If you follow singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume on social media, unless you live under a rock and never check your feeds, you ought to know that she is very excited about the upcoming release of her fifth studio album, “The Skin I’m In.” Following the success of her 2016 “Holding Patterns” release, Amanda returned to Toronto with a strong supporting cast to record and produce her new material at the prestigious Bathouse & Union Sound Company Studios. Produced by Colin Cripps (Blue Rodeo, Crash Vegas), “The Skin I’m In” is a powerful collection of nine original songs that see this Juno nominated Indigenous artist creating some of her best and most personal work to date.
Embracing a core theme centered around issues of gender, sexuality and cultural identity, Amanda Rheaume takes a proverbial leap of faith, offering reflections on her own self-awareness and constant self-evaluation when thinking about, and finding, her place and identity in the world. “I’ve felt in between the stereotypes of certain communities for most of my life,” she offers. “Not gay enough but not feminine enough; not Indigenous enough but not conventional.” And while the new music will no doubt appeal to fans of her up-tempo brand of Roots-Americana music, for those seeking a much more personal connection with the artist, “The Skin I’m In” not only delves deeper into her inner soul, but could very well blow your socks off in the process.
More than comfortable within the loosely defined parameters of this genre, Amanda will sweep you off your feet one moment with her upbeat numbers, then tug on your heartstrings immediately afterward. Both “Picture Of You” and “This One’s For You” are incredibly lively toe-tappers reminiscent of the mid-nineties Nashville revival; the latter certainly drawing comparisons to the likes of Jo Dee Messina for me. Tracks such as “Light Is Gone” and “Friendly Fire” are full of energy, as is “Tell Me Anything,” laced with some amazing blues-guitar that sets the perfect tone for Amanda’s sultry, bar-room vocals. And after exerting such energy, your pulse can return to a calmer state thanks to some slower (yet powerful) compositions such as “Firefly” and “Companion,” which fully emphasize her voice and allow the listener to become lost in their own individual moments of reflection.
Amanda recently launched the title track, “The Skin I’m In” as the first single from the upcoming album, complete with an incredibly moving and powerful music-video to accompany the release. “My new single was inspired by the idea that, as humans we have so much to battle against … body norms, mental health struggles, societal norms [and] gender norms,” explains Amanda. “The feelings of disconnect and loneliness can still creep up … no one deserves to feel less than, or unwanted, or ashamed of themselves … but writing ‘The Skin I’m In’ and sharing my experience is incredibly healing.”
With a release date set for February 15th, 2019, and an album launch planned at the iconic Cadillac Lounge in Toronto on February 21st, this singer-songwriter is eager to not only share her collection of songs with the music community, but to actively promote dialogue and debate surrounding these personal issues that remain very close to her core. “Taking steps to feeling safe and solid in your own body and skin is hard, but it is possible with the right people around you,” she shares. “I hope that you will feel even a sliver of belonging … that you are perfect and beautiful and unique in your own way.” Team GDW are grateful that Amanda was able to take some time away from her pre-album launch schedule to chat with us about this fantastic new album.
You are back with a brand new record, the first since your acclaimed 2016 “Holding Patterns” release. Before we delve into the new material, how would you describe the feelings you have as you prepare to share your completed project with the world?
I feel excited! I can’t believe three years has passed since I have put music out and I can’t wait to share these new songs and ideas. There is always an element of nervousness, wondering how the music and the messages will be received, but I am mostly just excited 😉
My initial impression upon hearing the album was that the new music has a little more mainstream appeal than your previous works, yet simultaneously sees you sharing some deeply personal and thought-provoking topics. When you first conceptualized these songs, and started the writing process, what were your core influences, and the messages you sought to convey through song?
I didn’t set out with a specific intention, message wise. As an artist I am always striving to be more honest, more authentic, more clear. As a human I feel like I’ve been stepping more confidently into my identity as a gay woman, as a fair skinned and light haired Métis Woman. So I feel that when I set out to write for this record I was coming from a place of sureness, more than ever before. I am always big on taking a personal message and trying to make it universal.
You opted to record this album at the iconic Bathouse & Union Studios, best known of course for The Tragically Hip, and notably, Gord Downie, who always so eloquently raised awareness of cultural issues through the strength of his lyrical creativity. I’m sure that a building rich in such musical history did not elude you whilst at this location. Any tales you have about this experience?
The Bathouse is the perfect place to retreat and to record an album. I often sat in the control room and thought about the great artists that had created in that very space, sat on that very couch. Every morning we’d all wake up and make our way downstairs, coffee would be on and there’d already be music making happening. It’s a dream.
