Stumbling through the rocanrol forest with great expectations and only some trepidation—please no more brain-eating nu-metal or emo hip-hop bands, mates, the sub-sub-genre nature of the universe is starting to get to me—August March gets to listen to all sorts of new music.
Why, on slow days alone, there are usually a minimum of 30 download links waiting in his email, which is otherwise mostly consumed by requests to find solutions to the problems that have been haunting mankind for millennia.
But putting that duty aside and listening to the music contained in those electronic missives is so much more fun than going to the next City Council meeting—like Warren Beatty’s reporter character in The Parallax View, thought March.
It was during one of those discursive investigations into the substance of his email messages he received that rock critic August March came upon the work of singer-songwriter and total rocker Amy Guess.
Guess, from Las Vegas, Nev. has been working on her craft since she was in high school. In those 15 years, she’s created a compelling, creative and totally hot body of rocanrol-styled pop, full of nuance yet lacking the cliches and overused techniques of much that’s current under the American pop umbrella.
Her new work, including singles “Holy Hell” and “Lay Low,” break boundaries, blithely ignoring convention as the intricate melodies and torchy vocals build to noisy, sonic crescendo (guitars included on “Lay Low”) that engulfs listeners in its pop-tastic flames. Those fires climb higher and higher with a string section included intensity that says that Guess is an accomplished artist ready to conquer the Top 40.
It wasn’t too difficult to get in touch with Ms. Guess. She’s on tour in Califas right now and after dropping a couple of emails to the right record companies, a publicist replied with Amy’s phone number and a time to talk expressed in Pacific Standard Time.
March loved the Pacific aspect as much as he liked calling over to California, where it was always sunny and warm. The phone rang a couple times and then it was Amy Guess on the line, live from somewhere near Sacramento. Cool, thought March, as he began a conversation about rock music with one of its chief young proponents.
Weekly Alibi: Hi, I’m trying to reach Amy Guess.
Amy Guess: Hi, this is she!
Hey, Amy, it’s August March from Weekly Alibi in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Awesome! How are you doing?
Pretty good; I’m really psyched to talk to you about your new music, your tour and you know, the whole pop-rock thing. Got a few minutes?
I do. We’re on the road to our next show right now. We’re in the van right now, on the way to Sacramento!
That’s danged exciting. I think I mentioned that in the introduction. Anyway, I’ve been listening to your music this week, particularly your new single “Holy Hell” and rather than go on and on about it myself, I thought maybe you’d like to tell our readers about it.
I would say my music is more like a pop alternative. There are some rock influences going on there, too. It feels more ballsy and gritty and mature than down-the-line pop, but there is a pop part to it to. I feel like my music is a hodge podge of a lot of different influences.
How long have you been pursuing your craft as a rocanrol singer-songwriter?
I’ve been pursuing it for the last, like solid, 10 years. I started writing music when I was 15 years old. So, total, going on 16 or 17 years now.
After that time, you’re starting to get some great press and audiences nationwide are getting hip to your tuneage because they like to rock out. How does that feel?
I love that. That’s how I feel when I write these songs and that’s the feeling I want to convey when we’re having a party playing them live. I feel like when I get to have that experience with people in the room, I’m onto something good. It feels great.
Could you please tell our readers about your songwriting process? Could you tell us about bringing tunes like “Holy Hell” to life?
Sure. I actually had the opportunity to work on “Holy Hell” with JT Daly.
Cool. He’s that Nashville cat with the band Paper Route, que no?
Right. He is a fantastic producer and songwriter. He’s also an artist. I wrote that song with him in Nashville. We also wrote “Save Me,” a song that came out a few weeks back. We wrote those in the same few days together. I knew that that I wanted to write about the feeling of wanting to be vulnerable in love. And how scary it can be to feel that way, but how important it is to break down those walls because that’s when everything feels really good, and gets really good: It’s when you make yourself as vulnerable as possible.
How did the collaboration work?
JT had the track ideas and they all just really flowed. As soon as he played his ideas for me, we free-flowed a melody over that and I filled out the lyrics while he was building the track.
I’ve heard that Nashville is great for rock musicians. How’s it working out for you?
You know what? I’ve actually done a decent amount of my work in Nashville. Some of the producers I’ve worked with are based there. But I’ve also worked with JT in Los Angeles.
Tell me more.
What happened with “Lay Low” is that I actually wrote that song with Scott Chesak in Los Angeles.
The film score dude?
Yeah. The two of us collaborated on that song. And it was real rock and roll. We had this awesome hook over the chorus on that song and we knew ... We had something we were really excited about. We sent that to Daly and asked him what he thought. I was interested in adding some of his flavor to it, too. He came aboard and added production elements and brought the work to life.
What’s up with your touring band?
They’re awesome. I’ve got Chris Garcia playing drums for me right now and Sergio Aldana plays guitar on the road.
I dig your production because it’s sort of counterintuitive. It goes against what’s considered hip in popular music these days. What sort of influences led to that?
Some of what I grew up with was very important. I grew up listening to a lot of Alanis Morrisette, Annie Lennox and Garbage. Oh and Portishead. But I also really love gospel music as a kid. What I love are big, soulful melodies. That tendency can be attributed to my love of gospel music; I really love Yolanda Adams, Kelly Price. That’s killer, amazing gospel music! I was listening to Aretha and Heart but also listening to alt.rock at the same time. There’s an incredibly wide range of badass women rockers who inspired me.
As a badass woman rocker, how has the popularity of EDM and hip-hop affected you creatively?
I think that just seeing the evolution of those sounds and formats is affecting. I’m drawn to electronica and there are electronic elements in my own music. So I love and appreciate that genre [EDM]. I dig some of that. But for myself, I always want an organic element, lots of organic layers in the music, so I feel more connected and it’s more personal. Playing live music is like reaching out and touching people.
Where are you going, Amy Guess?
I would say that I’d really like to continue touring like crazy and being able to just connect with people in the room [we’re playing]. That’s my favorite part of it, meeting people, bringing them a positive message and empowering them, too. Being able to make people feel good has been a blessing. I’m on the road, meeting amazing people. As long as I can keep doing this, that would be the dream fulfilled. I have some headline dates at the end of this tour, so it’s very cool.
Your show in Albuquerque is an afternoon gig opening for Idol for Hire at the Launchpad. What’s up with that?
Yeah, we’re going to go for it, matinee-style.
For some Gen Xers, that’s probably perfect. What’s your audience like these days?
The audience is actually a really good mix. We get a good percentage of younger people, the majority are between 18 and 28. Those are pretty solid demographics.
Last question, rocker: Someone from the future gets zapped back to one of your shows and they really like it. Afterwards, they come backstage and ask you, “What was that and why did I love it?” What would you reply?
Hopefully they loved it because they felt it was honest, that it was real. I would tell them that I sang it like I meant it and I hope the fun part comes through. I would tell them that this music is like getting a really big hug.