Talks with Amy Gerhartz
Amy's Facebook page
Volume 1 EP
CEV: What are your first memories of listening to music and how did that influence you in regards to choosing to become a singer/songwriter later on?
AG: I remember growing up listening to classic rock...a lot of the stuff my parents listened to: The Rolling Stones, CCR, The Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby Stills Nash and Young....It was great music we'd all sing together as a family. As I got older, I would start listening to female vocalists like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and constantly try to make my voices sound like theirs. I wanted to sing the way they did, but feel the way classic rock did. I suppose that sort of evolved over time. Music became a part of me and who I was.
CEV: Did you have any formal musical training growing up? Did you have a particular instrument that was your favorite?
AG: I grew up singing in a lot of choirs and doing a lot of musical theatre. When I was in High School, I started taking voice lessons, and from there went to Florida State University for Music. I've also studied piano and guitar, but voice has to be my favorite instrument. It feels 100% natural to me, and I've learned how to manipulate it and control it with ease. I can't do that on other instruments...not yet anyway :-)
CEV: When you were younger what kind of music did you listen to as you were developing your tastes in music? Anyone in particular that was especially influential to you?
AG: Some of my musical influences come from singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan, Beth Hart, Alanis Morrisette, Jewel and more modernly, great songwriters like John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Keaton Simons...I think I've literally worn all their albums out.
There are even deeper, or dual, meanings behind some of the words that have nothing to do with exactly what I said, but you wouldn't notice it just by listening to it once or twice. Some of the words create imagery on a broad spectrum, and others are solely personal, that no one would know or understand besides me and the subject of that song.
CEV: When you started to write songs what were some of the first subjects that you tackled? Why?
AG: When I first started writing songs, I'll be honest, most of it was crap. I was about 13, and you really don't have any life experience then, so you play around with ideas of love or boys or how "hard" it is to be a kid...but you really don't get anywhere successful, because you have very little to base it off of. I don't think my songs started really developing until I was finishing high school/starting college, and even since then they've come a long way.
CEV: Tell me about some of your first performances on stage as a singer/songwriter and what was running through your head during those performances?
AG: My first couple of performances as a singer/songwriter where at local coffee shops/bars. Some of them were free shows for tips, and others were paid performances. I think I was mainly hoping that no-one really noticed my horrible guitar playing. I had just started learning how to play, and I was really leaning on my singing to carry me through the performances. I think most people humored me at first...also, I had the guitar turned down really low! haha. I also remember wondering why the coffee machines were so damn loud that I couldn't hear myself over them, but that's another story entirely... :-)
CEV: Did you ever have any second thoughts or doubts about choosing to become a singer/songwriter? If so how did you overcome them and learn to have faith in your talents? If you had no doubts or second thoughts how were you able to stay so confident about where you were heading and how you were going to get there in terms of a musical career?
CEV: Was there ever any other choice for you and your career other than music? When was it clear to you that you’d be pursuing music as a career?
AG: Oh sure, there are always other choices, but it became clear to me on a couple different occasions that having a career in music was what I should do. First, I almost went to college to be a music teacher, but it wasn't until my mom and I had a heart to heart that I told her I wanted to sing. I was really just scared to make that step, but she encouraged me to do it. That has made the biggest difference in the direction of my life. Second, when I was in college, I realized I didn't want to sing classical music, and I started really focusing on creating/writing my own music. And finally, after college, I was working for a commercial real estate company in NYC, when I realized I was just miserable. I was playing shows at night around the city, and waking up to go to a "job" every day felt like being put back into a jail cell after a few hours of freedom the night before. I made the decision then to quit my job and play music full time. I've never looked back.
CEV: Tell me about gigging up and down the east coast and how that has helped you gain some recognition for your singing and your songwriting? How important is that word of mouth and why isn’t it something that can be done via videos or downloads?
AG: Well, I think videos and downloads are great to spread the music to people much faster, but there is something about meeting someone in person that solidifies that connection between fan and artist. Networking is everything. When you meet people on the road that like your music, AND they like you, it makes them feel like they have a connection with you. They want to see you succeed just as much as you want to. Plus, they want to know you're a real person with real stories and emotions. I've met some amazing people on the road that have supported me for a long time, and hopefully will continue to.
CEV: Have mundane things like the price of gas made it harder for indie artists such as yourself to get out on the road and spread the good word of your music as much as you’d like? How do you get around it?
AG: Absolutely. I think the economy has affected everyone, especially musicians. When it comes to restaurants and bars, the first thing to get cut is live music usually, and a lot of people don't realize that if musicians don't have a day job (me), then all of our money comes from performing. It's our lively hood. Not only does the price of gas affected travel, but you also have to factor in whether or not you even have a reliable vehicle to go on the road. The last thing you want is to get stranded in the middle of nowhere without any cell phone service.
CEV: Will the next release be called Volume 2? Why just call them Vol. 1, Vol. 2 etc. rather than give each release a name of its own?
AG: I decided on Vol. 1, 2, etc because I think it really just keeps things simple. Plus it helps people to recognize that they are all part of a series as opposed to just random EPs on their own. Each Volume in the series will have a slightly different music style. Volume One is a tad on the folk/country side of things. Volume Two will be a little more Pop, Volume Three will tend to go more Rock, and Volume Four will have a soulful edge to it. It's a pretty ambitious project for not having done anything in seven years. So far so good!
CEV: If you had to describe what Vol. 1 was about in terms of subject matter what would you say?
AG: Mostly my family and love. I really knew I wanted to record "A Hard Life", "I Miss You" and "What Love Means" because they were all written about family members. If anything ever happens to me, I really wanted to make sure those songs had been recorded. It just so happens that all three of those had the same folk/country vibe to them. Well, I don't really consider myself to be a country artist, so I threw in songs like "Freight Train" and "Three Little Words" because at the time, those were the ones I felt were strongest to fit onto the EP and still blend well with the other three songs. At the same time, they also give the audience a look into another side of my songwriting aside from the soft folk vibe.
CEV: Does it make you nervous when you touch on such an emotional issue as the ongoing wars we are involved in with a song such as I Miss You? What was behind you writing this song?
AG: I don't think "I Miss You" makes me nervous at all. I wrote this song about 4 years ago when I was living in NYC. I was sitting in my apartment in Brooklyn thinking about my older brother (who is in the military) and I just started writing. At the time, I was going through a lot from quitting my job to pursue music full time, and I just really missed him. Pretty much my entire family is Military, and my mother is a retired officer in the Army, and she raised my brother and I by herself for a long time, until she remarried. So basically, it was just my older brother and I growing up. He's my best friend. When I was writing "I Miss You", I was writing based off of me and my brother. Things I would say to him or how I felt. I know it hits on a pretty sensitive topic, but at the end of the day, I don't get nervous about the subject matter because in my mind it's just me singing to my brother.
CEV: As a songwriter do you more often pull from your own personal experiences or from the world around you when you write your songs?
I’ve only really done one song so far like that, “What Love Means”, and even that song was based off members of my family, and hence my perceptions of their lives. It’s really hard to write about something that doesn’t relate to you in any way, and will probably take me a while to figure out how to really master the craft. I can only imagine it would be like an actor playing out a role. You have to really tap into your emotions and try to feel what that person would feel, or act the way that person would act. It can be a pretty exhausting process. I have so much respect for a songwriter that can create and tell a story, and still have that emotion attached to it.
CEV: How long have you been working on the songs on Vol. 1? How is it that you know they are as ready as you can make them before moving on to the recording phase?
AG: I guess you could say I've been working on Volume One for 7 years? lol. I haven't really thought about it that way actually. I just kept writing songs and finally one day said "I've got to record these before I move on to write more". There is just something you know when you write a song, a feeling I suppose, that let's you know when they are ready to record. If it's NOT ready, you'll get this nagging in your gut about a line or a phrase, then you keep going till you get it right. Plus, even when you're done writing, it's never over. Brian Fechino and I played around with a lot of different ideas, chords, structures etc to help make my songs really come to life. I don't think the writing process ever really ends. Even now, we can listen to things and say "Oh it would have been great if we did that" or "what about if we tried this instead", but that will never end. There are always so many different directions you can take a song. Eventually, you have to pick your favorite and record it. Then move on to writing new things; exploring new emotions.
CEV: In the Internet age not only do you have to take care of doing your gigging live but you also have to be fairly adept at managing your online presence as well. Has that been fun for you or has it been work for you? Explain.
AG: Oh it's both. It's amazing to make those connections and establish those relationships, but it can also be exhausting. I'm fortunate that I have a management company (www.teamsoundwave.com ) to start helping me out with a lot of that stuff. A lot of people think that musicians have it easy and we're lazy or sleep all day and then go play a gig, but that's not entirely the case. I'll admit we have fun jobs, because for the most part we love what we do, but when you work for yourself, your job is never over. It's a lot of late nights followed by full days of songwriting, updating your social media, selling merchandise, recording CD's, recording videos, booking shows...constant marketing of yourself. Every day there's a new idea or a new networking contact for your to meet with AND follow up with. Plus, you still have to take time to think about your health and your image as well. There really is very little, if no time, for a social life when you're a full time musician
CEV: Tell me about some of the people who have worked with you on Vol. 1 to get it to the point where it will be released for purchase come July 2011?
AG: The people that worked on Volume One are absolutely amazing. Brian Fechino did a brilliant job working on this EP. The dynamic that he and I had in the studio was definitely unlike anything I've experienced before. We were actually creating music in the studio with each other, as opposed to one of us dictating to the other how things should go. We would constantly throw ideas back and forth, and some would stick, others wouldn't. There were a lot of laughs, and we even got into the occasional fight as well. I think what made working with Brian so great, is that we were both equally invested in the project. He loves and respects my music just as much as I respect him as an artist/musician/producer. The other musicians on the album are all brilliant players, and friends of mine, as well. I think that brought things closer to home for everyone. We all really wanted to make something we could all be happy with.
CEV: How hard is it to communicate your musical vision to those musicians, producers and engineers who help bring your songs to life in the studio? Are you hands on in the studio during that part of creating your music?
AG: Haha..this definitely piggybacks my answer for question 18. It was very hard for me to communicate with Brian at first in the studio because I'm very limited with my recording terminology, and my ability to get my point across clearly. I have a quirkiness about me too, to where if I can't say exactly what I'm thinking, I'll start using sound effects or create weird names to try and describe what I'm talking about. LOL. It took Brian and I a lot of trial and error to realize we were saying the same things in the studio, just differently. Once we figured out each others language, things went smoothly. Brian's Fechino is not only a great producer, but a fantastic musician as well. So we both are very passionate about the way things sound, and we want everything to be perfect. Almost too perfect. It's amazing to work with someone who cares as much about your music as you do.
CEV: Are you looking forward to finally having Vol. 1 out there for everyone to listen to? Does that thought give you butterflies or a feeling of relief?
AG: I'm definitely looking forward to having it all done. I get the butterflies and the relief. The relief mainly because I'm ready to get all these songs recorded so I can start working on new stuff, but also excitement and butterflies, because I'm finally doing what I set out to do when I quit my job 4 years ago. I'm finally getting things done.
CEV: Any final thoughts about your music or the path that has led you to where you are today that you’d like to share with our readers?
AG: All I can say is that I firmly believe everything happens when it's supposed to. Life is full of ups and downs. I've had a ton of them! But the only thing you can do is lift your head up and keep going. The Volume Series EPs are my life over the last 7 years. They are close to my heart and I hope people enjoy them for what they are.
CEV: Well Amy it sounds like you know what you want and you are on the road to getting it. I wish you much luck with your songwriting and many more successful Volumes in this series and beyond. Thanks for talking to us here at Cutting Edge Voices.