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Amanda Lehmann interview

Amanda Lehmann Interview

About Innocence and Illusion and beyond

Amanda Lehmann is well known for being one of the regular contributors to Steve Hackett's music - both live and on record. Since Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth, Amanda has been a frequent guest on the albums and also in the live-band. Besides the singing, Amanda plays guitar and piano and always wanted to record a full solo album, but never found the time - until now. Genesis News Com sat down with Amanda via Zoom and discussed her life as a musician in general, her involvement in Steve Hackett's albums and live shows and of course her new album Innocence And Illusion, which was released in August.

GNC: So, your new album has just been released - you must be quite excited...

Amanda: Yes, it's a big day and it was such a built up to that and it's incredible to get to that and people start receiving the album finally - that's lovely.

GNC: Let's go back to beginnings. Is music your main focus? How did you become a musician?

Amanda: I always wanted to be musician. When I was a child, it was more of a dream then obviously, but it also was a reality in the sense that I always made music: I sang, learned to play the piano and loved it. I also taught myself playing the guitar when I was quite young and that progressed throughout my early teenager years. Then I started playing in bands. And that was the point when I made the decision that this would be my career, this is absolutely what I am about. This is what I can do best. It's also how I communicate best with the world around me. I found it difficult to communicate, to talk. I was very shy as a teenager so music gave me a language. Music gave me a voice. When I was on stage and playing it was fine. Music is integral for me, definitely.

GNC: What came first? Singing, piano or guitar playing?

Amanda: Singing came first, I can't remember me not singing. I was always singing. Then the piano and then guitar.

1GNC: Do you still play the piano?

Amanda: Yes, I just don't find the time to play it a lot these days. But some of the tracks on my new album were composed on the piano, like We Are One and also Childhood Delusions. The piano is a great songwriting instrument and I also like playing it.

GNC: You have released some music before, like the EP Shadow eleven years ago. What was the story behind this?

Amanda: The EP was supposed to be a start for a full album. But I was so busy with touring at the time that I decided, since I won't get an album finished, I will release these songs as an EP. I wanted something. It had been a long time since I recorded and produced anything. So, the EP was something I could get out quickly and give people something to listen to, some kind of a stop gap.

With my new album, I started to write new music, since people would have that EP anyway. The music is also different. But I'm still very proud of that EP.

GNC: You also released a band album ...

Amanda: Yes - the Wazzoon album that I did in 1994 - a duo album with synthesizer player Eddy Deegan. All songs were written by me apart from the last track, which was done by Eddy, and it's me on Guitars and vocals, and Eddy on synthesizer. It was remastered this year and I made this available as a digital release on my website. I’m still really proud of this album.

GNC: You became a member of the Steve Hackett band more than 10 years ago. How did that come about and how did you feel playing guitar in the Steve Hackett band, keeping in mind that Steve obviously is a legend on that instrument.

Amanda: Steve had seen me at a gig I was doing. At the time I was bringing up my son and couldn't do so many gigs. So sometimes I did solo gigs in the area. Steve saw one of those and it was a very difficult gig. I was in a small venue with a quite tricky audience that night. At the end he said to me 'I was really impressed how you did that, it must have been hard'. It started really difficult but eventually I won the audience and it became a good night. So, he said 'would you like to sing a couple of backing vocals on my new album' which then became Out of The Tunnel's Mouth and I said 'yes please - I'd love to'. So, I did that and from that he asked me if I would join him on the UK tour in 2009. So, I sorted things out for my son and did that as well. It then went from there. And I wasn't intimidated. I just loved being on stage. Being on stage is my natural environment. My first show was in Paris and it was so lovely. The band was fantastic, the crew professional - I just loved it.

GNC: When playing with Steve, what was the share of work? You obviously play the second guitar when playing with Steve ...

Amanda: Yes indeed. I think the first track we did rehearse together was Every Day. From there, I did my own homework for the tracks. Listening to the tracks, learning the songs and working out other parts that could be complementary. The parts I was playing ... I always was careful. On Every Day he had two guitars anyway. That was quite nice, it was supposed to have two guitars on it. As I toured more and more with the band, I learned more and more. It came naturally and obviously I had to learn how they work, with the orchestration ... that sometimes less is more etc. And then sometimes I wasn't playing. I wasn't filling all of the gaps. I never played all the time throughout the tracks. It's a bit like being in an orchestra.

GNC: At one point you decided not to do full tours anymore, only special appearances. I think you said at the time it was for family reasons. That obviously hasn't changed until today - but do you intend to tour more, now that your child is older?

Amanda: He's a teenager now, but still needs me around. Right now, is not the time to go away. This whole COVID situation has been really tough and disruptive for families I don't feel it's the right time now, but I am hoping when things evolve, also from COVID and lockdowns. I will join Steve for a couple of the tours again. And I hope to increase touring in the future, now that my son is getting older. Perhaps a tour for my solo music.

