Southern gal turns to the East and West: Amanda Jo Williams

At 9:15pm on a Tuesday evening, I rush out of Tango class to meet my confidant, Nicholas Adamski at a parking garage in the East Village of Manhattan. We jump in a Mini-Cooper and speed towards Woodstock to meet Amanda Jo Williams and watch meteors spread fire through the sky. After winding through darkness on the nearly moonless night, we pull up to a two-story windowed home. There are blankets and pillows spread on the grass under the sky and a motley group of people waiting for our arrival. Two skinny long-limbed nine-year-old twins named Hominy and Ginger with high scratchy voices, their father and artist Paul McMahon, and their quiet and arresting mum, Amanda Jo Williams are amongst them. She is a lanky model-esque southern girl who I find on a wooden chair in her cowboy boots holding a beer, long brown hair obscuring her eyes. We gravitate to the blankets outside and lay giggling. The twins pass out immediately but we all stay up till nearly 3am chatting and enjoying the galaxy. This is when I got a feel for the magic that is Amanda Jo Williams.

-Maggie Wells

Full name: Amanda Jo Williams
Nickname/pseudonym: Jo Cool- rapper alter-ego specializing in Cuntrap (country rap).
Age: 30
Hometown: Hogansville, GA
Where do you live now: Los Angeles- back and forth between Topanga and Echo Park.
Bands you are drumming in currently:
Amanda Jo Williams, Dead By Dawn, Les Bicyclettes Blanches (Woodstock, NY).
Bands you were drumming for in the past:
Shows here and there, or jams with Matthew O’Neill, Matt Van Winkle, Les Bicyclettes Blanches, Crooked Cowboy and The Freshwater Indians, 5-Track.
What you do for a living:
I work two days a week at the Malibu Motel and whatever odd jobs come up. I applied to Home Depot recently.

Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start playing the drums?
Amanda Jo Williams: I started playing drums about 6 years ago in an old cottage in Big Indian, NY.

Tom Tom Magazine: Reason that you started playing the drums?Amanda Jo Williams: It’s the one instrument I can jam on without thinking about what I’m doing. It’s a dance sitting back there playing, like the heartbeat that feels like home.

Tom Tom Magazine: What is your favorite set-up for your kit? Why?
Amanda Jo Williams: When I play my music I’m just playing a kick drum whilst strumming and singing. I’ve tried a couple of shows where when we go into a jam, I put down my guitar (still kicking) and pick up my sticks and play snare and ride. If I’m playing with others I like a kick, snare, hi-hat, ride, and sometimes a crash. I like to keep it simple because I play real simple.

Tom Tom Magazine: What would your dream kit consist of?
Amanda Jo Williams: Kick, snare, ride, crash, hi-hat, with deep, dark tones from deep inside the Earth. I use this old parade drum from the 20’s for a kick sometimes. I used it on my new album we just recorded. I wouldn’t mind having more old drums.

TTM: What is your favorite drum warm up / what do you do to warm up before playing?
AJW: Drink a little alcohol. I need to get out of my head and so that helps me to relax and play without thinking.

TTM: What do you think the role of the drummer is? (In a band)
AJW: The drummer is like the 2 by 4’s holding a fort up in the woods. The drummer allows the other players more freedom in a way, because they are holding it down. The drummer is the house without walls that allows the other players to be the ghosts of Earth or visiting spirits that take us to new places together.

TTM: What do you consider to be the most challenging thing about the drums?
AJW: Fills, so I don’t really play fills. I love simple, I love space. Also, the weight of the gear and the packing them up before and after gigs.

TTM: What’s your favorite part about playing drums?
AJW: Besides the connection I feel to all things keeping time, like the heart for example, I love the workout. It feels good to hit hard sometimes and it’s like a dance. I don’t get much physical exercise which when I do feels really good, so playing drums is aligning many levels of myself- physical, spiritual, mental, emotional. It brings it all together.

TTM: Who are your favorite drummers?
AJW: I like Levon Helm a lot. I used to live in Woodstock, NY, where he resides, and I’d see him play from time to time. He puts on these shows, the Midnight Rambles, where great musicians get together and play. I’ve never been but I’ve heard good things. Howard Wyeth who drummed on Bob Dylan’s album “Desire” I like. Buddy Harman (Nashville session player who played on tons of records), Charlie Watts, Buddy Rich. Also, Eddie Cercone who lives in upstate New York- awesome drummer! Pipe Ceballos who plays around town is great too.

