I do respect and “get” artists who refuse to define or categorize their sound… However, I’m even more charmed when they come up with their own designation… especially when it’s as cool as “Alternative folk pop country soul.” Such is the designation that Seattle-born, LA-residing Amy Blaschke has given to her music. And although this singer/songstress is not quite a household name here on the East Coast, she has been doing her thing professionally since 1999 and has quite the impressive resume. Her latest album, OPALINE, came out last October. It proves to be her most ambitious effort to date, mixing ‘60s SoCal sunshine folk pop with twangy, endearingly morose Americana. Amy has one upcoming show on January 31st at Lot 1 Café in Echo Park with Paula Frazer & Tarnation and Viva Violet, but in a recent chat with her about OPALINE (which was just released on limited edition vinyl), I found out that she’s already well-at-work on the album’s follow-up.
Izzy Cihak: How do you feel OPALINE compares to your previous releases? Was the process of writing and recording significantly different?
Amy Blaschke: OPALINE is my first album working with Brian Whelan and Mark Rains. Brian has become a trusted friend and editor beyond producing my albums. I feel that working with him has improved my song writing. Mark Rains runs an amazing studio in Echo Park (Los Angeles) and he gets the best sounds. They are both a pleasure to work with.
I feel that each album, even each song, builds on the experience of my previous efforts. OPALINE is the work I’m most proud of to date, and I hope to feel that way about each new record. The process was different in that Brian and I really did a lot of preproduction to discuss our approach, which songs to include, and which songs needed more work. And for my part, I wanted to pull from material over a five year period, digging into some of my old and forgotten demos. I intended to bring a range of song writing and moods to this record.
Regarding my writing process, I don’t think I’ve changed much. Although, I’ve gotten more organized and more consistent. I write when I’m inspired, and sometimes don’t know what’s happening until the song is finished. I don’t force it. Most importantly, I have learned to be patient with the process. Some songs emerge quickly and conveniently and others require repeated sessions of refinement.
Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to it?
Amy: My favorite review so far is from Jonathan Aird at Americana UK because he really understands where I’m coming from musically, which is satisfying. In his review he writes:
“Her songs are not straight country, touched with measures of folk, soul and a little rock grit they sound almost like a product of Lee Hazlewood Industries”
“In short, Amy Blaschke has it all, a pure and yet distinctive voice, accompanied faultlessly by her own guitar, and with casually smart lyrics which create a world of her own. Add in a number of sympathetic players, perfectly matched to the generally gentle tone of the album, and you find in ‘Opaline’ an object of some crystalline beauty.”
As for reactions from people in my life, I suppose the fact that my sister played it for my five-year-old nephew and he knew it was me without being told is pretty adorable. My astrology teacher and cherished mentor has been plugging the album to the astrology scene, so awesome. Overall with fans, I’m always curious which song moves someone the most. My music is meaningful to me, and I hope it’s something people can relate to.
Izzy: I especially love the track “My Own Only”, so I have to ask how that came about.
Amy: “My Own Only” is so fun to sing. I consider the overall tone of the song to be wry and dramatic, with a sentiment of remaining valiant in the face of defeat. This song came about after a particularly bruising rejection, and I’m pretty sure the title—the concept—came first. I refuse to close my heart off to romance, no matter the measure of heartbreak we have to endure. If you fall down, get back up!
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences?
Amy: My primary influence is always solitude and the longing for love. I’m not much of a story teller, more of an impressionist. I’m mostly drawn to music that is beautiful and emotional, often melancholic. Melody is king.
Throughout the years of writing the material on OPALINE I’d say the following were my deepest influences: Jeff Lynne/ELO, Fleetwood Mac (and the solo efforts of Christine McVey, Stevie Nicks, and Lindsey Buckingham), Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Nick Drake, Pink Floyd, Lee Hazlewood, Gene Clark, Skeeter Davis, Tammy Wynette, Emmylou Harris, Gerry Rafferty, Jackson Browne, The Pretenders, Candi Staton, and on and on. I’m always digging for new old music.
I’d say our primary musical influences for production were Jeff Lynne and the Fleetwood Mac album Tusk. Additionally, I chose to work with Brian Whelan because he is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and I wanted his musical personality to be on the record.
Izzy: I realize this is a pretty huge question, but what have been some of your personal highlights of your musical career? You’ve been doing this for nearly two decades, which is kind of crazy to think about.
Amy: Yeah, that is crazy! I played my first show when I was 16 and I’m 35 now. Time flies. As for highlights, there are too many good times to list, but here are some of my favorites…
Every time I get to record an album I am overjoyed. In 2001 I opened for Cat Power at Ladyfest in Olympia, WA. That was an incredible thrill for me, a huge fan since Moon Pix. I played a show at the Crocodile in Seattle with Fleet Foxes before they signed to Sub Pop. That was in 2007, and I was performing as Night Canopy at the time. Even before they exploded there was a local excitement about the band, such a special group of musicians. I got to perform at Bumbershoot that year too, a cool milestone for a Seattleite. In 2011 I got to open for Seattle pals Jesse Sykes and Phil Wandescher at the famous McCabe’s guitar shop in LA. I met Joshua Grange that night and he went on to produce and engineer my first album in LA, Desert Varnish. And now OPALINE is being released on vinyl, out on Seattle’s Rocket Heart Records. This is an exciting first for me.
Izzy: This is a bit random, but I saw on your Twitter that you follow Sonic Youth, which really intrigues me because I’m a huge fan of theirs and they did something seemingly completely different from what you do. So I’m curious, what are your favorite works of theirs?
Amy: In high school, which for me was in the mid-nineties, my friends and I started going to and playing at all-ages shows and discovering underground music, like Built To Spill, Red Stars Theory, Sonic Youth, Slint, Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Blonde Redhead. Seattle is such a wonderful music town, and there was a very cool underground scene in Olympia too. Releases from Kill Rock Stars and K Records were highly anticipated. My favorite artists that I found in my high school years who are more in my wheelhouse are Cat Power, Elliott Smith, Mary Lou Lord, Quasi, and Liz Phair. As for Sonic Youth, I really dig Goo and Dirty. I’m not a diehard fan, but Sonic Youth is one of the bands that I discovered in those formative years.
Izzy: Finally, what’s the plan for 2016?
Amy: The plan for 2016 is to keep playing local shows in support of OPALINE. I’m hoping to get on the road too, but I’m currently undergoing treatment for chronic Lyme disease. Lyme is a terribly painful, difficult and controversial illness, and I’m having to rest a lot these days. However, I cannot be stopped and I’ve started my next album, Breaking The Blues, with Brian and Mark. We’re seven songs in and I’m so excited for this next record. As for resolutions, I’m trying to incorporate a consistent meditation practice to contribute to my health and wellness. The future is bright.