Updated: Dec 13, 2019
About Amanda Williams – songwriter – human - artist
When people ask me what kind of music I make, I can’t answer with a simple one-word answer. It’d be a lot easier if I could, but unfortunately, for me, one word just won’t do it. Call it the gift of gab my grandma Elzada passed down to me as part of my hillbilly heritage.
If genres were people, I’d be schizophrenic
I tried to be just one kind of music a long time ago. I was rock. Dammit. That was it. No, not country. Never mind that I speak with an accent the size of Texas, though it’s grounded squarely in Appalachia Tennessee. I tried to assimilate to the one genre rule for new artists. I took to heart the discouraging, disapproving head shaking when I would attempt to define my music as something other than this or that. What about this and that?
The argument made by media experts is that, in order for potential fans to understand or have any desire to listen to your music, they have to know what you’re going to sound like ahead of time. This way, people who aren’t lucky enough to discover you in the process of actually listening to your music can get some kind of idea of what you’re going to sound like from your word picture. That is supposed to make them curious enough to come out to a show or check out your website.
I get it. I’ve read the reasoning & it makes sense. I discovered one of my all time favorite artists, PJ Harvey because I read a review of “Rid of Me” in an indie music magazine when I was 15. The way the author described her music established the necessary desire in my consciousness to make me follow through with all the steps necessary at that time to get ahold of the music. Let’s see.. circa 1990s... I had to 1) save up $15, 2) get a ride to the record store, 3) purchase the record, 4) go home to my tape player, 5) sit still & listen.
How different is that process than the easy get it quick mentality of today’s music consumer? Now, you get online & buy the download. That is, if you’re a true music lover - we all know true music lovers purchase their music & never download it illegally.
Is part of the reason today’s music seems to be failing to capture the imaginations of the masses like it used to do because of the lack of effort put in the process of acquiring it?
The first music lovers had to make it themselves. They had to write all original songs & dream up, design & craft the first instruments. How’s that for dedication? Time passed by. New songs were written & some were passed down. New instruments were created & old ones improved.
Everyone is still playing music.
Then, recorded music came about. Now, musicians could play music in real time & save it for later. It was the very best case scenario of left overs. Literally, these were left over sound waves, a recording of them, impressed into reels of magnetic tape. By reproducing the sound waves, one could listen to the music he played last week - or to the song written halfway around the world. Cool.
The result? Higher quality specialization among musicians & artists. Fewer people playing music. They don’t have to invest hours into practicing & playing now if their interest is merely recreational. The non-musician music lover is born.
As time passes, fewer and fewer people partake in the practice of playing music. This is a shame and a pity because the human creature is instinctively musical. Great pain is crystalized and held in the human body as a result of withholding sound waves which should be released as desired.
It’s not proper in our society for a man to cry. Why else do you think he gets as loud as he can at sporting events? Why does he like the heavier side of music? He has to get those sound waves out! He gets hit in the thumb with a hammer (physical pain), he feels justified in letting go with a yell (or swear word), but when it’s his heart that gets hurt (or his feelings), he holds it inside... to be let out later at a more appropriate time.
Ladies have less stigma associated with crying & show of emotion in general. That’s why, ladies, men don’t have crying drunk parties in the bathroom at the bar & we don’t really flock in droves to Metallica concerts. We express our emotions freely, and they don’t. They need to yell at the sports announcer to get out all that aggression from pent up emotion.
Ok so... I was getting a ride to buy the PJ Harvey record Rid of Me because of a well written review of the album in a magazine. The reviewer gave me a mental sonic landscape of expectation & built up a desire in me to buy the record. That’s a good supporting argument why one should be able to describe ones music in the market place.
So who said that in order to describe music, you have to define it by genre? No one! Eureka! My music isn’t country, soul, rock, rap or bluegrass! It’s mountain rain hits city sidewalk. It’s Peter Gabriel kisses Dolly Parton on the hand & leads her down a row of dignitaries to seat her next to Ludacris. But wait... as clever as those descriptions are, they still don’t sound like my music.
So what then - what is the common theme by which I can define this thing? By theme, of course. What are the defining themes of my music & how can my music be defined by them?
Every artist & writer has his favorite subjects to which he or she returns again and again. Hemingway had the ocean, Faulkner, the South. Here are some of my favorites:
Love. I counted 66 titles in my catalogue between Z & S before I stopped in favor of writing some more on this article. That means, by extrapolation, I have somewhere in the ball park of 200 songs with the word “love” in them. That’s a lot of love. Perhaps if we, like the Greeks had more than one word for “love,” the number of songs I have written about it would be fewer. It would be more specific - say - 50 songs about love for God, 25 songs about a mother’s love for a child, 45 songs about lost love, etc. But, alas, as we only have one word for “love”, I’ve got 200 songs & counting about it.
Love has always been an important topic for songwriters, because, let’s face it, love makes the world go round. Some of the titles I have written about this glorious subject are: Love Hate, Better Run, Devastating, Done With You... and of course I Picked Wrong. But seriously, topic is where the similarity ends on these songs. What’s the defining characteristic?
