One of the warmest albums to come our way this year is the latest from Amy Lashley, ‘Travels of a Homebody’. The opening song, ‘Kiss Indiana Goodbye’ is one of those songs that you feel you’ve known all your life while still sounding new. If you’ve missed Amy’s vocal contributions to her long-time partner Otis Gibbs albums, then prepare yourself for one of the warmest, most inviting female vocalists you’re ever going to hear.
It’s not easy to explain just how brilliant a vocalist Amy is. There are traces of many of the folk/country/Americana heroines dotted throughout Amy’s original songs but that’s all there is, just a trace here and there that might make you recall, say, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch or even Lucy Kaplansky. For the most part Amy Lashley, however, sounds uniquely Amy Lashley. Again, at once new and familiar.
Amy grew up in a farming community in central Indiana with a population of less than 400, and spent some of her childhood hours in the General Store that her parents owned. There is a feeling of contentment scattered through the songs on ‘Travels of a Homebody’, maybe not necessarily in Amy’s lyrics, but in the actual sound that Gibbs who produced the album and engineer Thomm Jutz achieve. While this sound might contradict Amy’s lyrics on some songs, the album generates a good-time feeling. One can picture a young Amy happily running through her parents’ store as the album progresses.
Amy has made very few public performances of her music, and seems unlikely to tour to promote ‘Travels of a Homebody’ for reasons that she outlines below in our interview with her. While her reasons for not performing in public are perfectly understandable and more than likely shared by many artists who don’t actually have the courage that Amy shows in choosing to stick to her principles, it’s a crying shame to think that we may never witness Amy bringing her songs to life on a stage. For a short taster of just how good Amy sounds in those rare live performances, check out a clip of her on YouTube where she performs with Otis Gibbs on ‘Ours Is the Time’, which she told us is one of her favourite Gibbs songs.
Since 2007 Amy has been living in East Nashville and apart from writing and recording her music she spends her time also writing poems and stories, but she kindly found time to answer some questions we put to her just shortly after the European release of ‘Travels of a Homebody’.
PB: At what age did you start showing an interest in music? Most people are influenced by the music their parents or siblings were playing. Was that the case with you? Some of the songs on ‘Travels of a Homebody’ certainly have an old-time feel to them.
AL: Not long after I learned to speak, I could sing along to most of the popular songs on the radio—I have always absorbed lyrics and melodies—without my knowledge—whether it’s in a grocery, or café—music just seems to stick. Oh, I wish it were the case with World History, or other forms of information!
I was definitely influenced by the few big band records my parents had, and also the college music of my oldest brother. He is credited with rescuing me from the terrible pop radio of the early 80s.
PB: Is ‘Travels of a Homebody’ your debut album or just your first European release? Have you released another album or record before in the United States?
AL: This is my first European release. I, however, sang in a band in college that had many incarnations over the course of my stay—we released three full-length independent records.
Following college, I distanced myself from music for several years. In 2005 I self-released an EP, ‘Foolish Lonesome’, which was my first solo attempt. I did perform live with a fluctuating cast of players during that time, but found the process taxing and frustrating.
PB: Rather than run of the mill boy meets girl love songs, the songs you write are like little stories set to music. For the main part it seems that the songs you write come from personal experience. Is that so?
AL: Don’t get me wrong, I love a love song - especially one of heartbreak, or lost love. Though I prefer songwriters that also dig a little deeper. I enjoy story songs like those of Guy Clark and John Prine, where humour can be injected and a bit of playfulness. I enjoy writing about my big family, or about a story I find inspiring. I often wake from sleep with stray lines that I scribble down and try to decipher the next day—these often inspire songs as well.
PB: I have to say that your song ‘Lil’ Red Girl’ has raised smiles and comments from every female I have played it to. It’s not a subject many have covered in a song but all those women have felt that “finally some one has said how it is for us in a song”. Does it take you long to write songs like that which actually affect people?
AL: Most women do gather the song’s meaning by the end of the first verse. Men usually have it figured out by the song’s end. I tried to be at least a little subtle with it.
