“Looking back, it was inevitable.”
That’s how Amy Owens views her reality comprised of music. There was no other way her life could’ve turned out. As a child, her mother was the choir director at their church and a young Amy would often find herself in the adult choir helping them stay in tune. At least “that’s what my mother would say,” she remembers fondly with a bit of humor.
While she dove into music at the tender age of five-years-old playing piano and the flute and later acting and dancing, Amy said a career in the arts didn’t even cross her mind until she was halfway through college. Today she’s played some of the biggest stages in the world and continues to grow with each passing day. Now as we await the release of her new album, HAETHOR, out March 15th; that’s where we start out back and forth. With the new album, that offers theater fans a lot more than the expected.
Kendra: Your style offers theater fans music that’s not attached to a soundtrack. At least that’s what I heard and appreciated on “Discreet.” Will there be more of that on HAETHOR?
Amy Owens: Yes, “Discreet” is a very theatrical tune, and I always imagine it being performed in a cabaret setting with some wild costume and exaggerated vocalism. Because of my background, the theatricality and personality of stage work are naturally present throughout the album. The one track that was conceived as a real narrative is “Smoke & Mirrors,” which was co-written with an amazing artist Aaron Evans. Both of our voices represent characters in an imagined world, a “memory palace,” and the listener is taken through different rooms in the palace until the whole thing burns and collapses. The imagery is rather fantastical, I would love to see it re-imagined in visual form someday.
Kendra: Also, what’s up with that blue vase in the “Discreet” video?
Amy Owens: The extraordinary filmmaker Wilder Troxell directed the video and came up with the vase as a symbol of the confrontation addressed in the lyrics. I love it. It’s a simple symbol of a burden, something carried around, treasured in its fragility, that ultimately needs to be banished or destroyed. It represents clutter; physical, emotional, spiritual, whatever else. The whole song builds up the courage to finally take care of it. The freedom and fun in the vocal line mirror the attitude with which I most successfully tackle difficult things in my own life: with a bit of humor, a bombastic vocal line, and my imaginary magic wand.
Kendra: There’s a lyric that mentions magic in “Discreet,” and you also have “Magic Magic” and “Smoke and Mirrors” on HAETHOR. Do you have a long history with magic appreciation?
Amy Owens: I have very little knowledge of magic or its history, but I find it fascinating. Although I no longer associate myself with religion, I have deep spiritual roots. I have found the ideas of magic to be useful as a way of thinking about the miraculous things that happen around me every day. “Magic Magic” is, in a way, my theme song.
Oftentimes I just wake up smiling and it seems that everything is going my way. Howard “Merlin” Wulkan, my co-writer of HAETHOR, wrote the original music idea for me as a reflection of the way I walk through life; joyful and unbounded. He originally entitled it “Syntherella,” and the bubbling musical sounds in it spoke magic to me immediately. His music sparkles, just like life does when I view it through magical eyes.
Kendra: You’ve noted how you’re the rebel of your scene. Have you always been on the outside of the norm?
Amy Owens: I’d say I used to be the queen of conformity. I used to care a lot about what people thought of me and put a lot of effort in pleasing others. Many things started building in my life in my 20’s that culminated in a tipping point. That’s where my whole paradigm of the world turned on its head.
Since then, I have no choice but to unabashedly be myself and follow my creative curiosities. Which, as it turns out, often take me outside of the norm in the classical music field. However, finding an authentic creative path has also allowed me to be a better artist and musician in all repertoire. That’s pretty cool! Mostly it means that I love music infinitely more and hardly ever stress about imperfection in performance. I just lay it all out there to the world and hope to have a positive communal experience whenever I’m on stage.
Kendra: Having performed with the National Symphony Orchestra and at Carnegie Hall, do you have any Bucket List performances that you hope to cross off this year?
Amy Owens: What wonderful experiences those performances were! This year I return to the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, which I’m really looking forward to. I also can’t wait for the smaller-scale creative collaborations with composers and performers I respect. There are so many creative people out there with amazing ideas. I want to be a part of anything and everything that respects and loves music enough to experiment and expand the borders of the genre.
Kendra: Let the people know what else you have going on!
Amy Owens: I’m very excited to be releasing an album of vocal music by Leonard Bernstein in April. Bernstein is the kind of musician I want to be; exploratory, skilled, unrestrained in his learning and variety of output, and deeply concerned about his communication with the broader world. The selections on the album highlight the diversity of the styles in which Bernstein composed. So I was able to experiment with an entire range of vocal color from jazz to opera. I think it’ll be a unique and heartfelt offering to the musical world.