Nashville singer/songwriter Amy Stroup has a lot on her plate. In addition to promoting new solo record Tunnel and performing with her band Sugar and the Hi-Lows, Stroup is also the newest member of Ten out of Tenn, a group of Nashville-based songwriters representing the city’s up-and-coming organic pop scene. Stroup talked with us about Stevie Nicks, her thoughts on Spotify, and why she’s always reading.
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Who are your songwriting heroes?
Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
You describe yourself as a “serial writer.” Have you always been that way?
I never thought of myself in that way until other people began asking, “How do you create so much music in so many different styles?” It made me realize that maybe it’s not the norm for all singer songwriters but it’s certainly been a constant for me. I love writing, recording, and collaborating on new songs . . . so I do a lot of it. Its hard to turn off my brain sometimes.
What’s going on with Sugar and the High-Lows?
Great question. We’re actually partnering with the Nashville Ballet on February 14th for the 2nd anniversary of our debut release & releasing our first album on vinyl. The ballet will dance to songs from the record along with a few special arrangements of Johnny Cash songs we’re currently recording. Outside of this very special project, Trent and I are both taking a brief pause to work on our own solo projects. We have such a great collaboration that I hope and plan to continue developing it in the coming year. Look for a release of Johnny Cash songs soon!
Tell us a bit about Milkglass. What was one of their big successes?
Milkglass is my label, but it’s also a full-service creative company. Our team does branding for authors, music companies, artists, and new businesses both big and small. We’ve branched out into art direction in a new capacity with a few music videos in the past year (Little Big Town, Pistol Annies, Sugar and The Hi-Lows). That said, I think one of our most loved accomplishments is the launch of our Unlikely Bunch dinner series. Its a no-strings-attached celebration of those who are living brave lives and contributing to problem-solving in their community.
Any thoughts on streaming music services like Spotify?
I think it’s a good discovery tool, especially if fans post their playlists on social media. As far as compensating artists financially, it seems lacking. I think artists should get a cut of the ads run on their respective Spotify pages. It seems appropriate to direct more revenue into the hands of the artists whose music makes the site even possible.
How would you describe Tunnel?
I wrote this record over the last three years, in between time on the road with Sugar and the Hi-Lows and days spent at my studio in Nashville. It’s a collection of songs from that time inspired by conversations with friends, independent films, break-ups, and books I was reading. Sonically, it nods at the feel of my last record with heavy, cinematic string arrangements and piano & guitar-based writing. I’d say the style is pushed a bit with the addition of some modern tones influenced by more recent inspiration.
How would you compare it to the last one?
I wrote most of the songs from my last record nearly 5 years ago. I hope I’ve grown up more and evolved as a musician, writer, and human.
One of the songs on the new album was inspired by Martika’s “Toy Soldiers.” That’s unusual source material.
I was on a writing retreat with my publishing company in LA. The retreat was hosted by Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen at their house in Ojai, California. I was paired up to write with producer Cason Cooley and an incredible performer named Pilar Diaz. She grew up in Chili and was heavily influenced by 80’s & 90’s pop. The song, “Finally Found Our Way,” was unexpectedly written after we watched the music video for Toy Soldier and started talking about power pop ballads. I personally think the song sets the tone for much of my new record.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
I had a band in 5th grade called Green Leaves. It was my best friend Haley and me. We wrote original songs and sang covers of The Cranberries for our friends. I feel like writing has been with me since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until moving to Nashville to go to college, during which time I met Keith Cook and Nathan Chapman, that I started actually writing songs that carried any weight. Nathan taught me how to co-write and how to pay attention to as a writer. He told me to read Cormac McCarthy books, along with a dozen others, to absorb language from literature. It was some of the best advice I’ve received.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
The first song I wrote was called “Munch.” I was just a kid, probably 9 or 10. I had just learned the E chord on my guitar. I was into the Beatles so I remember recording it on tape and singing it with a fake British accent because I thought that it would make it more “Beatles-esque” and cool.
How do you go about writing songs?
I keep an ongoing collection of scrap paper and iPhone notes jotted down during movies, after conversations, while reading, or anytime a lyric idea comes to mind. I also have a reel of little voice memos with melodies that I keep on my phone. I usually listen through them when I am sitting down to solo write or preparing for a co-write. It’s a great tool for keeping my good ideas where I can access them.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
I had a friend tell me once, “If you don’t read, you can’t write.” I try to constantly be reading something to keep fresh words, thoughts, and language in my head. That way, when the time comes to write, I hopefully have a deeper well to pull from.
What’s a song on Tunnel you’re particularly proud of and why?
There’s a song titled “Versailles” that was written with Mary Hooper & producer Thomas Doeve. Mary and I had just returned from a trip to Europe with some friends, and with it, our first visit to Paris. The trip for me inspired this song. . .
This is the last time
You’ll see the valley of Versailles
There are diamond skies
Above the gray tide oh
Love don’t go
Love don’t go
All she thinks about
is him who her held so close
He pleaded honestly
For king and queen to be oh
Are there any words you love or hate?
I love the fact that all these lyrics and words are truths that I’ve lived through and learned from. I hate the fact that life has been hard in many ways. I’ve truly felt like I have sabotaged some things in my life. At the same time, I wouldn’t take back anything I’ve been through and am thankful that the experiences have resulted in these tiny song gifts that hopefully help others get through their own darkness.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
“Hold Onto Hope Love’ from my album The Other Side of Love Sessions is one of those songs that I still receive emails, tweets, and calls about. Everyone seems to have their own unique story about what the song has meant to them. I had a friend tell me that her mom was admitted to the emergency room. She went to the hospital and wasn’t allowed to go back where the doctors were working. Scared and pacing, waiting in the lobby, she looked up to Private Practice on the TV. “Hold Onto Hope Love” happened to be playing in the background of the scene. She said it gave her hope that she wasn’t alone, and that everything was going to be okay. Stories like that floor me. I love how you never know how your music can help people.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Stevie Nicks or Tom Waits.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
What do you consider to be the perfect song, and why?
I remember as a kid sitting in the car with my mom. We were driving from Abilene, Texas to Nashville, TN to visit some friends. We were listening to an NPR interview with Stevie Nicks. She was reflecting on her song “Landslide” — why she wrote it, where she was, how her career was in a rough spot. I remember thinking that I love how the song saved not only saved her career, but in some ways also helped her as a person. That, for me, makes “Landslide” one of many perfect songs.
Also, Tom Waits’ “Take It With Me” has some of my all time favorite lyrics:
“In a land there’s a town
And in that town there’s
And in that house
There’s a woman
And in that woman
There’s a heart I love
I’m gonna take it
With me when I go
I’m gonna take it
With me when I go”