“Virginia-based singer/songwriter Amy Henderson has just released an emotionally powerful album of confessional alternative folk, May. In this conversation, she discusses how her artistry has developed.
Q: What songs on your album are most personal to you and why?
A: Gosh, they all are very personal. They are really like a diary of the last 10 years to me. Each has its own story and were written at really specific points in my life. Each one is like a musical tattoo.
Q: In terms of musical style, how would you categorize yourself?
A: I have the hardest time with that. Some of my songs are more Americana, some have a definite blues feel, and some are pure pop. I would say eclectic folk rock? I should offer a prize on my website for someone who can come up with the best adjective to describe my music.
Q: How have you evolved creatively?
A: I have learned that songs don’t have to be tight, under three-minute organized pieces. I had a drummer once that taught me that I need to let the songs breathe more, give them more air. I'm much more open now to improvisation, letting solos lead to wherever they may go. My songs do tend to have a lot of structure to them, but I think they flow a little better than they used to. And over the years I’ve just gotten to be a better musician and can better capture what I hear in my head.
Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?
A: Growing up, my older brother was a huge influence on me. My earliest memories are of him listening to the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Steely Dan, or Elton John, and us trying to sing along. I remember getting into fights because I wasn’t singing the harmony part just right. I was always in church choir and learned a lot about rhythm guitar singing and playing at summer camp in North Georgia and with friends in high school and college. My high school in Gainesville, GA had a fantastic musical theater and choral dept and I participated in both – that really taught me about stage presence and singing, and meaning what you are singing, learning to sing your song from the heart.
Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?
A: Yes, there were instruments all over the house: piano, plastic recorder, random drums, a kazoo, a beat-up folk guitar with only two strings on it. My dad played piano and my older brother played everything. I took piano for about 12 years, which is why I play guitar now, and learned how to understand chord structures on a baritone ukulele and a giant Fleetwood Mac anthology. I got my first harmonica at Kmart in East Point, GA and I played along with “Love Me Do" until I got it. I later bought a cassette tape of Muddy Waters' greatest hits at a gas station and learned to mimic his style while practicing in the car. I still always keep a harmonica in the car.
Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?
A: There are not many types of music I don’t like – or at least I find that I appreciate them all. My dad was a fan of the Big Band era – Sinatra, Astrud Gilberto, old musicals. The only station we could get clearly in Gainesville, GA was FOX97 which played oldies, so I am very familiar with '50s, '60s and '70s music. I love it all – bluegrass, Americana, blues, classical, pop, jazz, and all of these influences seem to seep into my music.
Q: What was the first song you ever wrote?
A: [Laughs] It was called, “Stop Hurting Me.” I was in 7th grade and my boyfriend of three whole weeks dumped me and I wrote this acidic song on the ukulele lamenting my broken heart. Frankly, it’s hilarious. We even made a video for it on dad’s old VHS video camera. It turned a very devastating situation into something we laughed at. But it made me realize just how cathartic writing music can be.
Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?
A: Oh, definitely the Beatles – the harmonies still blow my mind. Also Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel. I grew up in the Atlanta area so talented women like the Indigo Girls, Kristen Hall, and Michelle Malone really shaped me. During the pop-synth '80s it was life-changing to hear other women play acoustic guitar. And in college, I went to Furman in Greenville, SC but spent a lot of time Athens, GA so R.E.M., Drivin' and Cryin', and the B-52's were a big influence. Nowadays, I am really loving Ray Lamontagne, Brandi Carlile, the Shins. There is a lot of fantastic and creative music out now.
- Stacey Zering
“ Amy Henderson's May sounds like the month itself: warm but sometimes overcast. It is comfortable and pleasing, the final moments before the scorching heat takes over. The lonely ache of winter hasn't fully walked out the door yet; it haunts the sun like the nagging residue of a nightmare. This balancing act can be easily seen on the opening track, "Pure," which seeks spiritual renewal after a break-up. With her bittersweet singing, Henderson effortlessly reels in listeners to her personal narratives.
Henderson's style is a hybrid, uniting blues, country, and folk within a melodic pop framework. She recalls the classics such as Melissa Etheridge and Bonnie Raitt, but on "Daydreamin'" there are echoes of Courtney Barnett in her delivery. The songs are polished well, especially the breezy strumming of the acoustic guitars. Fans of the Indigo Girls will find much to appreciate here, that combination of honest songwriting and vocal charm. At times, too, Henderson captures the unplugged beauty of Heart.
Juggling sensitivity with swagger (best exemplified by "Everything But You"), Henderson is a welcome voice in the roots-rock field.
- Stacey Zering