This month, we caught up with neo-soul artist Amy D. on her pre-show practices, working with community-minded people, and the process of creating her new album ‘Like You,’ out later this year on Unspeakable Records.
What is your earliest experience of music that you can remember?
I grew up singing, playing dress-up, and putting on "shows" in the living room with my sisters and friends. Music was very much part of my upbringing. While my parents aren't musicians, they're avid listeners and appreciators of music. I remember road trips- sitting in the backseat of my dad's big van, belting out Mariah Carey with my sisters. Growing up in a pop music goldmine (AKA the 90's), I eventually found my way to jazz, by way of a summer camp I attended. I truly found my passion for music in exploring jazz standards and improvisation- the rest is history!
When did you begin writing songs?
It took a while! I didn't immediately feel inspired to write my own music. As a jazz musician growing up, much of my joy came from interpreting the songs of others. I wrote a few tunes in a Music Tech class in college, and definitely struggled to "find my voice" and writing style initially. When I became a gigging musician after college and started a band, I dove into songwriting to detour from being a "cover singer." It feels amazing to sing words and feelings that mostly are born of my life experiences. I'm excited to continue exploring this very unpredictable art form.
What is the story behind your upcoming album? How did these songs come together, and what is your intention in sharing them?
"Like You" is a compilation of original songs I've written since 2015. While they weren't initially a concept/collection, the thread that runs through is finding empowerment in owning your authentic voice. That's really been my artist and songwriting journey all along. Each song represents a moment in life where I wanted to express exactly what I was feeling. Each song became it's own form of therapy- a means of getting the feelings out of my body and on paper.
My intention with this album is to inspire others to find their authentic voice too. If the feelings that I have, expressed in song, are relevant and meaningful to others, my purpose is realized. I see this album as a launching point- a time to pause and consider important questions on my journey forward. Where do I want this music to take me? How can this music cause healing / love / celebration / reflection for a broader audience?
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
Pre-show rituals and practices are KEY. I most definitely warm-up my voice (usually while driving, but I'm working on shifting that, hah). Most importantly, before I go onstage, I pray and set an intention- something I learned from an interview I saw with Maya Angelou. I call upon all of my ancestors and loved ones to join me on the stage- channeling their love and support. Then, a performance is so much bigger than me. This practice most often gets me out of my head, and reminds me of the greater purpose for music- why am I doing this in the first place? This also reminds me that our music only belongs to us momentarily- it flows from us to be of use / healing / inspiration across all time and space.
When do you feel most creative?
Usually late at night when everyone is a asleep! I love the quiet of hours near/after midnight. I can really "hear" myself in those times. The hustle of the day has subsided and I can reflect, focus, and let inspiration take hold. I've written and practiced so much music at the piano in my childhood home. It might be out of tune, but I feel like it's tuned to nostalgia - tuned to memories and moments. Creativity visits me in unexpected bouts too. I record voice notes on my phone often to capture the ideas that take me by surprise.
As a woman living in the United States, how do you personally cope with and/or address a lot of the social issues our country is facing today?
Oh gosh, it is certainly tough. Music is definitely a healing mechanism that I rely on for the times we live in. As a creative, I feel like I'm in a bubble- often protected from "the noise," because I'm blessed to work in community with like-minded people. The dialogue and common philosophy we share can a healing balm for the feelings of overwhelm and chaos. Meditation and prayer have also been helpful in finding my peace- a way of overcoming frustration and anger I have with digesting what is happening. Finding/sharing kindness and gratitude also helps along the way.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
There are so many. The first person that comes to mind today is Stevie Wonder. I've been so inspired by his music and songwriting. It would be incredible to get even a momentary view of his creative process and musical perspective.
What have you been listening to recently?
I've been loving the music of H.E.R. The quality of her voice and the depth of her songwriting has been really inspiring. I love seeing an artist with such soulful, authentic ethos making waves with mainstream audiences. I also have a ton of friends here in the Bay Area who have been releasing music, so I've been listening to their amazing new singles and albums, ranging from soul and jazz to even country/Americana.
Do you have any upcoming shows or events you can tell us about?
I've got a few exciting shows over the course of the summer- definitely working on some tour dates for the fall too (keep an eye/ear out for me!). I'm most eagerly anticipating my show at the San Jose Jazz Fest on August 11th, where I get to showcase music and arrangements from my forthcoming album. The band that's assembling for it is out of this world.