Amber Sweeney: Grammy Member, musician, and singer-songwriter. She will take you from your front porch to a tailgate with her riveting, soulful voice and melodies. Following the footsteps of her musically minded parents, Sweeney began singing at the early age of 6. Her first experience recording an album was with a church band she joined at age 15 in Los Angeles. “That was when I knew this is what I had to do,” Sweeney says as she reminisced her teenage years.
Despite Sweeney’s early start and deep rooted musical guidance from her parents, she believes she could not have gotten this far without the support of her mentors who encouraged her along the way. “I thought my passion for music was a common interest, but then people around me saw that I had a talent and that propelled me.” Looking back, the most powerful advice she could remember was, “Take risks in music. Play the line as simple as you can and play it consistently and make it sound as believable as you can and you’ll go far,” she recalls. “I believe that if you’re passionate about something then go for it.
Sweeney has an extensive list of accomplishments. She recorded her first independent solo album titled “Today or Yesterday” before age 18, consisting exclusively of her own original material. She was a part of several bands throughout her childhood and into her adult life, including one of Battle Ground, Washington’s resident rock bands, Enation. Five of her original songs (Flying Machine, Girl in The Moon, Quicksand, Maybe, and Starts) were featured on CW Network’s hit television series “One Tree Hill”, and she has sold over 100,000 units of her original material through iTunes and CD. In 2006 she released an acoustic EP titled “Somethin’ Special” and, more recently, Sweeney was accepted to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as a voting member.
Your fans and friends compare your voice as a blend of Adele, Indie Arie and Sheryl Crow. Thinking back, who were your favorite songwriters that inspired you in your earlier years?
Some of my favorite songwriters were of course Sheryl Crow, Michael Jackson and Sarah McLachlan. They were huge influences when I was in my teens but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I had realized that songwriters were performers.
What do you think your “biggest break” or “greatest opportunity” has been so far in your musical career?
There’s been a lot. I would say one of the biggest breaks I had was when I was with my former band Everly and becoming a Grammy Member was also another. Being regularly featured on Salem’s local radio station, Community Radio KMUZ is also very exciting for me. They play me almost once a week and only feature local artist.
Tell me about how the opportunity of becoming a Grammy Member was presented to you? That’s pretty exciting.
A guy Dana J. White mastered “The Starting Line,” which you can listen to on my RAW artist web page. He asked me if I was a member of the Recording Academy. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have known how to go about doing that. He pointed me in the right direction on where to go to apply, and I did and I got accepted. It was a pretty magical day.
Did you have a mentor?
I had so many mentors. Two of the guys who stand out in my mind are Michael Brady and Eric Williams. Brady use to tour with Captain & Tennille, and he also did some touring with The Beach Boys. He mentored me early on in music. Williams was a freelance base player and sound engineer in Los Angeles at the time. He taught me everything I needed to know about technical sound. I don’t think that I could ever repay these people for what they gave me. I have learned more about what it take to be successful in this industry before I was 18 than most people in the industry would get in a lifetime. I’ve recently had the opportunity to have mentoring moments with the students at the high school here in Battle Ground. I was connected to Darcy Schmitt, the high school’s choir director through my friend Joy Russell. Through that connection I’ve been moved to start giving back and teach these young people some of the things that I have learned over the years.
Ron is brilliant! I think it’s rare when you come across someone who has the heart and talent like that man does. He has this knack for capturing exactly what a song is trying to communicate and then he finds people and instruments that create sounds that you would never imagine fitting. He makes it seem as if they always belonged there.
If you could perform with anyone dead, alive or broke-up who would it be?
Good questions! India Arie is one. I love that woman’s music. Her vocal range and style is incomparable to anyone else in the music industry in my opinion. Justin Timberlake, (chuckles). Talk about a well-rounded performer. I just want to be the guy’s friend. I’ve seen Sarah McLachlan live and I think she would be another good one because she seems so personable and easy to talk to. I just see myself having a lot of fun with her. Lastly, Bonnie Raitt, she is one of my heroes. She is an American blues, rock, folk and country singer-songwriter and slide guitar player. Not only is she a fantastic songwriter and inspiration for guitar players but she also opened so many doors for women in music, not only for singer but musicians as well.
