Somojo Magazine

Amie Penwell

Hi Amie, how are you?
I’m great. It’s finally calmed down after the Holiday insanity. Being in public has been like entering a Roller Derby. How are you doing ?

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us.
I appreciate the opportunity.

Did you always want to be in a musician/songwriter?
Obsession with music has always been with me, but I had no discipline to learn an instrument until I was in my twenties. I remember first wanting to be a Solid Gold Dancer, or Coco on Fame, until I was introduced to Prince and the Revolution and decided I wanted to be like Wendy and Lisa. I plastered my hair to one side, where it stayed like that for the better part of my 4th grade year. I still want to be like them.

Do you perform as a solo artist or with a band?
Most of my time on stage has been solo, though I prefer to be accompanied by my musical partner Ben Leinbach. He plays percussion, guitar, sings some back up. Having a band can be really expensive. We independents have to stretch what we have to work with. I have learned to do a lot with, piano, voice, and percussion.

Do you work with the same musicians live as you do when recording?
It’s usually Ben, though I have had Margot Holtzman (viola), my husband Matthew on bass on a few occasions. He’ll be joining me for a some of the recording process this time around, as will Andy Korn, who was Ronnie Specktor’s drummer for a long time. I’m not sure who else is coming on board. I’ll see as I go.

You’ve just started working on a new album, when do you expect that to be finished?
Ben and I began a few weeks ago. If I had all the cash to record, get new photos, print up the cd’s, re-do my website and promote it, I would do it all over the next few months and release it in the spring. The reality is I am funding it as I go. The songs are there, i’ll be working with Zoltron for the look of the CD, and I know which photographer I want. I’m just acting as if I have all the money. I show up a day at a time and do the work that is in front of me and hope to have something new to offer the world in the summer of 2010.

For your latest project you have asked your fans for donations to help with the production costs of the album. How has is this going so far?
Asking for help is a weird thing to do. Especially when it comes to asking for financial help, but I need it, so I’ve asked.  So far I have raised enough to complete the first song.  That is amazing. I will have a few fund raising concerts over the winter and use every spare dime I have.

Did you consider ‘Sellaband’ and if you did, why did you choose not to use them?
No, but I’ll check them out. The idea came from my friend Drew Pearce, who suggested I take Jill Sobule’s lead and put it out there that I needed support.

What music did you listen to while growing up?
U2, Prince, The Police, Sheila E, Sinead O’Connor, Kate Bush, Rush, Van Halen, Peter Gabriel, Journey (a child of the early eighties in Massachusetts) Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Rogers, REM.

Your first album ‘King In A Temple’ had some great reviews. Do you find that having such a good reaction to the first album puts more pressure on you for your second album?
Or would that pressure be there from yourself anyway, regardless of how well your first album had been received?

Yes there is pressure, but not about publicly releasing my second record. I don’t believe in the sophmore curse stuff. It doesn’t matter if your indie anyways. No one is making money off of Amie Penwell yet. The pressure is more around getting better at my art, making music from my core, that I’m passionate enough about to spend all this energy on, to actually add something authentic and hopefully healing to the world. There is already enough droll out there. As an artist you hope to cut through the droll and be of some musical/spiritual/emotional use to people. Other wise I don’t see the point.

How long have you played your instrument?

There was a baby grand in my house growing up, though I used it more for a fort than an instrument. I began singing at the Walnut Hill School of the Arts out side of Boston Massachusetts, where I transferred my junior year of high school so I wouldn’t have to serve any more detention for skipping class in my previous place of education. I hung out in practice rooms, at the beautiful brand new Yamaha Baby Grand pianos and played the few progressions I had swirling around, but mostly I smoked cigarettes and drank Southern Comfort while skipping Spanish. I got serious about playing and singing about 10 years ago.

Amie Penwell

What was your first instrument?
Piano. I found out I had a voice at Walnut Hill, but kept it closeted until I was in my mid twenties. I was not ready to be a singer. Having your
instrument live inside you can be uncomfortable as you are discovering it. It’s a powerful instrument the voice. It makes you feel stuff. I wasn’t ready for what I needed to feel until….I was.

