However Amelia's Napster designation may read, the band's music has never been what you'd call "easy listening." A homegrown trio borne upon disciplined songcraft and a drum-playing chanteuse, Amelia's sentiment-free chamber-roots music has won the hearts of contemporary adults throughout the Northwest—despite an absence of DayGlo hooks and easily parsed lyrics. Still, even for Amelia, the track listing of fourth album A Long, Lovely List of Repairs reads a bit like a suicide note: "Farewell," "Tragedy," "After You," mid-disc piano dirge "The End."
"We're a sad bunch," bassist Jesse Emerson half-heartedly kids. "It's hard to write happy songs. You try it." "I don't know that there really was an ethos to it," vocalist Teisha Helgerson continues. "Some of these songs come from way back. Chronologically, the writing of these songs covers a lot of territory."
"Jesse and I really like pop songs," guitarist Scott Weddle adds, "but we're writing for the voice we've created for Teisha. We felt that this is the poppiest record we've ever written, honestly."
Even within the rarefied airs of team Amelia—the members all trade songwriting duties—Weddle can't be serious. The new album's beautiful throughout, but even relative musical sunspots "Eyesore" and "The Great Escape" (which "never came," natch) brighten just till the lyrics announce themselves. It's a sort of urbane murder balladry, cabaret Americana utterly without pretense. Helgerson's honeyed melancholia remains pristine but approachable, and the troupe's instrumental facility serves each song.
A Long, Lovely List is, perhaps, the band's most fully realized album. By enlisting producer Mark Orton (Tin Hat Trio, Old Joe Clarks), Emerson says, "We were trying to make a more elaborate recording. Mark...has this ability to hear part of a song and imagine the orchestration," he continues. "This time around, we sort of gave him the keys to the car." While past releases seemed more collections of tunes, there's a new evenness to A Long, Lovely List. "We'd been recording albums in the roots tradition," Weddle says, "hoping mostly for drums and bass—like a band playing live. This one, we wanted to build [songs] from the ground up, piece by piece."
While the new album indulges a more expansive palate, the founding members scaled back to a trio after their last tour as a sextet proved unwieldy—a move that puts the band's distinguishing voice behind a drum kit. "It's the truest, simplest form of our band," Weddle says. "[Teisha]'s the singer, but it's always been weird for her. She has to stand up in front and have people think her name is Amelia, but it's a band. It's a weird band."
That it is. Promoting '04 release After All, Amelia played a triple-A (adult album alternative) radio conference in the Bahamas—the only artist present without a label footing the bill. And, while its performance garnered airplay from KINK-ish stations nationwide, the resulting adult-contempo success further confused an already tenuous hold on genre.
Amelia—which, in truth, ranges from jazz-tinged folk to rootsy pop—has opened for the Neville Brothers at a Boise casino, played a nu-metal showcase at a South-by-Southwest offshoot, packed Bay Area hipster clubs. Yet, back home, it continues to struggle against a reputation as everyone's dad's favorite band (your author's very much included).
"That world, that pool we put our feet into, really seems to like a thing about us that we're not sure we wanna be," Weddle says. "The wheels that turn the music industry have always felt a little bit uncomfortable to us. Maybe we're totally delusional about the kind of band we are," he adds.
"When we went to the triple-A conference, we confused the fuck out of those people. We require something of our audience that a lot of bands don't. We ask for patience," he says. "We're not going to give you a big pop chorus up front you can sing to while you do your aerobics. We sound like we might be able to do that, but that's not what comes naturally to us. We're not trying to write songs that are gonna be on an iPod commercial. Maybe we're just a triple-A band that's trying to purposefully self-destruct."
And, at that, their bassist whoops as if to break the dawn.
Amelia celebrates the release of
Saturday, April 19, with Ritchie Young at Aladdin Theater. 8 pm. $12 advance, $15 day of show. All ages. Also, Tuesday, April 22, at Music Millennium. 6:30 pm. Free. All ages.