A few months ago a friend of mine introduced me to Calgary singer/songwriter Amy Wood’s latest album, Cinnamon Heart. After hearing a few tracks from this folksy/pop artist, I was mesmerized. Reminiscent of UK singer Adele, her haunting and beautiful voice was still her own. When I discovered that Wood was performing at Higher Ground on July 26, I immediately requested an interview.
Wood asked me to meet her at Lazy Loaf, one of Calgary’s hidden gems, with a menu of cinnamon buns, homemade soups and sandwiches, and baked goods. The café is one of Wood’s favourites partly because of the dusty antique piano against the right wall beckoning to be played —which it was later that evening when Wood treated me to an impromptu performance.
At the first “hello” I noticed that, like her music, Wood was a naturalist: her look was not flawed by over-done make-up and wild fashion trends, but simple and classic, very much Banana Republic meets girl-next-door. Confident, relaxed and enthusiastic, with two albums under her belt and multiple live performances, the 24-year-old was eager to talk about her career and success thus far, including two albums and multiple live performance. We sat down with our drinks to dig deeper and learn about the artist now, her goals for the future and what it is she likes about Calgary.
WC: When did you realize you wanted to be a professional artist?
AW: Professional is a funny word, a teacher at the University of Victoria once told me that “your career is what you have when you look back on it”—things evolve as they happen. I’ve always gone to music as something that energizes me and was something I kept as a place of solace for years. After high school, I went to The Mount Royal Conservatory, it just seemed like the next step.
WC: When did you start writing your own music?
AW: The first song I ever wrote down was “Mountain Hike” in grade 4. I slowly began putting lyrics to piano songs and would make little goals for myself. Songwriting was an internal solace—it was as if I needed to write a song to cleanse myself.
WC: Thus far, what are you most proud of regarding your career?
AW: Being able to bring myself to an audience in an honest way.
Recording an Album
WC: What prompted you to record an album?
AW: People had encouraged me enough so I decided to do it. People made me feel welcome. This past album was my first polished album, which I did with Grant Holworth at Outhouse Studios. I was so in the habit of making songs that I already had the tracks, it was just a matter of putting them into a record.
WC: Can you tell me a bit about your latest album, Cinnamon Heart, and how it represents you?
AW: In every way! I took the time to make sure the feeling suited me. It’s very intimate. I hope people see it as confident, intelligent, unpretentious and enjoyable. To me the cover represents optimism in life and music, which is where I am now.
WC: When you’re writing a song, what are you thinking and feeling?
AW: Who knows? It’s a disaster in there when I’m writing a song. When I’m writing, I want to hear something I’m feeling. I trust my musical intuition, if a song isn’t working, I don’t continue and if I hear a lyric I like, I don’t write it down—if it doesn’t stick with me, it won’t stick with anyone else.
WC: What inspires you?
AW: Tons of things. One thing that really gets me is witnessing an exchange between two people where somebody has performed a selfless act towards another. My lyrics are often a result of a huge mess inside me that I want to sift out and put into music.
WC: What is your favourite song that you’ve recorded and why?
AW: It’s so hard to choose; they’re like children, all there for a reason. I like “Cinnamon Heart”, it’s autobiographical and it has two distinct moods, a driving rhythm and octaves in the base. “If You Need A Reason” is another one, it reflects the optimism I want to present as an artist.
WC: What makes your work unique?
AW: I have a policy where I don’t question what comes out of me – if it sounds unique, great. It usually is relatively uninhibited because I bring my soul to my music. Also, it’s not as common to have a classically trained artist create pop music, so I think that is unique too.
WC: Where do you hope to be in five years?
AW: I guess I want to feel comfortable and committed to what I am doing. Performing and creating authentic music on a bigger scale would be the greatest. I think everybody who’s performing hopes for it to be on a bigger scale.
WC: What is your definition of “making it?”
AW: For me, it’s a process—there may be no “making it.” It’s about meaningful performances, always growing and feeling comfortable. I recently realized that even if you get famous, you have to maintain “famous” —it’s always a process.
WC: What was it like to sing with an orchestra in Victoria?
AW: Singing with an orchestra was magnificent! It was like a big storm behind me showed up and sung through me.
WC: What has been your most memorable performance?
AW: Two years ago at a solstice celebration at St. Stephens Anglican Church. It was a beautiful idea of celebrating light and had a warm glow about it. It was also one of the first times I felt like I was able to bring myself to the table.
All About Amy
WC: How do you overcome stage freight?
AW: I don’t—I embrace it. There is a real culture of denying the fear, but that doesn’t work for me. I just get up there and think about the way I was feeling when I wrote the song and what the music is doing.
WC: What are five words that best describe you?
AW: It’s hard to pick just five, I have a lot of sadness and joy in me that helps to feed my music, but if I have to pick five, I’d say joyful, driven, empathetic, creative and curious.
WC: What is your favourite thing to do in Calgary?
AW: I love walking and biking by the Bow River on the pathways—especially later so you can catch the sunset. I also love Café Koi on 11th and 1st Ave SW, they have open mic night Tuesdays for singers and songwriters.
WC: What do you love about performing in Calgary at Higher Ground?
AW: The owner is very supportive and there is always a great turn out. Plus, Calgary is my home, so I have all my people here.
WC: Higher Ground is located in Calgary’s Kensington, often seen as trendy and artsy—what is it that you like about the area?
AW: I love energy and the small town community feel, combined with all the small independent shops and coffee houses.
You can catch Amy Wood live at Higher Ground, on July 26, 2011 Also download Cinamon Heart for free at www.amywood.ca
– Allison Onyett