Amy Rigby
by Johanna J. Bodde

Interview AMY RIGBY
May 2003 (by E-mail)

December 1998, it was darned cold in San Francisco and my friend Russ Tolman took me to see his hero John Wesley Harding at the posh Great American Music Hall. He went to the bar and I went to see the opening acts: Chris Von Sneidern and then Amy Rigby with her band. She seemed rather nervous, the trip from L.A. had been "hairy" she said, with carwrecks along the highway. She struggled with a stubborn green Gibson and apologized for wearing the same outfit, grey mini-skirt and blazer, as last time.
But she had guts in her approach of the not-so-interested audience. Starting off with a shy ballad, then pulling JWH on stage for a duet, he didn't even have time to shed his coat! Halfway through her drummer's song (yes, she's the ex of Will Rigby from the DB's), she surprised everybody with a ton of hilarious drummer's jokes, she was just great!
Almost two years later I saw her again in Berkeley and it struck me how much she still had "grown", especially in confidence and what a unique, funny songwriter she is. Now she has her fourth solo-album out, "Til The Wheels Fall Off" on Signature Sounds Recordings and it's time the European continent gets to know Amy Rigby a little better!

Johanna: Amy, while we're doing this interview, you're about to release your new album "Til The Wheels Fall Off". Please, tell us something about it?

Amy: It's an album recorded in various cities and scenarios, with songs about survival in romance and life in general. The mood alternates between exhaustion and optimism. I tried to capture some feeling of live performance, mixed in with pop arrangements. I worked with an amazingly talented, versatile cast of characters!

J: This is your fourth album, there's also an anthology. Before you decided to go solo, were you singing in bands? Did you start playing music at an early age and when was your first own song "born"?

A: I wrote songs, played guitar and sang in two bands: Last Roundup, an "urban hillbilly" band from the East Village of NYC and The Shams, a female vocal trio also based in the bohemian underbelly of Manhattan. I started in my 20's, my first song was born walking down St. Marks Place when a complete country song popped into my head ("Playing The Fool", which appeared on Last Roundup's Rounder release "Twister"). I went home, checked my record collection to make sure the song was in fact mine and took it in to the band to work up.

J: On the sampler-CD for the Blue Highways Festival 2003, Laura Cantrall is singing your "Don't Break The Heart". Were more of your songs covered by other artists? Do you have a favorite, of whom you're hoping she (or he) will one day record one of your songs?

A: Another song, "All I Want" was recently covered by the great Ronnie Spector, which is like a dream to me, because she has one of the most distinctive voices ever! John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants covered "Don't Break The Heart" as well. I'd like to hear Trisha Yearwood cover one of my songs, Nick Lowe would be great too. A fine compliment to me is when I perform somewhere and someone comes up and says "my band covers one of your songs when we play". Maybe they're not famous and I won't make any money off of it, but it means the songs are fun to play and speak to other people and that's what matters most.

J: You co-wrote with Duane Jarvis and Stacey Earle, Joy Lynn White was on one of your albums, you toured with Warren Zevon and Billy Bragg, just to mention a few names of artists we like here. You're working with so many cool people, how do you first make contact with them?

A: I've been out there for a while now and have met a lot of people along the way. Part of it is also that I am an enthusiast, a real fan of other musicians and writers and try to always keep up with what's new, what other people are doing musically, and not limit myself to one circle or type of music. Just quality. And even trash speaks to me. Also I think I've been very fortunate to be at least in the vicinity of the right place at the right time occasionally.

J: In your songs you're quite outspoken about some issues, right from a woman's heart, like how the gentleman treats the lady, in a bar or in a relationship. What kind of reactions do you get, from women and from men?

A: I'm sometimes surprised by the reactions - I often find men relating to my lyrics just as much as women. We are all looking for the same things basically: love, respect, understanding, acknowledgement. I hope the humor element helps get the lyrics across without leaving anyone feeling attacked.

J: What type of changes would you like to see in the world, especially for women?

A: I'd like to see women able to go out and work without feeling guilty, at the same time parents should be more valued. So basically that means improving child care and schools, we can't raise our children alone. That's just one thing.

J: A friend of mine, singer-songwriter and devoted dad of a daughter, stated recently that raising a family and then being a single parent, slowed him down in his career. You have a daughter too, may I ask for your comments on this subject?

A: Having kids gives you a whole new set of challanges to deal with. At the same time, it makes the work we do that much more meaningful, if only just as a way to get out of the house!

J: You lived in New York City for a long time, then you moved to Nashville, that's quite a big step. I think both cities are tough to live in, what do you think are the similarities and differences, especially on the music-scene? Was it hard to build a new life in Nashville and feel at home again?

A: It was harder than I thought it would be. I didn't realize how much I would miss New York, deeply and almost in a physical way. I didn't realize how much it gave me in terms of visuals, always stimulating my imagination. And of course the quality of the people - the wit and zest, adaptability and angst were all things I took for granted. Nashville is much smaller, slower, easier, homogenous. It's also friendlier, more casual, less choices. It was hard to adjust to a place where the streets are deserted by 7 PM. But the music community is so dense and full of incredibly talented people - that's a good reason to be here.

J: Your song "As Is" tells the recognizable story of being poor and buying priced down clothes. You worked temporary jobs on the side, to make ends meet. If you had unlimited money, from the lottery or a number one-ht, what would you do?

A: It's something I don't even think about. I love what I do, I guess I'd be able to plan things without constantly thinking about how to save money and cut corners.

J: Do you show your emotions easily?

A: Only in song.

J: Good luck!!

A: Thanks Johanna!

Interview by Johanna J. Bodde, previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands.