One breath and Amanda Winterhalter’s voice stays with you. One whisper and you lean in to know more. Sometimes the mysterious vocalist tells you about life’s little secrets, and sometimes she entreats you to dive six feet deep into the earth for a rendezvous. The second is the focus of our latest premiere! Here, we are happy to share “Cemetery Picnic,” the latest video from Amanda Winterhalter (featuring the artwork of Jefferson Elliot, who employed digital animal to a group of over 3,650 hand-drawn illustrations) that, we hope, will give you both a little fright and a big smile. And, afterwards, check out our interview with Amanda Winterhalter, who will also be playing this year’s Timbrrr! winter music festival.
When did you realize you could really sing?
I grew up in church, so I had a lot of opportunities to sing both, you know, standing on a pew and up on stage. I think it was through those opportunities as a kid, singing in choirs and in very communal, participatory music and then being invited as a young person to perform and to lead bands and music groups. So, I was pretty young, I was probably, like, a pre-teen.
Was there a moment when it just clicked?
Probably the first time I got to sing a solo in front of the church. I think I do remember the exhilaration of getting through the song and feeling like, “Oh, I really nailed that Amy Grant song!” And the elation that you feel when people applaud and they respond.
But I think when you’re singing by yourself and it becomes a real performance and people are listening to you and having that relationship and that interaction with an audience, I think that’s when I felt like, “Oh, this is something, this is where I have a voice in the conversation.” I was very shy as a kid and I think my inner life was very rich. I was very imaginative but it was harder for me to express myself socially. So, being able to perform music, that’s where I was able to express myself and say things that would be harder for me to say off the stage and outside of that mode of expression.
The sound of your voice is like the tone of the Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman story. Do Grimm’s Fairytales or other haunting traditions inspire your creativity?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s actually a song on my album, the second track called, “Reel,” which is inspired by Grimm’s Fairytales. I wrote it for a Bushwick Book Club show that we did using Grimm’s Fairytales. I’ve always been into fairytales and I always – when I was a kid and learned that the real Grimm’s Fairytales were very gruesome and very different from the filtered ones that we see from Disney and other storybooks, I was fascinated by that and really drawn into that. I wanted to know why – it was so interested. I studied English in college and what you learn about storytelling and those traditions and the psychology behind them, it holds up such a mirror for those deep inner dark places within our humanity – and bright places, too! There’s always the paradox and the contrast of the light and the dark, and I love that. I’ll always be drawn to that kind of storytelling.
How does death influence how you think about art and music?
I think because I grew up in the church, I read the Bible and lot of times and I think the whole foundation of the story of the gospel is about death and resurrection. Everything hinges on that. That’s evident in nature, too. There can’t be new life without death. There’s this weird symbiotic relationship between life and death and what does it mean to exist?! There’s just so much!
Then you get into the concept of the realm of the supernatural and the mysteries that since the dawn of humanity we’ve always been trying to explain what’s beyond life, outside of this world and us. And how can we unravel these mysteries? There’s so much to think about and write about, so I think that’s what pulls me to death. I don’t just have to write about – it’s fine to write a breakup song and I do that. But I think it’s really cool to dive into something like death and then be able to project and layer in my experience on top of that.
It’s very appropriate that we’re releasing this video on Halloween. Do you particularly like Halloween or did you as a kid?
I do. I always am lazy about my costumes now. I never end up really celebrating hard but I have always had lofty inspirations about celebrating Halloween. So, if I carried those out to fruition I would be a really hardcore Halloween partier. But not in the sense – I think there’s different ways to celebrate Halloween and participate in Halloween festivities. I’m not really one to go to haunted houses and do that but I have always been fascinated and really interested in dressing up as something or someone else.
I love what masks do for us. I actually hate being around people who are wearing actual masks, like when we went to Disney Land as a kid, I was afraid of Mickey Mouse and Mini Mouse. I don’t want to be around people with those huge masks on – you can’t see their eyes!
You mentioned “Reel” earlier. On that song, there’s this really long note held that sounds so powerful and even emotional. What do you feel internally as you’re belting out that howl?
Every time I do something like that, it’s a manifestation of my catharsis as an artist. What I love about that song, in particular, is I feel like musically it really mirrors what I wanted to say, conceptually. A lot of the time, I sing in my chest voice and it’s a lot more like resonant and gets loud and powerful but I sing pretty high on those verses. There’s this idea of reeling in and reeling out and this back-and-forth and there’s a lot of imagery like, “I can see your teeth,” which is an allusion to Red Riding Hood and the wolf.
And there’s the allusion to Rumpelstiltskin and there’s just this concept of this hunger inside of us for this power, and we’re always going back-and-forth and maybe in conflict of that. Some of us maybe consciously and some of us consciously. We’re in a constant power struggle with other people and with ourselves and the light and the dark within ourselves.
One of your bandmates is Ed Brooks, the Master of mastering. How does his ear lend to the group’s sound?
He is the Master of mastering! Ed started playing with us in the band when we were recording in, like, January or February. Ed is pretty laid back. We all produce the song together. I’ll bring the song in fully written and musically composed and then we arrange it. Of course, the other guys bring their own parts and then we all offer ideas – try this here or there. And there’s a couple of new songs that we’ve played since we recorded and Ed said on those he really feels like he’s orchestrated his place stronger in the band.
With the songs we’d written, Ed was pretty locked in. But now what’s cool about the way Ed plays is the atmosphere he brings to the music he creates. He doesn’t have a Nashville style on the slide guitar. Instead, it’s very atmospheric. He’s always willing to try things and experiment. He uses some cool pedals on his pedal steel. We have one song about Mt. St. Helen’s and it has a big, retro 70s feeling to it, so he’s really able to dig into that and that seems like it hits the right pocket. It’s so cool. I think because of his vast experience in music, he has such an extensive catalogue to draw from of influences and sounds. It’s never-ending and he can think of something, like, “Oh, this reminds me of this and maybe I’ll pull from that influence and try that on this song!”
What are you looking forward to about Timbrrr in January?
Tiiiimmmbbbbrrrrrrrr!!!!! I am really excited to get to play Timbrrr and to play this lineup. Pedro the Lion is iconic to me and I think it’s really cool that they’re headlining this year. I love Artist Home and appreciate Artist Home’s curation and the programs and events you produce. It’s just an honor to be a part of that and to be in this community. Also, I really love the hot toddy garden! Leavenworth is such a hammy town but it’s also really charming. It’s our own mini Alps.