AN: Country Nashville. Cheatham County. It’s twenty minutes from Nashville.
TRS: You start singing in church?
AN: Yeah, I started singing when I was little. My mom played piano at our church, and my dad was a song director. I have three little sisters and we used to sing very often. My family would have us singing in four part harmony, and do special music on Sunday at this really tiny church. Sometimes there’d be fifteen people in attendance. That’s where I started singing. I still sing at my family’s house on Christmas. The best part is we all get together on New Year’s Eve and we sing around a camp fire and sing songs family members have written, and sing harmony. Like, fifteen-twenty people singing harmony.
TRS: Were you doing much singing in high school? Choir and stuff?
AN: I was in show choir in high school. In show choir we formed a trio. It’s so embarrassing. The trio was with great girlfriends of mine, Marianne and Dana, and we decided to call the trio M.A.D. Harmony.
TRS: M.A.D. Harmony?
AN: M.A.D. stands for Marianne, Amanda, and Dana, and we were fairly certain we were gonna be famous, because we were like, “This name is freakin’ genius!”
AN: Country. Dixie Chicks type stuff.
TRS: You were a band?
AN: No. We sometimes had a keyboard. We wrote a song for graduation. We’d sing at the Predators games, which are big hockey games. We’d sing at local baseball games, and sing the national anthem. We were chosen to sing the national anthem at a Nashville Predators game a week after Reba McEntire had done it, in front of 17,000 people. That was a really big deal, the biggest thing I had done. It was amazing.
TRS: Did you always know you wanted to do music?
AN: I wasn’t really working toward it after high school, but I had this weird thing in my gut that I’m going to do something with music. I’ve got to do something with my voice, something on stage. I felt it in my bones.
AN: I went to David Lipscomb [University]. I went to a massive public high school, and I always wanted to go to a private school. I wanted to do something fancy. I didn’t grow up with money, and I always thought it’d be awesome if I could go to a private school like rich kids do. I decided I was going to take out student loans for it. It was, like, twenty-five thousand dollars a year. I went to study nursing.
TRS: So, you weren’t going to college to study music?
AN: No. I was dating someone at the time, and I remember him telling me I shouldn’t do music, that everybody does music. Basically, people would always tell me you don’t make money in music, you’ve got to do something to support yourself. So, I thought maybe I could do nursing because I could work three days a week, then have four days off to do what I love.
TRS: That’s why nursing, just practicality?
AN: Basically. I knew I wouldn’t have to struggle, like, if my car was in the shop. Practically speaking, I thought this was a good solid career move. I went to two years of undergraduate nursing school at Limpscomb.
TRS: But you’re afraid of blood and…
AN: I know! It was the worst! It wasn’t the wisest decision. It was awful. It was absolutely dreadful.
TRS: Were you passing out every day?
AN: No, I didn’t pass out, but I was absolutely miserable doing it. I could see everybody else was geeking out on studying these things about the human body. I remember going to this coffee shop, Bongo Java, in Nashville, and just couldn’t wait to get there. I was supposed to be studying but I would just people watch, write in my journal, and drink coffee.
TRS: Did you sing there? They have an open mic?
AN: I didn’t sing there, but I was in an a cappella group. It was a small private Christian college, and they would have events that I would do. I would do talent shows there. I remember I was working in a restaurant called Merchants, and after work we’d go out and do karaoke. I always sang,”strummin’ my pain with his finger…” It was silly, but I remember people were always saying, “When are you going to do something with singing?” Even though it was just karaoke people would ask what am I doing, and I’d say, oh, I’m in nursing school, and they would say I was doing the wrong thing. That stuck with me. So, I did two years at Lipscomb, then Belmont University for actual nursing school. The school is really, really hard. You have to be really dedicated. I maybe read one page of a book.
TRS: How were your grades?
AN: They sucked. I wasn’t going to many classes. I was basically flunking out. I decided to go to a professor, and say I’ve made a horrible mistake. I’m already fifty thousand dollars in debt. I can’t drop out, because I’ve got to do something to pay back my student loans. The professor was like, why don’t you switch to something like botany, since I already had the prerequisites down. It was perfect. I worked at a little nature center as an intern. That’s when I met Christian [her husband], but I was dating somebody, and I was questioning my faith.
TRS: What made you question your faith?
