There are few emotions and experiences of the human condition that get more attention through songwriting, than love. Every aspect of the feeling – from the uplifting good, to the heart wrenching bad – continues to enthrall listeners over generations. Nashville, TN’s Amanda Broadway Band is as much a party to being musically inspired by love as many artists before them. However, with the group’s recent signing to Electric 3 Records, the love the band wants to celebrate with, through a unique take on Burt Bacharach’s 1965 song “What the World Needs Now is Love,” is more focused on compassionate connection than romantic revelry. Though ironically, the manner in which the song came onto the band’s radar certainly reflects the same kind of spontaneous, unexpected energy one might find in whirlwind romances.
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“Unexpectedly, I didn’t go into it planning anything,” explains lead vocalist Amanda Broadway.
“It wasn’t some big discussion like ‘Which song should we do, record, or cover?’ During lockdown, I just had this random idea, [an] ear-worm, kind of work its way into my brain and it was the end of the song, the vamp when the vocals are, ‘what the world needs now, what the world needs now!’ – that part. I don’t know where that came from. It just got into my head.”
Broadway – and yes, that is her real last name – might not have been sure how that motif initially formed in her mind but indeed, she gradually found herself fascinated by the idea. Then from there, its progression from ear-worm, to a full-fledged rearrangement of Bacharach’s original, grew with the gripping intrigue of good old fashioned puzzle.
“[The idea] sounded like something you would sing over like, the end of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Want To Take You Higher.” It kind of felt like it had that sort of energy to it [and] it just kept nagging at me – this little vocal idea. So I finally was like ‘Okay I’m going to pay attention to this’,” she says.
“I kind of worked backwards from there like, ‘Okay, if I were to, you know, pursue this and cover this song, how would we do the actual rest of the song?’ because, you know, that vamp obviously doesn’t exist in the original. So, I just kind of went back and looked at the choruses and the verses of the original and I just sat on it for a little while. [Eventually] I kind of mentioned it to the rest of the group like, ‘I have this kind of funky idea and I think I might try to chase it down,’.”
The song’s selection, though a vital first step in the run up to the band’s unveiling with Electric 3, wasn’t intended to be the sole source of impact for the group’s introduction. Standing quite far from the calmer, smoother style of Bacharach’s rendition, the Amanda Broadway Band opted to give the song’s loving message an energetic and dynamically bold arrangement. The end result gives the group’s instrumentally powerful lineup of three vocalists, trumpet, bass, saxophone, keys, guitar, and drums ample freedom to play and sing with emphatic purpose, without altering the central emotional theme of the music. This makes for a particularly interesting decision, given that the band’s large number doesn’t preclude it from presenting a sonically intricate but dynamically restrained performance, as is the case on tracks from 2020 debut LP The Ache. Still, just because the collective volume might be higher doesn’t mean the song by any means lacks sophistication or delicacy.
“Kent [Toalson], our keyboardist,” she adds, “he came in with a really cool chord progression idea for the chorus, which is what we ended up with. It kind of gave [the song] a different mood. We were all thinking kind of gave it a little bit more, I guess a sense of urgency is the best way to put it, and in a way put this new energy behind it. I like where it ended up and the way the arrangement came out. It was a really cool group effort.”
Though a label debut may make the Amanda Broadway Band appear newer to the music world at large, in truth, this soul and funk driven big band has been a beloved and ever progressing icon of the Nashville community for some time. Since its inception and up through the present, themes of peace, love, and righteous compassion have fueled much of the group’s repertoire – especially on its full length The Ache. Take a step back to note Broadway’s appreciation for artists like Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Kandace Springs, a plethora of fellow artists local to Nashville, as well as the interconnectivity among the latter, and it’s a little easier to understand how not just the sound, but the heart and intent of her band, got solidified.
“Circa, 2012, or so, I set off on recording this series called the Sanctuary Sessions, which we recorded all the songs here at The Sanctuary [Studio]. At that point, I was still [billing] as a solo artist but I always had that big band thing going,” says Broadway.
“At the time, I was kind of exploring [and] writing for all these different genres and allowing myself to kind of go fully in those directions. [I was] letting myself explore those genres and sounds and bringing in for the sessions, whatever personnel made sense stylistically. That included many of the band members that are a part of the lineup right now.”