Are you self taught or did you have lessons?
I have a very reliable ear. I am mostly self taught. I can’t read music.

What is your current equipment?
I have a Roland Digital Fp-3. My husband Matt got me for my last birthday off of Craigslist. Something I can lift on my own. I also have a General Music Real Digital Piano, but the thing is a tank. I have a Yorksville Mixer Amp, and a standard Shure Beta 58A Mic. (also gifts from my man over the years).

If you had an unlimited equipment budget what would be on your shopping list?
I haven’t really allowed myself to become a gear junkie, though give me some cash and the space for it and I could easily succumb. Give me a great piano, a warm sounding mic, and a comfortable seat to sit on, in a room with great acoustics and I’m thrilled, but I’d happily promote a new Roland, or Korg any day.

Do you use the same equipment live as you do when in a studio?
I have used many a baby, and grand pianos for recording, though right now I’m happy on Ben’s Yamaha P-80, and Korg M1. I usually have my Roland in tow unless I’m lucky enough to play a venue with a piano.

Do you record at a purpose built studio or do you record at home with portable digital equipment or pc/mac with audio software?
‘King in a Temple’ was recorded all over the place. Mostly a dance studio, some at Prairie Sun Studios where Tom Waits recorded ‘Bone Machine’, my living room, Chris Haugen’s (guitar player) living room and at Ben’s studio. All on one Mac or another. This time around I suspect I will do the lions share at Ben’s studio.

Which recording/audio software do you use?
Digital Performer and Pro-Tools .

Would you sign with a major record company?
Yeah, I would. My fantasy label is ATO. Dave Matthews founded it and I long to be in business with a record company who still loves music. What a concept!

Do you find the process of recording enjoyable and does it get easier the more you do?
I love recording. I feel most in my element in the studio. Though you wouldn’t know it if you were witness to the process. I have the mouth of a truck driver. Thank God Ben is not easily offended. We are both from the East Coast of the United States and are a bit more…….crass with our speech at times.  I was thinking of putting a reel together of all the outtakes. Place it just after a ballad. Oh there’s the real Penwell. Can’t help it. I curse when I create.

Do you try to capture your ‘live’ sound on recordings or do you think that the ‘live’ sound and recorded sound should be different experiences for your fans?
I think there should be both. It’s important to catch live moments, but I think that would be boring to listen to an entire record of piano and voice. Much of ‘King In a Temple’   is live because I was on a small credit card budget.  I got as much as I could out of the days I had access to the rooms, and engineers. If you can get your brain to stop thinking for a moment and just be in the song it’s….spiritual. I wanted to capture that, but I am also in love with good production.  A thoughtful arrangement, whether it be sparse, or layered in complexity is a high art, but it’s much more time consuming and that means more money.  A perfect example of those who do both beautifully are Radiohead. Oh how I love Radiohead. (big shock, another musician who loves Radiohead).

Do you any favourite tracks from your work?
Show Me To The River
Ending or Beginning
Old Widow Maker

Do you have a method for writing songs? (lyrics first, music first, etc)
A song will tap on my shoulder and begin to aggravate me. I’ll get uncomfortable, itchy. A chorus will come and I’ll resist it. ‘Show Me To the River’ ‘What Would Love Do’, and ‘Mercy’ were like that.  I never had any intention of writing Gospel, R&B songs, but U2’s second record ‘October’ and  “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” off of ‘The Joshua Tree’ indirectly gave me permission to write those songs. They don’t leave me alone. When you ask to do this you just have to learn to accept and respect the creativity that comes, and give it everything you have. My voice as it turns out lends itself to that style well, though I don’t feel like I live exclusively in those genres.

Do you write songs only about personal experiences?
Not always. I observe a lot. I imagine myself in other people’s shoes. At times I’m compelled to tell someone’s story as was the case with JB Blunk in ‘Worth My Mind’ and ‘So Many Ways’. Sometimes it comes like a jigsaw puzzle.  But I have, like most people, a complicated history to draw upon. No shortage of demons, or relational entanglements to dive into when I need them for material.  I wasn’t given this voice without the trials. It’s been weathered. My voice has some rust on it.

