Marybeth D'Amico's tales of scandal, shame and restlessness
When singer-songwriter Marybeth D’Amico wanted to start touring in support of her first album, she anticipated a problem – she lived in Germany.
“At first I was thinking, here I am at the end of the world. What am I going to do? Then I saw that a lot of American singers want to come to Europe,” said D’Amico, who returns to the UK next month for shows following her first tour here last year.
Working from her German home has made for a slightly unusual career path for D’Amico, but that somehow seems appropriate for a woman who was a business journalist long before she was a musician – indeed, she still works as a journalist – and who started learning to play the guitar at the same time as her daughter.
"I never had understood how people write songs. Once I could play a few chords, I immediately understood, and quickly discovered that I could do that,” she says.
Raised in New Jersey, D’Amico moved to Bavaria in southern Germany with her husband, who had grown up there. She covered the IT sector for an Amsterdam-based English-language magazine, but had to go freelance when the magazine shut down in 2002. It was shortly after that that she started playing music seriously.
“I met another American woman who lives close to me and we were both fans of the Dixie Chicks. We started playing around with the idea that we would do a bunch of alt-country covers. It took a long time get musicians who would agree to play with us, but we did finally get it up and running in 2005.”
D’Amico remained in the band until the pair had what she calls “a creative disagreement.”
“She wanted a country rock party band, while I was increasingly writing my own music and wanted to go in my direction,” says D'Amico, who was strongly influenced by the music of Patty Griffin.
D’Amico then looked around to see where she might find some help, and came upon Markus Rill, a German musician who had studied and played in Austin. She contacted him and he offered to help. Rill produced her first effort, an EP released in November 2006.
For her first full studio album, D’Amico went to Texas. Heaven, Hell, Sin and Redemption was produced by Bradley Kopp, who has previously worked with artists including Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Eliza Gilkyson.
D’Amico describes the themes of her songs as “melancholic” but with strong folk-pop melodies. Heaven, Hell, Sin and Redemption includes the love story of a young couple escaping a fundamentalist upbringing, a single mother unable to settle down, a lonely man visiting a prostitute and a preacher caught in a sex scandal.
“I pretty much take up any theme that interests me,” D’Amico says. “Because I’m a little more advanced in years, maybe different things interest me than a typical pop song.” (D’Amico is coy about her age, but admits to having a 20-year-old daughter.)
One of her songs, “Ohio”, is based on the story of Kenny Richey, a Scotsman who spent 20 years on death row in the US. “He wrote a letter to the BBC which I read, about what it’s like to be in the prison. I found it a very moving letter. I took the text and converted it to a song.” Richey's conviction was overturned and he was released from prison in 2008.
D’Amico says her new album, due next year, will still contain story songs, but will also include more personal material. “When I started I thought I was too boring; I was going to tell the stories of other people. But I am learning how to integrate all those things.”
She played in the UK for the first time last year, lugging her guitar on and off trains for a 16-date tour. “It was fun being in the UK. People understood what I was saying and what I was singing, which was actually kind of interesting because I’m not used to it.” This year she will get to travel by car, having cut a deal with Alan Cook – the Manchester-based pedal steel player touring with her – that he will do all the terrifying driving on the left!
D’Amico has also toured in the Netherlands, but she has yet to do a nationwide tour in Germany. “I do think there is a market there, but every market has to be networked separately. You kind of have to focus,” she says.
And she is still working as a freelance journalist.
“I try to balance things, but my passion is my music,” she says.
Marybeth D'Amico on Backroads