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STAR Views: Amanda Wilkinson

By: Estella Pan
Amanda Wilkinson (of The Wilkinsons, a group in which she is in along with her father Steve and brother Tyler) and I discuss the trio's new album, her own solo album, and... pumpkin pie?! Read on!

Amanda Wilkinson

Estella: How long have you been singing and performing together as The Wilkinsons?
Amanda: Going on 14 years, so it’s been a while! We’ve been together for a really long time.
Estella: Was being recording artists something the three of you always wanted to do?
Amanda: It didn't start off that way. Obviously, in the back of our minds, we always thought it'd be cool if we could do this as a family together to make a living at it. My dad's been a songwriter since he was 15. I think it really started because it was something we could do as a family together. A lot of kids would either do Little League or Girl Scouts, something where they could get involved and families could go out and do stuff together. This is something we kind of did around the kitchen table. It really evolved from there because we would sing at relatives' houses, which evolved into getting up and singing at little fairs and festivals. It was a slow progression, but that’s really how it started. It wasn't like we woke up one day and went, "Oh, gosh, we can sing together, so let’s take the show on the road!" But, to look back from where we started to now, it's been a really wonderful evolution – a great thing to look back at old photos of ourselves and see the road that we've come on.
Estella: That's true, especially because both you and Tyler were younger when you first started out, and of course now, you’re all grown up!
Amanda: Yeah, and the evolution from the first album to where we are now musically – the three of us, how we feel about each other and kind of growing as individuals. It's really amazing, because when our first album came out, my brother was 14 and I was just turning 16. And, I'm 22 now; Tyler's 20. The growth period from that time to now – people don't realize it, but it's really, really tremendous! Me myself, looking at it, I don't go, "Oh, man, it's been this huge interval of time!" It doesn't feel like that long ago; it really doesn't. You look at when "26 Cents" first came out to where we are now – Tyler and I are both writing a lot. My dad's writing and also taking on more business affairs and he's producing. Tyler's producing. It's really amazing, but it's great! It's weird because it's our job, but at the same time, we're a family – it's like looking back at our family photo albums.
Estella: You're working on a solo album. How will that be different, in terms of "sound" with any of the albums you've recorded with The Wilkinsons? Amanda: When fans hear The Wilkinsons' next project, they're going to hear the harmonies they're familiar with. They'll hear the songwriting with a lot of heart we bring to songs. My solo project is going to be a totally separate identity. It won't sound like anything The Wilkinsons have done. I love traditional country music; I grew up listening to Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Patsy Cline. But, I also love the more progressive artists like Bonnie Raitt. So, it'll kind of be a cross between real traditional sounding things – very organic – and some progressive stuff. It'll sound a little bit like Sheryl Crow, but not pop. It's very open and you can hear a lot of instruments.
Estella: What was it about country music that drew you to it?
Amanda: I fell in love with country music for its story-songs and for the fact that you can hear everything – it didn't sound slick. I think on the more pop-country records, they tend nowadays to fill every little hole up, so it's a little distracting. [Country music] is more "real," not overproduced. Like the Nickel Creek record – which I'm a HUGE fan of – is just a beautiful record! Keith Urban's is a little more progressive, but you can still hear everything. Outside the format, I think that's why Norah Jones hit so hard because it was "real" music. You could see her just sitting with her piano singing the songs that she wrote. She doesn't need to have a band; she doesn't have to have this huge arrangement behind her. That's the beauty of music. In country and outside of it, I think people have kind of taken it for granted – that there can be "real" singers/songwriters/performers out there.
Estella: I suppose it's a marketing strategy of today's music business. Amanda: Yes, but a lot of times, it becomes too processed, too packaged and too glossy. I mean, marketing has always been a big part of music - that and sex appeal. But, I think that people want to have a distinction between both. My dad likens it to pumpkin pie. If you put a little whipped cream on it, it's wonderful! But, if you have a pumpkin pie and you just douse it with whipped cream, it ceases to be pumpkin pie.
Estella: In essence, it's like whipped cream with pumpkin pie under it! Amanda: Exactly! And that's what my dad has always said. It's such a great analogy because it's very fitting for today. There has to be a balance between those things. People sort of want to have that "realness" and they want to have fun too! I'm not saying the fun shouldn't be allowed because we need to have fun with the music! But, there has to be "meat and potatoes" as well. You look at Shania [Twain]'s record. She has a lot of catchy, melodic phrases in her music and that's where she's won. It's great because it's fun to listen to! But, we also have to have things where it's almost like an exercise for your brain. And, that's what music should be: a tremendous stimulator. I think a lot of acts are coming out now; you see them slowly creeping in. We need those things to interject a sort of new life or breathe a little bit of fresh air into the music scene across the board. Even the simplest piece of work, like an acoustic song on the radio – if it piqued your interest, you'd crank it up! That's what we try to do with The Wilkinsons' project.
