Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters perform a brand of americana music dripping class – such are the dynamics of Platt’s songs, and the playing of the band they come in at a higher level. Consistency is another term you could fire at her and the band. Their recent albums are of the kind you would not want to miss. Maurice Hope talked to her about her music and the future.
It is great for you to have another record out, Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters (Organic Records) in a short space of time, and better still you finally get tour the UK in August?
Yeah, we are really excited about coming over. It was frustrating having two albums released over there without getting to tour.
Have you been to the UK before?
I was over once. I was in London for four months in school but that was a long time ago. I am looking forward to seeing more of the country and to travel. We are over for over three weeks.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New York State, near New York City, but not in the city.
What were your early influences?
Anything and everything, my parents are music lovers and my dad has quite an impressive record collection. Hence, I listened to quite a lot of country and blues plus some 1960s rock. My parents also listened to the Texas’ singer-songwriters of the 1960s and seventies. It was there that they met and got married, and then moved to New York and had kids. I also listened to a lot of show tunes. It was the first music I was actually into. Things like the Cats Soundtrack, and the likes of Oliver, Westside Story and all that theatrical stuff.
How would you best describe your music?
Well, I think, it is changing a little bit. For a long while we kind of used this moniker of Appalachian honky tonk music, it was a way to dodge any category. Because we fell pretty near the genre of Americana, which is so vast now and best describes our music. It is pretty much country but with a little bit rock and some folk.
On listening to some of the new album your vocal style got me thinking of Eilen Jewell and Kelly Willis?
Oh, cool! I really like Eilen Jewell, but I don’t know Kelly Willis.
With thirteen songs on the record you have been most generous time wise.
It is, although our last two albums have been longer. I write a lot, and when I make an album I want to think about the overall feel. I want it to be cohesive. I also want to tag a lot of material on there. When I buy an album and there are nine or ten songs on there sometimes it might be just perfect, but there are other records when I think, oh, man I want more. So, yeah, we err toward the longer side.
Songwriting plays a big part in your life?
It does! Since I was fifteen years old I have written songs, and it’s how I try to make sense of the world I live in. It is definitely something I do fairly prolifically, and would do without the impetus of playing and touring. I have kept a journal my whole life, and the journal has flowed into the songwriting.
Is it quite an in-depth journal?
Well, I try to keep a journal lightly. More often than not I tend think in my songwriting lyrics, and it’s how I sort things out.
The longest song on the record ‘Eden’ is a wonderful song.
Oh, thank you. We were just realising that too on looking at the times on the album cover. It was like, wow! Eden is a full minute longer than anything else. I really enjoyed writing that song, and went I to school for religious studies for a while but I did not graduate. I have always been fascinated by the story of the Garden of Eden, and that is my take, the American version.
You write about people losing their land, their livelihood, something that can still hit the smaller, rural communities really hard?
Yeah, sure! It is not necessarily my background growing up near New York City but we definitely see it when we are out on the road, because we travel quite a bit. You don’t realise when you are away from it, because it is still a struggle for the farming community and some of them living sort of hand to mouth. Not that there isn’t poverty in the cities, but, you can have your eyes opened to a way of life a lot of people don’t realise is still out there.
With costs ever rising and the money made from selling not keeping pace, the smaller farmers are finding there is less and less left for them selves at the end of the day?
In this country we have all these government subsidies that have swayed. Now we have farmers growing all these main crops that are making the land less sustainable. Even if that is the only way you are going to make money it is going to hurt you and the land in the long run (more is being taken out than put back into the soil). It is a broken system.
It is a little different to start with a song called ‘Birthday Song’?
Yeah, I wrote it the day before my 30th birthday, and for me that song sets the tone for the album. It is about accepting where you are at and being grateful. In the passage of time, and there is a lot on this album about the passage of time. About ageing and settling into the rhythms of life, finding you safe place, your middle place in all that. I feel that between Things We Call Home and the Birthday Song sum up what is going on on this album.
You mention accepting what we have; it isn’t about lack of ambition or a case of defeatism, but having a contented mind. Be a little better focused in one’s priorities in life?
Definitely, stop thinking of what you don’t have. What’s going wrong, but start from a place where you evaluate what’s going right today? When I wrote Birthday Song it was a day when I was really stressing out about money. Looking at my life, thinking I am going to be thirty and a lot of these things aren’t going exactly how I planned. I went to the mailbox and there was a royalty cheque waiting, not a big one but enough to make ends meet. I looked at it and thought what am I complaining about you are doing what you want to do and it is going to be ok. It’s beautiful weather and it is early fall. If you start at a place of gratitude life then things are ok.