GNC: You did participate in the Harmony For Elephants project. Can you tell us more about this? How did you get involved?

Amanda: That was Leslie Wood, which was her name then - she is now called Lesley Swan. She and a colleague were putting together a charity album for elephants. She is a fantastic photographer. She has taken a lot of great photos of those wonderful creatures, the elephants, in Africa. I was chatting to her before a show in 2016 I think, talking about the album. She asked me if I wanted to be on that album as well. And I said yes, I'd love to. That was something I really wanted to support. I composed We Are One on the piano and recorded it so that's how it happened. It contains a lot of interesting music, there's such a variety of music on this album, there's my song - someone said it's a little Kate Bushy - then Nick Magnus' tune, which is some sort of panoramic landscape, then Rob Townsend with a crazy baby elephant tune. Steve Hackett and Anthony Phillips worked together on that album as well. It's a lovely album. And the photo book, the whole package is amazing.


GNC: This is a good link to your new album. We Are One is obviously a new recording for the album...

Amanda: I rerecorded it, yes. All the vocals are new and I have added some extra guitar. And it was all remixed by Nick Magnus. It's a new version.

GNC: Is that the oldest track on the new record Innocence And Illusion? When did you start writing?

Amanda: Well the oldest song on the new record actually is The Watcher. I wrote that back in the early nineties, I used to play that live with my old band. The Watcher back then was the same song, but rockier. I rewrote parts of it, gave it a new treatment and added the introduction and outro to it. I sent this over to Nick Magnus and he has put some beautiful effects underneath it. When the instrumental comes down, he added this little tick tock. It's little things like that, but it gives the track that extra tension and atmosphere. And I redid my guitar parts for it. It starts bluesy, but then it's obviously a classic lead guitar thing, the guitar breaking out the whole time. So that song was there for so many years, but it was really lovely to work on that one again and turn it into what it is now.

GNC: When did you decide to record a new album?

Amanda: It was a mixture of reasons - obviously I wanted to do a solo album for many years, but never really found the time to do that. What triggered it was Memory Lane. I played Memory Lane and Only Happy When It Rains at a venue called Trading Boundaries, where Steve also plays once a year. It's a very intimate venue. I've done these songs and I really wanted to record Memory Lane. The whole subject of the track, which is dementia, was something I wanted to share. I wrote that over the past few years in parallel to my mother's illness. It was also therapeutic for me to write this song. I felt it's a song that needs to be heard. It speaks to people ... and it went down so well when I played it so I recorded this one with Roger King. He also added a string quartet and mixed and mastered it. Rob Townsend added an alto sax solo. Essentially, that was Memory Lane. So, I thought - right, let's get the rest of the album done. It was a slow start, but during lockdown there were a lot of recordings because obviously people were not playing live. So, I thought now is the time. It was important to me to get this done. I worked a lot with Nick Magnus. He had some wonderful contributions. We did more and more, the closer we came to the deadline, so it was a very intense period.

I wanted Memory Lane to be released last year and I knew the album would follow.

GNC: Where did you meet Nick Magnus?

Amanda: I've known him for years, I first met him after a show many years ago and then subsequently he asked me to do a vocal part on his album Catharsis, so I did lead vocals on one of the tracks. That triggered a musical relationship. I then asked him to come up with an idea for the instrumental section of Tinkerbell for my new album. And he said he'd love to do it. That worked so well so we carried on working together.

GNC: You've mentioned Tinkerbell and also The Watcher. What I found - in a positive way - bizarre: You have put Only Happy When It Rains in the middle of those two tracks. Only Happy When It Rains could be odd corner of your record. So, it's between The Watcher and Tinkerbell. Did you do that on purpose?

Amanda: Yes! Constructing an album and track order ... I went through various ideas. So, you think about the tracks in terms of what they are about. But also, what works from purely a musical point of views? So, I had Who Are The Heroes, which introduces the album quite will, like a long overture. And then Tinkerbell, which is more magical and quite proggy. So the first two tracks are quite intense and I thought it's good to have some kind of relief. And Only Happy When It Rains brings a good contrast at that point. It's more bluesy. It brings a whole new aspect. So, it lifts you up and you go into The Watcher, which is again rather heavy. So, it's your cup of tea song.

GNC: People like to categorize music. Was this also a way to show - hey, there are many aspects to my music?

3Amanda: Exactly, my music is varied and I would find it quite frustrating to stick to one genre only. Songs just happen, I don't decide this gets proggy or this gets bluesy. I didn't want the album to be too kind of all over the place because I want to have it in context. I think there is a style that is in all the songs, which brings continuity. It was interesting putting together. Until I heard it all I wasn't too sure if that would all fit together. But then I knew - this works. So far, I had some really super reactions to it. It's accessible. I want music to be accessible. People should emotionally relate to it. I think I have achieved that.

