When she turned 18, Amelia White left home. For years she and her parents had been at odds. “I was the youngest child,” she says. “And the much awaited first girl, but being artistic, gay and strong-willed was not what they had planned on. I found myself retreating into songs, stories and drawings, and realized I had to get out of there.” From that moment on, White began a journey that redefined what home and family meant to her, and this journey deeply infuses her tough, thoughtful new album Old Postcard. There’s grit to the record, not just in some of the louder guitars or the world-weariness of lyrics, but also in the way the East Nashville-based singer and songwriter finds hope despite life’s travails and shortcomings.
White’s love for music started very early. She was just 10 when she saved up her allowance to buy a guitar her brother had brought home from his Navy days, a 1968 Martin D-18 she still uses to this day. “I started writing quite young,” she says. “And sometimes people think I’m spacey, but that’s because these songs will not let go of me.” A grandfather Amelia never knew played banjo on the porch of his Virginia home every night, but White’s parents often fought her “tooth and nail” over her musical ambitions. “I knew what I wanted at a young age,” she says, “and their disapproval lit a fire. I listened over and over to my brothers records: Neil Young, Beatles, Stones, and Muddy Waters, and I wanted to know them all, I wanted to be them.”
White’s first move was to Boston where she cut her teeth in the same thriving folk scene that turned out Mary Gauthier and Lori McKenna. She was equally at home in the subway and rock clubs, and she formed an arty rock band that won a Boston Music award. The songs poured out, and she played, toured, and found ways to record her first two albums.
Her travels landed her in Nashville a dozen years ago. She’s found a sense of family – friends, outcasts, lovers, and many musical partners who share a similar drive, and sensitivity to heartache. She also found a growing number of fans of her songwriting. With her 2006 album “Black Doves” (released by Funzalo Records), she began playing stages like eTown, circuits in Europe, and sharing shows with some of her heroes: Rosie Flores, Asleep At The Wheel, Slaid Cleaves, and Tim O’Brien. Some of her songs found there way into TV shows such as “Justified” and “Summerland.”
White says of her hometown, “Nashville has been good to me. The low cost of living helps to keep me doing my thing, I’ve recorded four albums here. I love being surrounded by top shelf writers and players and the competition is a beautiful thing.”
Among the many on the A-List team of musical collaborators she works with is drummer Marco Giovino whose own unique sense of tempo, rhythm, and feel has added a swing and drive to many of Amelia’s songs. Guitarist John Jackson, who earlier worked with Lucinda Williams and Dylan, has been another key component of White’s albums and live shows. “John’s presence has really brought my craft to a higher level,” White says.
Home, history and family take different shapes on Old Postcard. Over steadily propulsive drums and echoing guitars, the album’s title track finds White looking back at the ghosts of her family, realizing that dreams that don’t come true are still dreams after all. “Big Blue Sun” is told from the perspective of a homeless man who dreads the daylight and the masses that flood in with their daily routines of normalcy. It features ethereal backing vocals from Sally Barris and gorgeous nylon-string guitar from Sergio Webb. With a haunting, noir-ish sound, “Hollow Heart” is the dark tale of a motherless child and the deep sense of longing that develops within. “River Of My Dreams” features snarling guitars, as White sings of all the crazy, mysterious, otherworldly things – flying, breathing underwater, being pulled back from Hell – which one can astonishingly accomplish in their dreams. With lines pulled straight from her father’s memoirs, “Daddy Run” is a rousing anthem with a sing-along chorus.
In recent years, White’s relationship with her parents has come full circle. As they have gotten older and their health has begun to deteriorate, their views have softened, and White’s have as well. It’s why a song like “Daddy Run” pulls lines from her father’s memoirs. The hurt is still there, but it was the impetus of the journey that has made White the artist she is, and it has fueled a career that now finds her crafting some of the most compelling music she has created to date.