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, – released 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 “Lost Nights At The Leopard Lounge” (2017), from which one of the tracks won a Grand Prize in the 2017 John Lennon Songwriting Competition.

Never being afraid of seizing the moment and capitalizing on an opportunity is a quality one must have to succeed in today’s harried climate and certainly a surefire way to fulfill your dreams. The emerging Northwest group Michele D’Amour And The Love Dealers took advantage of their trip to the birth place of the blues during IBC week in January of 2019 by snatching up some available studio time at the legendary Royal Studios with owner, engineer and producer Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell. D’Amour and her core band were in Memphis on a promotional tour that turned into an inspirational journey of discovery, now documented as the “Heart Of Memphis” (2019). The collection of seven new originals and the cover of a King Curtis classic ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ were recorded live off the floor at Royal on a Friday night by vocalist and award-winning songwriter Michele D’Amour and her stalwart Love Dealers band that features Patrick McDanel on bass, Dave Delzotto on drums, Jeff Cornell on guitar, Brian Olendorf on keyboards, and Noel Barnes on saxophone. They took those inspired tracks back to Seattle, where they added a bit of spice and mixed them.

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." (Photo: Michele D’Amour)

What were the reasons that you started the Blues, Soul and R&B researches and experiments?

My father had a record collection with lots of different kinds of music in it. I had heard lots of blues, soul, jazz, and R&B by the time I was very young, and started writing songs at an early age. I started performing and writing music in these genres because that's the music I love and the music that I think is the best fit for my personality and style.

What was the hardest part of writing a song? How do you want your songs/lyrics to affect people?

Every song is a little different. Some of them are very easy to write, because they just come to me and play like a record in my mind. Others are more of a struggle. Usually the melody is the hardest for me. I want people to listen to my songs and know that they are not alone with their problems; depending on the song, I may want for people to forget about their troubles for a few minutes.

How do you describe "Heart of Memphis" (2019) songbook and sound? What has made you laugh from studio's sessions?

The album is a tribute to the city of Memphis. It's at times big and bold, or soft and loving, or wild. I love the energy we captured in the studio sessions.

What touched (emotionally) you from King Curtis' Memphis Soul Stew and the Latin rhythms and music?

Soul Stew is a great tune that I never get tired of hearing. It is fun and makes me want to dance! The Latin rhythms on this album convey emotion, such as loss and sadness for Another Sleepless Night, and love and longing in Come on Over.

"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." (Photo: Michele D’Amour And The Love Dealers)

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Both. Big Bill Broonzy said that if you don't live the blues, you don't have it. I think he is right about that. Blues is about healing, about stories, and about community. Blues is the truth. It's a way to connect with people in a world where we are increasingly disconnected.

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 would you say characterizes Seattle's blues scene in comparison to other local blues scenes and circuits?

The Seattle blues scene is lively, with a lot of blues jams where anyone can get up and perform. It has been a place that nurtures and encourages young people and those new to the blues to experiment. I am very grateful to the musicians who taught and encouraged me when I was getting started.

"Big Bill Broonzy said that if you don't live the blues, you don't have it. I think he is right about that. Blues is about healing, about stories, and about community. Blues is the truth. It's a way to connect with people in a world where we are increasingly disconnected." (Photo: Michele D’Amour)

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 Seattle blues scene is lively, with a lot of blues jams where anyone can get up and perform. It has been a place that nurtures and encourages young people and those new to the blues to experiment. I am very grateful to the musicians who taught and encouraged me when I was getting started."

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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