In The Spotlight
In recent months, a growing number of music fans have discovered the talent of Amy Cook and as word continues to spread, it's only a matter of time before an even larger audience begins to take notice of her music.
Amy's talent as a singer and songwriter reveals someone adept at taking the listener on a journey with songs that are full of imagery, truth, wit and honesty. She has the uncanny ability to examine rejection and acceptance in the same song, disillusionment and hope in the same lyric, all expressed earnestly and personally by her warm and supple voice.
"The thing I have always loved about music is the capacity to be moved, taken to another place. It's not about getting somewhere specific, or finding answers. It's more about going on a trip or just having a good time or having a feeling that you can't explain- it's just whatever it is for you at the moment. For me, songwriting is about expression as well as transport."
Which is what she's aspired to do for as long as she can remember. "Since I was five years old, I knew this was what I wanted to do," says Amy. Growing up in the San Francisco bay area, she discovered an old, classical guitar in the attic and began to teach herself basic chords from a book of folk music. Her father proved to be one of her first musical influences by listening to groups such as Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Limeliters. "My Dad was a folk music fan and used to play Joan Baez records a lot," she remembers. "And my Mom used to buy me Amy Grant albums, so I grew up listening to both pop and folk." But the intimacy of folk seemed to have a stronger appeal and upon discovering Shawn Colvin's Steady On album, Amy's path became more focused. "That record absolutely changed my life," she recalls. "I heard it and said, 'This is what I want to do.' I never made a back-up plan."
Throughout high school, Amy wrote and performed original material as she continued to expand her range of influences to include other artists such as Peter Gabriel, U2 and Bob Dylan. Amy moved to Los Angeles to attend college and took more serious steps towards achieving her goal by studying English literature in order to hone her lyric writing skills. "Studying literature, novels and poetry not only gives insight into how to write, but also into psychology, sociology- another person's mind and story and experience," explains Cook. "What I really wanted to be great at was writing lyrics and writing stories. I wanted to be a great storyteller and reading as many books as possible was the best way I could learn that." During her college years, Amy played coffee shops and small clubs in L.A., adopting a more traditional style of acoustic folk, which has since evolved into a more fleshed out pop/rock sound.
It was soon after re-locating to Hollywood in order to be more available for club gigs, that the groundwork she had laid began to pay off. Meeting producers Michael "Smidi" Smith and Brian Steckler through a mutual friend, proved to be a catalyst in helping to achieve her objective. Together, the pair produced a demo tape for Cook that was eventually pressed as a CD and is now sold at her live shows. Steckler and Smidi recruited various friends and colleagues to form the band (Danny Donnelly on electric guitar, drummer Sammy K., Andrew Schnurr on bass) and each in turn contributed their talents on keyboards and piano.
The 9-song CD consists of three Cook originals ("Coming Up On Time," "Windows," and "Magic Wand") and six tunes that were co-written with either Brian Steckler or Michael Smidi. "It's nice to have somebody to collaborate with," says Cook. "I like to write with other musicians because every time you sit in a room with another artist you take something home with you- something you didn't know you were missing. Some sensibility, some groove, some insight. I'll be writing a song with another writer and we'll be plucking at guitars and they'll go somewhere completely different than the place I would have gone and it's like, 'Yeah, that's perfect.'"
A case in point is the song, "You've Got Me," which began with a piece of music that Smidi had written on guitar. Recalls Amy, "He came to me with a cool tune that he wrote and the lyrics just came out. It's about a bunch of things that were happening to me in my life at that time." Another song that seemed to almost write itself was "Magic Wand," a moving and wistful tune that, in another example of synchronicity, was recently used in the popular TV series "Felicity." "That came about when a friend of mine who knows a producer on the show, passed my CD along to them," explains Cook. Fate stepped in once again when another of her original songs, "Windows," landed on the television shows "Time Of Your Life," "Grapevine," and "Party Of Five." "It's really one of the benefits of living in Los Angeles," says Amy. "A lot of new artists and ones that don't get radio play are finding a place to have their music in TV and film."
That theory was proven yet again, when as luck would have it, a college friend was working as a production assistant on the independent film, "Amargosa" and played Amy's demo one day while everyone was taking a break in the kitchen. Upon hearing her music, Todd Robinson, the film's writer and director, asked if he could use her song "Magic Wand" in the film and whether Amy would be interested in writing a few new songs specifically for the movie. His request resulted in two new songs, "She Dances On" and "Marta's Song" being written and used in the film. "It's a project that I'm proud to have been involved in," states Amy. "It's a film about Marta Becket, a dancer and artist who lives and performs in Death Valley Junction, in an old theater that she restored and calls The Amargosa Opera House. She was a Broadway dancer who moved to Death Valley to get out of the rat race and focus on her art. Hers is a story about art without commerce and about living your passion."
The full-length documentary became a finalist for the 2000 Academy Awards and proved to be an invaluable experience for Amy. "It definitely got the ball rolling - through that, I met my attorney and manager and some fantastic people in the process-" Traci Robinson, who came up with the idea for the film and was the executive producer, Todd (Robinson), Sydney Sherman and Randy Miller, who composed the film score which I also sang on."
Her most thrilling experience however, remains playing to a live audience. "For me, performing live is the best thing about being a musician," she says. "Things are different every single night and the songs change everytime you play them. The musicians I play with take the pieces and make them their own, and the energy from the audience is an amazing thing."
The subject matter of Amy's songs seems to have a universal appeal with her audience, who find their own personal meanings in her lyrics. "I don't like telling people what my songs are about," she explains. "If someone listening is in a place where the song means something to them, than that is because of who they are and where they are."
With her songs appearing in film, on television and an ever-increasing schedule of club dates, Amy Cook has made definite progress on the path that she decided to follow so long ago. "I think if we're open, we get to the place we need to be in time," she says. "I'm learning to let go and just hang out in the moment- just roll with it." Enjoying her successes one at a time, Amy is happy to be making a living doing the one thing she always dreamed of and appears to be well on her way to a long and successful career.
Be sure to check out Amy's official web site at www.amycook.com. You'll find news, upcoming live performances, photos, a mailing list, and very soon Amy will be including sound samples of more of her music.
To purchase Amy's CD "From the Fifty-Second Story", send a check or money order in the amount of $16.00 to:
It's an awesome CD, and I highly recommend it!
Note: Please have patience while waiting for the CD to arrive. Amy currently sends them out herself.