Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Amy Vachal just released her latest EP Crinkle Bloom on Rockwood Music Hall Records. She sat down with Music Times for our Studio Sessions to talk about her career beginnings, what inspired the new record, and what her plans are for the future. She also treated us to performances of "Let the Morning Bring Word" and "Broke Into Words."
Music Times: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?
Amy Vachal: It's kind of funny. I used to be really into sports in a big way. I played in college. I played soccer and lacrosse. I got this very intense concussion my senior spring that actually propelled me into making music. While I was recovering, I ended up writing my first four songs and that kind of started the whole thing. When I started playing in New York I would travel into New York on weekends and play little shows here and there. I went to school in Pennsylvania. That kind of got it going. I played Rockwood — it was one of my first shows ever, and I've been playing there for the last three years. That's how I met Ken Rockwood. I worked with him on this album.
MT: So when you got your concussion you had no musical abilities before then?
AV: I was always a singer, a secret singer. I loved to sing growing up. My friend actually told me that it cracked something open in me that I probably wouldn't have tapped into if it weren't for the injury. So yeah, it kind of opened that part of me up in a bigger way.
MT: Your new EP Crinkle Bloom, can you tell us a little bit about the writing process behind that? What sort of sound were you going for? What was inspiring you?
AV: So Crinkle Bloom to me, what it means is something very raw combined with something beautiful and polished. It's this kind of paradox of concepts and how walking around we see it every single day. Writing it, actually all of these songs were written mostly in the first two years I lived in New York. One of them was written when I had to leave New York, when it totally broke me down. I was just like this is too hard; I have to leave. So I ended up finding myself in Texas, and I wrote one of those songs in Texas. And the last one I wrote when I came back. I've just been growing up as a person and as an artist. And these songs really come from a very real place of growing up in a sense. You know, they're not perfect, and I think walking into the studio we really wanted to keep just a rawness and realness combined with a studio-polished sound. I think what resulted is something very simple and something that people can relate to in a very real way.
MT: How did you decide the style you were going for?
AV: I've been so lucky to meet such amazing musicians throughout my time here living in New York. What's on the record, a lot of that has to do with decisions by Ken [Rockwood], who produced it. I think he did such an amazing job. He basically called up some of his friends who happen to be incredible musicians: Mark Guiliana on drums, Rob Calder played the bass, and John Cowherd played the piano, so I've been lucky to have worked with such amazing people because of Ken. Since then, John and I have started to write together. To me it's all about these little relationships that you make. I met Susan [Mandel] two years ago, and she's become one of my very best friends in the world. I just love playing with her. She plays with such passion, and playing with people like that just make you a better player.
MT: Were you playing live with that arrangement before the album came out or did you translate what you had on the record into your live show?
AV: I did a lot of experimenting with everything leading up to the release. I would play with different friends basically every time. Sometimes acoustic guitar, sometimes electric, sometimes with piano, sometimes not. But yeah, I think I'm starting to hone into a sound that is a little mix of everything.
MT: Are there certain things that trigger your inspiration?
AV: This past year in particular has been one of huge spiritual growth for me, actually. I went away to Texas, I actually lived on this bison farm, it was this writing residency in the middle of nowhere. Out there I was the only human being in a 30-mile radius, and when you're in that kind of situation you just are confronted with all these questions that can get lost in the mix of New York. That was a pivotal moment for me. It just made me revisit all of these questions of what do I really believe in? None of us really know why we are here. This is like a crazy life that we live. As a songwriter, I can get lost in it like, "What about this lyric? Or what about this truth?" It was so good for me to come to a place where I'm like, "Okay, here's the bedrock of what I believe, and I'm going to build off of that." So yeah, big questions really inspire me even though they're hard and challenging. I read a lot of philosophy and theology and books of that nature that inspire me a lot.
MT: I also read somewhere that you're really inspired by water? Can you tell me more about that?
AV: My family, we really spend a lot of time on the water. We used to go to Hawaii every single Christmas to visit some family out there. I would be surfing the entire time, and every summer we'd camp on our sail boat along the Long Island Sound. We just spent so much time on the water. The geek in me lately has been studying a little bit about the chemistry of water, the physics of water. I find it so fascinating, and I geek out about it. It means a lot to me at the molecular level but also on a much bigger level. My mom's from the Philippines, and not too long ago, they went through a crazy storm. One of the backlashes of that storm was a giant tsunami that came and basically engulfed an entire city, a little town right on the water. So just seeing that hurt me and affected me in a big way. But yeah, water has been something that I've been trying to dissect.
MT: Do you have any plans for after the EP? Do you have a full-length in the works?
AV: Oh yeah, totally. I have not stopped writing. That's the funny part about coming out with a record of any sort. These are very old songs now at this point to me. And it's good for me to revisit where I came from and where I was when I wrote them, but I've written so many new songs, and I'm actually ready to record them. So I have about 15 songs. I guess we'll weed out a couple and just make the steps to see how that's possible.