Amy Wigton is a singer/songwriter with a “voice as big as all outdoors.” She plays a solid rhythm guitar heavily laced with tasty picking as her voice soars from a beefy wail to a soft whisper. Audiences are moved by the dynamic roller-coaster ride of emotions that her songs convey.
As a performer, you have been described as “a powerhouse of energy and intensity with the soul of a rocker and the heart of a folk troubadour.” How has your style as a performer influenced your style as a songwriter?
Most of the time the songs begin with a life of their own and then, as it starts to gel, I begin to stylize the vocals and guitar embellishments that will allow me to put the song across. There was one song I wrote entitled Carry Me Away that I wrote to incorporate a cool vocal leap from chest to head voice that I heard one of my favorite vocalists, Martin Sexton, do on a song of his that I love. Sometimes I hear things that I really like and I sprinkle that into my songs and that comes from all kinds of music I listen to from funk to folk to the music I listen to in yoga class.
Over the years, you’ve shared the stage with the likes of Jefferson Starship, Pablo Cruise, Jesse Colin Young, Roger McGuinn and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. What have you observed about how such top-level performers engage with and present original songs?
They just do what they do and are very solid. I notice how they also change things up a bit so that they keep the songs fresh. Improvising on a song probably keeps the sanity in check. As I get older I keep in mind that I’m not going to write a song that reaches outside of my vocal comfort zone. I used to like to push my vocals to the tip of my range. I have songs that I don’t do as much anymore, because they sort of, well, hurt. I’ve found that writing in a vocal key that is comfortable makes much more sense and since I plan on singing for a long time I want to be able to comfortably do them, so I keep that in mind.
In addition to writing “adult” music, you are also a writer of original “children’s” music. What’s the difference, and how do you approach the two genres?
Well, the furniture you put in the song is certainly different. For example, I don’t have galloping horses in my adult songs or sexy men in the kids songs. It’s kind of a no-brainer. One of the most important things about children’s music is to engage the child in the song and make it participatory. So when I write for children I keep in mind how they can participate with gesture, movement or echo to the song. I also use a lot of props and visuals with kids. My “thang” is the finger puppet song skits I’ve created. They seem to be a real hit. I’ve been told by friends that I should incorporate my puppets into my adult music, but I haven’t quite figured that one out yet.
Sometimes after performing for kids it feels a little disorienting to do an adult show where the audience just sits there calmly tapping their fingers and toes while sipping beer. I have visions (or delusions) of doing something more participatory with adult audiences. At a recent show I spontaneously launched into the Hand Jive and coaxed the audience to participate, it went over quite well. I enjoy the enthusiastic giggles of glee and the energetic bouncing that happens with children. On the flipside sometimes it’s nice not to have the whole room going out of control (laugh). Doing both styles of music works well for me and gives me a good balance. I can write some pretty deep and edgy songs and I need the adult arena for those. I also have found that kids music is a great theatrical outlet and gives me the opportunity to be a goofy goober, which is pretty natural for me.
Your experience as a performer has ranged from well-known music festivals to nightclubs, cafes, corporate conventions, weddings and street performances in places like Venice and Florence. What is your favorite type of venue for presenting your original songs?
Elevators, they’re the best. Hmm, lately I’ve been feeling like the venues are far and few between for original music, but I’ve been in mom mode and a bit out of touch with the night-time scene. I like places where my audience is comfortable, well attended to and where you can feel the love in the air. Early hours preferred and decent food and spirits a must. How’s that for being picky?
I’ve been brainstorming for a while on the desired venues. I like intimate settings and it really means a lot to me to have people engaged in what I’m doing, because otherwise, what’s the point? I enjoy being the opener for other artists, its good exposure and it’s wonderful to be able to play some songs then sit back and listen to the headliner act. I’ve had the good graces of opening for some awesome musicians and it’s always a treat. My sentiment is if there’s love in the room, wine on the table and people who are there to listen, I’m good.
I recently had an amazing show with Bread & Roses that took place at the Marin Woman’s Services center in Greenbrae. For those unfamiliar, Bread & Roses is a volunteer organization that brings music and entertainment to hospitals, treatments centers and other institutions. The room was filled with women who truly needed some healing. We sang a lot of wonderful songs together that night and I felt like I was providing some comic and sentimental relief. Pain is a sacred place and I felt like these women let me climb in there with them. What I didn’t know at the time was that a lot of them were experiencing the shock of losing a friend and housemate to an overdose. I sang “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac and I will never forget the power of that moment as these woman sang with me with embraces and tears. That evening meant a lot to me. We all hurt inside and the power of being together and singing through tears is probably one of the most healing things I can think of.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far about songwriting that might be helpful to others following a songwriting path of their own?
Follow your muse. Do not self-sabotage or compare too much. Try to stay with the original flow and keep going while the muse is talking to you because just as it comes, it goes away. Try to be in the moment and feeling of the song so that you can capture it, perhaps as a just a stream of consciousness because that’s the pure emotion that’s channeling through you.
I keep my hand-held tape recorder and my journal/notebook with me at all times. You never know when an idea will hit you. I can’t seem to update from the cassette tape format for the initial writing phase or to capture ideas. I need something there quick so I’m hopelessly old school in that way. I’m a little bummed my newer car doesn’t have a cassette player in it and my techie husband thinks I’m crazy. I’ve got so many cassette tapes full of song ideas, it overwhelms me sometimes. I only refer to them when I need to.
After the collection-of-ideas stage I start crafting the song. All songs don’t happen this way for me but the ones that are deeper and convey a more complex idea often do. I suggest not trying to fit a song into a neat little box, just let it flow, gather it together, see what you’ve got and then work with it. What also can happen is that one song becomes a stepping stone to another completely different song and it’s good to be open to that. It can be an amazing thing to see what you start with and where it ends up.
The creative process is such a wonderful adventure. Writing a song that I’m happy with is one of most fulfilling feelings. I love having a melody swimming around in my head where I get to try on different lyrics to see if they fit. It’s like a musical puzzle where little sections of the picture start to appear.
When I complete a few new songs that’s when I start itching to perform. It’s like I’ve got a brand new outfit that I want to show off. Something I struggle with sometimes is giving the song permission to form when I may not be in a particular mood for it. Lyrics or melodies with very raw emotion will come out of nowhere and demand that I pay attention even when I don’t want to. But there it is and it’s packing a pretty powerful punch so if you’re going to get the good raw emotion it’s important to give yourself permission to go down the road that the song is leading you.
Recently I’ve had this desire to write a real hopeful, upbeat, anthemic song. I kept writing down thoughts and ideas but the song wasn’t coming, just the desire for it. The song that wanted to be written was about my father who recently passed away. Emotionally that’s where I was at and so I tapped into it. It’s a song about letting go of the expectations I had with him and what I felt was expected of me. It’s basically a song about self liberation. A lot of my songs help me process my emotions. Songs bubble inside that need to come out and it’s creatively important to let them come.
In a nutshell, my advice would be to listen to what the muses whisper and then write down every word.
Amy’s music is available here:
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[easyazon-link asin=”B003DRV7EK” locale=”us”]Landing[/easyazon-link]
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[easyazon-link asin=”B003DPGQFM” locale=”us”]Outside Looking In[/easyazon-link]
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[easyazon-link asin=”B008Q96JPC” locale=”us”]There’s a Ghost (Single)[/easyazon-link]
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[easyazon-link asin=”B005HURG5K” locale=”us”]Story of Love (Single)[/easyazon-link]