Songs typically come to me in pieces. Rarely have I sat down and written a complete song in one sitting. Each one is a completely different experience though. I struggle with focus - so sometimes it might take months before I’m happy and feel as though a song is complete.
PB: Another song that has got people talking is ‘Emmett Till’. Apparently you weren’t familiar with Bob Dylan’s song about Emmett. As it was over fifty years ago that Emmett was murdered and it’s been eight years or so since the case was reopened, what were your reasons for recording your song just now? Emmylou Harris has also recorded a song about Emmett on her new album.
AL: I wrote the song in 2006, after watching a documentary on the subject. It was such an amazing, inspiring story. I was so moved by Emmett’s mother—I started taking notes that very night and writing down ideas for verses. With Otis’ insistence, we put it on the record.
PB: I understand you dislike touring. But with the positive reviews that ‘Travels of a Homebody’ has been generating surely you are going to get requests to tour the album. As your partner Otis Gibbs tours regularly and is touring Scandinavia isn’t the temptation there to join forces on a tour?
AL: Well….if the perfect opportunity presented itself, I just might—but I don’t see that happening. Most people have no idea just how intensive touring is—there is typically little downtime — hours of travel, hotels, missed meals, and endless chit chat. None of which are my strong suit. If Emmylou, or someone else I admire called me up and said, “Amy, I’d like for you to come on the road with me AND you can bring your dog,” then I just might reconsider. Until then…
PB: You cover so many types of music so successfully on your albums, which is one of its major attractions, in that it appeals to a wide audience, but what music do you listen to when and if you have some time to yourself?
AL: Lately I prefer to listen to the birds in my backyard. When I do listen to music, I gravitate toward storytellers and Texas Troubadours, and I’m a huge Gillian Welch fan.
PB: Has the success that Otis has achieved over a number of albums spurred you on to get your music out there? Is there any kind of friendly competition between you? I know Otis played a part in getting ‘Emmett Till’ on the album as he liked the song so much. Do you ever feel that you wish you had written any of his songs?
AL: Otis and I are one another’s biggest champions. I would disagree that there is any sense of competition between us - just mutual respect and admiration. He never fails to surprise, or inspire me. He is one of the most talented and yet humble souls I have ever met.
PB: By your own admission you have a little ‘quirkiness’ in your personality, but it doesn’t come through in your songs. In fact most people can relate easily to your songs and wouldn’t class you as quirky at all. With all the good reviews ‘Travels of a Homebody’ is getting surely you feel you’ve touched and made contact with many like-minded people now?
AL: I feel extremely lucky that I am able to write songs and stories that a wide variety of people seem to enjoy —mothers, grandparents, indie rockers - my 9 year old niece knows the words to every song.
The key to this (I think) is I come from humble beginnings, but I relish the fact and don’t try to distance myself from my small town upbringing. I embrace and cherish it and it shines through in my music.
PB: You contributed vocals to ‘Joe Hill’s Ashes’, the latest album by Otis, and he produced and played guitar on ‘Travels of a Homeboy’. Surely that album of duets is on the horizon?
AL: I have sung on Otis’ last three albums, and he has produced and played on both of my solo records. We work well together, but rarely. I think this is the key to our successful personal relationship.
A duet album would be a hell of a lot of work.Maybe when we are retired and have loads of free time on our hands. Until then, folks can listen to ‘Ours is the Time’, from Otis’ album ‘One Day Our Whispers’. It is one of my favourite Otis songs.
PB: Like many people I look back on my childhood with fond memories and get very nostalgic at times. ‘Ode To Middle Age’ kind of changed my view, at least for the few minutes every time I hear the song anyway! Your vocals on that song are some of the best on the album. It comes through that you mean every word. Do you spend a lot of time on each song getting it just right or does your producer have to halt proceedings occasionally!
AL: I am a bit of a perfectionist, but who isn’t in the studio. You don’t want little things you could have easily changed to haunt you in years to come. I also don’t have the recording budget to waste time in the studio, so I don’t record until I’m well-prepared.
PB: What plans do you have concerning your musical career in the near future?
AL: My only plan is to keep writing, reading and learning — I’d like to one day own some rural property with a barn/studio—a place for goats, chickens, dogs and songs!
PB: Thank you.