TTM: Where do you shop for your drum gear?
AJW: I picked up some mallets and sticks from the Pro Drum Shop in town, but I got my Sonor kit from a catalog and my used cymbals from an amazing NYC drummer, Daniel Jodeci (not sure on the spelling).

TTM: What are some of your other hobbies / interests?
AJW: I like horses and I like to make video art. I like to film play dates with friends- spontaneous fun. I love sports where a ball is involved. I love LOVE, and how my body loves LOVE.

TTM: Who are some of your favorite lady drummers right now?
AJW: I like Linda from Golden Animals. Danielle from Jeffertitti’s Nile tears it up. My 9 year old twin daughters Ginger and Hominy can rock a kit. Last year they were visiting and I heard this drumming coming from the basement. It was Ginger and I was impressed! My mama played in her high school band so I guess it’s in the blood. I like how women play; it comes from a different place. It’s more internal. I love it.

BONUS INTERVIEW

Maggie: I love the song “Get It On Up”. I feel like there is a child inside of you
singing these songs. What part of your childhood do you bring to your music?
Most of it. I feel still a child. I’m a Gemini (children of the zodiac) and the youngest in the family. I feel childhood memories sometimes- they come as flashes to my heart when I’m playing a certain song or listening to someone else’s music. It feels like home and like it’ll be there forever.

Maggie: The song “Sick and Dying,” as well as many of your projects, feels theatrical. Do you feel like you become the voice of the person you are singing about or are you imitating them? How inside of your songs are you?
I’m singing the songs as myself. Maybe I exaggerate as I am from the south and we do that with storytelling.

Maggie: Why and when did you move to LA?
I moved to L.A. in December 2008 to pursue a career in music. I was about to enter nursing school but quit abruptly after a visit to L.A. in August 2008. I saw I could succeed there professionally and so moved there, family and all, a couple of months later.

Maggie: Did you find what you imagined you would find there (in LA)?
Yeah, and more, and life continues to blossom there. Mind patterns have changed for me and I’m gradually allowing myself to receive more and more. Old thinking that has held me back is falling away.

Maggie: Did you find that your music changed when you moved from the East to the West coast?
Not so much the song writing as I wrote most of the songs I sing now back east, but the musicians I play with have helped me create this sound I’m loving at the moment. There’s magic to tap into in any place. I couldn’t do this same thing elsewhere. It could be just as good but it wouldn’t be this.

Maggie: If you could describe Woodstock as an animal and Los Angeles as an animal, what would they be?
Woodstock would be a turtle. The land is strong like a turtle’s back and the people are the turtle’s intestines. L.A. would be a baby lion.

Maggie: What is it like drumming while you are pregnant? Something a man will never know…
If the stomach is big, it’s hard. The arms go over the belly in not a natural way. Also you worry about the baby and the loud noise it makes. I didn’t want to upset Jack too much, or harm his hearing. I did drum whilst pregnant but took it easy.

Maggie: Did you feel more or less creatively inspired while pregnant?
More. A lot more. I love being pregnant. I create so much. I wrote a little book while pregnant with Jack. Grace Light Warrior it’s called, and it’s about a 12-year-old girl who saves the world. Lots of adventure. Pregnant with the girls I wrote a lot of songs. I ate spaghetti almost every day and wrote about 3 songs a day if I could. After they were born we played shows where my backup singer would hold each twin in an arm, their little heads dangling, while singing. I played guitar so I couldn’t hold Ginger or Hominy.

Maggie: Do you ever feel completely lost in your music?
Lost in a good way maybe, like when I’m jamming with my band and my guitarist is soaring and we’re along for the ride cuz we’re the wheels. It feels good and I wouldn’t mind being lost there more often but I have responsibilities and people who need me. Sometimes I’ll get high and drink some and play alone. I go to the world it hooks up with. Sometimes it’s a spooky place, sometimes spooky and lovely, and almost always good.

Maggie: Is your drumming multi-colored or do you feel a particular hue in your style?
I’d say it’s black sometimes, and sometimes white and clear. There’s space. There might be brown. It’s not green like my songs can be. A child could paint my drumming.

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