Up and coming Urban Funk sensation, Amanda Davids, armed with her Piano, Hammond Organ and a raging Soulful voice, is on a mission to revolutionize the music industry, which began in Toronto but has already spread worldwide. After a whirlwind 2012 involving a debut release, 12 day UK tour, Eastern Canada tour and festivals of every variety Amanda Davids’ distinctive vision has emerged in full form, Urban Funk. Davids’ sound, as depicted by her debut EP-album title “Distinguishable in Difference” is distinct, combining Hip hop, Funk and Jazz elements with urban modern production.
Having a definitive but undiscovered musical vision early in her career “Distinguishable in Difference” signifies Davids’ dedication to her art, her diverse musical experience and the overcoming of many hardships to see her vision unfold. In this twenty question interview , we discover that Amanda’s musical talents somewhat match her candid intelligence and measured assertiveness.
1. How long have you been doing what you’re doing and how did you get started in the first place?
Amanda Davids: I’ve been an instrumentalist for as long as I can remember. Beginning with the piano as a kid, I’ve pretty much been playing my whole life. My interest in recording and songwriting however, began in university. As it’s a turbulent time for everybody, I began to write about the woes of early adulthood. From then, the natural progression to a professional musician began. I started recording and performing my songs, and eventually assembled a team of like-minded music enthusiasts to form my touring band. Since then I imagine my music and content has matured. Sporting choice instruments such as the Hammond and Piano, the twists and turns of the last 8 years have made me into the musician I am today.
2. Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
Amanda Davids: During my childhood, I remember three distinct influences and can pretty much trace them to the foundation of my sound today. My dad was a huge James Brown fan and I remember listening to his funk over and over as a child and loving it. I also remember hearing Ella Fitzgerald recordings at a very young age and being astounded by her vocal virtuosity and diversity as a singer. And then there was B.B King and I remember his version of “Stormy Monday” being the first song I tried to perform as a pianist/vocalist.
3. Who do you consider the most influential and successful artist(s) in your genre today and why?
Amanda Davids: It’s hard to pin it down to one genre, but I can name a few artists whose accomplishments, I really admire. New York based Soulive have done a great job of influencing an entire generation of Soul/Jazz. Personally, I’m a big fan of The Roots, both for their music, which has always incorporated many great cross-genre fusions, as well as their accomplishments. They did it independently, and really went through the grind. Now they’re the coolest late-night band ever, that’s a good gig.
4. Describe the first piece of musical equipment that you actually purchased with your own money.
Amanda Davids: My Yamaha 88 key P60 was the first piece of gear I bought with my own money. It was a long time coming, as I had been sticking it out on my dad’s Yamaha Dx7 before that…frankly playing that thing was like riding a bike with one training wheel on.
5. What particularly drew you towards the keyboards as your preferred instrument, and eventually what made you include the Hammond organ into your sound, considering that it is thought of as an ‘outdated’ instrument by the modern masses?
Amanda Davids: As my music started to move towards an edgier funk based sound I began looking for an instrument to represent it. The piano and Rhodes sounds were too melodic and didn’t quite get grimy enough. Then I heard a Tony Monaco interview on the local Jazz station and as he was distorting and manipulating sounds on the Hammond, I thought “man, that will be perfect with the hip hop/funk beats….and it is”. ‘Outdated’ …well it’s probably because the use of it has become somewhat underground. In popular music those who bother to play instruments stick to the most straight forward ones. Hammonds take an understanding of sound manipulation through use of the drawbars, percussion, chorus effects etc. …not quite as easy as loading a patch and playing. I’m happy to bring the Hammond back in the spotlight.
6. Live gigging or studio work, which do you prefer and why?
Amanda Davids: Not that I don’t really enjoy both… I do. But I have to say that my preference is for live gigging. The element of unpredictability and improvisation creates gems that are unique to each venue and audience. It’s in the live performance where you can feel the most honest expression of an artist. This is why people still pay to see live performance. Actually, my goal in future albums is to try and capture some of that spontaneity into the recordings.
7. Which one of your original songs do you feel is the absolute “crowd pleaser” at live gigs?
Amanda Davids: “Naughty Boy” wins over every audience. There’s something about it. It might be the slickness of the bass or the Hammond riffs, but it draws in even the most unlikely listeners.
8. On which one of your songs do you think you personally delivered your best performance so far, from a technical point of view?
Amanda Davids: I suppose the answer would be Naughty Boy. It’s possible the reason for Naughty Boy’s popularity is that it is also the best technical and musical performance I’ve given so far. The vocals were cleanly executed and organ lines were well played. The song challenges my band and I in every live performance to exceed ourselves from a technical perspective because the song just has so much momentum that it pushes one to try all kinds of crazy things. In that vein, I have some very cool similarly technical stuff in the works for my next EP – technical, yet funky and soulful – both on the Piano and the Hammond.