AN: The guy I was dating at the time, he was like, “Amanda, you’ve grown up in church, you’ve been brainwashed. If your parents weren’t involved in church, then you wouldn’t be. You were born into it, and that’s the only reason you have faith.” So, I was questioning is that true? My relationship with this person was about three years, I guess. I didn’t know that I was questioning God at all. I just thought I was working late, I stopped going to church. But over the course of time of not having church as a staple, and not having anything to remind me of God I sort of started forgetting about it or not caring as much. And so the whole thing about being brainwashed, I wondered if that was true. I remember talking to my mom about it.
TRS: How was she about it?
AN: She was really patient. She would just remind me who I was. She was like, there is a reason that you were born into our family. She would remind me a lot of things about God. She was never judgmental about what I was going through.
TRS: Then you met Christian?
AN: I met him a few months before I graduated. We were working at a restaurant. I was his trainer.
TRS: You weren’t with the other guy?
AN: Funny thing is I was. He had moved away, but we were doing long distance. I remember praying to God like, God, if I should be with this man then let me be with this man and not question it, but if I shouldn’t be with this man, you’re going to have to bring somebody else in the picture.
TRS: You asked God to hook you up.
AN: Yeah, exactly! I do that a lot, too. Even with [Barefoot and Bankside] that’s what happened! He hears me, He hears you, too. I met Christian, and he’s like, hi, my name is Chris. I had a super crush on him. When I first saw him, I knew that he believed in God. I know that’s weird, but I did. I thought it was awkward to ask him immediately, but that’s what I needed—somebody who had the same faith background as I did. So, I met him as “Chris,” but when he said his full name is “Christian” I was, like, dun-duh-dun! I was like, we should get drinks sometime! He was like, yeah, sure. He was totally not at all into me. When Christian met me, he said he thought I was about forty. He didn’t say forty. He just said he thought I was several, several years older. Basically, he thought I was disgusting! We did go out, and I remember having a few too many drinks and being like, do you believe in God? He said, “I don’t want to talk about this while you’ve been drinking.” Then later we finally had a real conversation, and that’s how it started.
TRS: You graduated?
AN: I graduated, and I wasn’t going to do anything with my major. I racked up all this student debt, and was like, what am I going to do about this?
TRS: Run from it!
AN: Exactly! I was like, I have six months to defer my student loan payments, and we were still serving at this restaurant. Christian had studied Chinese. He studied mandarin in Beijing for months, before I met him. His game plan was to work at this restaurant then go back to China. I had very different plans in mind, because I really loved him. I knew that he was never going back to China to study, because I knew that we were supposed to be together. He kept talking about China and how much he loved it there, and I wanted to go with him. So, we saved up some money for about five months. We lived off of peanut butter and jelly and saltine crackers.
TRS: And this had nothing to do with missionary work or anything?
TRS: Then you came back and moved to New York?
AN: Yeah. I remember Christian saying that his uncle lived in Manhattan, and I said we have to go there, because I love it. I had been a few times. I’ve always said I want to live in New York for at least a year, just to have an adventure. I thought it would be a wonderful story to have. We were only dating for three months, and Manhattan is where we fell in love. We came up here for ten days and it was the best vacation I ever had.
TRS: Were you doing anything with Trinity Grace Church (where a lot of the “Roots Family” have met)?
AN: No, I had been wrestling with faith…
TRS: Even then?
AN: So, when I had drunkenly asked Christian if he believed in God, well, he was at exactly the same place with faith as I was at the time. I had this stereotypical view of pastors being old, out of touch, conservative, but at the restaurant in Nashville where Christian and I worked I waited on a couple that I thought was super cool. She was an artist and her husband said he was a pastor, and it blew my mind. I think God used them to remind me that you might have the stereotype of pastors, but that’s not the stereotype of god. So, the pastor taught or preached at a place called the Village Chapel in Nashville. I asked Christian if he wanted to go, and we totally loved it. It was a reminder of who God is to me. But after that and after the ten day Manhattan vacation we decided to save up and move there.
TRS: What was your plan for work?
AN: I wanted to manage a teeny tiny café. And my friend from college said she knew this guy Jamey Hamm (the other singer in Barefoot & Bankside, the one with the beard and who is not Amanda) from her church, that he used to lead worship and now lives in Brooklyn and owns a coffee shop. So, that was the first place I went in Brooklyn, Roots Café. I was trying to play it cool with Jamey so I didn’t drop off a resume or anything. I just told him that running a café is something I wanted to do, and he thought that was crazy. He introduced to me to his wife and they invited us to Trinity Grace. We go, and I was like, “I want to be friends with Jamey and Randi (his wife). They’re super awesome and southern…” Jamey and Randi weren’t really there a lot because they had to work all the time, but by the time they came back I was already super involved with the church. I was on the hospitality welcome committee. I would set up coffee and bagels. I would hand out bulletins at the entrance. For some reason, and I still feel this way, but I feel like after going through doubt and then not doubting at all that I should, you know, ease people into the church. Because I understand the stereotypes of church, I wanted to be up front at the door so people can see it’s not about conservative stereotypes.
