11th Annual Concept Album Winner
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Record Label: Self-Released
Home Base: Guatemala City / Portland, OR
Genre: Bohemian Country
Categories Entered: Concept Album
Work Submitted: Play Dead
Artists Featured: Max Skewes- banjo, Mark Powers- drums & spoons, Dan Sullivan- bass guitar, Doug Jones- pedal steel, Liz Chibucos- fiddle, Chris Viola- lead guitar, Carrie Cunningham- background vocals,
Simon Lucas- jug blowing & knee slapping, Duane Miller- Engineer and rib eater, Ravi Laird- Rib eater, Amanda Richards- lead & background vocals, acoustic guitar.
Who are your influences? I’ve been listening to music my entire life and there is no doubt that I have been influenced by nearly all the people, music and musicians I’ve encountered. My family and their musical preferences were the first to influence and inspire me (Hank Williams, Sons of the Pioneers, Marty Robbins, Dolly Parton Vs. Pat Benatar and Bonnie Raitt). I discovered Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and all the folk music of the 60’s and 70’s when I was 15 and that greatly influenced my lyric writing. I love folk songs that tell stories, especially dark and obscure ones. That ultimately led to my great love for Tom Waits. He is the most musically cool person I’ve ever heard. His unique enunciation, that I copycatted, got me through the embarrassment of scatting while I studied Jazz at MHCC. I also love Emmylou Harris. Her withdrawn vocals on Wrecking Ball taught me so much about the push and pull of a vocal performance. She’s worked with so many amazing musicians over the years and her career in its entirety is an inspiring body of work.
Describe your nominated work. Imagine that Oh Brother Where Art Thou impregnated the Rocky Horror Picture Show and together they had a zombie baby that ate its way from the inside out. That’s pretty much what you can expect from Play Dead. This is an old-school country rock-opera about the zombie apocalypse written from the perspective of the soon-to-be last person on Earth, who happens to be a country singer and a feminist. Zombies aside, the compositions span nearly the entire history of country music: from boot-stomping old-timey banjo tunes to classic he-done-me-wrong ballad like “Don’t Leave Your Woman (When There’s Walking Dead),” “Undead in my Bed” and “Is my Baby Gonna be a Zombie.”
Before listing Play Dead among the magazine’s top 10 albums of 2011, Paul Riley of the UK’s Country Music People Magazine had this to say: “Right now I regard Amanda Richards as one of country music’s most important singers. This disc [Play Dead] is a masterpiece.” And “Don’t Leave Your Woman (When There’s Walking Dead) is a sad country masterpiece, one of the year’s best songs.”
“Stripped bare of unnecessary rock opera flair, Play Dead is both sweet and enduring, despite Richards’ bloody lyrical content. The end of days never sounded so great.” –Ezra Ace Careff, The Portland Mercury.
Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording? Not really. I wanted this album to sound as clean and acoustic as possible, as if we were in the room playing live. We did have fun barbequing and eating ribs in the studio for “Feast of Flesh.” That track still makes me squirm even though I was there and I know how it was recorded.
Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned? Even though there was more planning for this album than any of the others I have done, I still have a tendency to wing it in the studio or change my mind at the last minute. I’d say it’s about 70% planned, 10% accident and 20% happy accident.
How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses? Duane Miller has a beautiful recording studio that he has built over the last 5 years. Duane generously donated his time and energy to make this project happen. Most of the musicians volunteered their time and talent. The album artwork was designed and sponsored by Communications Factory, a full service ad agency based out of Ohio. The album was released digitally with only 200 hard copies in existence. Justin Phelps of Super Digital mastered the album for $300. There was no budget for this album. We are currently remixing it to hopefully re-release on vinyl this summer and maybe even some CD’s if we can scrounge some cash together.
Why did you choose to submit this work to The 11th IMAs? I got an e-mail from a promoter in Europe about the IMA’s. I happened to have an extra $30 so I just decided to submit the whole album.
What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it? My definition of success is having a position of value in society. To be recognized and honored for my accomplishments, compensated generously, and supported in my efforts to speak my truth, stand up for the greater good and inspire others to follow their bliss.
How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals? Receiving an Independent Music Award, in and of itself, is achieving one of my career goals but I have no doubt that the honor will open many doors that were previously unavailable to me. You have to do a lot to stand out these days. Perhaps receiving an IMA will be the boost I need to get noticed by other industry professionals.
Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique? I have a very diverse fan base. There are a lot of folks from the older generation that love my first couple of albums but my more recent work is attracting younger and rowdier audiences. I spent a couple of years doing musical comedy in the Pacific Northwest Burlesque scene and that attracts all different kinds of fans. I have more than 6 hours of original material that ranges widely in genre and mood. There are people that appreciate my sad and thoughtful lyrics while others want to hear the bawdy barroom humor. I’ve seen this cause some conflict in my live shows. It’s hard to remedy when you are as prolific a writer as I am. I have to be very intuitive when it comes to performing live. And for that reason, I rarely use a set list.
