Before you listen to Merrill Amos, you'll need to take a deep breath, otherwise she'll steal
your oxygen with her incredible voice! Her latest EP, COLD HANDS WARM HEART, is a
great singer-songwriter project that contains some of the rawest and honest songs on
the market today. This is a great way to start your 2012 music collection.
"Cold Hands Warm Heart" is my favorite song by Merrill, although she has a great deal of
awesome songs. This particular song is not on the EP, but is available on Merrill's
website, and I'm glad it was made available because it has the warm heart its title
suggests. The way she wrote this song is so poetic and creative that it sucks you in
immediately and you grow a serious appreciation for Merrill's talent. I love the singing, the
guitars and harmonica...and the overall warmth in the recording. Great song to buy!
In addition to Cold Hands Warm Heart, Merrill has created several other great tracks, like:
"Ghost", "The Doll", and "Don't Forget To Breathe". Each track represents Merrill's talent
in such a way that you'll be inclined to share this artist's music with others.
Overall, I can honestly say that I'm 100% comfortable with sending my friends and family
to Merrill's website to check her out. We have to keep great music alive, so go support
this artist today.
Merrill Amos at The Smith: An Exclusive Interview Khalym ―the music guy spends this part of the martini keeping you philistine pricks educated on the exis- tence of art in the world. Twenty-one-year-old Merrill Amos might just be HWS‘ best kept musical secret, but not for much longer. The multi-instrumental singer/ songwriter has just released her debut album, Cold Hands, Warm Heart and performed as the opening act for SafetySuit at their recent concert at the Smith, where she shone much brighter than the headlining act. Merrill and I had arranged to meet in the Cellar Pub for the interview. What with its warmth and dim lighting, it was just a cloud of cigarette smoke and a jazz band shy of being the perfect place to inter- view an artist. When I stepped into the Pub, the early dinner crowd was just trick- ling in. I found Merrill and thanked her again for doing the interview. I also apolo- gized in advance for anything that might go awry, since it was my first interview and all. Like a sweetheart, she assured me not to worry as this was her first real inter- view as well. Charming, humble, and genuine throughout—even after a student interrupted our interview to ask Merrill for a copy of her album—Merrill spoke about her album, potato chips as a vocal remedy, and how much of a bitch Sara Bareilles is (explanation below). Find out more about Merrill Amos at her official website: http://www.merrillamos.com/
Martini: How old are you?
Merrill Amos: I‘m twenty-one. I just turned twenty-one, actually.
Martini: What day?
MA: The 20th of March, so...
Martini: Oh, I see. How did you celebrate?
MA: I was down in Atlanta visiting my friend who graduated last year and we went out to a couple of clubs, you know [laughs].
Martini: All right. Nothing too wild.
MA: Dance the night away [laughs].
Martini: And where are you from originally?
MA: I‘m from Cazenovia, New York. It‘s right outside of Syracuse. So, only like an hour and a half away, so it‘s not too bad of a drive.
Martini: How was your performance with SafetySuit? Did you get to speak to the band?
MA: Yeah, yeah. I met them earlier because I, I actually had my first dressing room ever [laughs]. And so...
Martini: I can‘t imagine there were that many changes you had to go through.
MA: No, but I got to hang out down there and prepare myself for my performance, and just have my stuff down there. But they were all downstairs too and we hung out a little bit before the show and just talked and they were extremely nice. I didn‘t really know what to expect, but I was expecting the worst because, I don‘t know, sometimes you just expect a band who's seen relative success to be kind of divas. But they were just really nice. Really genuine guys who were genuinely happy to be playing there and, you know, they thanked me multiple times for opening for them and I‘m just like, yeah, ―no, thank you!‖ Seriously. But yes, they were really nice guys.
Martini: And they put on a good performance.
Martini: And this wasn‘t the first time you‘ve opened for somebody, right?
MA: Right. I opened in Rochester at RIT for this band called the Jack Swift Band and I‘ve done basic performances around campus. But this was definitely my biggest gig to date, so it was a pretty awesome opportunity for me.
