I think a lot of us reach 35 and decide that it’s ‘too late’ for us to learn + excel at a new skill. Maybe we’ll take a dance class or join a choir, but we don’t expect to ‘get serious’ about it. Amy is having none of that. Today, she’s telling us how she picked up her first guitar at age 38, how she’s performed all over Texas, and released three albums!
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Amy Edwards and I’ve lived in Texas all my life. I’m 43 now and in true Austin fashion, I took up music just a few years ago, at 38, with some friends who wanted to learn instruments. Practically everyone here is in a band; why not us moms, too? They had already started learning but one girl moved away, and they asked me to step in. I picked up the (electric) guitar and I loved it. Now, I’m a musician and a podcast host, and I write, act, and look after two little girls, too.
When and how did you become interested in music?
I was always interested in music; I fantasized about being in a band since I don’t know when. I would look at someone like Gwen Stefani and think, why aren’t I doing that? Yet it really came as a complete surprise when the opportunity fell into my lap.
I had two little kids at the time and my husband was away in Sudan, so I was home in the evenings with nothing to do. Practicing was fun and filled my time; it all started to snowball from there.
When was the first time you picked up a guitar or sat down at a piano?
I remember the first day I met my friends at a practice. I didn’t have a guitar yet but I picked up a Fender Squier and they showed me how to play a basic power chord. I knew I liked it. Within a few months, I could pick out sounds and notes and I could sort of figure out how to do a few things. We had our first public performance three months later, and played five songs! That was stressful!
I think a lot of people like music and think “I wish I could do that!” … and that’s as far as they get. What made you really, actually pick up a guitar and start?
I was with friends who were also beginners which helped a lot. So often, our wishes can seem frivolous. I am here to tell you: they aren’t. I could still be fantasizing about being in a band but by some fluke of the universe, I’m actually doing it. This shows me that the other things I dream of (writing a book or acting) might not be so far-fetched after all. What you wish, you can do!
How have you been learning and improving your singing/songwriting skills?
Once I started singing regularly, I knew I’d better take some lessons. Learning technique and practicing with a coach really reduced the stress I felt about singing. I still take weekly lessons and practice singing daily. I can hear such a difference and confidence in my voice between my early recordings and later ones.
Writing music was a major learning process. Three chords and attitude, right? With the girl band, we worked for a while with Kathy Valentine (The Go-Go’s) as she lives here in Austin and was interested in helping make us an original band. I literally got to sit at her feet and write with her. Later, when on my own, I worked with Dwight Baker (The Wind and the Wave), and he was ruthless in teaching me to write like I talk. I got better, fast. In music, there’s great value in a good producer. It’s key.
What made you decide to try to do this ‘seriously’ – rather than just noodling around on a guitar at home?
Good question. I’d been pushing our girl band to become an original band rather than a cover band. I knew in my heart we had something original to share and to say. In the throes of trying to do that, we fell apart, but that feeling remained with me.
So I started to write some songs, and a friend (Yates Hagan, now my partner in our current band, Amy & the Hi-Fis) asked me to open for his then-band. I cobbled together some people to play with me, made up some songs and did it. I was like, “wow! I did that! Maybe I should make an EP?” So I called Dwight Baker, who I’d never met. We hit it off immediately and I decided to make an EP.
One step leads to the next, you know? That’s all it is. You take one step and then another and then another and then pretty soon, you are someplace brand new.
How do you characterize your music? Who are your influences?
Definitely rock and roll! I am a child of eighties hair bands and nineties grunge. I love pop, too, so there are some influences there no doubt. I love to keep things up and rocking, but I can get dark, too (like the track “Melt Down”, for instance).
I cite influences from Cake to Beck to Gwen Stefani to Madonna to Jack White, and I can find something everywhere. Our latest stuff is heavily influenced by punk-pop: early Generation X, Iggy Pop (Lust for Life specifically), and mixed with Jack White’s dirty guitar.
How have the people in your life reacted to your music?
I am incredibly lucky; I have a husband who thinks this is all great and wants me to pursue every dream I have, and be honest in all of it. He’s my biggest fan; he loves every song. My daughters (6 and 10) think it’s wonderful and they think I am the best singer in the world. It is so sweet and I consider myself very lucky. We will see what they think when they’re teenagers!
It’s been an adjustment for a lot of friends, though, and I think for my sister as well, because she was always the singer of the family (and a very good one, much better than me). I remember one longtime friend looked at me and said, “So you’re, like, really doing this, huh?” I laughed and said “Yeah, I guess so.”
There were some friends who were threatened when we started the girl band, I think, and they didn’t like it. Another one said we should put our instruments down cause we weren’t any good. But we didn’t. Overall, my friends have been nothing but supportive and loving and kind.
I have to also hand it to Austin musicians, they’re a fantastic bunch. They’re welcoming and supportive and I love the music community here. That’s extremely validating.
Where would you like to be professionally in five years?
Besides the Grammys?
I kid, I kid. But validation from your peers can make you feel good, there’s no denying that. Professionally, I hope to combine my music and my story into a message that speaks to people and finds and connects with the right audience, and inspires others to rock their lives the way that only they can. More concretely? Published work and earning a living at what I put my heart into would be ideal. I dream of a life that I can manage and maintain while still maintaining a well-balanced family life.
What has surprised you about this process?
That it’s about the simplicity. I’m always coming back to learning to expect nothing, learning to live more presently, and learning to come from a place of love in all that I do. Isn’t that about as basic as it gets? And yet it’s so easy to slip into the whirl of daily life, the facade of social media, and the seemingly endless emails.
What are three things you’ve learned that any of us could apply to our daily lives – even if we’re not musicians or performers?
There are universal truths that apply to everyone, there’s no question. I am no expert or psychiatrist, but I know what I’ve learned. So here are three that come to mind:
- Don’t beat yourself up too much. We all forget the words sometimes and we all make mistakes. You’ve just gotta keep going, because the truth is, no one notices like we do, anyway!
- I’m not one to believe in failure. It’s all about learning, and every time we learn, that’s a success. Change those limiting definitions!
- There is no finish line. The learning and the journey don’t end til the day the music stops, so make it a rocking ride that you love.
Thanks so much for sharing your story! Have any of you guys taken on a new career or hobby later-in-life-than-usual? Do you have any questions for Amy?