GNC: Forever Days - you said you compose on piano and guitar. Let's talk about this, that track could be a good example. How does a track like this start in the beginning and when do you decide "oh I need some Steve Hackett guitar here"?

Amanda: It's an interesting track. It was one of the hardest to put together. I had a concept for that track. I wanted this track about the teenage years, life ahead of you, ups and downs, joy - a rollercoaster ride. From that. I thought a lot about the style this track should be in. I didn't want to have it too laid back. Then I thought - what do my Forever Days remind me of? And that was both, 70ies and 80ies music. Like Boston, or Ultravox. What I wanted to do is mixing these decades up. So, when I knew what I wanted I sat down and said "I want a riff". The first thing I came up with was this riff that you hear. And I thought - is that an original riff? It worried me a bit but couldn't find it anywhere else. From there I worked on the track and it quickly became a mixture of guitar and keyboard. And drums and bass obviously. It was a difficult process but all the way through I wanted to have the twin guitars, the harmony guitars like in the old days. Then I thought, this is a perfect one to ask Steve to take over those two solos and fly with them. It's a wild one and a melodic one. Here we go ... he did some beautiful guitar work. It was exactly what I wanted.

GNC: Thomas, who did the album review for us, wrote it's a progpopmetal number ...

Amanda (laughs): Yes, it's spots on! I like that.

GNC: He mentioned the lack of a proper rhythm section. So, who did the drum programming?

Amanda: Nick did that. Sometimes I came up with something, but Nick took them to the next level. Sometimes he just took my stuff to the next level, like concentrating on the details etc. He did the fills and effects. He's great doing the rhythm section.

GNC: Typical prog fans also go like "who's drumming"?

Amanda: Absolutely, I understand that. I would have loved to have a guest drummer on the record. But time was running out and also it's obviously a self-released album so there's a limited budget as well. But I am super happy with Nick's work.

GNC: Do you want to bring this album out on tour?

Amanda: Would love to, but it should be a good production. That would take a lot or rehearsing, let alone the logistics. I'd love to do this live. Would be wonderful. Who knows...

GNC: It's an independent project, but how do you decide things like record company or not, promotion etc.?

Amanda: It's a self-release album and I think I was focusing so much on the album and I just got on with it. I didn't really want to go hunting around for a deal. I haven't really thought to approach people for this album as I was so busy doing it. Time was getting short anyway. It all naturally happened.

GNC: On anther track, Childhood Delusions, you can hear the 20ies a bit ...

Amanda: That track is indeed quite twenties - love song in the evening, smoky bars, rains streets - that kind of atmosphere. And it obviously got a lot of childhood stuff in it. The old children’s' movies, a bit nostalgic music. I wanted to have that feeling of a childhood in a song. Life happens, it got a lot of hard edge. Sometimes also cynical. Sometimes I see things as a child. Sometimes that carries me away - and I wanted to get that across. Like 'The Man In The Moon Still Follows Me Home' - if you take a journey in the car, you see the moon and then you're home he's still there, so he followed you home. I'm a bit crazy [laughs] and wanted to get that aspect of childhood plus the melancholy in that song. Childhood is lost, isn't it? So, it's a bit old fashioned, nostalgic.

GNC: Talking about the future ... already working on a new album?

Amanda (laughs): Oh yes. I got some ideas, but before I will have some projects in the autumn for other musicians. And then I will get back to recording, however long that will take, but certainly not another 11 years.

GNC: How would you describe the difference between recording your own music and being involved in other projects?

Amanda: Obviously recording my own music is a priority and inspiration. When I was younger, playing live was the drive I needed. Everything else is what I do as a musician. I enjoy session work, I love collaborating with others etc. - it's part of my job. I enjoy it all!

GNC: What kind of music do you listen to as a fan:

Amanda: That's difficult - I listen to a lot of music, it depends on the mood. Obviously, I like prog. Especially the melodic driven progressive rock - a band like Genesis is a classic example for that. The blues or folk, but also contemporary music and classical music.

GNC: Are you pleased with what your son listens to?

Amanda (laughs): He wouldn't let me in. I think he listens to Rap music. He would say it's nothing you would know, mom. I don't get to hear it, he's got his Air Pods. But I was very flattered - we put out the single The Watcher and he listened to it and he liked it.

GNC: So, thanks for the chat Amanda - it was a pleasure talking to you. Good luck for your new album!

Amanda: Thanks a lot, was a pleasure.

Amanda Lehmann's new album Innocence And Illusion plus music from her back catalogue is available at this link.

A detailed album review can be found here.

Interview & transcript: Christian Gerhardts

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