TRS: Had you met Trisha Ivy, yet? (Amanda also sings in Trisha Ivy’s band along with Mike Beck)
AN: I knew of her from the church. Trisha was in a band. One of mine and Christian’s favorite thing to do was go to Rockwood [Music Hall], and my favorite band there was Brian Elmquist (of Lone Bellow) and Trisha Ivy. This was before the Lone Bellow. They were a duo, and Trisha did harmony with him. The way she did harmony, I was totally captivated by her singing. I would just stare and think this is the most beautiful harmony I’ve ever heard. I thought I could do harmony like that, maybe I could do harmony for her.
TRS: Had you forgotten about music in all this time?
AN: I hadn’t forgotten. Between Nashville and New York I sang for weddings, and this is depressing but I’d recorded a song for a friend’s funeral.
TRS: Will you sing at my funeral, Amanda?
TRS: Will you sing “Wind Beneath My Wings?”
AN: Yes! Are you joking right now?
TRS: No, this is definitely going to happen.
AN: Don’t tell me that, because we’re in a graveyard. (Interview was conducted at Greenwood Cemetery)
TRS: I’m definitely going to die, and you’re definitely going to sing at my funeral!
AN: Yeah, I would love to. That’s creepy, Jody.
TRS: So, you saw Trisha play…
AN: I was captivated by her. I would follow them. I really wanted to get to know Trish, and I remember her being really hard to get to know. I would tell her after every show that she has the most beautiful voice. And she was like, oh, thanks. Then nothing. She seemed like a celebrity to me. She was that good. On the subway back I would be just so inspired to sing. I told Christian I want to sing, and he was like, so, do it!
TRS: So, you were just watching her and saying, hey, but never made an effort to try and join her?
AN: Yeah. She knew who I was, but she was just in a different season than me. I wasn’t in the circle at all, and it was sort of hard to get into the circle. We became more involved in church and was seeing Trisha around more and more, but nothing was really happening with music. Every Friday we were going to music nights at Roots Café to see Jamey. It was free and we didn’t have very much money. I had tons of student loans to pay off. We were seeing him, but wasn’t really getting to know him. About that time I started getting pretty depressed. I’ve never been depressed before. Obviously, I’m super cheery, to even an obnoxious point. I didn’t know that when I took out student loans that they were going to double. So, I started freaking out while working at a restaurant. I started praying for a way out of there. I needed something with more money. I met this family who were looking for a summer nanny in Brooklyn Heights. So, I was their nanny for two months, and the dad was a hedge fund partner. He referred me to a firm as an assistant and I got that job. I had been praying to God, “Please, let me find a way to pay this debt.” And, my salary was the exact amount of my student debt. So, I paid it off in one year.
AN: What’s so weird, this is the biggest blessing of all, but I know that God gave me that money as a present for believing in Him again, if that makes sense?
TRS: He gave you money!
AN: It wasn’t even that. What’s cool is that people were like, “I can’t believe you left that job!” But I never made any of that money. Whenever we’d get my paycheck it went straight to the student loans. We lived on next to nothing. And when it was paid off, I was praying for something else to come along, because I knew I couldn’t stay at the firm. I was not hedge fund material. I have no idea what any of them were talking about ever!
TRS: So, I remember a while back you were inviting me out to see you and Trisha play, before Barefoot & Bankside or the band that she fronts now. Was that around this time?
AN: Yeah, during the time I was really sad, I was praying to God for a couple of things. I was praying for a job. I have a journal, a prayer journal. I wish I brought it with me to read to you. It was years ago that I wrote it. The journal is a letter to God. The other thing I was praying for is that I don’t know what to do with my life. I wanted to do something in hospitality, like be in a coffee shop or something. Or, I wanted to do something in music. My husband was like, I got to do one or the other, just pick something and do it. I was really sad, because you can’t make any money in either. It was years of praying this prayer of “God, what do I do?” Everyone always says surrender and give it up to God. And that sounds so churchy and whatever, but I know what that means now. I was ready to do anything, go anywhere. Christian would go anywhere with me. Even freaking Indiana where I know no one, which is somewhere I hate. I mean, I don’t know if I hate it, but I’m pretty sure I would hate Indiana. I would go anywhere. I’d move to China. I just wanted out of debt, and be in a band, and work in a coffee shop.
