By Dale Henry Geist
Amelia White (she/they) first showed up on my radar with “No Sound,” a stately, grief-drenched ballad released in the autumn of 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd killing. That track led me to discover White’s impressive body of work. But when the excellent Rocket Rearview hit last year, I really sat up and took notice. So when I got the opportunity to talk to Amelia about her work, I jumped. As these things go these days, it was a Zoom interview, Amelia sitting comfortably on a couch in the Nashville home she shares with her wife.
What have you been up to lately?
In the fall I did a whole lot of touring for the first time since the pandemic. I’d been out a little bit here and there but it was the first time I did, like, a couple months, and it felt so good. Sometimes for me, when I’m quiet and I’m in the more writing phase of what I’m doing, and then in the administrative parts, I just forget how much I need the love of performing, you know? So that was great. And I’ve been working pretty hard lately, and it is a little bit creative to just put myself in good spots this year, talking to my manager, envisioning some good stuff. And as much as I don’t love the business side of what we’re doing, I have to remember to bring a little creativity to it.
Clearly you felt it was time to be more strategic.
I did a little interview for a friend of mine who has a website and a bookstore, and I interviewed Mary Gauthier and it kicked me in the ass when I asked her how she managed her art and business side. And she basically was like, “I’m a business person.” <laugh>. I’m like, “Whoa!” <laugh>.
I’ve been, of course, writing—that just comes so naturally to me. I’m not saying they’re all good but I write, I co-write… but the business side, I’m really trying to learn to just embrace it a little more because, you gotta.
You mentioned prior to this interview that there’s some new momentum around ‘Rocket Rearview,’ the record that you put out last year. What do you think that’s about?
I tend to believe that the art comes first. The thing that I’ve done as an artist is just to put out stuff steadily and constantly. Not every year, but every two years, and for a long time. And I think doing that, I’ve sort of learned who I am as a writer. I come back to myself, if that makes any sense. I think Rocket Rearview is just a really tight collection, and I think people resonate with that. I think part of it was live streaming, honestly, all pandemic. I live streamed every two weeks or every week. And it tuned me up as a solo artist. Like, how can I make these the best they can be on my own?
It’s just a different album. And I also approached the release of it in a very heart-centered way. I didn’t have any money. I raised some money, and then I got defrauded and lost it all. It’s been painful <laugh>. Good old universe. The universe definitely smacks you around sometimes. So anyway, I just opened my heart and reached out to people. Even you guys. Anybody that has shown some love to me, I just reached out to, and I didn’t spend, I didn’t do anything to promote it besides that. And that’s weird when that happens.
Did you have any particular hopes for this record as you were making it? And if so, how close do you think it came to those hopes?
I had a desperation making it because I need to make music! I have that disease <laugh> as an artist where—so it’s funny, because I had an album made, and that’ll be coming out in the fall, that is, commercially, probably the best thing I’ve ever made. And my record label and management team just has been holding it back, holding it back. So for me, this album was like an act of desperation and defiance. And I think it’s had an effect because of that, in a weird way. I think our intentions are very important.
Have there been certain types of feedback that you’ve gotten from ‘Rearview’ that you’ve felt were especially noteworthy?
The thing that’s really surprised me is that a bunch of writers that I respect have said that I’m one of the more truthful artists that they’ve ever known. And at first I was like…okay…<laugh>.
I think the last person, Jim Hynes, there was something about the way he worded it… really, that’s all I want. I don’t really care about being a big star. I care about being able to sustain my career and I wanna reach people because I think this is the gift that I’m given. As you can probably see from looking at me in my photos, it’s not like I’m some fashion icon.
So some people are getting it, which is very cool.
Can you briefly talk a little bit about your career, where you came from, how things have gone?
I always played music, from a young child, and wrote. I put on plays in my backyard, and my brother came home from the Navy with a Martin guitar, and whenever he wasn’t around, I’d steal it and play it. And finally he sold it to me for 50 bucks. And he’s like, “Wow, she really wants this!” <laugh> I feel like for a while, I had a lot of doubters. I feel like there were more doubters than people that were like, ‘wow, you’ve got something.’ And for whatever reason, my ears would just block out the doubters, and just hear that one thing to keep me going. I started playing in the streets of Boston and I was making enough money between playing in the—
You’re not from Boston?
Ooh, look at you. You did your homework. <laugh>. Yeah, I grew up in Virginia.
What took you to Boston?
School. And after school, I’m a drama and English major, and I was working in some theater companies and there was a play that I wrote some music for, and I was like… I loved acting, but the music was a thing that really felt like my heart. It’s just been something I’ve—I’ve tried to quit a few times, <laugh> I just can’t, something will come along to draw me back in.
Can you talk a little bit about some of your own musical heroes?
