When Delines singer Amy Boone was hit by a car in a devastating freak accident in April 2016, it looked like her singing and touring career might well be over. Indeed, Willy Vlautin the band’s engine and song-writer really did fear the worst. When asked after a UK show, about Amy’s progress, he hung his head sadly as he confided that The Delines might end up being a just recording band, and that their touring days may well be over. It seems that Willy had perhaps not taken into account the gritty determination of ex Damnation lead singer, and all round tough cookie … Amy Boone. Americana-UK’s Alan Taylor spoke to her about her recovery and her musical journey, at Rough Trade Nottingham on their last visit to the UK.
So Amy, tell us the story of your recovery from the multiple surgeries and skin grafts that eventually got you back on tour with The Delines.
It was pretty extensive damage, both legs were badly broken and there was skin and nerve damage. I went through eight or nine surgeries and then I had to learn to walk again and take physical therapy after months of inactivity. It just took a crazy amount of time for me to even go from the bed to the wheelchair and I wasn’t really able to do a lot of stuff. We were part way through recording The Imperial but it wasn’t finished. I came back two years later, still pretty traumatised … it was really hard for me to get on an aeroplane and get up to Portland and finish the record. The world seemed like a really dangerous place … but I did it!
How did you deal with the pain and psychological aspect of your recovery?
Having chronic pain, and I still have it, grinds you down. I have to stop a lot I have to elevate my leg a lot. It’s irritating, it’s frustrating, and it grinds you down. My mind is ready to do things, but my body won’t let me do it, so I have to force myself to stop and that’s really frustrating. I managed to get through with the help of the supportive people around me. The guys in the band are really great guys, and loving the Delines as I do, I wanted to be back there, and needed to get this record out. To make a record and not be able to go on tour and support is really frustrating, so I was really determined to do it. People kept sending me letters and flowers and notes, and constantly sending me their best wishes, which was really nice and helped me a lot.
Do you think the music gives you strength as well?
Absolutely, but strangely enough when I was healing up, I didn’t really listen to music, I didn’t really do anything, I was really drugged up. I was just on so many drugs. I didn’t use music to help at that stage, I just lay there for hours in silence. I didn’t even read books or even watch TV. But now I’m feeling like music is healing the other part of me, the psychological part. This tour has just been wonderful therapy for me. To leave the music business for almost three years and even expect to have an audience at that point … there’s just so many bands out there, it’s insane. So to come back and have all of these sold out shows, has just been miraculous for me and very therapeutic … I’m so grateful.
Lots of folks were introduced to the Delines via the previous album ‘Colfax’ how does the new record ‘The Imperial’ differ from that?
I think Colfax was heavier on the pedal steel and the Imperial features Cory Gray on horns and keyboards. I was a little nervous about the addition of the horns, but they sent me the recording and I feel like it made it more expansive, almost in a cinematic way. You could almost take out the lyrics and be taken away with the music. I think he did a wonderful job on that.
Willy Vlautin once said to me, that he’s seen lots of singers but only occasionally does he see a singer who inhabits or lives the song. What do you think he meant by that?
That’s really interesting he said that. I had an amazing compliment last night, this wonderful woman came up to me and said, “So many people can just get up and sing and sound beautiful singing, but you seem like you are interpreting the songs, almost like you’re acting them out, It seems more than just singing”. I thought what a wonderful compliment that was. It’s not about me doing these vocal calisthenics, I don’t have a four octave vocal range anyway (laughs) … I feel like I’m more of a storyteller really. It is a whole new singing style for me, and that has been fostered by Willy coaching me. He really does take the time to give me the back story to the songs and that really helps and they become like little mini stories, when I’m singing it’s like turning a page. So much so that it can be challenging and sometimes I feel really emotional, like Roll Back My Life … I sing that and I think, who hasn’t looked back at their life and wished they’d done things differently or had not wasted so much time.
It’s interesting to watch Willy Vlautin go from the front man (with Richmond Fontaine) to the guy who plays guitar and sings backing vocals in the Delines … AND seem to be really comfortable with that. What are your thoughts?