TRS: And God delivered you Trisha?
AN: What happened was I was really depressed. I was staying home in my apartment, not going anywhere. Finally, I forced myself out for a jog, and I said out loud, “God, please let me be in a band. How can I be in a band?” This is the most beautiful story. I only have, like, four of these stories, but when they happen they remind me that God is listening. The next Sunday at church Jamey came up to me. He asked me if I’d ever heard of “Shovels and Rope.” He said if I was interested in doing music like that, then let’s start a band. When these things happen to remind of God, I feel so foolish. Why did I doubt the God of the universe?
TRS: How soon after that were you and Jamey Barefoot & Bankside?
AN: Immediately. We started practicing that week. We did our first practice at Jamey’s house, and it was amazing. We started harmonizing together. Even now, we’ll hear recordings and I’ll say that was me, and he’ll say, “No, I think it was me.” Our voices match so well, and I’ve never had so much fun as singing with Jamey. And it’s that feeling of knowing I’m going to do something big. I don’t care if it never goes past singing at bars for buddies, because I am one-hundred percent fulfilled already. That first show at Bar 4 was the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s my favorite of all the shows because of that feeling of the band getting started, and we closed with Amazing Grace and there was that feeling of church, but with friends, that’s what I think of God…
TRS: Friends and hanging out in bars?
AN: No! I felt God that night on stage while singing Amazing Grace. Oh, wait, Trish! How did I meet her?! That was your question!
TRS: So, Amanda, Trish. How did you meet her?
AN: Trish came to that first Bar 4 show. And she came up to me afterward and she told me I sound like Emmylou.
TRS: I remember thinking that you sounded like Loretta.
AN: When you both told me that it just made me so happy. Trish and I sat outside on a stoop, when you came by…
TRS: So, I met Trisha the same time you really met her?
AN: We had said good job to each other before, but this was the first time she actually talked to me and she cried when she told I sounded like Emmylou. I remember her telling me that I was wild in my voice. That I’m raw, or whatever. And what she was telling me she was telling so passionately that she was crying. I always thought Trish was sort of hard hearted.
TRS: I thought the same thing!
AN: Yeah, closed off.
TRS: Stand offish.
AN: Yeah, she was always like that. Then I saw her cry. She’s not at all what I thought she was.
TRS: Yeah. For the following year I’d see her at B&B shows and her own, and I’d try to say, hi, but would either bail on it…
AN: She comes off as untouchable.
TRS: Right, or I’d finally say, hi, and get a flat “hi” back and she’d just keep moving. And for the interview with her I thought it was going to be this awkward and weird time, but she was totally open and is one of the sweetest people I’ve met.
AN: Yeah! So, Barefoot started playing shows with Trish. I began thinking if I could sing harmonies with Trish that’d be amazing. So, I was like whenever our bands play together what if we do a cover song or two in between sets? Like something Emmylou or Loretta would have sang together. She was like “Oh, it’s gonna happen!” I don’t remember the first time we sang together, but it was amazing (This is how Amanda talks, if you haven’t picked up on that, yet.)! Then she asked me to sing on a recording of Amazing Grace she was doing because her grandmother passed away. Trisha sang and it was like the heavens opened, and I’m not joking. We had the most magical night singing that song together. Basically, we just love singing together and she’s the reason I started writing again. I hadn’t written a song since high school, and when I got together with her and Mike [Beck] I had this one thing in mind. I sang just one line of an idea I had for a song, and she and Mike were mesmerized. And to have that feeling, I mean, she’s been writing for a really long time. Not only did they think it was good, but they were like, “We’re writing this song right now!” That unleashed and empowered me.
TRS: Do you and Jamey share writing duty?
AN: Yeah, but not early on. Jamey is so advanced. I swear to you, he probably writes five songs a day! Basically, he’s got over a thousand songs. He’s super talented. He basically craps them out.
TRS: Any recording?
AN: Yeah, we’re talking about that. It’s so expensive, though. Jamey’s got an idea that we should record at his house, just do something simple. And I would love to do that. And the next question would be what do we want to do with the recordings? That I don’t know, but I just want to have them for always, because this has been my dream. And if I died, if I was in the grave that we’re looking at right now, I would say I’m super fulfilled with my life. All of the dreams I’ve ever dreamed, I’ve gotten to have them. And really that circles around to I’m not going to doubt God again.