Memphis-based singer, songwriter, and upright bass player, Amy LaVere comes to the Old Rock House (1200 S. 7th St. 314-588-0505 ) this Thursday (8 p.m., $15), opening for former Black Crowes guitarist, Rich Robinson, on tour with a new solo album, his second since 2004, Through A Crooked Sun (Circle Sound/Thirty Tigers).
LaVere's third album Stranger Me (Archer Records) released in the US and Europe in July to widespread acclaim--Spin called it 'the breakup album of the year' -- and not long after, she was named 'Best Singer in Memphis' for the second year running. Not only did Stranger Me answer any questions about what the eclectic, jazz and country inspired LaVere has been up to since 2007's Anchors & Anvils, but the new album revealed an even darker side to this Louisiana-born Southern Gothic storyteller.
The photogenic LaVere has also been building an enviable feature film resume in recent years, including appearances in 2005's Walk The Line, in which she played Wanda Jackson, and 2006's Black Snake Moan, written and directed by Craig Brewer, and starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. In 2009, she headlined Brewer's MTV series $5 Cover, playing a fictional version of herself, an upright bass player/catering company employee struggling to make it in the Memphis music scene while getting romantically entangled with drummers. The series featured other Memphis bands, including Muck Sticky and Lucero, and despite a midnight on Fridays timeslot, drew considerable national attention to a number of regional acts.
Opening for Rich Robinson could be called a 'natural fit' for LaVere, author of such sorrowful, introspective tracks as "Never Been Sadder"--after all, Robinson's new album was also inspired by personal tragedy: his divorce and ongoing difficulties with his famous band.
RFT Music traded emails with LaVere last week to talk about her latest release, her acting career, her upcoming show with Rich Robinson, and an infamous scene from $5 Cover. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Tony D'Souza: You headlined Off Broadway in August, and now you're coming back to St. Louis to open for Rich Robinson (co-founder, with his brother Chris, of The Black Crowes) at the Old Rock House. How did you and Robinson connect?
Amy LaVere: I met him for the first time at the Black Snake Moan premier in New York. We happen to share a management connection at the moment and it just came together.
Stranger Me was darker than your first two albums; it's moody, often tragic. Much was made of your losses going into writing it, the death of your producer, Jim Dickinson, your breakup with your boyfriend/drummer, Paul Taylor. How did you cope playing those painful songs night after night on tour?
People are tough. They have to be to get along. I'm no exception.
You've been named the 'Best Singer in Memphis' again...What's new in the Memphis music scene?
I've been working in a vacuum since being off the road in December. It's been a stressful whirlwind scrambling to pay my bills with catering jobs, house painting, etc...and writing some new material until I can get back on the road. I love Memphis, but I'm completely out of touch with what's exciting other than finally being back in my van playing music. Was doing MTV's $5 Cover a good experience? What about for the other Memphis acts Craig Brewer showcased on the series?
Everyone I know that was involved in the process just wanted to be part of something together. Craig is a real leader. You couldn't say no to something so ambitious, and we all wanted to help him pull off his idea. For some of the musicians, it was cool to get some attention. For others, it was really humiliating, but we accomplished something as opposed to just talking about it. I'm proud of Craig and proud to have been a part of it. It did bring some unlikely artists together and created some lasting friendships.
Have you read Memphis writer Corey Mesler's poem 'Amy LaVere's Underwear,' an homage to $5 Cover's opening scene of you playing upright bass and writing a song in your underwear? Do you hate being asked about that scene?
Next question please.
Your lyrics are always clever, literate, and complex, even in your more mainstream stuff like "Never Been Sadder," a personal favorite of mine. I know you're an avid reader...how much does reading novels influence your writing?
Thank you. Yes, sometimes a line or a concept inspires me. Funny enough, a friend loaned me some health book called Primal Body last week--which is pretty hilarious--and it inspired a new tune called, "People Are Wild."
What do you love about coming to St. Louis?
The bartenders, Italian food, and the red bricks.
Best wishes for the tour, Amy!
Thank you so much. Hope to see you at the show!