You lunched a production company, the Rounds Productions. Very exciting! Tell me more about that.
Round Productions was sort of birthed from the idea that life and music is more fun when you experience it with other people. Sure anyone can perform on their own but the more you build a community, specifically when it comes to music, the more entertaining it becomes. I was a part of an annual music festival, Tin Pan South in Nashville where I played, what they call “in round”, with 2-3 other performers for the first time on stage. The talented artists literally sit in circle facing each other in the middle of a room surrounded by a close audience and it’s almost like watching a band rehearsal.
Nowhere else in the world can you hear so much original and raw form of music in one place. The musicians play each other’s songs and joke and they just have a good time. When I saw this sense of community I realized that in order to grow it’s very important to surround yourself with other talented people like yourself and even better than yourself. Drawing from that experience I decided I wanted to help introduce that idea over here on the West Coast. So that’s how I came up with the name Rounds Productions.
What image do you think your music conveys and why did you choose this image?
That’s a very good question. You know I think one of the most difficult things to do no matter what industry you’re in, is branding what you’re trying to put out there. For me I think the image is hope and honesty. My music is sort of a fusion of blues, jazz and rock and soul. Anti-music has called me roots rock. But most people cant put a finger on a specific style that my music channels. When they hear and see it they say, wow this is really great. I don’t know how to categorize that. On one hand it’s really great but on the other hand I’m trying to get my audience to see something that hasn’t been done before. I just watched the movie “Steve Jobs” with Ashton Kutcher. There was a quote similar to what I’m trying to say, “How can somebody know what they want if they’ve never seen it?” My music isn’t dub-step or some cutting edge new technology, its stories. My music is about stories expressed in the unique way I tell stories. With that said, I want to put out a message to women of all ages that beauty and youth is internal. I’m right in these middle years where I feel like I can identify and speak to this generation as well as the generation before me. One of the things I like to say when I’m performing is that the majority of my industry would say I’m too old and I’m not thin enough to be successful but success has nothing to do with age or size.
Gosh, there are so many funny stories. One of my favorite moments was playing at the Whiskey A Go Go in L.A. I was the base player for Enation and we were up in a dressing room about to perform and somehow this older gentlemen breezed in. He spoke with this raspy voice saying, “So you guys want to hear me sing?” Most people would say no but one of our friends said, “Sure”. And the old man said, “Five bucks.” So our friend pulled out five dollars and handed it to the guy and he sang in this painfully raspy voice, “Papa was a rolling stone.” We were like, oh my God, are you serious? Everyone was really uncomfortable and I was laughing and this gentleman continued to sing. He finally finished and he said, “Thank you guys so much. Do you want to hear some more?” Then a security guard came in and hauled him away. I don’t like to party much so my wild stories are usually just funny encounters with people.
What are your up-to-date performance plans?
I seem to be adding shows by the day. My manager, Jessica Garcia is also my best friend and she books most of my shows. Obviously I’m doing the show with RAW on April 17th at the Bossanova Ballroom. I’m waiting to hear details on a benefit show on April 20th in the Seattle area for those affected by the tragedy in OSO, so check in at my website for details on what’s coming up. I just booked a show with a buddy of mine Steve Hale at The Buffalo Gap in Portland for May 31st and I’m going to be doing a bunch of Farmers Markets coming up. I’m also playing at the Maryhill Winery in Goldendale, Washington on July 19th. My summer is filling up quickly, which I’m happy about. We’re working on booking the Clark Country Fair and Bite of Seattle, but we’re still waiting to hear back from them. I love to do house shows, so I do those often. Eventually I would love to do bigger shows like at the Keller Auditorium and the Crystal Ballroom and shoot, the stadiums and places like the Moda Center would be great. When I was the base player with Enation we were the Blazers halftime entertainment in 2005. I would love to do something like that again!
As an artist, what do you hope to accomplish?
As an artist, obviously I want my music to be successful. I believe in the stories that we’re telling. There are things that we are all going through. Sharing the hope and the loss and the joys is wonderful but if there were one thing I could accomplish through my music it would be to help end human trafficking.