Rock the Joint Magazine is welcoming 2023 with a feature on a Northern girl, singer/songwriter Amy Jo. Hailing from the Lancashire seaside town of Morecambe, she has been making her own waves with a distinctive country blues sound and wistful lyrics that always tell a story; she is a natural lyrical storyteller. There is also something of the Nashville girl developing too, and this musician has just released the second single (February 14th) from her EP, “Songs from the Bay,” produced by Julian Hinton (Trevor Horn, Robbie Williams) and Simon Bloor (Seal, Birdy, Will Heard). An earlier single, “Coming Close,” was released in November 2022. Following our ongoing promotion of new talent, we knew we wanted to talk to Amy about her songwriting and plans for the EP. Links for downloading both singles are available here.
So, on a day when a fierce storm was throwing rain at the windows and the wind was making itself known, it was great to meet the lovely Amy Jo Clough and ask if she planned to take over the world with her new spring release or if she had more modest goals.
Amy Jo- I would say it is an introduction to who I am as a songwriter and singer. I love the songwriting process, and I felt when I wrote the songs for the EP that this was the first time I had written songs that really showed who I am now; it felt right. As for world dominance, I definitely want to take my music as far as possible. Any singer would be lying if they said they didn’t want as many people as possible to hear their music. For me, it’s important that my music reaches people and touches them; more than anything I hope the music reaches out and means something to people wherever they are.
One of the changes brought about by the internet is that your music can now be heard anywhere in the world. It’s the same with the magazine; we look at the figures and wonder who on earth our regular reader is in Belarus and who the couple is in Mongolia! (Actually, if you are one of those regular readers, it would be lovely if you did tell us who you are!) But as a musician, it opens up opportunities for you.
Amy Jo- I believe my music has an international feel to it; with the Nashville sound, I have a lot of American listeners, which is exciting for me because Nashville is where I got a lot of my influences. So to know I have people listening in the US is really crazy.
On the songwriting, we notice that usually Amy Jo is shown with a guitar, but on one video, “Someone You Can’t Let Go,” she is playing the piano. From a songwriting point of view, was that a one-off or does she tend to use the piano initially to write tracks?
Amy Jo- That is an interesting point. I do write on both. I had a few piano and guitar lessons when I was younger. I love both, but they have very different sounds and they create very different emotions. So when I’m playing the piano, I tend to write ballads, and when I’m playing the guitar, I tend to write slightly more upbeat pieces, which I’m not sure why. I feel that this year I will be spending more time on the piano because I recently bought a new keyboard that will go to gigs with me. From now on within the gigs, I will mix up the piano and guitar more. You see me more now on guitar, but next year you’ll see some change. At the moment, “Someone You Can’t Let Go,” is a one-off, but that will change. The reason I didn’t do more is that my old piano, which I had for ten years, had a broken pedal, and it sat in the corner unfixed and getting dusty. So I ended up buying the new keyboard.
Then we talked about where Amy Jo’s music comes from. It’s clear that she’s influenced by country music, but we also heard other influences, like a strong folk element in the songs’ stories.
Amy Jo- I listen to a lot of old-school R&B, soul, and I grew up with a lot of Motown as well. My dad would play a lot of Stevie Wonder in the car when I was growing up. My dad took me to school every single day until I was 16, so we would listen to every sort of thing: Coldplay, Lighthouse Family, and all these different acts that were not the same style or genre as me. I feel music from any genre that is good speaks for itself, and you can draw inspiration from it. I also enjoy pop chart material, and it may be cliche, but you get some great songs in the charts. Also, naturally, I listen to a lot of country music. But I listen to a lot more of the newer country than the old. Some of these newer artists are making a hybrid of country and connecting it to pop. I currently really like an American country-pop artist called Jordan Davis, he is a favourite country artist for me now.
As we have noted in this magazine, the country scene in the UK is, seemingly, more of a blend than the traditional American sound. We have featured artists such as Laura Evans who blends country with a rock/blues sound, or Danny McMahon who has made real waves in the country-pop scene. We discussed with Amy Jo whether she felt the UK scene was very fluid musically—more of a hybrid.
Amy Jo- I think this is because we are not from Nashville, but have the same influences. I grew up with a lot of American television, and I have been inspired by the culture of the barns, the horses, and the romanticised version of that life it presents. I also feel Taylor Swift has had a huge influence on the UK scene, as she is more pop. We have our great songwriters like Adele, but they are not necessarily country. Mix all that together, and you get the UK scene.