Martini: Do you have any practices before you get on stage?
MA: Yes [laughs].
Martini: Any mantras you repeat to yourself?
MA: See this is where the dressing room comes in handy [laughs]. I like to just look myself in the eye, in the mirror, and just give myself a little pep talk—you know like, a ―you got this‖ type thing. Just men- tally preparing myself. Just really positive reinforcement and just telling myself posi- tive things and things like that. And also, I guess not as far as like mental things, I always eat potato chips before I perform. Potato chips actually are really good with clearing out my throat. Martini: Is that true? Really? MA: Yeah, and so I always have to have potato chips and tea before I perform any- where. So that‘s kind of my little ritual, yeah. Martini: Whatever works. Obviously, you sounded great.
MA: Thank you!! Martini: The album has a very folky sound. Was that intentional? How do you approach your music? Do you write your music first, do you come up with the lyrics first and then, for this album, was that the sort of tone you wanted to set for it? MA: I write the music first and then I put lyrics to it. I have a notebook that I carry around with me where I‘ll get some sort of, like a little lyrics idea or some- thing and then I‘ll write that down. And then after I‘ve written music or some- thing, I‘ll turn back to my little notes sheet and then see if anything will fit in there. That‘s usually how I go about writing something. I don‘t think I‘ve ever written a song the words first, just rhyth- mically, I can‘t. It‘s easier for me to do the music and then the words. It‘s funny because when I first started writing, I was listening to punk-rock and just not the acoustic genre and I think that defi- nitely has a lot to do with, I guess, the kind of ambiguous nature of not really being able to pin down what genre my songs fit into, at least for me. And I know that folk isn‘t the most popular genre, so I guess it‘s just more about what musically feels good to me. Martini: Sort of backtracking to the con- cert, is there an artist, specifically, that you‘d like to collaborate with? MA: Okay. My favorite artist—and peo- ple kind of laugh at me sometimes for this—but her name is Sara Bareilles and she wrote that song: I’m not gonna write you... Martini: ...a love song. MA: Yes. love her. She came out with her CD Little Voice and I first bought it only having heard her one song that was popu- lar on the radio. And I just bought it like, oh, you know, she sounds pretty good and through it, I was like, ―that bitch!‖ She wrote the album that I wanted to have and so I [laughs]... That‘s basically what happened, and so I would just love to be able to tour with her, collaborate with her in some way just because I think that her music that‘s not commercial... her other music is very different from that. But I just mainly love the way that she puts her lyrics together and just the way that she works with words. So she‘s definitely the person that I most look to as far as maybe a path that I‘d like to follow musically. And I also really, for pretty much the same reasons, I really enjoy Ingrid Michaelson‘s music. And then Ja- son Mraz also; I‘ve been listening to him for a while. And just the way that the three of them all work with their lyrics, I think that it‘s very subtle where you have to listen to it and pay attention, rather than just let the music hit you. And so I really admire that about the singer/ songwriter genre, just more having to pay attention to what someone is saying and how they‘re working with what they‘re saying. Martini: With your work, lyrically, your songs come across witty. When you go in to just write the lyrics of your songs, do you try to concentrate on imagery? Do you try to come across more conversa- tional? MA: I like to write lyrics that are real and true to something that would actually go through somebody‘s head. So a lot of my lyrics come from my normal thought process and me stopping myself and being like, ―oh! I should write that down.‖ A lot of the hooks or something like that, lyri- cally, come from maybe an everyday say- ing or something that I think would work cool in a particular situation, and so I guess that‘s a big goal for me when I‘m writing: trying to make it something that could feasibly go through someone‘s head. Martini: In that same vein, at the show you said the best piece of advice you could give someone is ―don‘t forget to breathe,‖ and that‘s also the name of one of your songs from the album. So is that an instance? Did you say that to people before you wrote the song? MA: I actually don‘t think I had ever said that to anyone. But it was one of those things where I was thinking about it and just like, you know, you breathe auto- matically and I guess that would be an example of me trying to be