By Christopher Treacy
Amy Martin is releasing a song each month en route to putting out her new album, which will come to us in 2023. The first one, “Antebellum Town” is so immediate and affecting, we chose it as Song of the Week in our current Roundup. It’s hella vintage country, but it includes something we don’t really hear from our twangy heroes of yore: rage. Rage used to be a no-no. In stereotypical fashion, late-mid-century country crooners were expected to relay tales of woe, but rage wasn’t in the musical vocabulary. Obviously, things have changed. The emotional palette has a wider spectrum of options now. The results are all the more striking because it’s an unusual sonic pairing to us. Turns out, Martin knew exactly what she was doing when she put pen to paper. It was a reaction to the January 6 Capitol Riots, but it was also the channel for a lifetime of frustration.
Folks, meet Amy Martin.
The rage in “Antebellum Town” is palpable. It’s not quite what I would call seething, but it comes through pretty clearly. I’m told it was inspired by the Jan. 6 riots, but perhaps that was just the tip of the iceberg?
Great question! The song was definitely written in anger — I’d describe it as the moment I finally “snapped” surrounding the area I grew up in. For 20 years, I lived in an area where our schools and roads where named after confederate soldiers, there’s multiple statues in every town dedicated to the confederacy. It’s a very conservative place to grow up.
In 2017, the “Unite The Right” rally happened in Charlottesville, Virginia — an hour from where I lived — where white supremacists carried confederate flags through the streets and ultimately drove a car through a crowd of counter protesters, resulting in the death of a counter protester named Heather Heyer. The white supremacists came to town and out of the woodwork because some of the Charlottesville folks wanted to remove the confederate statues that were glorifying the Confederacy around town. These are the kinds of things that we’re dealing with over all these years — over statues even — and people are dying because of it. The sheer amount of harm done is tough to unpack here.
Flash forward to just before Jan 6 2021, it was election year and I was living in a small town outside of Charlottesville and about an hour and a half from DC. Folks had confederate flags hanging from their houses, my car was keyed at the grocery store because I had an anti-racist sticker on it, some neighbors refused to call my then partner anything more than my roommate— tensions were high. So once the folks stormed the capital on Jan 6th and brought the confederate flag into our nations’ capital building — a place that represents our government and our “freedom” — I lost it. It was enough. In that moment I was filled with rage, picked up my guitar and the song wrote itself. From there, the lyrics don’t really mince words.
In a sense, ‘Antebellum Town” could be about anywhere, for any number of reasons. Initially, I wondered if maybe it might be about (winces) Nashville and the commercial music machine. Is it a composite sketch?
You’re so right that “Antebellum Town” came from my experience but that this isn’t about one particular city or town. The fact of the matter is that racism and the harm of exclusivity exists everywhere. There is a bit of a call to action in the chorus that speaks to this, “Are you holding up or breaking down? Are you building up or tearing down?” For me, that was my recognizing the choice we all have in this — do our actions build or destruct? Are we mending creation or severing it? I hope these lyrics give everyone a pause in taking a look at the responsibility and choices we have when we do and say the things we do.
In regards to Nashville, I hadn’t thought of “Antebellum Town” as the commercial music machine but I love the connection you made. As an LGBTQ artist, I’ve historically been told in one way or another that I didn’t have much business in Nashville or the commercial music scene. Thankfully, indie artists like myself and other LGBTQ Country/Americana artists before me are busting through that door. I think we achieve that largely by saying what we mean and using our voices — that’s what I aimed to do with releasing “Antebellum Town”.
The arrangement is delightfully old-timey. The harmonica adds a sense of travel/relocation – being “on the lam.” Did you hear it that way in your head, or did you tinker with the arrangement a bit? How so?
The harmonica was the plan for this song from the beginning. Austin Shifflett is the harmonica player on this track and a former bandmate of mine— something special happens when we make music together and I knew he was right for the track. From an arrangement perspective, I knew I wanted this song to bust out the gate and bring along the drive and aggression that was in my vocals, so I heard the drums and harmonica immediately. Once I was in the studio with Chance McCoy producing, we decided to add the big classic country bass and a bit of slapback “Johnny Cash style” reverb to my vocals. So ironically, this track is country as hell and that’s on purpose.
This is our first taste of your forthcoming record. What can we expect? Is it markedly different than your self-titled album?
I am a singer/songwriter so you’ll see that come through in my album in that each track has its own story to tell. From a listening perspective, there’s a piano ballad, a country waltz, a down and dirty bluegrass jam, a pretty love song, and some other tracks that bring their own sound to the table. I call my style “Appalachian Americana” because there is an influence in my guitar playing and songwriting from my years as a vocalist of an Alternative Bluegrass jam band. So mix that with writings/melodies of a vocalist and you get me. This album is different from my self-titled album in that through writing this album, I came into my own as a solo artist. I’m proud of each and every track on this thing. I can’t wait for you all to listen.
Got anything to say about Pride for our readers?
Are you holding up or breaking down? Are you building up or tearing down? Pride is so so important — going to festivals and enjoying your friends isn’t all of it, there is still so much work to be done. Let’s use our voices this month and beyond to keep busting through these doors that we’ve been previously denied the opportunity to knock on. Build each other up, choose to mend… and if you read nothing else, know that you are loved and you are a gift to this world just as you are.
Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He lives in Waitsfield, VT.
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