Amy Farris: L.A. Confidential
It’s not that Amy Farris lacked the talent to step out on her own. After nearly a decade playing fiddle and singing harmony with some of Austin’s finest artists, including Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Alejandro Escovedo, she’d certainly developed the chops to take her own shot at making a record. It just took a little time to work up the nerve.
“I remember once, I was playing with Alejandro in Paris,” she recalls, “and someone sent a rose up to the stage with a business card. I thought it was gonna be some kind of a come-on or something — not to be presumptuous — but it said, ‘You’re wonderful. You should be confident!’ I was like, ‘Oooh, busted!'”
She laughs at the memory, admitting that in her initial years of performing onstage, “I was really shy.” It’s clear, however, that she’s overcome the jitters with her debut album, Anyway, due May 4 on Yep Roc Records. Produced by Dave Alvin, the disc reveals Farris to be not only a talented fiddler and singer, but also a blossoming songwriter; of the eleven tracks, she wrote three herself and co-wrote three others with Alvin.
Anyway is also more eclectic than might have been expected from a musician who spent most of the past decade shuttling between the country and rock ends of the Austin spectrum before moving to Los Angeles last year. She recorded with her then-husband Seth Tiven’s rock band Dumptruck in the mid-’90s and spent a couple years playing with Escovedo before falling in with the husband-wife pair of Willis and Robison (plus a brief tenure with Ray Price). But Anyway is as notable for its touches of girl-group pop and torchy jazz as it is for its Americana flavor.
“I didn’t know if the eclecticism of the record was gonna be OK with anybody else, but I thought, you know, I only live once,” Farris says of her desire to capture a broad musical aesthetic. “The challenge for Dave was to try and make all these different pieces of me fit into one record and have it sound like one person made the record.”
The mere opportunity to work and write with Alvin was a thrill for someone who had snuck into a club at age 16 to see an X show during Alvin’s brief mid-’80s tenure as their guitarist. In fact, Farris says X’s rootsy alter-ego band the Knitters “got me listening to country music. Although I grew up in Austin, and of course you hear Willie Nelson — he’s kind of like Santa Claus — basically I didn’t hear classic country music until I came to it through the Knitters and X.”
She knew both bands’ repertoires intimately enough to pounce upon one of Alvin’s suggestions for her album. “We were sitting in Dave’s backyard and we were working on some songs, and I was thinking about recording one of his songs, ‘Blue Boulevard’aand then Dave goes, ‘Do you know “Poor Girl”?’ And I’m like, [laughs] ‘Yeah, every word!’ And I sang the whole thing for him. So we recorded that.”
Another inside-job cover is the disc’s leadoff track, “Drivin’ All Night Long”, which was written by Robison. His influence on Anyway extended beyond musical matters, Farris says, explaining why she decided to make the album before she got a record deal.
“I’d watched Bruce do it with his first version of Wrapped,” she notes. “He had entertained some offers from labels, but he went ahead and made it and released it himself. [It later came out on Sony/Lucky Dog.]aAnd then Kelly did the same thing; she didn’t have a label when she started out making What I Deserve. And I decided to do it the same way, to make the record the way I wanted to make it.”
Such schooling has proved invaluable in Farris’ transition from supporting player to front-and-center. “I didn’t know if I could do it, and it took awhile for my confidence to grow,” she says. “I’ve had so many good examples, with Kelly and Bruce and Tish Hinojosa and Ray Price and Alejandro. I’ve learned so much, that I finally felt ready to do it.”