Q&A with storyteller and songwriter Michele D'Amour - make music that reflects the moments of joy amid times of struggle

"I think that poetry is great training for a songwriter. You learn to use the right word not just for what you are trying to say, but also for the emotion of the song, and for the meter of the song. The lyrics are definitely an important part of my songs. As a child, I loved the lyrics of so many songs I heard, and today I still appreciate a well-written lyric."

Michele D'Amour: The (Music) Love Dealer

Michele D'Amour is a born storyteller and award-winning songwriter who penned her first song at the age of six and became a published poet in her early twenties. Her lyrics treat difficult topics with a sense of soulful whimsy and wry humor. Michele sang in her church choir, wrote songs, and sang lead for some local bands before honing her craft at several of the blues jams in the Seattle area. Upon the advice of friends, she formed Michele D'Amour and the Love Dealers in 2011. Never afraid to take the proverbial bull by the horns, Seattle-based singer songwriter and band leader, Michele D’Amour – Michele De-MOORE (rhymes with “the floor”), – releases her fourth album, “Wiggle Room” (2018), the inaugural debut on her record label, with her band, The Love Dealers. All this comes hard on the heels of a last year’s album, “Lost Nights At The Leopard Lounge,” from which one of the tracks won a Grand Prize in the 2017 John Lennon Songwriting Competition.

“Wiggle Room” also marked a point of expansion for D’Amour and her team as she added four new members to the band. She teamed up with Washington Blues Society Hall of Fame member and renowned guitarist Mark Riley to produce the record and recorded all the rhythm tracks at Strange Earth Studios with Grammy-winning engineer Steve Feasley. The ten tracks feature D’Amour’s powerhouse vocals and renowned songwriting and showcase the talents of new guitarist Jeff Cornell and drummer Dave Delzotto, while adding the elements of a full-time keyboardist in Brian Olendorf and sax man Noel Barnes to the Love Dealers sound. The collection is also an expansion of style, pushing beyond the group’s previous catalog of straight-ahead blues, funk and rockin’ soul and delving into jazz, swing, boogie, Latin and touches of country and gospel. D’Amour is a songwriter, who is fulfilling her mission, as stated in the liner notes, to make music that reflects the moments of joy amid times of struggle, because when we feel most deeply is when art is clear and focused, and the message on point.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues, Jazz and Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music, but blues, jazz and soul spoke to me from an early age. I took from it the richness and variety of the human experience, the value of perseverance, and that we are all more alike than we are different. I enjoy learning about music history and the artists who have come before me.

How do you describe your songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

I am always writing and thinking of song ideas. I don't remember a time when it wasn't that way for me. I describe it as an ongoing conversation with my muse. Sometimes an idea is given to me without my prompting, and sometimes I ask for something in particular, which I may or may not get. I have notebooks full of lyrics, ideas; I have recordings of melody lines and bass lines; all waiting to be put into a song at some point in the future. My songbook is a tribute to the music "library" that went into my head early on - rather than play one style of blues, we like to explore different styles while staying true to our sound, which we describe as "blues with a touch of funk."

"To be a woman in a man's world means there is still a lot of work to do! Women are still under-represented in many fields of music. Not just performing, but in festival lineups as I mentioned. There are also not many female recording engineers, producers, etc."

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My voice teacher, Nancy Bos, gave me a good grounding in the mechanics of singing and helped me find my own voice. Every one of my band members, past and present, has been important in some way in teaching me to be a better songwriter, bandleader, and musician. The group I am working with now is incredibly supportive, as well as protective of me, which I find incredibly sweet. And of course, my husband Patrick McDanel, who is also my bass player, is very important. He is my sounding board for song ideas, a staunch supporter, and a key component in the band's sound. Advice: Sugaray Rayford told me to be true to my style of singing and my way of performing, and not worry about emulating anyone else. Jerry Craft advised me to start my own record label earlier this year (BluesKitty Records). There is tremendous power in believing in someone else and lifting them up to higher heights, and both of them did that for me. I will always be grateful, and that's something I try to do the same for other people.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

It seems to me that the blues used to be more diverse; having people write and perform from that variety of experience was part of what drew me to it. Moving forward, I would like to see more women, and people of color, represented not just in the blues but in festival lineups and attendees. Right now those groups are under-represented relative to their proportion of society, and I'd like their voices to be heard. I am working on a couple of things relative to that, but I can't announce them just yet.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would like to see people value and respect live music more. So many times, people are talking over the music, or looking at their cell phones. 

What touched (emotionally) you from the poetry? Do you consider the lyrics a specific literary or it’s a state of mind?

I think that poetry is great training for a songwriter. You learn to use the right word not just for what you are trying to say, but also for the emotion of the song, and for the meter of the song. The lyrics are definitely an important part of my songs. As a child, I loved the lyrics of so many songs I heard, and today I still appreciate a well-written lyric.

"The blues has deep roots in American history, particularly that of African-American history, the plantations, and slavery. It's not about misfortune and self-pity, but about overcoming adversity and sometimes, just having fun. In my opinion, the blues still has much to offer us today along these lines because of its ability to help us express emotion, connect with others, and ultimately rise above our problems."

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

To be a woman in a man's world means there is still a lot of work to do! Women are still under-represented in many fields of music. Not just performing, but in festival lineups as I mentioned. There are also not many female recording engineers, producers, etc.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

The blues has deep roots in American history, particularly that of African-American history, the plantations, and slavery. It's not about misfortune and self-pity, but about overcoming adversity and sometimes, just having fun. In my opinion, the blues still has much to offer us today along these lines because of its ability to help us express emotion, connect with others, and ultimately rise above our problems. Just last week, I looked out from the stage and saw people of various races, backgrounds, and ages enjoying the music. It gave me hope for what society's future could be.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music industry and circuits?

Relationships are important. You never know who someone is, or who they know, so be polite to everyone. I think this is just good advice in general, and it has definitely been supported by my experiences in music.

Who you bring into your project, whether that project is a band or an album, is critical. They should have the skills they need, and they should also make the project better by bringing ideas, being positive, and believing in what you are doing. If someone is talented but has a bad attitude, I will pass on working with them. It never ends well.

Music has the power to bring people together.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I'd really love to go to New Orleans. I haven't been there in years, and I have musician friends who live there. We could spend the day listening to and playing music, absorbing the culture, and enjoying the cuisine. Sounds like a great day to me!

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