am a really hard worker; I think I have a pretty broad perspective on my life and how to run it, I suppose.

LEO: Do you think your experiences, and getting older, have helped with that?
AL: Absolutely. I think it’s helped with not taking myself too seriously. I think I’ve got a healthy sense of humor. I actually kind of welcome the challenges that this sort of lifestyle brings. It’s a very bi-polar lifestyle (laughs), you know, it’s really good and really bad.

LEO: Do you identify with that personally? Or just have a good perspective on it?
AL: I wouldn’t say that I was bi-polar! It’s the lifestyle that’s bi-polar. No, I’m pretty good about rollin’ with it. I have a great ability to compartmentalize in my life, and I’m getting a lot better at it. I’m not overly prepared, and I don’t look backwards. I live in the moment.

LEO: Did moving around a lot as a child influence that?
AL: I traveled a lot as a child… I guess so.

LEO: Do you think that that helped make you a better observer of people?
AL: Well, I would think so; but, I have an older sister that was brought up with this gypsy lifestyle, like I was, and – I definitely think that we gained a much bigger, broader perspective than a lot of kids we were meeting – I think it definitely influenced my decision to have a nomadic lifestyle as an adult, whereas my sister, she’s married with three kids and has lived in the same house for sixteen years. It was really important to her that her children knew the same kids that they went to elementary school with throughout their lives. I don’t think that she really wanted that for her children, for her adult life. I’m somewhat addicted to it.

LEO: Do you feel bad for her in some ways?
AL: No, really, we go back and forth about being envious of each other. I was just there this last weekend, I flew in to go to my niece’s graduation. I hadn’t seen them in a year and a half. They have such a beautiful family, it’s really nice to see. Sometimes I look at it and go, “God, I’m missing so much…” I’m sure some times – well, I know from her, “Oh, you’re so lucky, you get to see so much and do so much…” It’s one of those things.

LEO: It's probably good that you're not both out there, competing for record sales.
AL: (laughs) No, I 'd probably help her out. I don't have much of a competitive spirit.

LEO: Does that hold you back?
AL: No, I do try to challenge myself, at every opportunity that comes up. I blindly take on things that are out of my realm of experience, I do that all the time. I enjoy it, whether I'm bad at it or good at it; I'd rather be doing that than sitting on the couch being a fat American.

LEO: (laughs) Well, I can understand that. Your restless spirit reflects itself in your music, which jumps from genre to genre. Do you think that helps you or holds you back in any ways?
AL: Oh, well, umm... No. I really don't put a whole lot of energy into that, because you never know what someone might make of it or think of it, and I just don't really concern myself too much with it. If I don't like it, then I'm failing myself. And I mean, hell, nobody likes just one style of music anyway, as far as I know. Different stories that I'm telling demand a different sort of feel or production on them. I just sort of get in the middle and swim in it, when it comes to what the production's going to be or how the song's going to come out. I just can't worry about it so much. I mean, I understand how people to label things or compartmentalize things when it comes to describing music, for sales and things, but I'm not in marketing. That's not my responsibility. I just do my part, the best I can, and hope that it gets sorted out.

LEO: When you meet someone, and they ask, "What kind of music do you play?", what do you tell them?
AL: My blanket statement is, It's an amalgamation of all kinds of great music. (laughs). It's really tough. Sometimes I'll just say, "It's rock 'n' roll." What would you say it is?

LEO: I like what you said.
AL: (laughs)
LEO: I don't think I could do any better than that. You could put it on a shirt, even.
AL: (laughs) Yeah! "It's the music I like."

LEO: What can we expect from your live show?
AL: It's a four-piece band. I think it's suspenseful. It's dark, suspenseful and fun.
LEO: That sounds good.
AL: Yeah, I think it's good. Music from tense moments.
LEO: Tense in fun ways?
AL: Yeah, tense in fun ways. It's definitely a listening show.

Amy LaVere with Tristen
Wednesday, July 20
Uncle Slayton’s
1017 E. Broadway • 657-9555
$13; 8 p.m.

c. 2011 LEO Weekly

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