Interview with Amy Klein

Photo by Noe Kidder
Photo by Noe Kidder

After leaving Titus Andronicus in 2011, New Jersey bred poet and musician Amy Klein began tackling her new endeavours with full force. Releasing music with Hilly Eye and Leda, Amy settled into the groove of working, day-to-day life until now, with the release of her excellent, debut solo album Fire through Don Giovanni Records. Amy is the perfect embodiment of punk poetry, rich guitar melodies and, above all, passion. Before embarking on a national tour in support of Fire later this month, Amy gave her first interview regarding the album to Northern Transmissions where she discussed the first poem she ever wrote, her familial relationship with her band members, and her artistry as a whole.

Northern Transmissions: Your debut solo album Fire comes out tomorrow (June 10). How do you feel coming into its release?

Amy Klein: I feel a little excited and a little nervous.

NT: I think that’s fair. Has this album been a long time coming for you?

AK: Yeah, I worked on it for five years so it represents a lot of work.

NT: What was the writing process like for you? Since it was over such a long period of time, when did you get into the studio and whatnot?

AK: I started writing the songs when I was 26 and I think I finished them when I was 27. Then the recording process started when I was 28 and just lasted and lasted. I obsessed over all of the arrangements and added more and more guitars and added and took things away. Then I finally got a place where I was happy with it about a year ago, and then it took another year to come out. So yeah, that’s that (laughs).

NT: For you, a lot of your writing is poetry really. What is your earliest memory of poetry?

AK: Wow, that’s an interesting question. My earliest memory would be when I was in kindergarten and I wrote something, it was a poem about autumn leaves and I’m pretty sure I just copied it off my significantly older sister (laughs). I’m pretty sure she had written a poem about autumn leaves so I did something pretty darn similar in my kindergarten class. At that point, I was still learning how to write my name. Like, literally. Everyone was pretty shocked (laughs).

NT: Everyone must have thought you were some kind of prodigy!

AK: We were in kindergarten so we didn’t have any actual classes, you know, we just coloured and stuff. Then they brought in a language arts teacher, who was a teacher for the older classes, and she sat me down and she was like “Amy, do you know what you have done?” and I thought she was gonna say I did something bad which I kind of had because I kind of ripped off my sister. Anyways, she was like “Amy, do you know what you have done?” and I was like “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, what’s she gonna say?” and then she was like “You have written a poem!” and I was like “Yeah I know” (laughs).

NT: That’s such a sweet first memory. I was also going to ask if you remembered the first poem you ever wrote but that’s perfect.

AK: I’m pretty sure it went something like:
“Autumn leaves, red and brown
Falling, falling, falling to the ground” (laughs).

NT: How did you go about forming your new live band for this album?

AK: I had been playing with Colin, who is the drummer in my band, for a long time. He played on the album; it was just natural that he was going to keep on doing it. He’s a great drummer actually, and you can hear his contributions all over the album. So he’s in the band and then it’s basically a bunch of New York musicians I met through him. They came together and started rehearing and sounding good, so I went with it.

NT: You two have been working together for a long time then, so it would have been comfortable which is important.

AK: Yeah. I know Colin originally – there’s some good back story there. He was in a band with my brother-in-law Greg called Sea Ray in the 90’s or early 2000’s in Brooklyn, so Colin has been a family friend. I think the first time we played together, I was home from tour with Titus Andronicus and my sister was getting married so we were in this wedding band together. I was playing guitar and Colin was playing the drums and we had to learn a bunch of songs with other family members for my sister’s wedding. I think we covered The New Pornographers, and we covered Teenage Fanclub and we also covered Hava Nagila, the Jewish wedding song (laughs).

NT: Then Colin introduced you to the other two members?

AK: Yeah, there’s two members. There’s Christian who plays the bass. He’s a really amazing bass player. We’re sort of in a transition – Jeremy has been playing guitar but he’s not able to do some of the out of town shows for tour, so there’s a new guy named Dave Andreana that I can mention who’s going to do the out of town dates. He’s another New York musician.

NT: Would you say that there are any recurring themes throughout this album? I know it was written over such a long span of time.

AK: Yeah. There’s a big theme of identity and finding yourself and also the opposite of that, which is being lost. I think I was dealing with a lot of changes that took place in my twenties, which I think is normal for a lot of people, but I happened to experience a lot of those changes in career and in friends and in identity through the lens of being in a band. I definitely had an extremely bizarre experience for two years in my mid-twenties where I went from working in an office to touring the world and being on festival stages, and then deciding I wanted to be an artist and that meant being back to work in the office (laughs). I feel like I wrote about a lot of stuff with regards to experiences in the music industry, experiences with people I met through music, and the experiences with touring, traveling, being in a band and then not being in a band, and then trying to figure out how to be an artist on your own. I think one of the things I was trying to do in the process of writing this thing and creating this thing was figure out how to be an artist in my own right and put aside whatever past I had, put aside other expectations that I put on myself, stop thinking about popularity or being liked and instead just focus on making something meaningful to me. I feel like it was a journey to be able to feel confident and find value in art that I was making, to not let anything get in the way of that or distract from that. I feel like it’s still a journey, and it probably is for every artist, but definitely through the process of making this album and going through those five years, I am much farther along in that journey which I think I’m proud of.

NT: I think you should be proud of that too. It sounds like you’ve come to terms with a lot of things and grown in your artistry, all before you were even 30.

AK: I’m 31 now, and I think people have to grow up a lot in their thirties and they grow up in different ways. One way that I experienced the world was through doing music and being in bands so that’s one way that I think forced me to grow up a little bit and alternatively, not having that. For example, being in a band and then right now, working fulltime, working several jobs – that’s the perspective to have and I feel really lucky that I got to be able to tour and see things, see the world that way, and get better at playing music. That gives you a sense of perspective of what the music industry is and what the world is, but I think it’s also important to have the perspective that comes from not having that and having to have a real life. That gives you perspective on music and on life too.

NT: Do you prefer having a full time job and then music as well, instead of having music just be your career? Do you feel like you appreciate it more when it’s not your entire day job?

AK: Like anybody, I would love to just make art all the time. That would be my dream – if I could make a living somehow through doing my music and doing my writing, of course, that would be awesome. I think I would still appreciate it. I feel like sometimes you can think more like “What if I run out of ideas?” if you have all of the time in the world. But actually, I have too many ideas. That’s my problem. I am never going to run out of ideas, I just run out of time to do them (laughs).

NT: Are you looking forward to being back on the road and on the stage when you tour later this month?

AK: Yeah, it’s gonna be really fun. I’m, again, excited and a little nervous. I haven’t performed as much in a while and I think it’s something I have to get used to again, particularly it’s a little different being the one on the mic and running the band. It’s more responsibility and more focus on you, so it’s different in that way. I really miss performing a lot. I used to really enjoy it and so I’m thinking that when I get back into it, it’s going to be really fun. I think it’s going to be exciting to see how the new band comes together live because you can rehearse in a practice room and you can play the songs a lot, but I always feel like things come together when you play live, when you tour. That’s how the band solidifies, really. It’s different energy hearing the songs in front of people and you get that connection and everything.

NT: You definitely feed off the reception of the crowd.

AK: Yeah, it’s totally awesome. It’s the most addictive thing in the world.

By Ava Muir