What is your guilty pleasure on the road? Any close calls or mishaps while on tour? My guilty pleasure is that I love “black tie camping.” Basically, you’re always dressed to the nines, you eat gourmet food, steaks and wine off the tailgate but you’re basically living out of your car and bathing in public restrooms and no one is the wiser. They just think I’m living the dream… and in many ways I am.
The biggest mishap that I’ve had happen on the road was actually on the day I returned home to Portland, OR from Southern California in May 2010. I parked my car at a friend’s yacht club and while we were out sailing I had all my gear, my brand new Breedlove guitar (for which I had just received and endorsement) and my entire Mackie sound system stolen. I had let my insurance lapse and had no way to replace any of the items. I’m still recovering from that loss.
Who are your musical heroes & influences? Tom Waits is my all-time hero. He’s the most musically creative and prolific songwriter I can think of. I’ve been so inspired by him that I even wrote him a song that I recorded in 2006 in response to his song “Day After Tomorrow.” I am thrilled to tears at the prospect that he could potentially be listening to my album.
I am also psyched about Keith Richards being on the panel. I’ve considered investigating my family tree to see if we are of any relation. I listened to his biography “Life” while driving from Portland, OR to Ithica, NY last summer. It was so inspiring.
I have to say that my family was the first to inspire me. My Dad and my aunts are a very talented musicians and my Grandfather sang tenor with The Sons of the Pioneers for 18 years. I got most of my country influence from them and their version of country and folk music.
Are there any songs you wish you wrote and why? Oh yeah. Any song that I have any kind of emotional response to I usually wish I wrote, because if the feelings were there then I know I had all the material. I’m sure there’s a list of songs somewhere but one song that comes to mind is “Candy” by Paulo Nutini. I cry every time I hear that song. I wish it were mine. There are also a few Magnetic fields songs I wish I wrote, like the whole Charm of the Highway Strip album. “Sunset City” especially.
What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans? Um… right now I am loving some older Magnetic Fields albums, TV on the Radio, Bon Iver, Adele, Deerhunter but I think most of my fans would be surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010).
How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming? My boyfriend is obsessed with staying up to date with the latest bands. He’s always on pitchfork and streaming the higher rated albums. I usually only like a fraction of what he plays, but it keeps me up to date. If I really like a band, I’ll pay for a download or donate to a kickstarter account. I am ok with streaming though.
How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free? The costs of being a musician are not going down. Touring has become increasingly expensive while the guarantees are miniscule if not non-existent. I get approached by “scouts” all the time that want to pitch my songs to labels and radio for anywhere from $2,000-$10,000. That’s more than I make in a year from music.
I think that what is happening now is that hobbyist musicians that have day jobs or are independently wealthy end up with a distinct advantage: they can pay for promotion and airplay and buy the gear, gas and wardrobe they need to look the part. If your main source of income is solely from music, it’s hard to live, let alone continue to invest in marketing, recording and touring. Unless of course, you are receiving substantial mechanical and performance royalties. I make about $300 a year in performance royalties. It isn’t much but at least they know where to send the checks.
I tell people that “being a musician is a very expensive hobby.” I’ve lived out of my car for more than 6 months at least 3 times in the 10 years that I’ve been a professional musician. I found that my standard of living was much higher when rent was out of the equation and I could invest more in tools and marketing essentials. It was something I chose to do to because at the time, being a musician was more important to me than being in a house.
What don’t fans/audiences understand about the music industry today? As an indepedent musician, you have to do everything yourself nowadays. You can’t just be a musician. You have to be a songwriter, a producer, a publicist, a promoter, a business manager, an accountant, a videographer, a makeup artist, an art director, a webmaster, a shamless self promoter, a poster child of humility, you have to be tactful when asserting yourself even when you are being screwed royally by a club (word spreads fast), you also have to have lots of talented friends willing to help you. It doesn’t hurt to be beautiful, smart, sexy, talented and independently wealthy or extremely resourceful as well.
Are digital singles/EPs vs. full albums the future? I love making albums. I think that even if I stay digital in the future, I’ll still be recording albums. I love the feeling that I had as a child, holding the album and reading the lyrics along with the album. You can absorb an artist this way; get a complete taste of their style.
I’m not a fan of the single. They are more than likely the way of the future, but I don’t like it. There are too many bands that can pass as a “good band” when they really only have to have one good song to hide behind. I want to know the artist that I’m listening to. If I like more than one song by a particular artist, then it becomes safer to say that I like that artist. I’m also a lyrics girl and I want to hear some intelligence behind other people’s writing. That’s a tough thing to gage if you only have access to one song at a time.
Finish this sentence: The music industry is…slippery and slimy. I love the people I’ve met and worked with on a grassroots level. The fans are great. The critics are great. The people who are working for the love of music are great. But anytime I’ve gotten remotely close to someone with big label connections or who promises big things I immediately feel like I need to take a shower. There’s something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on but I sense that it may be evil in its purest distilled form.
What do you have in the works for the upcoming year? I am currently living in Guatemala City and planning to record my 5th album in the coming weeks with engineer and producer Cepi Alvarado, a recent graduate of Berkeley School of Music. I plan to return to Portland for 3-4 weeks in June. I haven’t really thought about it too far beyond that.