Amanda Lehmann interview conducted by email by Alan Hewitt.
TWR: What took you so long to release your debut album?
AL: I’ve been writing and performing my own music since I was in my teens, but those early years were mainly live work – gigging with my bands around the south of England and beyond. We did a couple of albums of original music back then as a band, but we didn’t have the money for decent recordings, so they are hidden away in my souvenirs box! I recorded an album in 1994 called ‘Through The Haze’ – as part of a duo called Wazzoon, with synthesizer player Eddy Deegan. I wrote all but one of the songs, and it’s a great album – just been remastered and is available for download. In 2010 I released an EP of four of my songs. I was touring a lot at the time and didn’t have the hours to spare to record a whole album! Since then, I have been longing to record a new album – I have had so many songs in the pipeline bursting to be heard, but I was always prioritising other projects and general life commitments! I recorded the song ‘Memory Lane’ in 2019, as I wanted to release it as a single. It is a song about dementia, and I wanted to share it with anyone who had experiences of this awful disease. Recording that song really was the kickstart to prioritising and recording the rest of the album.
TWR: Was Lockdown a help or hindrance to putting the album together?
TWR: What comes first, music or lyrics?
AL: Sometimes it’s one, sometimes the other! I will often have a subject that I want to write about, and will work out some lyrics, and will often initially put them to a rhythm. I’ll get a melody line in my head for it, but this will often end up being just a sketch as I’ll work further with it and fine-tune it. I rarely accept the first idea that comes to mind; I like to sculpt it. Other times I will get an idea of a musical style that I want to use, or will be meandering along with the guitar or piano, and will come across some chords or a melody line that I really like. This will often lead to a lyric, as I find music very communicative… if I hear a tune, I will see the story that works with it.
TWR: How long did the album take to put together?
AL: It took about two years from the first song I recorded, which was ‘Memory Lane’. I had been writing some of the songs prior to that – in fact ‘The Watcher’ was initially written in the early 90s! I used to play it live with my band and it was always popular, I used to get requests to play it. Before using it for this album, I rewrote some of the lyrics and updated some of the music to bring it in line with the other material. I think that’s often the case with music, it can roll around for years in one form or another until the time comes to immortalise it as a recording!
TWR: Is the songwriting process an easy one for you? Or are there some songs which you have to put aside until suitable inspiration comes along?
AL: This varies. Some songs come easily. ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ was a song that I wrote very quickly! Others like ‘Forever Days’ and ‘Who Are The Heroes’ took a lot longer – they are musically quite complex, and putting them together so that the orchestration and theme flowed was quite a challenge. Those songs went through a lot of changes before I was happy enough with them to start recording them properly! I’m very proud of them! Some songs are years in the making – they can begin as just a couple of lines and put on ice and then re-emerge when new inspiration comes along – they get brought back to life. I have notepads full of bits of lyrics and lots of video snippets of guitar ideas. Voice recordings too, I’m often creative when I’m out walking my dog, and will sing melodies or lyrics into my phone while walking along.
TWR: Tell us a little about the other people who have worked with you on the album.
AL: Nick Magnus: Nick is an amazingly talented musician, and he contributed keyboard to 5 of the songs, production skills on 7 tracks, and did the mastering for the whole album. I would send him a mix of each song that I had recorded with my vocals, guitars and sometimes keys/drums/bass, and he would then take the keyboards and rhythm section to another level. He is a top-notch drummer and bass player – yes, he uses a keyboard as his instrument, but honestly you wouldn’t know the difference! His orchestral arrangements and Mellotron washes are beautiful. Nick and I work so well together, we speak the same language musically, it’s wonderful. We are also both very nit-picking which is great – the pixel queens, lol!
Roger King: Also an exceptional musician, Roger did the keyboard and production for Memory Lane and Only Happy When It Rains. Two contrasting songs – a beautiful, poignant string arrangement for Memory Lane and a jazz organ and rhythm section for Only Happy When It Rains. I have worked with Roger a lot over the years and he is a total pro. Roger says very little, but he is always listening… and occasionally one might see a glimpse of a smile…
Rob Townsend: Rob provided two marvellous sax solos for the same songs that Roger played on. A beautiful, poignant solo for Memory Lane and a jolly jazzy piece for Only Happy When It Rains. Rob is an incredibly versatile musician, and he knew exactly what these two songs required. He is also a very funny, clever guy and a pleasure to work with.
Steve Hackett: Steve provided lead guitar on Forever Days, joining me for harmony guitars weaving throughout the song and then taking off with two stellar solos – one wild crazy technique-filled solo with plenty of trem, tapping, and general shredding, while the second solo is grand and melodic played in true stellar Hackett style. Steve also plays a great blues harmonica on Only Happy When It Rains, and the classical nylon guitar in the co-written Where The Small Things Go. The latter is beautiful and delicate and a perfect finale to the album. Steve is always a joy to work with. He is not only a world-leading guitarist, but also a decent, humble human being who is never afraid to collaborate and listen and try out new ideas.