Yeah, it is interesting. He sometimes doesn’t even talk on stage, I think he’s just enjoying being out of the spotlight. I wouldn’t even have approached this without coaching from him and Sean (Oldham). They’ve taught me to sing in a different way. Maybe not singing so bombastically, talk singing, like just “throw that line off, don’t try to sing it … just talk it”. I think I’ve become a stylised singer, which is really fun, because it doesn’t require me to have this incredible octave range. It’s more about stylising and making it personal.
Tell me a little about your earlier days with the Damnations.
Sure, I was a song writer and bass player for the Damnations out of Austin Texas. We were a bar band, loud, we played folk and country music on guitar and banjo, and it was a real mix of stuff. We’d do a Minutemen song followed by a Carter Family song, I was more of a screamer in that band … but it was a lot of fun.
How have you coped physically with the touring?
When we were practising, one of the main things was for me to be able to stand for an hour or an hour and a half. I’m able to do that now … its hard (laughs) and though I have to use the microphone stand as a crutch, I’m finally able to do it. I still use a cane for walking and I don’t move much on stage, but it has been a big accomplishment, being in a band and not having panic attacks. I get to sit and play keyboard for a couple of tunes, so that helps.
So you still suffer from the panic attacks?
Sure … when I got hit, I wasn’t even near a road. I was walking alongside a wall of a convenience store and it just came out of nowhere. So when your world is tipped upside down in a way where you thought you were in a safe place, and you weren’t doing anything wrong, you start to think that anything can happen. Like that tree branch could fall or something, and the world just becomes a scary dangerous place. The mind plays terrible tricks on you. That’s what I’m dealing with. I was on a cocktail of terrible drugs for the nerve pain and there were side effects like depression. Thankfully, Texas has just legalised CBD oil and I’ve found that really helpful.
So you are still on the medication?
I’m off most of it. You get addicted to that kind of thing, and I was on heavy duty drugs for a good two years, so I went through withdrawal a few times. I took myself off the pills too fast, so I had to go to the emergency room a few times for the withdrawal symptoms. I have that pretty much under control, it’s pretty much CBD oil and the occasional aspirin or glass of wine. Yeah, that really helps, it’s good to be off the opioids (laughs).
With your song writing, are there any songs that we might hear penned by you?
Sure, I can always bring songs in, no one has told me that I can’t, but it just has to fit. For me, if I write a song that doesn’t fit, I’d just go record it on my own, so there’s no conflict. I change lines now and then in Willy’s songs, but mostly melodically, my phrasing is different to his. Mostly of his songs are 95% there except for maybe a line or two.
How does it feel to have this great band behind you?
It feels amazing. To have Freddy Trujillo who is the most soulful bass player, he is just so good … all of them are. Willy is playing this laid back kind of Steve Cropper, really restrained style guitar. To create space in this music is really important, it’s not notey music. The music floats and creates an ambiance. I love that, and that is a new style for me. Coming from a screamy cowboy punk band, it was initially really tough to be told … “Oh no … you wait two bars” … it was agonising, and I kept messing it up (sings) “It’s Friday night and I just can’t stay” … and I wait, and I wait, and I always come in early. It just a whole of relaxing and taking it easy, and now I love it.
How do you feel the crowds have reacted to the shows here in the UK?
The people here are very attentive … Some people just have their eyes closed at the sitting venues, like the nice theatres we have been playing in. There are some really quiet audiences, people who are listening and paying attention to the stories. It is a completely different ball game from playing in America.
What plans do you and The Delines have for the future?
We’re back in the UK in November. We have some studio time booked in Montana and we already talking about the songs were going to do. There’s a grand piano there and I might play a ballad on the piano like I did on Colfax, I did Sandman … yeah, we are really excited for the future. Watch this space.
‘The Imperial‘ is out now on Decor Records
NOV 4th – Metronome, NOTTINGHAM
NOV 5th – The Stables, Milton Keynes
NOV 6th – BAaD, GLASGOW
NOV 7th – St Philips Church, SALFORD
NOV 8th – Union Chapel. LONDON
NOV 9th – SJE, Oxford