Well, always The Beatles. I don’t know if you can hear the pop melodies in my stuff. I think some Americana just goes right beyond me because there’s no melody. I love melodies. I love The Beatles. I fell madly in love with Lucinda Williams, and I get that comparison a lot. And it’s certainly not an insult, you know? <laugh> I love Wrecking Ball.
There’s a guy here in town that’s been a big influence on me since I moved here: Kevin Gordon. The wayyy higher bar of his lyrics…lyrics are really important to me. And that right hand of his <laugh>. I definitely got way jazzed by the Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile. I have to admit that seeing her live is what really hooked me in. But I’m just such a fan of her just being so out. And I think it’s so important to just be out, you know? I mean, I went through that phase where I was trying to do the pronoun thing, and finally I was like, this is not writing. This is self-editing.
Is there a credo that you have tried to steer yourself by artistically?
I’d say authenticity. And sometimes that’s hard, but I’ve realized that I really have to be where I’m at, otherwise the music’s gonna not come out. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it’s really important to connect with people and try to spread some something that…I mean, this world is harsh, man. I really try to spread some love or observation about humanity that maybe will help people not feel so alone, or feel like, ‘Well, it is hard, but we’re gonna be okay.’
Really, why else would I do this, if I wasn’t trying to give us some love or something, you know?
To connect with another human heart. So let’s talk about being queer, cuz this is what we do, right?
I love it. Thank you for doing your thing, by the way.
You’re very welcome. Have you noticed any ways that your queerness has interacted with your art?
Oh, absolutely, a hundred percent. In fact, before I logged on, I was just thinking about that. I feel like it’s in every song because I think what happens is, I grew up feeling… I mean my parents, they wanted like a meatloaf makin’, maybe she had a job as a secretary, pantyhose wearing… <laugh>. So to have that not be mirrored for who you are, I think for me, has made me strong. It’s made me empathize with people who are different. And that’s in every song. Feeling otherly… that’s changed a bit. But I still have those wounds, you know?
In terms of your career, have you noticed your queerness affecting that at all? Have there been any obstacles or, or maybe doors that have been opened because you’re gay?
For me, it’s an obstacle that has become a strength. When you think about looking at performers, people are like, ‘well, that’s a handsome guy, and all the girls like him,’ or ‘that’s a beautiful woman, and all the guys like her,’ but I’m like <laugh>. I’m sort of in the middle. I mean, I call myself ‘they,’ so it’s a little bit of that. I think with music, there’s definitely a sexual element to it no matter what, and it is entertainment as much as I want it to be, you know? Ernest Hemingway or whatever. I think there’s a barrier of ‘well, how do I identify with this person on stage?’ I’ve never really tried to market to a gay crowd, but I’ve noticed that over time, I do have a strong following of gay women who are like, “All right, Amelia!”, and… I want more! Come on, come on!
People like to see themselves on stage, too.
I have found that the more open I am about who I am in my music, the more it just transcends. And it doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter. And it’s just some leftover old stuff in there.
Tell us about what comes next.
I will be playing quite a lot this winter and spring. It’ll all be up on my website. And I’m doing some really cool co-bills. I’ve found co-bills to be a really nice way for a solo artist to go. And I’ve got some amazingly talented friends and I’ve just been like, “Hey, let’s do a tour together.” And then you’ve got a buddy and you’re sharing gas. Molly Thomas is one person, and she’s amazingly talented. Used to live in Nashville, now lives in Alabama. And my friend Carter Sampson in Oklahoma—the Queen of Oklahoma—I’ll be touring some in the States with her, and then a full three week tour in the UK… just teaming up with another person whose music I respect and we can make a show! It’s a fun way, you know, almost like what Mary and Jaimee [Harris] are doing. It’s just a nice thing, you kinda long for a little bit of love when you’re out on the road, and so you’ve got a friend with you. It’s nice.
Anything else you want to say to our readers?
I would say, definitely believe in yourself. That’s a really important one because like I said earlier, for me I feel like there was a period where nobody that really was in my family, they did not support and believe in me. So finding the people that believe in you and not expecting them to grovel or anything, or put you on a pedestal. And number two, just keep working hard. I personally feel like moving to Nashville was a great thing because I think artists here are working hard. You have to work hard in this business and just find ways to keep it fresh and keep growing. I always believe in just continually growing through my songwriting and co-writing and, you know, it’s a long haul.
As artists, we tend to look at other people and say, ‘Why can’t I be like this?’ Or, ‘Why can’t I have this career?’ Well, you don’t know <laugh>, you don’t know that somebody that jumped up didn’t fall really hard the next day, or maybe struggle with some personal demons. I think art is so important and I just hate that it doesn’t pay enough. That’s a really challenging thing. I think it weeds out some people, and that’s good because it makes room for the real artists.