That said, as natural and organic as the coming together process for the Amanda Broadway Band was in this context, that’s not to say assembling the band’s current form involved no deliberate planning. Despite the ease with which one would assume putting together a band would be in a place like Nashville, the ubiquity of musicians makes for a double-edged sword when a person is seeking stable continuity for a group.
“There’s a lot of time where just, [band guitarist Shane Lamb] and I were writing and then [we] just kind of decided to put together a consistent lineup, just wanting it to have the same people,” Broadways says. “While Nashville is so great and you can, you know, trip over stellar musicians here, I really wanted that sort of cohesive found that consistency of having the same people.”
It’s one thing is find, and work with, a bunch of like-hearted people who share mutual admiration for artists of the past. It’s another, far more delicate and at times complicated matter however, to navigate a shared calling to speak out in the name of what the band feels strongly about and what its preceding musical influences stood for, while continuously striving for sustainable success in its own right. Even just the choice to feature the band’s three female vocalists – Broadway, Maureen Murphy, and Amber Woodhouse – together on the lead part of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” is itself a showing of solidarity and push for progress with regard to the ongoing disparity for women and musicians of color within the music industry.
“I guess I just don’t really give a sh-t if people don’t like [the band’s music]. You can’t please everybody and I think [fixating on pleasing people] is a terrible reason to make music anyway. I’ve never made music from that standpoint of [whether] it’s going to be commercialized or not,” Broadways explains.
“I’m from the opposite way of [thinking,] ‘Here’s the music we’re making, good luck commercializing it.’,” she adds. “Musically, I don’t really take any of that into consideration when we’re creating. I just create and write. I want to write about things that are real. I want people to feel things. I want people to be able to relate, whether it’s good or bad, because you know, life is both of those things. As Nina Simone said, ‘One of the roles of an artist is to reflect the times.’ I have no problem being an artist who speaks up for what I believe. I’m happy to show up for that duty.
In spite of the occasionally conflicting persons or obstacles that try to hinder the Amanda Broadway Band’s presence in the musical landscape, one could say the group’s sheer determination to exist in its current form and with its core messaging, is a measure of success. Not solely looking to older genres or important causes of the past for mental inspiration, the group also channels less common methods of recording and production aesthetics – a feat seemingly even more noteworthy amid ongoing concerns around gatherings. Nonetheless, the band found ways to incorporate the natural artistry of classic styles for the Bacharach single.
“We did do this all digitally I will say that. We did not record to tape for [“What the world Needs Now.”] We didn’t perform it all nine of us like we did with [The Ache] when we started out each song because…pandemic,” Broadway admits. “We just didn’t want to try to put all of us in a room together at one time.”
“So,” she continues, “we broke it up where the rhythm section went first, and then the vocals, and then the horns. But everyone still performed together live when they did their part, which for us has been consistent. It’s sort of wanting that live sound of people playing music together. I’m really drawn to it. I think it’s a really great thing our band does; it just gives you that energy of people just playing music together and and not being super refined. I’m trying to, you know, allow some imperfections through, which for me is really hard to do – to let go. [But] I think we’re still able to accomplish that sound even though we’re technically recording digitally just because of the way we are producing it.”
Collectively, the Amanda Broadway Band is perfectly content continuing to embrace some of the underappreciated approaches to music, whether in the studio, on the lyric sheets, or in social media posts. The group, of course, works hard to always keep itself rising. However, perhaps that’s the long tail goal: getting to a place of unflappable visibility and not ever having to justify the words and actions that are most important for both the music industry, and the world at large, to hear. Mix that among current simultaneous individual and global challenges and that might mean progress takes a little longer. But for Broadway, that just makes any progress, growth, or even just opportunities for the band to be together in spite of everything, all the more meaningful.
“I think across the board, everyone’s on a different page when it comes to kind of getting through [the present] and people are still processing the process slower – I feel like I’m in that group – and maybe they aren’t really able to kind of be creative yet or, write about this stuff yet, or maybe not everyone’s even wanting to write about what’s been going on,” Broadway says.
“[At the same time,] I think we’re all in the same boat you know, in the sense of, every musician is affected by this. Artists are affected by this so, we know we can all lean on each other. Individually, everyone’s just kind of doing what they can survive and going with where they’re at. As a [band], we’re just really grateful for the time that we do get to be together.”