Estella: Will you be touring around Canada to promote the album?
Amanda: Fans can check our website [NOTE:] and Pollstar, they'll be able to know where we'll be.
Estella: Do you have a favorite album, video, or single?
Amanda: The first project was a lot of fun because it was such a big learning experience for us. A lot of songs from that album have been really kind to us, so that was wonderful. And, we've gotten involved with two video directors that are friends of ours who I think will continue to director videos for us. Deaton-Flanigan – they did "Fly (The Angel Song)" and "Boy Oh Boy," which was a lot of fun! They also did one that was released for a little while called "I Wanna Be That Girl."
Estella: When you first got into the business, did anything surprise you?
Amanda: Oh yeah! All the financial meetings! I think for me, it was the weirdest thing to sit down at the year's end and have this big financial meeting with our business managers. We'd all be sitting and talking about numbers and figures. [I remember] realizing that when I was 16, I had people older than me on my payroll! I think that shocked me, because my friends still hadn't graduated from high school! It was a little bit of a "reality check." I've settled into it now, and we've learned a lot. We were so green when we first came out; we didn't realize what the deal was. You just look at the fact that you're able to sell all these records. You think your tour revenue is so huge! But then, when you look at all the people who take and cut, it's shocking! What people are spending on album budgets these days is ridiculous! But, I think we've got a better handle on it now. You learn things everyday, and you're able to realize, "I'm going to start putting more of my eggs in my own basket." You focus more on not letting people push you around saying you need to spend whatever amount on this or that. If you're able to conserve more, it just means more money in your pocket and you're able to produce more music in the long run. Billboard just released a huge article about the artists in country music – Platinum-selling artists who've lost their record deals. It's a shocker! Things can't continue the way they are. I think everyone's feeling things moving back to a healthier way. It may take a long time or it may take a short amount of time. There will be shakeups in the music industry, but you always land on your feet. And, the artists, performers, and songwriters, who love what they do, will win because people will always want to hear music. They won't care about which Armani suits they're putting on what men. They care about going and spending a little portion of their paycheck after paying off money off on their bills and buying what they love to hear.
Estella: What do you offer as advice for aspiring artists who want to get into the business?
Amanda: You hear people who say, "I just want to sing! I don't care if it's at a karaoke bar or wherever it is." And then, there [are] people who say, "I want to be a star!" I think if it's in you to do that and you just want to get up there and sing your heart out – whether it's in front of the mirror in your bedroom or in front of 60,000 people, you can do it! Don't listen to your family if they say you can't do it. We had family members who said, "You guys are crazy! What are you doing?" The deal is, you go and find those people who validate you. If you feel like that is your life mission and there's nothing else you see yourself doing, then you can do it! You are your best guide. Your inner self tells you things on a daily, even hourly basis – and if you just listen to those things, they'll always carry you through. Even if your head's saying, "Wait, maybe I should listen to them" – it sounds and looks really good, but if your gut is telling you, "Nope! I don’t feel right about this!" that's the thing you need to go with.
Estella: Obviously, you're very passionate about what you do. Can you picture yourself doing anything else career-wise?
Amanda: Well, there are lots of things I'd love to do! But, music is my first love and that's really my priority. I've always loved design and love drawing and painting. I've always wanted to try acting; being a songwriter and performer is not too different from that. Not as far as film work but, Broadway or theater work – I think that would be an amazing thing to try out. Like I said, those things many filter every once in a while. But, music is really my priority, passion and focus right now.
Estella: What is your ultimate goal as a country artist?
Amanda: I would like to have a flavor out there that's a little different. I want to be able to bring something to the table that people can hang their hat on and go, "This is something new and a little bit fresh and different." I think we've tried to do that as The Wilkinsons. If you listen to us in the spectrum of what's going on in country music, we kind of have our own sound. We don't really sound like anyone else that's out there. And, that's really important to us – just to be able to keep things fresh and innovative – to have a different variety of things for people to listen to. Also say something in our music. I mean "Boy Oh Boy," that's kind of light-hearted and fun, but we've sung songs like "Shame on Me" or "26 Cents" that really have a lot of heart to it and has something to say.

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