kind of witty, I guess. It was just like ah, ―don‘t forget to breathe‖ [laughs]. Martini: The song I first heard from you, ―The Business of Saving Lives,‖ was the song with which I first got your vibe. And since you play that song a lot, it sort of came across as maybe the first song you wrote for the album, I‘m not sure. Is that the most important song to you? On this album, I mean. MA: It‘s probably the song that I play frequently first on my setlist because I‘m the most comfortable playing the song and I‘m not sure why that is. It wasn‘t the first one that I wrote for the album. It‘s tough to explain why I frequently put it first. It was a product of a lot of really pent up musical inspiration because I wrote the song after coming home from being abroad. I had brought my guitar with me while I was abroad and I hadn‘t really written a song while I was there and then I ended up having to leave my guitar in Italy because the airline wouldn‘t let me take it and it was just this awful progression of events where I ended up having to leave my guitar on the airport with my friend who dropped me off. And so I got back to the States and I didn‘t have a guitar. And I was reflecting on this whole months and months of being abroad and self-discovery... Martini: You were musically backed-up. MA: Exactly. And not being able to ex- press that. Music is my outlet of my emo- tions because I‘m a very introspective per- son and so that‘s how I get my feelings out. So I was going crazy for at least a month, maybe two months after coming back from being abroad. So I finally got a new guitar and then that song came out. I think that that song definitely has the most thought out emotion in it because I had a lot of things to pick and choose from to put in that song. I had a lot of ideas, a lot of inspiration all at once and then that all went into that song. So I think that‘s why I feel more confident in that, because I feel like the content is pretty sealed in that song. Martini: Aside from ―The Business of Saving Lives,‖ my other two favorite songs, and maybe the top songs on the album are, in no order, ―Far and Away‖—I‘m a ballad per- son—and I like ―Awake Tonight.‖ Can you give me some insight into how you feel about those two songs? MA: Sure. I‘ll start with ―Awake Tonight.‖ It‘s actu- ally the first song that I set out to write from the per- spective of someone else. All of my songs are really from my own perspective in one way or another and then ―Awake Tonight‖... I started actu- ally, last semester was when I first started taking a bunch of Women Studies classes and I actually switched my major to Women Studies this semester because it‘s a subject I really connect with. And so, I wrote ―Awake Tonight‖ from the perspec- tive of someone who has been affected by sexual assault or just some sort of, a hard- ship in general. And I wrote the song be- cause there‘s a need for solidarity among any type of social movement or among any type of group of people. And so the notion that there‘s someone else awake tonight is supposed to be just kind of like ―you‘re not alone‖ and finding strength through that. I ended up playing that song for the first time in public at the Take Back the Night candlelight vigil just be- cause I think that it is an important mes- sage. I was very proud of that song. I think that song is more of a poem than anything. I actually, when I was writing it, I was kind of reading it aloud without the music and I was like: ―This could be like a new slam poem, or something.‖ So that‘s the basic story behind that song. And then ―Far and Away.‖ That‘s my second newest song. ―The End‖ is the one I‘ve written most recently and ―Far and Away‖ came from one of my good friends who graduated last year. I was down in New York City visiting her over fall break and I was with my other friend, so there were three of us. And we were all stand- ing around and we were all in the subway waiting for the subway [sic] to come and I was just off in my own little world and she‘s looking at me. She‘s like: ―what the hell are you thinking about?‖ And I don‘t even know. I was just thinking about pos- sible song lyrics and I frequently just al- ways get so caught up in my head and I just get caught in such a thought process where I‘m thinking of new lyrics, and new concepts, and things like that where I never really stopped to think about how that must look to other people and so basi- cally where that song came from, espe- cially the first lines, is kind of the message I wanted to convey from it: ―I prefer the words that lay in between all the breaths I breathe.