Life for singer-songwriter Amy LaVere looks quite different since her last solo album in 2015.
Aside from releasing a full-length album for her side project with John Paul Keith, Motel Mirrors, she’s kept busy traveling nearly 200 days out of the year and has managed to squeeze in some major milestones. She married musician and producer Will Sexton, gained some stepchildren, bought a house, and is adjusting to a life she describes as certainly “happier but more complex.”
She says that new layer of complexity slowed her down when she started working on songs for her new album, “Painting Blue.”
“It took me a little time to find my sea legs, and learn how to write from this sort of new world view I was having now. I was always pretty good at writing heartbreak songs but my head was in a whole completely different place. My writing suffered for a good while. I had to figure out how to try to be happy and that was weird.”
You can hear the contrast in where she used to live emotionally and where she is now in the title track from the album. She says the song Painting Blue was written as a narrative for someone who had been “painting blue on everything.”
“I wrote the song in a cathartic way to try to help pull myself out of one of those inexplicable moments of depression where you’re just like ‘What in the hell is wrong with my head? Why am I looking at the world through shit colored glasses?'”
It isn’t that she doesn’t slip into those dark places anymore. She’s gotten better at holding on, knowing she’ll turn a corner—that it’s temporary. After two years of chipping away at the songs, what emerges is an honest portrait of where she’s evolved to.
“Painting Blue” is set to be released on August 16 on Nine Mile Records, and Amy’s playing an album release concert at Crosstown Theater on August 10th with a slew of special guests.
Stream the album here and keep reading for more on Amy’s life as a Memphis-based musician and what you can expect at the release event.
As you tour the world and serve as a Memphis music ambassador, what do you encounter when people think of Memphis music? How are they thinking of us and our music scene?
When people find out that you’re from Memphis, really I swear, the first thing they want to talk about is how they love our city if they’ve been here or how they’ve always wanted to come if they haven’t. Then they ask about the crime. And then, if they haven’t yet seen my performance, I think they’re usually a little surprised because maybe they see the upright bass and they know Memphis’s history and they expect me to be more of a sort of carbon-copy replica of Sun Records or something. I think it takes people by surprise that I have more depth, more originality or identity of my own. But I love playing that material and I will sometimes.
You’re part of the Sun Studio tribute at Mempho Music Festival in October. Has the Sun Studio sound been of personal influence or is it something you fell into an appreciation for later in life?
It was something that I fell into later when I moved to Memphis.
I grew up listening to…well, hell I listened to all kinds of things, but my parents…we were from east Texas, in a border town. My musical influence from my family’s world was far more in the classic country sort of Nashville /Appalachian kind of music. That’s what I grew up with as a little kid.
Then of course I rebelled and got into punk rock for a good part of my teenage years. When I was living in Nashville—I moved there when I was 20—there was sort of that resurgence of the rockabilly sort of swing scene and it was actually living in Nashville that brought me to Memphis music.
I surely didn’t really know anything about the blues until I moved to Memphis and was just lucky enough to get a job at Sun Studio to be a tour guide. I was a tour guide there for several years and my appreciation for the history and the culture of the music that came from Memphis really didn’t happen until I got here. It’s a road, you know. Memphis taught me about Memphis.
What makes it feel like home for you? What are some of the things that you find comfort in when you’re here?
It’s the people. Hands down, it’s the people.
Memphis has these beautiful trees and I like the way it smells when I come home, usually.
I grew up in Cooper-Young. I was there for all of my 20s and that little community is really supportive of each other. If the Luke White benefit doesn’t show that, I don’t know what does. The community itself is a family. Whilst I am no longer living in Cooper-Young proper, I bought a house next to the Crosstown building which I find myself in nearly every day for some reason or another. We still venture to Cooper-Young and I just love seeing the faces. I love seeing people I know, people I love, so that’s what makes Memphis home to me.
The river. The bridge. I love everything about it. And being a musician, I don’t have any real blood relatives living in Memphis, any family. I tour, so I really could live anywhere. I thought about it from time to time and sort of taken in a town as if to think if I could imagine myself living here or there. Nothing for me suits my clothes I guess better than Memphis.
What’s planned for the album release show?
Well, there’s going to be a photography element by Jamie Harmon in the backdrop. He‘s going to give me some material that suits the songs to have projected behind us. I’m excited to see what he comes up with. I’ve given him little to no direction.
I’m excited that I’m going to have such a sizable band. Krista Lynne Wroten and Jana Misner (of The Memphis Dawls) are gonna play strings and sing backups. I’ve got the Barnes Brothers who are these two men that have grown up in the gospel church and are just unbelievable singers. They’re gonna be singing background vocals. Rick Steff will be home from Lucero to perform organ and piano that he played on the record. Everyone who is coming played on the record.
And of course, Will. It’s Will’s birthday, that’s the most exciting part! We’re gonna have some free tres leches cake for Will and anyone who comes to the show.
Amy LaVere Album Release Concert
Saturday, August 10 at Crosstown Theater
Doors at 7 pm | Show at 8.
Tickets are $20. Get them in advance on Eventbrite.
The album “Painting Blue” comes out on August 16th. You can pre-order at amylavere.com.