Although I often mock World Café Live (with love) for their upper-middle-class, white, suburban, NPR-listening demographic and their relatively sterile dinner-theatre setup, the University City venue has hosted some of the best concerts the city has seen this year, from Saul Williams’ awe-inspiring set last month to Jessie Baylin’s two performances a week and a half ago. And this Friday, they have another stellar bill, featuring former Black Crowes axeman Rich Robinson and Americana songstress, and upright-bassist, Amy LaVere.
If LaVere’s name sounds familiar, it could be because she actually already has three solo LPs in the book, or maybe because of her roles in a handful of noteworthy films (including Black Snake Moan and Walk the Line, in which she plays Wanda Jackson), or possibly because she held the opening slot for Lucero’s 2009 US tour, or the reason could be that you’re a fan of mine and you read her last interview with me for OrigiVation, previewing her last Philthy appearance, upstairs at World Café Live.
Amy has spent the past year or so on the road, supporting her latest full-length, Stranger Me. The album, her most melancholy, introspective, and esoteric to-date (which includes somewhat avant-garde instrumentation, including toy pianos, organ, Buddha boxes, and the Theramin), was inspired by the breakup with her long-term love interest and musical collaborator, drummer Paul Taylor, and the death of Jim Dickinson, a long-time friend who produced her sophomore effort, Anchors and Anvils, and who was originally slated to produce this latest work (Duties wound up in the hands of Craig Silvey, shortly after his time engineering The Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.) To add extra confusion LaVere and Taylor actually reunited, musically, for the album, when they realized that they didn’t want to do the music with any other musicians. Spin called the album “The Breakup album of the year” and characterized Amy as “Part winsome alt-country gal and part avenging angel.” I recently got a chance to chat with Amy about the writing and recording of Stranger Me, her recent time on the road, and her upcoming projects
“The highlights are always playing live,” she tells me upon being asked what have been the recent high points of her career, going on to say the best thing was “A month-long tour of Europe, largely funded by my fans through Kickstarter.” Kickstarter seems to be a champion to many of the best things going on in music in the past year, from Philthy stars like Charlene Kaye and Johanna and the Dusty Floor and even Rich Robinson himself. Amy tells me she’s “So thankful” for her fans’ contributions via “The world’s largest funding platform for creative projects” (as described by the site) in a time when “Musicians have largely lost their avenue for income.”
As for the performing of the album itself, that has proven to be somewhat less cathartic than I would have hoped. “The recording process was cathartic… we were obviously soulmates of some sort… But the promotion of the record is a bit of a fucking drag,” citing the constant questions on the subject courtesy of journalists (like myself) as having “Created a lingering thing.” “I had some difficulty trying to move on with my life from it,” she tells me.
It’s not only her solo output that Amy LaVere is exploring in 2012, but also The Wandering, a band featuring North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson, Shannon McNally, Valerie June, and Sharde Thomas. Amy describes the project as “Very much a traditional band” with banjo and her own upright bass, resembling “Trippy 1930s music.” Their debut, Go On Now, You Can’t Stay Here, is out May 8th and the outfit will be on the road, touring the East Coast throughout most of May.
In terms of what to expect of Amy’s set this Friday, she tells me that it’s going to be a 45-minute, somewhat bare bones, set: “We’re gonna do material from all three of my records… a little retrospective… the instrumentation is going to be pretty stripped down.” Although she tells me she’s “Really anxious to get into the studio in November,” it’s the current tour, her first since she got back home in December, that is currently most exciting thing for her: “I’ve been so damned bored, I’m excited to get back on the road.”
Amy tells me that, prior to getting on the road with him (when this interview was conducted), she wasn’t yet familiar with Rich Robinson’s recent work, however, she was quite excited to take the stage before him and attempt to win over his fans: “I really enjoy it because of the challenge that it is.” She also adds that she’s “more comfortable playing to larger audiences,” that are a little less intensely intimate, and confesses that “It’s nice to get to play bigger rooms than you might have earned.”