Now on to some of the songs…
|TWR: What inspired Who Are The Heroes?
AL: Who Are The Heroes began in my mind as a song about misplaced loyalty to a group. People who, through their arrogant and swash-buckling manner, are perceived as heroic, something to aspire to. Yet while the dreamers dream, these angels will fall. They aren’t real, they are caricatures of themselves. So who *are* the heroes? The real heroes are in the everyday; people who don’t ask for recognition. You hear them say “No, I’m not a hero, I’m just doing what anyone would have done”. The media may try to push them forward as otherworldly, but they refuse to buy into it. True integrity lies deeper than the ego.
TWR: Peter Pan seems to have been an inspiration for many musicians I am assuming Tinkerbell is the case on your album?
AL: You assume correctly! The Peter Pan story resonates with so many people – it taps into that link with childhood. I didn’t decide in advance to write a song based on the Tinkerbell character though. She kind of appeared in my mind as I wrote the song. She summed up the nature of the emotion that the song is about – the pathos, the magic, the sadness of a childlike character who wants to make things magical and connect with love and intimacy but is always on the other side of the glass. She is a rather tragic character in this song, verging on a little unhinged as the song moves on. It’s a very emotional song; beautiful but with a dark undertone.
TWR: The transition from childhood to adulthood - Innocence and Experience, to paraphrase someone else is the album's theme. Is it all based purely on your own experiences?
AL: I think this album is largely autobiographical, but I have mostly tried to avoid specifics. It’s emotionally autobiographical if you like! I like to use large brush strokes with my lyrics and music, so that the meaning is not bound to the experience. I have all the images in my head that are associated with this album, but everyone who listens to it will create their own images of what it means for them. It’s like a book in that respect. I don’t want to spoil it by releasing the film!
In a way, it’s snippets – stories within stories. The thread that runs through it is the childhood theme, with the hard edges of life that cut in. Sometimes the stories can be observations of other people’s worlds, but ultimately it all comes from our own perceptions and experiences. It’s a deeply personal album for me, I think that comes across.
TWR: What is the idea behind Only Happy When It Rains?
AL: Only Happy When It Rains was inspired by an observation of people who could never embrace joy. They would hang out in the rain looking miserable, as if they were advertising to all how bad their lives were. When the sun was out, they would close the curtains. Don’t get me wrong, if someone is genuinely depressed or unhappy, they have my full sympathy. In the song, these are the folk who wear their misery like a badge, and it’s a cover for a deep apathy, an excuse for not trying, accepting failure. While growing up, this was something I came across regularly and I saw friends being drawn towards it like a black hole. So, although the song is light and jolly, it’s a dark humour.
TWR: And who, or what is The Watcher?
AL: For me, The Watcher is the internal critic, the repressor, mocking and judging; inhibiting the flow emotions and natural expression. The Watcher can represent many things – I think The Watcher is different for pretty much anyone who listens to this song. It doesn’t have to be internal - it can be external. An oppressive regime or government; an alien observer; a dominating partner. But the Watcher is always Watching, and no matter how we want to break free, it always wins.
TWR: Memory Lane, like a handful of songs I have heard, brilliantly describes the anguish associated with Dementia, both for the sufferer and those around them. I know this one is inspired by your late mother. How difficult was it for you to make your feelings public on such a sensitive subject?
AL: I was very keen to make my feelings public through this song, even though I was nervous of releasing such a deeply personal song into the public domain; as we all know it can be quite raw out there! However, the response to it has been overwhelmingly positive. Writing this song was part of my healing process, and my hope is always that it can be part of the healing process for other people who have experiences of this awful condition. Music is so therapeutic, both listening to it and writing it. Sad music is like sad films. You watch a sad film and oddly – even though it might make you cry – you feel better afterwards. That’s the effect I want this song to have, and I have had some deeply touching responses to it from people who have heard it.
I do find it quite hard to sing it live though without choking up!
TWR: Childhood "delusions" and imagination are the subject of the last two songs of the album. How important do you think it is to try and retain a connection with imagination?
The man in the moon really does still follow me home. Check it out sometime on a moonlit journey. I bet you he’ll follow you home (watch out though, he might try and trick you and hide behind a cloud!).
TWR: Future plans?
AL: Certainly another solo album! I have songs already banging at the door wanting a place on that next album! And I don’t intend to leave it so long this time! I would also love to tour this music, although logistically that isn’t on the cards right now. It would be quite a big thing to put together, but I hope to do so down the line, I think it would be mega, and it’s been a long time since I’ve put a band of my own together!
Thank you for this interview, Alan, you’ve asked some really interesting questions, and I’ve enjoyed answering them for you.
Memory Lane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je6M8ncIBJ4
The Watcher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXcMw-LFJ8o