The approach. How do I, as an artist & writer, handle a subject like love? I have to step back again in order to explain.
How does one’s views on the world affect the kinds of stories & songs a person writes? Well, in every way, of course.
I always felt compelled to write since a very early age. Why have I not written volumes upon volumes by now? I lacked the courage - the self confidence, rather - to screw myself to the sticking point where pen meets paper. I desired to write. I felt it in my bones. I did, in fact write, several volumes, but not near enough to justify or satisfy the need.
Why not? Lack of confidence is the stumbling block that trips up many a genius. We all have great ideas, original view points, creative impulses - what makes the author of a great book any different from you or me? Confidence. Self-confidence & the discipline to follow ideas through with action. Confidence tells the author that what he or she has to say is important enough to write it down, and that other people will want to read it.
Why is my view point unique? There are a lot of reasons for this. Some of what I have to say may be a little alarming, or off putting to some. That’s ok. I have had to learn to be ok with the fact that some people will not understand or like me. Such is life. If I am going to reach those people who do understand and like me, I have to be willing to open myself to ridicule from those who do not and don’t want to.
I have read that one can determine the magnitude of a soul in incarnation from the measure of how much a child is wanted by the parents at the time of conception. If this is the case, then I have a lot of work cut out for me, because as it is said, to whom much is given, much is expected.
My parents wanted a child desperately. My father was injured in a factory accident, burned on over 60% of his body before I was born. He and my mother had only been married for 2 years at that time, and after the accident, they feared they would never be able to have a child of their own.
Five years after the accident, I was born, red headed and stubborn, fist first into the world & I’ve been fighting ever since (other people occasionally, but mostly myself.) From an early age, I was interested in all things spiritual. As a very young child, I used to wander alone in the woods, finding magic in the forest clearings where the sun light danced among the leaves.
Once, I was sitting on a pile of top soil my parents had dumped under a tree to use in a flower bed they were terracing. There, beneath that tree, I suddenly became very uneasy. Listening to this inner voice, I leaped up to my feet and started running toward the house at full speed ahead. I heard a loud cracking & the thud of something heavy hitting the ground. Turning back to see, a giant tree limb had fallen out of the massive oak I had been sitting under & had landed precisely where I had been sitting. Listening to that inner voice paid off. On that day, a toddler of 3 or 4 years old, I learned the value of this inner voice & have seldom found occasion to doubt it.
Without digressing further in to a long winded biography for the purpose of adding context to my point here which is to describe why my point of view is unique, I will briefly outline some significant contributing factors:
I grew up in a tiny town in East TN, moved to Nashville, TN & was exposed to multi-ethnic & cultural environment for the first time, then moved to Boston, MA where I was immersed in a multi-ethnic & cultural environment. I have made a life long (albeit short) study of world religions using the work and ideas of Joseph Campbell & esoteric psychologists to guide the way. I am deeply interested in education & the practice of teaching ones own children to become well rounded, tolerant, skilled world servers.
Somewhere along the way, something went terribly “wrong” and I ended up on a strange foray into self destructiveness from which I have emerged, scathed, but unharmed & much more well equipped to recognize and alleviate the same tendencies in others as a result. Also, during this time, I was diagnosed as being “bi-polar,” a label which I neither reject nor embrace. Again, the related experiences shaped me into the person I am today and rendered me more fit for service to my fellow man.
No really, what kind of music do you play
For the purpose of giving some sort of guide post for my music, I will say that I am most pleased when people say I remind them of Carol King & Janis Joplin. Something about the way those ladies expressed themselves is magical. Carol’s gift of word placement & description, her innate gift of marrying the lyric with the melody.. the fact that she wrote Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and then turned around and wrote Far Away (how’s that for genre busting?). Janis’s passion is what carried her so far in the rock and roll hall of legends. Though she seldom wrote songs, the way she sang & performed gave the audience a window into her soul from which they could see through to their own.
Over the years, I have also been compared to Alanis Morissette, Jewel, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin, Ani DiFranco, a bunch of other people I’ve never heard of & if you run my voice through a low pitch shifter I sound exactly like Michael McDonald. A black producer friend of mine once called me “Chocolate Thunder,” my favorite nickname of all time.
What does it all mean?
So why am I telling you all this? It’s part of my ongoing quest to communicate. I made a vow that I will continue to communicate as long as I live. I am writing this piece because my friend and collaborator told me to do it.. told me to briefly describe myself and my music for people who come to the web site.
As I write this, there’s bit of the old me in there, sitting sullenly in a darkened corner with my hand up in the air waiting to be recognized. “Yes?” I ask the old me. “What if no one cares what you have to say. Who cares enough to read all this stuff about you?”
And my answer is, “I don’t know, but if I don’t write it, I’ll never know, and if no one cares, then no one will get this far into reading it anyway.”
I tell you these things because I must. Just like in Rudyard Kipling’s marvelous Just So Stories, I am the yellow dog dingo. Why am I writing? Because I have to. I am certain that you should do the same. If we all wrote, examining ourselves in the process, the world would be a lot better place in which to live.
Try it now & see if it isn’t so.