An Interview With THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS On His Forthcoming Album, ‘The Revered Shawn Amos Breaks It Down’ and More!
Posted On 02 Feb 2018
The Reverend Shawn Amos will release his newest album, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, on February 16th, largely inspired by the Freedom Songs of the civil rights movement.
In his own words, “These are songs that speak to the challenge of the times, the resilience we need to possess and the commonality we must share. Freedom comes with trust. Trust is earned with respect. This is how I see things at the moment.”
“2017” is the lead single of this forthcoming collection. With a string section reminiscent of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone“ and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, “2017” is a timely commentary on our divided discourse — and a heartfelt plea to listen to our better angels.
Listen to “2017” Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/3X4xbfm9pZqyJdIe1wM9g1
“2017” is one in a series of what Amos calls “21st century freedom songs,” inspired by the gospel-born protest songs of the 1960s American civil rights movement. Recorded in Memphis’ Royal Studios with surviving members of Al Green’s lauded 1970s rhythm section, “2017” calls listeners to “open up our hearts and brains/Think about what our children’s eyes have seen/In the year 2017.” The song also features vocals from Memphis-based vocal group, The Masqueraders. The track was co-produced by Amos and album producer, James Saez who also mixed.
Shawn Amos has been featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition and SCPR’s “Take Two” radio programs, and has received accolades from Relix, Purevolume, Elmore, and others. He has performed as a live musical guest on Good Day New York, ABC News, and SiriusXM’s Bluesville. He also turned in a must-see studio performance for Classicalite.
His previous record The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You reached #2 on Roots Music Report’s Contemporary Blues Album Chart, and was produced by 2x Grammy nominee, Mindi Abair.
The son of Wally “Famous” Amos, Shawn Amos’ intriguing personal story makes his music all the more compelling. Shawn has seen the ups and downs of Hollywood living, but ultimately found his home with the Blues. His weekly Youtube series, “Kitchen Table Blues”, exemplifies his commitment to keeping the musical tradition vibrant and alive, bringing intimate down-to-earth performances to the digital realm. The show was recently spotlighted on KCRW’s “Good Food” program.
Connect With The Revered Shawn Amos Here:
Learn more about The Revered Shawn Amos in the following All Access interview:
Happy New Year! Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
Thanks for the chance to talk. To be honest, I’m currently in a huge period of transition. But I think we all are in a period of transition at the moment. These are seismic times.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your music career? What are you most excited about for this year? Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Care to share them with us?
2017 was a tough one personally but it bore some music that is the deepest I’ve made. I’m really excited to see where these new songs take me and how our blues congregation takes them to heart.
I don’t make new year resolutions but I did accept a 108-day challenge to wait 15 minutes each morning before picking up my phone.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
I was always a voracious listener of music but I didn’t begin to take myself seriously as a musician until college. My father was a music agent and later a talent manager. I have really beautiful memories of hanging around recording studios, sound stages and nightclubs watching musicians work. It was a rare education and it showed me the discipline, focus, blind faith, and persistence needed to pull an idea out of thin air and turn into something real.
I ended up going to film school and thought I would be a screenwriter. My impatience drew me to songwriting. I grew disheartened by the amount of time, resources, and luck needed to turn a screenplay into an actual movie. The immediacy and economy of songwriting lured me and has held my heart all of these years.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your home has affected you and your music today?
I grew up in Hollywood, California. I’ve written a lot about growing up in Hollywood. It was seedy and sexy. It full of hopes and despair. Looking back on it, it feels almost fictional. I still am unpacking it, trying to make sense of it I’d say my Hollywood childhood, my relationship with race, and the uncertainty of my home life all fed my earlier work. However, as I discovered blues — and started to look outward — my music has been driven more by a desire to find joy and commonality in the face of division and adversity.
Where did you first get the idea to put the collection, “The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down,” together? Where did the inspiration come from exactly?
This album came into being without me even knowing it. It kind of happened around me. I was responding to a couple of big issues: my separation from my wife and the recent presidential election. In response to both, I found comfort in old spirituals, gospel and freedom songs from the 1960s. I got really curious about music not only born of personal and political struggle but also meant to keep spirits high. Music meant for a higher purpose than just getting on the radio.
Soon, I started writing my own version of freedom songs and would record them as I wrote them in locations that had a civil rights history. Initially, I was more interested in using songwriting and recording as a way to heal myself and understand how music and resistance work together. It felt very private and personal. It wasn’t until a few songs into re-coding that I realized I was making an album.
How do you think that the two previously released singles “Ain’t Gonna Name Names” and “2017” prepare listeners for the rest of your forthcoming album?
Oh, man, who knows? Both songs represent two sides of the album: celebration and consciousness.
While this may be difficult, can you pick out a few of your favorite songs from this album and talk about how they were created? How did they go from being just ideas in your head to full blown songs on this collection?
That’s tough. I hate to pick favorites. I will say that I am particularly proud of the cover songs on the album. In many ways, they have more layers of subtext and meaning than the originals.
How different do you think this new collection is to your previous album, “The Revered Shawn Amos Loves You”? How differently did you approach making them both?
It’s really just a continuation of the journey. Both albums have roots in the south. Both are unashamedly sincere. Both ask listeners to put their cynicism aside and their hearts up front. I’d say this album certainly covers more thematic ground and is definitely more personal in many ways. This album is also a very clear response to the times. Unlike the “Loves You,” this album really is a product of the recording studio. It was sculpted and sonically shaped in a way the last album was not. The last album was meant to capture the energy and interplay of a band playing live. With this album, we used the studio to support the storytelling.
I would love to know more about your weekly Youtube series, “Kitchen Table Blues.” Where did the idea to do this show come from?
We shot 90 episodes in my kitchen. It started as a Sunday hang. I’d make brunch and invite the band and friends over. I started filming them as a way to reach the congregation in the absence of touring. It was also a way to embrace simplicity and spontaneity. We’re launching a Kitchen Table Blues podcast this year which will allow us to speak and play with people on the road.
What do you think of social media today and the importance of it for artists now? Do you find that it’s hard to keep up with it all?
Well, it’s really the main game now, isn’t it? No one buys music and mainstream media is almost impossible to access unless you are a major artist playing pop or hip hop. Social media and the stage are the only places to build an audience and and create a community. It is definitely real work that needs constant feeding. It can be exhausting. It can also fuel addiction. Still, it’s just the basic rules of the game now. For those who embrace the challenge and decide to dive in, social media can also be really liberating. Why wouldn’t an artist want to control her own narrative and speak directly to his audience?
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
Oh, it’s always been the case. This ain’t World War II or 1968. We are challenged and we are in a fragile moment but we are stronger than we know. Music is the glue that holds our spirits together. I hope these times can bring a resurgence of songs that are more than escapism and ear candy. We’ve gotten a bit lazy. Challenging times deserves challenging music. For me, performing is the quickest connection I can make to my heart. Music gives me faith and shows me solutions to the problems that afflict my spirit.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
So, so many. In particular, I’m drawn to artists who manage to remain curious and take risks after so many years: Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Elvis Costello. I really admire Fantastic Negrito and Jason Isbell. They are conscious and unafraid to push the boundaries and lyrical norms of the genre. I’d love to open for them.
What do you hope your fans take away from your music? Do you find that a lot of your music has a greater meaning behind it?
I hope the people who come to our shows are attending because they want to hold hands for a moment and be reminded of what we have to gain when we come together. I think they come for joy. I know I give them all of my heart. I think it’s for others to decide the greater meaning in my music. I’m just doing my best to carry the tradition forward and honestly share where I am at the moment.