Like a lot of things if you go into something relaxed, but not too relaxed things usually do fall into place?
Definitely. The more you go with the flow of life the better it is for you.
I love the production of the album. It’s quality all the way through. From start to finish it is seamless, there are no distractions, it flows effortlessly?
Thank you so much. That is what we go for when we go in to make an album. I like to think of it as a whole. My favourite albums aren’t ones where I love one song, but records I love to play all the way through. Like it’s a journey. That is what I aim for.
Talking of journeys you have a couple of songs on the record of that theme, ‘Long Ride’ and ‘The Road’?
Long Ride is a song I wrote a long time ago. We were playing at this little bar in Western North Carolina near where we live and the owners of the bar were a youngish couple. In their late 30s – early 40s, and the guy that booked us said we are doing a benefit because the guy is terminally ill with like three months to live. You would never have thought it looking at him, because he looked healthy and fine. At the end of the night I was standing talking with this couple, and he did not know I knew and I did not want to bring it up. But it was this joyful experience watching them interact. Their life wasn’t about his illness and him dying but all about the moment. The inspiration for writing it came from them, like at this moment everything is okay. The idea of the Long Ride was to look at the bigger picture don’t get hung up on one detail which is going to be tragic, eventually. So that’s where that song came from.
The Road is a farewell song. I already had lyrics for the song from a break up that I went through years ago, and it was only recently that I solidified them when I had a different goodbye in my life. I think it is the goodbye you always wished you could have said to someone in the moment she laughs. It is peaceful, detached and relaxed, and not angry. But at the time it doesn’t go that way when you are actually in it. It is my kind of wishful goodbye.
You have another couple of most interesting ones in ‘The Guitar Case’ and ‘The Good Guys (Dick Tracy)’?
I added the bit about Dick Tracy on there, because people wouldn’t necessarily have known it was about the Detective Dick Tracy. They might have said who is Tracy, and why did he take a bribe?
‘Diamond in The Rough’ has been used before as the title of a song and had a lot to live up to?
It is more poppy than I usually write. I was feeling jammy and upbeat and when we put it together with the band I was like I don’t know if we should have it on there! I thought it was kind of fluffy, but on hearing it I thought this is pretty awesome.
On the album you have this knack of easing through pop, honky tonk country and folk in seamless fashion, so fluently, the listener never notices the change in style?
I am so glad to hear you say that. I remember with our last album somebody said this song was a little more honky tonk, and how it was so out of place on the record! I do feel we move around a bit, but because it is the same players it makes sense. It is what we do and who we are. It is cohesive.
How big a role did you have in producing the album with Tim (Surrett)?
We do all the pre-production stuff here at the house. Practices. Tim didn’t actually get involved till we got into the studio. It was helpful to have him there. He keeps an eye on all of us. I am like, this is what I am going for and let’s do this and he sees the execution of it through. Like when Matt (Smith) is doing a solo and I might say I don’t know if this is quite right, Tim will say why not try it a little more like this. He knows more about the technical side that needs to happen, and oversees my vocals. A little flat try it again, a little flat try it again he might say. He’s super helpful on the technical side, but as far as putting the songs together I do that with the band before he gets to come in.
Talking of the band how long has this line-up been together?
Most of the line up is the same at it has been the last four or five years. Rick Cooper on bass, Josh Milligan on drums and Matt Smith on pedal steel and guitar. The biggest change was when we parted ways with our mandolin player. Now we have full-time keys and organ, and that is pretty cool because that has always been part of our music. Since Evan Martin joined the band full-time. I hope this is going to be the line-up going forward, because I am not somebody that really likes to shake things up. I like my band to be my family. There is something to be said for bringing in new players and trying different things, but I love when I play with people for so long because there is a chemistry, a language that gets developed between you. When we play together there is an open line of communication where we don’t need to say anything, because we know one another so well.
When were The Honeycutters formed?
I started playing with The Honeycutters in 2007. Part of the reason for this album where we have gone to Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters instead of just The Honeycutters is I am the only original member, and because I am the singer and the songwriter I have always been the constant so it made sense to change.
Who has been your greatest influence, both as a singer and a songwriter?
Like I said I grew up listening to the older country stuff and particularly the Texas stuff. I listen a lot to Lucinda Williams ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’ and her early stuff and Gram Parsons. I love John Prine and Chris Smither and someone I have got into more, recently, Josh Ritter. I also love the Eagles, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. I draw from both the less is more thing, and the big band sound.