9. Which ingredient do you think is most essential in making Amanda Davids’ music, sound the way it does?
Amanda Davids: It’s the Urban Funk. You can’t quite describe it as the Funk you would have heard it in the 70s because there is an element of Hip Hop that alters the swing. I imagine it has been embedded in my musical fabric since childhood.
10. If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you day after day to stay in this tough business. Is it joy, anger, desire, passion, hysteria or pride etc., and why?
Amanda Davids: Rage. There are so many people that I encounter with Big-Fish-Small-Pond syndrome from an industry long past, who don’t yet realize we are all small fish in a rapidly changing ocean. The amount of irrelevant information I have to sort through on a daily basis is really infuriating. It feels like constant sabotage of what is most precious, my music. Considering that I’m wearing about 5 hats as an indie artist I react severely to people trying to re-rout me off course. Yeah rage.
11. What aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most?
Amanda Davids: The ability to create and craft my own destiny is the most exciting part of being independent. I figure it’s a mixture of the entrepreneurial and artistic spirit that drives people to be independent. It’s not for everyone, since you take all the hits and bruises any entrepreneur would, but the thrill of seeing your brand grow is motivating and exciting.
12. What aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process discourages you most?
Amanda Davids: The finite amount of time that one person has in a day. As an independent musician there are so many things that you and your team need to accomplish. Sometimes it’s discouraging that not everything can get done… Solution, be smart about how you allot your time.
13. How involved are you in any of the the recording, producing, mastering and marketing processes involved in your music.
Amanda Davids: Well…..I have a pretty particular vision and at every step of the game that vision can come undone. So I’d say I play a significant role at every stage. All keyboards and keyboard related parts, vocals and backings are recorded by me. I work as executive producer to make sure the overall sound during recording, production and mastering is correct. As for marketing…I have to make sure that both the music and I are properly represented, so I take an active role in this as well.
14. The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t, but now know for sure that you should have?
Amanda Davids: A producer I worked with years ago told me never to wait for someone to make my album for me, or I could be waiting forever…so I didn’t wait for anyone, and created an independently funded self-directed album. The best advice that I didn’t take at the time was from a booking agent who told me to start playing out of town no matter how small the gigs – before any album or recordings. Although I have a pretty good touring schedule now, I can see how having that foundation would have been immensely helpful.
15. At this point, as independent artist, which is the one factor you desire most, and feel will undeniably benefit your future (for example increased music distribution, better quality production, more media exposure, bigger live giggs etc…)?
Amanda Davids: The next step for my music and where I plan to work the hardest this year is increased media and publicity. After years of soul searching and development I have finally shaped my music and live performance to accurately represent my vision. The feedback so far from audiences has been enthusiastic. Now I just need to get it to as many ears as possible.
16. Do you consider Internet and all the new technology, as fundamental to your music, or indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre copycat artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
Amanda Davids: I believe that new technology when used appropriately is an excellent asset for the independent musician. I suppose it could be thought of as fundamental since it allows musicians to directly connect with their audiences, with venues and other artists. Before the internet these groups were hidden and controlled by the record labels, which made it much more difficult to be independent.
17. Here’s a fun question. Do you consider yourself a better piano player or a better singer? And are you perfectly happy with that conclusion, or would you rather have preferred it to be the other way around?
Amanda Davids: Ha. My vocal ability and piano playing are in a perpetual cycle of one-upping the other. At any given point I will be working to improve either, so sometimes you may catch my voice exceeding the piano and other times find my keyboards skills in the forefront. In the past the difference between the two would be very noticeable but now I’m happy with how both work out, even on their down in the cycle.
18. Is going Platinum or winning a Grammy important you? If you were forced to settle for only one choice, which of the two would you go for and why?
Amanda Davids: Of course achieving both would be a wonderful success. If I had to choose I would certainly like a Grammy. While monetary success would be fantastic, winning a Grammy represents an acknowledgement of your contribution to the industry and recognition as an influential artist. That seems like more what I am after. Also I assume there would be some sales after winning a Grammy – I really just need enough to live and continue making my music.
19. What do you think is the biggest barrier you have to face and overcome as an indie artist, in your quest to achieve your goals and attain any commercial success?
Amanda Davids: Well it’s a common theme among indie artists… where do I get the money to make money. Like any business it takes some investment to create, market and distribute your product. So we try our best to be creative and use the resources we have to achieve the most, but funding is one of the biggest barriers I’ve had to face.
20. I read somewhere that you already have a decade of teaching both piano and voice behind you, as well as supporting charitable organizations. How do you conciliate your artistic career with your educative obligations and charity endeavors? And is this something you will continue to do once fortune and fame comes knocking at your door?
Amanda Davids: It really just takes a good scheduling system to get everything in. As far as teaching goes, my students are fairly regular and reliable, so I can plan my other obligations around them. And charitable endeavors…I love doing them, so I fit them into my tour schedule whenever I can. I’m hoping to expand my relationship with a few particular ones in the year to come.
As for fame and fortune – there are many successful artists that make the time to both teach and work with charitable organizations. I don’t see why I can’t do the same.
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