The goal is to change the world and to have a lot of shoes.” Amanda Holley, dubbed America’s Soulful Sweetheart, has been through tragedy and overcome many hardships in her short time here on Earth. We sat down to talk with Amanda on how she got to where she was and what she hopes to accomplish with the power of her vocals.
I’m at the studio, as always. I’m an addict. I have a lot of songs that are all over the place, but I couldn’t find the song that really fit the perfect description of what I was looking for. I started writing some other stuff but then my writing partner couldn’t meet up and I didn’t want to finish without him. I decided to go in and see what I could do with a cover that I’ve been wanting to do – piano and vocals. It’s kind of a classic song called “I Will Always Love You.” I’m just having fun with that and working on arrangements.
Is the studio one of your favorite places to be then?
Yeah! Anywhere there’s a piano I’m set. My favorite all time place to be though is definitely the stage. But until I can do that every day, be up in front of everyone every day, I’ll just be in the studio every day.
How long have you been performing?
I’ve been performing for my family members since I was 3. I was always a singer. People would always ask me to sing, and I didn’t really understand a lot of times WHY they wanted me to do it. But I liked to do it, and I liked that it made them happy. And by the time I was about 8, I was singing for a lot of events, small things with about 500 people. Then I started doing Paper Mill stuff as a kid.
My mom is a trained concert cellist, who was kind of a genius but there were certain things with me and with life that took her away from being the epitome of success, although she was offered positions with the Joffrey Ballet and the New York Philharmonic. I was estranged from my dad for most of my life, but he wrote for Sarah Vaughan.
My mom wanted me to stick to traditional, classical music, but my aunt, who covered Stephanie Mills and wrote a lot for her, wanted me to be in that realm and be around my dad and everything. My mom didn’t really want me dealing with the industry as a kid, but I was always a soul singer. I’ve always loved writing, but it’s really hard to write songs and hide them.
You’ve basically grown up in the music industry, have you ever wanted to do or considered doing anything else?
There was a time when I was thinking about just being a writer. When I was about 16 or 17, I was a poet and I won the Woodstock Poetry Festival, which is considered the best festival in the world. It’s the Woodstock of poetry and that was really incredible. I was very inspired and it was a good way to get out off everything. Poetry is wonderful because there really are no rules. You really get to craft the language. Whereas with songwriting, it’s a lot of understanding that I can’t be as small because I need fewer words to say something massive. They’re both two art forms that I’ve embraced since I was a very little girl.
But at the end of the day, you can’t hold the soul singer down. It’s more liberating because the music is original. It’s written by me, but it’s also written for me by an amazing writer. My musical director, Dennis Williams, was actually the one who convinced me. He said “you’re a star and I know you’ve heard a lot of horror stories, but you’re not going to be happy unless you’re doing original music.” It was something I always pretended that I didn’t want because I have a very open heart and I want to do a lot. I love being around new people. When you’re doing theater, you’re around the same cast every day.
But when you’re a big artist in the public eye, it’s a bit scarier because so many people are looking at you every day. And as I kid, I had a sort of strange home life. I was the only ethnic girl in my community. They didn’t understand me when I lived in New York either because I wasn’t Spanish and I wasn’t black and I wasn’t white. Anywhere I could hide was where I kept my art.
Finally it just got to a point where I couldn’t stop. It was always music. I always thought that I could buy a lot of shoes and it’d be great to have an amazing career where everyone gave me shoes, but I want to give my money away. I want to give it to the kids who had challenges like I did. That’s what I’m here for.
Is that where you draw your inspiration from, your past?
Every thing that I write about, I’ve absolutely been through. I won’t say anything specific, but I had a lot going on in my childhood that a lot of kids wouldn’t have survived or have come out of feeling this strong. There are still days when I think about and it makes you feel like there’s no one watching over you. I have to realize that I had a million angels sent into my life as a little girl. That’s where I choose to go with it.
It’s about the emotion because it’s emotion that helps the world. When people hear an artist expressing their true emotions, it allows them to release their own emotions and to heal their wounds. For me, I’ve always had to pull myself out of a dark emotion. And when it comes to love, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I’ve seen a lot of amazing and incredible things. But I’ve also seen a lot of disturbing things for a young girl. People will come into your life and they’ll try to prey on that and that’s something I want to work on. The goal is to inspire people and to help them get through the things that I’ve been through, and worse.
Where do you see yourself going next?
I have to come out of my shell a bit, which is what I’ve been doing with my new manager. We’ve been dealing with all the major labels and it’s been going really well. I also have a very strong commitment to making music that is thoughtful and part of that is going to be about building my fanbase and getting serious about it rather than being the Phantom of the Opera and hiding from everyone.
I do want to be a huge force in the world platform. I want to be an ambassador of music. You know, at the top but not on the top. I’m always going to be the artist. Always. I’m already working on a foundation for disabled kids performing arts with one of my friends. She’s formed the foundation and I’m on the board. So, I’ll be doing a lot of work for kids who are disabled in different capacities. My cousin has a mental disability and he used to play Whitney Houston all day. I grew up listening to these songs and I saw what it did for him. I know that music heals.
And I’m speaking with another friend of mine about working with foster kids. There’s a song called “Champion” that not just for the Super Bowl and the New York Giants, but also for the New York foster kids. I really want to deal with children as much as I can. The more platform I get, the more I’m going to do.