You just released the title track as your first single, which offers an incredibly personal and deeply reflective narrative from you. Both your vocals and the tempo are toned down here, the emphasis upon the message from your powerful delivery. And while ‘we’ may assume to understand the content, if you had the opportunity to educate an audience with just three bullet points about the personal resonance of the song, what would those bullets be?
- As humans, we don’t have to look, sound, act or be like anyone but our unique and beautiful selves.
- I encourage everyone to love themselves more, to step into their values, beliefs, and dreams more than ever before.
- We need to work at breaking down societal, gender, sexuality and racial and love each other and ourselves a little more.
One of my personal favorites here has to be “Return To The Water.” The slower beat, the strong bass line, and a very mellow guitar solo that perfectly paints a picture of the water; reflective, calm, still, and serene, but also with hints of pain. What can you tell us about the origins of this track?
In August 2016 I performed at the Trout Forest Music Festival in Lac Seul, Ontario. I met a man there named Rob Eady that knew my great, great, Uncle Gerald, an Anishinaabe relative. Rob told me stories of my family and the lake and the land. In August 2017 I returned to a cabin in Lac Seul with a recorder and sat down for days with Rob and his brothers, while they told me as many stories as they could remember of my family. I spent my nights writing songs from the stories the brothers had told me.
The very last night I was there I couldn’t sleep, I stayed awake until sunrise. It was the most beautiful sunrise over the lake. I walked down to the dock and jumped in the water. I felt the spirits all of my ancestors wrap around me, it was like they were living in the water. I felt a return to myself, to the water, to the land. This writing trip was the beginning of what has become my most recent album “The Skin I’m In”. Chi-miigwetch to my ancestors, my relatives for walking before me and giving me the life I have now.
I love that you are never afraid to mix things up musically. The atmospheric piano and bluesy guitar intro to “Tell Me Anything” leads into a great alt-country/blues number that allows your sultry side the opportunity to shine. Please tell us a little about your supporting cast of musicians on this track/album, and their influences on the final sound for tracks such as this.
Derek Downham on drums: Derek is an incredible musician. He is one of the most musical drummers I’ve ever worked with. He has the deepest pocket, and is incredibly intuitive.
Devon Richardson on bass: What I loved about Devon’s playing is that he clicked right in with Derek, and held it down strong, never missed a beat. They made a great rhythm section.
Johnny Spence on keys: Johnny is such a pleasure to work with. He has worked in so many different style of music and on so many different types of keys. He would take whatever was happening with the song and make it better.
Mike Tuyp on guitar: Mike is a monster on guitar. He can play really supportively and then when it’s his time to shine he rips out these nostalgic epic solos that take you on a journey.
Anders Drerup on backups: What can I say about Anders. He doesn’t even have to know the song and he can walk in and sing harmonies on the spot. Anders has played guitar and steel and sang on all my records actually!
“Friendly Fire” has your signature sound from the offset. Up-tempo, lively beat, with elements of rock music through looser guitar riffs and, at least to me, hints of a Fleetwood Mac vibe. And to top it all, you throw in some perfectly timed organ to close. How much fun was it to get together with the band in the studio and give this track so much energy and life?
This song was SUPER fun to track! Colin Cripps (producer) and I actually played acoustic guitar at the same time together and the engineer tracked us live. There was a real energy in that. I love recording at the Bathouse for this reason, we can play together in one room and have Derek Downham on the drums in another room, and Johnny Spence playing keys in another room and we are all in headphones playing together. It really gives the record that live full band sound.
Your voice is amazing, as always, on this album, but I feel that “Light Is Gone” is the track that epitomizes your sound and style, with your voice at its finest. After the final mastering of this track, did you accomplish your original vision from the early writing stages, or did this one develop and alter significantly along the way?
I actually wrote this song with Justin Glasco down in Nashville and we demoed it down there initially. The demo sounded so sweet that we really tried to keep it as true to form in the studio up here. So I’d say yes, we definitely accomplished the original vision of the song!
You shall formally release the album in Toronto on February 21st. How excited are you about the launch event, and do you have plans for a full promotional tour in 2019?
I am VERY excited to play the Cadillac Lounge on February 21st! I will have the entire studio band with me and am bringing in Skye Wallace to sing backups! I am going to be doing a five week tour in Europe starting March 21st and will be playing around Canada in the summer!
If readers of our blog are unfamiliar with your music, but love Roots music and wanted to know more about what Amanda Rheaume brings to this genre, how would you describe your sound to them?
Americana with a full-blooded band sound and eloquent and well-crafted songs.