East Nashville’s Amelia White hits McCabe’s after a UK tour that revealed eerie parallels to the rampant divisiveness at home
By Bliss Bowen
The first time I saw Amelia White perform was at one of the late Billy Block’s Western Beat showcases in Nashville. Her beguiling voice cut through the air like a young, orange-jacketed Lucinda Williams, sweetly tart yet melancholy, as she sang “Black Doves” from her 2006 album of the same name. The song burned itself into my sonic memory like a radio hit that never made the airwaves. It bears White’s songwriting trademarks: reverberant guitars, melodies that dance around evocative images, and insistent pop hooks.
Those qualities similarly inhabit “Home Sweet Hotel,” which she independently released in early February. Warmly produced by Band of Joy drummer Marco Giovino, the album heralds a new stage for White — one in which she’s achieved a somewhat stabilizing degree of acclaim and fan loyalty, yet also embraced her profession’s inherent restlessness. The music sounds particularly hopeful during tracks like “Love Cures” and “Rainbow over the Eastside,” but even sober tracks like “Six Feet Down” float on guitar-stroked pads of contentment.
“To me the big theme of the record was trying, from the inside out, to show the two different lives you lead when you play music, how you have to be out on the road,” she explains, still a bit groggy from the previous night’s flight home to East Nashville from a month-long UK tour. “If you don’t sort of give yourself over to that when you’re out there, you’ll be miserable. But when you come home, you’re in that world. I have a strong sense of being happy in my home; I have a nice home in Nashville, I’m in love, I have a little fur family. I believe in the power of love. It’s grounded me a lot.
“And in these political times, I totally think that love is the answer. That sounds so cheesy, but I think the simple act of being kind to people you come in contact with in your day, and helping strangers and friends, and just taking a little more time to get off your damn phone and make some eye contact and make people laugh — I really believe in that. I believe in that more than I believe in anything right now — that, and the power of music and art. You can do all the political stuff, and I believe in doing what you can, but I really think politics starts from that place.”
Politics inevitably dominated conversations on tour: she arrived two days after the Brexit referendum. White, who describes herself as a “writer-song-singer,” laughs as she recounts how reviewers favorably perceived her as country (“so not what I’m perceived as here”), but her tone turns thoughtful when discussing the UK political climate.
“People were just kind of carrying on, but everybody was bitching about it,” she recalls. “And it was interesting because, just like I feel like I hardly encounter anyone who is in the whole Trump camp, these people that I was talking with were like, ‘We don’t know anyone who wanted Britain to leave the union.’ So it was really interesting, that parallel.”
Just as compelling, though more awkward, was trying to explain thorny US subjects like presidential candidates and mass shootings.
“I had a lot of dinner conversation about guns — just trying to explain to people. I think it’s really hard for them to wrap their heads around. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around, people’s obsession here with guns. I definitely have some friends who stand on the other side of the argument from where I stand, and when you really listen to everything they
have to say, you realize this is not shallow. It’s a very deep chasm.”
With several albums under her belt, White has settled into what was once called the troubadour’s life: writing songs, recording albums, touring, returning home to live and observe the world, and then repeating the whole process. Years of DIY touring have connected her with enclaves of understanding musical family, especially here in Los Angeles. (“A lot of times people think I’m from L.A. I don’t know why.
I always take it as a compliment.”)
When she performs at McCabe’s Guitar Shop on Friday night, White will be supported by players who have accompanied her at previous local shows and studio sessions — keyboardist Carl Byron, guitarist Johnny Hawthorn and bassist Ted Russell Kamp — and guest turns by Calico’s Manda Mosher and Kirsten Proffit, who will also preview material from their forthcoming album in a separate set.
“I’ve been playing mostly solo the last month, so it will be a luxury to have the Cadillac instead of the Volkswagen,” White says with a chuckle. “And Calico — they’re really good people and so creative and optimistic, and I love being around that. I’m really thrilled that a song that we co-wrote, ‘Under Blues Skies,’ is gonna be on their new album.”
As for “Home Sweet Hotel,” she’s still contemplating the circumstances that inspired it.
“Music, if you’re really sincere about it and you work hard, is the most humbling thing you can do,” she says.
But the same things that make her feel “passionate and high” can still bring her down.
“It’s hard to keep going knowing you’re on the margins,” she acknowledges. “But I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that I’m an artist. I believe that things come up to keep you going. The more you do and put your faith out there and try to improve, these weird nets come along and catch you. They’re not always exactly what you want, but they come — psychic nets or monetary nets. If you’re an artist, you’ve gotta do it, and that’s just the bottom line.”
Amelia White shares a bill with Calico the Band at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. $20. Call (310) 828-4497 or visit ameliawhite.com.