Interview: Amanda Rogers

interview by peter soyer

Sometimes the calm before a storm has more power than the storm itself. Listening to the delicate piano notes fall from Amanda Rogers’ debut album is like listening to the rain from inside a tent. I know I’m safe inside, but the layer protecting me is paper thin. All the emotions dripping from Amanda’s lips are just beneath the surface of every listener waiting to break through the surface. Amanda is just brave enough leave them floating where everyone can see. She lays her heart out in every song and brings a classical taste back to a genre of music needs her. Other girls have done what she is doing, but none have done it with as much heart and feeling. Her music grabs listeners, holds them and kisses the tops of their heads while other girls in this category tend to slip by without much contact. She has even won the hearts of punk rockers by opening for New Found Glory, Saves the Day and numerous other stormier acts. Kids with mohawks waiting for their favorite pop-punk group to perform are more than a little confused when a 21-year-old girl drags a piano on stage and proceeds with a set of songs with no guitars, no drums and no lyrics about how cool girlfriends are. Amanda’s music feels like the missing part of the sound everyone has been searching for. She completes a part of everyone who listens by giving away parts of herself. Stand in the calm and watch the clouds building in the background. Let the rain start to fall and don’t run when the thunder cracks to close to home.

Has every relationship in your life been stressful and full of turmoil? Your songs are so emotional that the listener feels like he or she is going through the same situation.
Well, I think that if you don’t put the time and effort into any kind of relationship, whether it’s business, friendship, or love, it will slowly crumble and that crumbling process is usually a painful one. It doesn’t matter from which side the lack of respect is from. It’s really if there is any unbalance at all and for me, I have been at both ends and both ends hurt. I have also seen it happen to others. I tend to observe life and life is really just connecting with those around you. I have a lot of good and bad to inspire me.

Any specific example that directly influenced one of your songs on The Places You Dwell?
I think that “Divide and Separate” is a good example of a human relationship. I had a rough time with my family when they started having doubts about the decisions I made about my future. I moved away from home as soon as I graduated high school when I was 17. My parents were a little upset about my decision to not go to Berkeley School of Music where I had been accepted. A year later I moved back home to save money for music equipment, then moved out again. Then a year after that, I moved back home because I had no money at all. So I can see why they were upset. But when they kicked me out and told me I didn’t have them to fall back on anymore, this song was sort of born. My relationship with my family is better now that they know I can stand on my own two feet. Hopefully I will stay standing.

Do you keep all your old poems? How far back do they go? I still have stuff I wrote in 8th grade. It sucks, but I still have it.
Actually, I save everything! I have a box filled with old poems and drawings from way back when I was about four. I save little things from every moment I think could some day be an important mile-marker in my life. To a stranger it looks like a box of trash, but it’s my trash and it’s a bad habit that will someday be an amazing scrap book.

What is the oldest “mile-marker” you have?
I have these pictures I drew when I was two-years-old. They look like Mr. Potato Heads, but they are great drawings for a two-year-old. I think they are early proof of my creativity. One even has glasses!

I read that you do not like to be compared with Tori Amos or Fiona Apple. That having been said, did either of them influence you at all?
I think when I was younger I was like, “Ooh, a girl on MTV that does the same thing I do when I get frustrated with Bach.” But then I realized it wasn’t quite the same thing and that they were less sincere. They are great performers, but they are disconnected. Hopefully that will never happen to me. So, yes, I really dislike the comparison. It cheapens my music, which is where everything from my head and heart pour into.

What makes their music less sincere?
I don’t think that they write their music for themselves, or those around them, but rather for their record companies, managers, and agents. It all seems so stiff and prefabricated, like little cookie cut-outs. Each song is a replica of the last one, just a few words changed and a little studio magic. But I guess if you are constantly trying to write that big radio hit, insincerity is bound to happen.

I’ve been listening to The Places you Dwell quite a bit and the song that stands out the most to me is Waltz. I don’t think I have heard a waltz on a CD since Cake’s Fashion Nugget. The piano is beautiful. Did you set out to write a waltz or did it just come naturally with the lyrics?
The lyrics actually came from the chord progression and they came to me very quickly, maybe an hour or two. Life is kind of a dance, and for those of us that don’t know the steps, we kind of fall behind or get trampled, sometimes forgotten.

What classical composers, if any, do you listen to? I was reminded of Chopin throughout the CD.
Thank you! Chopin is a favorite, but I really love Brahms and Rachmaninoff. I sometimes wish I showed off my piano skills a bit more, but for me it’s really just songs and lyrics in a very raw state. It’s something too delicate to dress up and bury in layers.

I love Rachmaninoff. His pieces are so ferocious and intricate. What classical songs do you practice with or play often? Did you take piano lessons?
I don’t play the classics as much as I would like to, but I really love to play Brahms. Rachmaninoff puts me in a weird mood that sustains for the whole day. I still love his pieces though. I took piano lessons from age six to 17. I loved it and hated it at the same time. I love the songs but hate the strict structure in which you are expected to play them. All through school I was involved in anything musical I could be. I believe I was considered a band nerd. I was in marching band, winter drumline, jazz chorus, musicals, jazz ensemble, and I accompanied everybody for everything cause I was one of the only people who played piano in my school.

Do you think your music stands out more because there is more of a classical taste to it? Do you try to challenge your listeners with a more complex sound rather than an overused song?
Honestly, my songs just really write themselves. I never really think about how it will sound in the end. Whether it sounds classical or jazzy, it’s not on purpose. It just happens subconsciously because those are some of the types of music that have influenced my playing while growing up. My sound can be indirectly influenced by everything I listen to, without my knowing it. From Radiohead to Godspeed You Black Emperor! to Bright Eyes.

Any guilty pleasures you have in your CD collection?
It says so much more about the person; their little musical secrets. My guilty pleasures are Phantom Planet, Frank Sinatra, random movie soundtracks, and Iron Maiden. Very eclectic! Something for every mood I guess.

How do you create your atmosphere when you go on stage?
My atmosphere is silence. People usually get quiet when I get on stage anyway, so it works out well. Since I play crazy rock shows with hardcore and weird punk bands, kids are generally confused by my being there. But then they really listen to me. It’s nice. It’s me, my piano, the hushed crowd of misfits, and my words meaning something to those listening.

You’ve said you are a nerd offstage and between songs. What is the nerdiest thing about you?
Probably the nerdiest things about me are that I really LOVE Dexter’s Lab, and I change into my pajamas as soon as I get home….at anytime of the day. Oh, and I enjoy cleaning as my meditation ritual. Also, I hate washing my hair and I eat way too healthy. I’m very clumsy too.

What are on your pajamas?
My pj’s have stars, or Asian prints, or stripes on them. Sometimes I pull out the slippers shaped like puppies. Those are fun with cartoons.

When you say that you drag your piano on stage I have this image of you literally dragging a big piano on stage. Is that how it really happens?
Well, kind of. Except it’s a digital piano in a bag that weighs about 60 lbs that I refuse to let anyone help me carry. Why, I have no idea. I think it’s a pride thing.

What does it feel like to set-up and start playing in front of a crowd expecting something a little more hardcore? How do you generally start your show?
Well, I think that while I am setting up the crowd notices right away that I’m just like them. I’m just a 21-year-old girl, doing what I love. Sometimes they might realize right away how goofy and clumsy I am, but only if they are lucky! I kind of like the look of surprise on the kids’ faces. It’s something to laugh about later that night. I tend to start the show with either a disclaimer, or a funny story from earlier that day. Then I tell everyone to sit down and take a break from the moshing and I proceed with story time.