Do you find song writing easy or difficult?
The essence of a song can be hard to feel, let alone expand upon, but it’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the world after you’ve built a relationship with it.  It’s hard at times, but for me there is nothing else I would rather be doing. Technically I don’t really follow the rules of song writing.  I prefer intuition, and good editing which can make the process a little more difficult. I know I need verses, chorus, and bridge, but I’m not always clear what is what. I have written many bridges that I was told were the chorus. I’m really just winging it.

Is there anyone who you would like to collaborate with on writing songs or performing?
Edge from U2, any one from Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Chris Martin, Brian Eno, Ben Harper, Neil Young, Daniel Lanois.

Who are your favourite song writers?
All of the above, Neko Case, Kate Bush.

Which countries have you gigged in?
Northern California is all so far.

Which countries would be at the top of your list to tour?
Ireland, UK, France, Italy.

Who would you like to tour with?
I think Glen Hansard, or David Gray and I would make a nice evening.

How do you promote your music and get your music to new fans?
I did a college radio send out, got some airplay across America. I had Eugene Foley do a Licensing/Publishing campaign with all the major entertainment companies in America, but they seem to want young sugar pop, or glossy fake pop/punk crap that all sounds the same. Got any other suggestions?

Do you use any websites like ‘Reverbnation’ or ‘Soundclick’?
No, but I’ll check them out.

Do you think such sites are good for independent and unsigned artists?
If they are like Somojo, than yes, but I have to admit I feel swamped in a sea of independent artists trying to be heard, and I don’t know howelse to do this music business thing. I need the same promotional help that every other musician needs.

Do you think the internet overall is a good or bad thing for new artists?
I hate to say both again, but it is. I feel no clear line to follow, and truth be told I wish there were. It’s a free for all. Last year it was all about MySpace and how many hits you got to prove your success. It makes you feel like you have to advertise, write letters to your “friends” begging them to listen to your stuff. It’s crap. I have to say that Facebook has been the most effective way of getting my information out there to people.

With all the various websites out there for independent and unsigned artists, is there still something that is missing from them that you think would benefit the lesser known artists?
Easier access to larger and more thorough promotional opportunities.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t yet heard you?
Alternative- Soulful -Adult Contemporary alla Annie Lennox/David Gray/Cowboy Junkies.  What do you think?

Who do you listen to or do when chilling out?
David Darling ‘Eight String Religion” and ‘Tao of Cello’
Peter Gabriel -Passion
Enya ‘Watermark’
Digable Planets ‘Blowout Comb’
The Soundtrack to ‘Kama Sutra’ by Mychal Danna
U2 -The Joshua Tree
Radiohead -Kid A

Have you ever entered any ‘battle of the bands’ competitions?
No, I’m too competitive. I hate getting worked up like that.

What’s your best/worst experience at a gig?
Best gig was my last show at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. My worst was a songwriter in the round type of gig at a place with some prestige called The Sweetwater. I was horribly intimidated by who I was on stage with. I had to sit there just totally fucking uncomfortable for like 3 hours. The pressure was too much for where I was at as a songwriter. I was in over my head. It sucked….but I learned a lot.

Do you get nervous before a gig? How do you calm down?
Yes I get nervous. I quit smoking and drinking 10 years ago, so I kind of just have to deal with the nerves until I start singing. Usually takes a song or two before my hands stop being numb and I don’t want to vomit.

What is your day job if you have one?
I work with my husband Matt taking care of kids for an after school program.

Has your music been used on any film soundtracks?
It will be in an upcoming documentary called “The Eyes of Thailand”

Is it something you’d like to get involved in if the opportunity came along?
I hope to do a lot of soundtrack work in my career.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yeah, I have recently signed a major licensing contract with SBMP Publishing to have 15 of my songs playing all over Asia and Australia. I have also signed with to NoteBorn Music, and have been added to LaLa Music’s library. Thanks for making the charts on your site. It was my first opportunity to see that people were actually listening to my songs. It was a first for me.
I would also like give a public thanks to music. With out it I would be lost.

If anyone wants to help me make my record go to:
Thanks Somojo!!!!!!!

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