‖ So it‘s what‘s going on inside my head is what keeps me going is what that song started as and then the rest of it just came out. That took me a while to write, actually. A couple months. So that song is more of a progression of my life more than one instance. But that‘s how it started, anyway. Martini: That‘s beautiful. How was work- ing on the CD? How did you come about making the CD? MA: It had been something that I wanted to do for such a long time and I‘d always been... I‘ve made like rough recordings on the computer. Actually, the first re- cordings I ever made of my music was, I didn‘t even have any type of program for recording, so I used to, there was like a program on my Dell that allowed you to record thirty-second clips of whatever, audio. And so I used to record my songs thirty seconds at a time. And then I moved up—I got a MAC. And so then I started using GarageBand and stuff and I would just sit in front of my computer and play my songs and record them that way, but it just wasn‘t the quality that I was looking to have. And so I had been just wanting for a very long time to get in the studio and record my music, but I kept putting it off because every song that I was writing I was liking better than the one before it. So, I delayed a little bit until I had a really good batch of songs that I was really confident in. Then I just sprung and went into the studio. I did a Google search for recording studios in the Syra- cuse area and I came up with this studio in Skaneateles where I listened to clips online of stuff that they‘d done and they had some decent quality recordings and so I decided to go with them. The studio is really, it‘s just cool for me to be sitting in there, around all this stuff, all these instru- ments hanging on the wall, just like, ―oh, this is legit. Finally. Cool.‖ The studio was a huge step for me because having that recording now has enabled me to really market myself and really be able to put myself out there and see what comes back. So we‘ll see. Now that I finally have my CD I‘ll see who likes it. Martini: In the studio, did you record your music live or did you lay down a track first and then... MA: I recorded it live, which actually is kind of against the norm. But it‘s my goal, next time I go in the studio, I do want to lay down the instrumentation and then do the vocals. But, for this purpose, I think that I was just more comfortable doing the live track, singing and playing at the same time. But I think for my next recording I will do the separate tracks just because in the editing process it makes it a lot easier when you have the two separated things to work with. Martini: So, the music that you‘re writing now, or the music for your next CD—is it going to be in the same sort of genre, the same sort of tone, sound? Would you want to experiment with something else? MA: I would love to. I would listen to a lot of dance music and so I would love to experiment with that genre. I don‘t know if I would be any good at it whatsoever, but I would love to produce my music in a different way. I definitely don‘t want to change my writing process, but I just want to see what different sounds I might be able to get with my music. I actually just bought a set of harmonicas and one of those things that goes around your neck to be able to play the harmonica and play the guitar, or piano or whatever at the same time. And I‘ve got a ukulele that I‘m working on and trying to play that. Those would stay within the same genre, defi- nitely, but I definitely want to see what type of different sounds I can manipulate my songs into having. So that would be a cool thing to work on in the future, I think. Martini: What are you listening to now? MA: What am I listening to right now? There‘s this girl actually. She just goes by the name Jaren: J.A.R.E.N. And she actu- ally has done a lot of dance music collabo- rations, but she has a CD that‘s my style of music that she came out with and so I've been listening through that, trying to get a little bit of inspiration, I guess. And I've been listening to Adele a lot...Yup I've been listening to a lot of these new...People who are trying new things with their music, I guess. Ingrid Michaelson came out with a new album in December. It's called "Everybody" which um, it was different from her older work. It's a little more produced-sounding, but you know, nonetheless she's just awesome. I've been listening to Motion City Soundtrack lately. I tend to just obsess over certain things for a while. Yeah that's what's been on my iTunes lately. Martini: One last thing. What's one word you would want any up and coming artist to keep in mind? Something you want them to repeat to themselves. MA: I don't want to sound completely cheesy, but it's just "love," I guess. Just because what I do, I don't know, writing music just comes really naturally for me. I mean, not naturally for me, but it just feels natural for me and so...One word is hard. I guess I would pick love and maybe couple that with confidence and passion in what you're doing.