Very clearly, the new single, “February 14th,” has a strong bluesy feel. It also tells a story of what it is to feel alone on Valentine’s Day and the pressures that can come with this, we collect sad memories. Most of all, however, it is a positive message that you can be content with yourself, and Amy Jo tells the story.
Amy Jo- I do see myself as a storyteller. I have always enjoyed stories, and as a child, I loved stories and films. Thinking back, as a child, I wrote little stories, and I had a 100-page novel by the time I was 7! It maybe wasn’t very good, but I really enjoyed the tales, and this extends to enjoying watching the world today. This may be just sitting in a cafe and seeing how people interact. So when it came to that song, I had just come out of a long-term relationship, so it was the first time in a while that I had been single for Valentine’s Day. So I wondered about the different scenarios for people who are alone, like an old couple where one of them may not be there any more. Ironically, when you look at that generation, it is the elderly who have stuck it out in their relationship through the bad times; they have often stayed with their partner for life. I felt that was a good example, and we hear too little from that age group; we are youth obsessed. Then there is the girl getting proposed to, and there are all these narratives, with different experiences for different people. It is kind of sad as I show the different scenarios, but I still wanted the paradox where there is positivity. I may be at this stage now, but that can be a good thing. It can be a time when I find myself alone, and that is the right thing for me at that time. When I wrote that song, I found it to be a time of self-discovery. Whatever angle you look at the song from, you can take something different from it.
We went on to talk about the difficulties in life people find with being alone, especially when they are younger and everyone around them appears to be partnering up. There is so much pressure to be with someone that it leads to all sorts of feelings of insecurity.
Amy Jo- The whole song really moves toward the last two lines,
‘Tonight I’ll be just fine on my own, thank you to all my exes, please don’t be offended, but this year it’s only me, exactly where I’m supposed to be.’
I think that is a nice twist on it, with the whole commercialised pressure on it; it is saying, “This is where I am meant to be right now, and that is fine.” The ending gives an uplift message and says that is what it is for anyone who is single on that day. But the commercial thing is that we seem to be saying as a society that we have to achieve certain things, such as graduation, at a certain time. We live in a disposable culture where everything, including relationships, appears to be easily replaceable; even with dating apps, there is always another option!
Next, we looked at an interesting little track called “The Whole World is a High School” that we came across (it’s there on YouTube if you have a look). It is Amy Jo with her guitar, and it has this connection between school and later life. We did wonder if this was a track written back in those days, and we noticed it was not one heading toward the EP.
Amy Jo- That will not be on the EP, but it could be on the cards to be reworked for a future recording. That one was an observational song during lockdown, when I was revisiting that time of my life in my thoughts. It was the first time, since school, that I’d had an enforced break, and I was thinking about how not much changes between school and later life. There are still those little groups that huddle together—the mean people, the class clowns, and so on. It then transitions to later life.
Another storytelling number, “Coming Close,” has a folk feel to it and carries the moral that going for gold is fine, but getting silver will often do. It retains that bluesy element and has a commercial feel.
Amy Jo- That was another one where it has a melancholic feel, yet it can be a happy song too. It was a co-write with Grant Black, an incredible songwriter, and he came up with the idea that ‘never knew a silver medal could break your heart.’ I knew there was so much that could be done with that idea, and we began to reel off a list of things that could come close. I went to a party and nearly met Elton John, and so on. It is a track I will look back on and still be happy with. I’ve won the gold medal in talent contests when I was younger. But it can be weird, as I would come home with the gold and that would be amazing, but then I’d practise less for the next one. If I got silver, I would work harder, so which is better? I always feel that slow and steady wins the race!
As a conclusion to this interview, there is much to be excited about if you are a fan of Amy Jo, or are discovering her music from the start. At the end, we asked if there were any upcoming live shows to support the EP.
Amy Jo- I’m doing a show in the Lake District in a little theatre on March 29 (the information for that is here; this is the website for ticket purchase; that has all the relevant information). There is also the EP with two new tracks, and the last song on the EP is my absolute favourite, we are all buzzing about that one. I have also got a couple of gigs at the hard rock cafe in Manchester pencilled in.
By Benny (the ball) Benson
Mark C Chambers
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