Somerville, Mass., isn’t exactly Nashville when it comes to nurturing up-and-coming country artists. But one local singer/songwriter may just change that: Amy Black, a Somerville resident by way of childhood homes in Missouri and Alabama, is getting ready to launch a tour in support of her soulful, self-assured new album “This is Home,” her follow-up to 2011’s “One Time.”
Prior to kicking things off at Johnny D’s in Somerville on Feb. 7 and 8, Black sat down to answer a few questions about her burgeoning music career.
Wicked Local: You recently gave up your “day job” to pursue music full time. What inspired you to make the leap, and what are the joys and challenges you’ve discovered so far?
Amy Black: The last job I took was more flexible and allowed me to tour, but I was still working 32 hours a week and had a lot of responsibility. I was ready to give 100 percent of my focus to my music career and decided that I was a point where it make sense to do just that. That’s what it takes! I’m going to run at it hard this year and see where I’m at after 12 months.
I’m certainly becoming more convinced that it’s an uphill climb to try to make music for a living. Part of the challenge is accepting that. The good news is great things happen every day. You have to celebrate all the wins -- you book a new gig, you start a new partnership with another artist, you get an encouraging note from one of your fans, a magazine reviews your album, and the very best … You get to play a show for an awesome audience who loves your music. It doesn’t get any better than that!
WL: There’s some tough and very moving material on “You’re My Home” -- “Make Me an Angel” is about a suffering mother, “Hello” is about a father with Alzheimer’s, and “We Had a Life” is one of several songs about broken homes. How much of your writing is autobiographical, and how much is just casting an empathetic eye on the world around you?
AB: A good deal of the difficult subject matter on this album came from real-life experiences that I’m connected to, and some characters and stories were imagined. Either way, you have to let yourself go to some dark places.
In the case of “Hello,” my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s when I was 16, but I wasn’t really in touch what that meant for my mom when it happened. I was inspired to write the song this past year after watching a movie that dealt with the topic. The film was comedy of sorts, but the Alzheimer’s piece hit me hard. I was actually holding back tears when I wrote the song.
Page 2 of 2 - WL: I hear shades of Bonnie Raitt and Mary Chapin Carpenter on the album -- country but with definite blues and folk influences. Who would you consider to be your musical “heroes,” and how do you incorporate those influences while remaining original?
AB: You just named two of my biggest influences! I’ve spent a lot of hours listening to these ladies and singing their songs. Bonnie Raitt was my first introduction to roots music when I was 16. I was smitten. Other heroes through the years have included Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Patty Loveless, Loretta Lynn, Patty Griffin and even Pat Benatar.
More recently the Muscle Shoals sound has been a big influence. [Black released a covers EP last year called “The Muscle Shoals Session.”] I’m kind of in love with Mavis Staples right now. I think all of these ladies have helped me become the the singer I am. It’s not something I thought about really, I just sang along with them and found my own voice along the way.
WL: What can fans expect from your album release shows, and from your other live shows on this coming tour?
AB: They can expect to enjoy great live music, possibly get inspired a bit and have an excellent night out. I put everything I have into my live shows and when I’m performing for my hometown audience, they get a little something extra from me. We’ll play a lot of songs from the new album -- many that you can move your body to! The players who are joining me for the shows are top notch and Shannon McNally, my special guest all the way from Mississippi, is not to be missed.
Contact Peter Chianca at email@example.com.