Colfax Avenue, the debut album by The Delines, was a breath of fresh air when it arrived back in 2014. The combination of Willy Vlautin’s unparallel story writing, delivered in a laid back and unhurried manner by vocalist Amy Boone, seemed the ultimate pairing. A limited CD, Scenic Sessions followed, only available from their website or at the merch desk during their 2015 tour. Work had commenced on their next album when an horrific accident in 2016 left Boone with two severely fractured legs that required multiple procedures. Fortunately, she recovered sufficiently for the album to be completed and, earlier this year, to embark of a U.K. / Ireland tour, which was a resounding success, playing to sold out venues. Lonesome Highway caught up with Amy at the end of the tour to hear her story.
I am aware that your sister Deborah Kelly provided backing vocals on Richmond Fontaine’s breakthrough album Post To Wire. I’m interested in hearing how your relationship with Willy Vlautin developed?
Richmond Fontaine and The Damnations did a West Coast tour together and that’s when I first met Willy and Sean. Deborah sang on The High Country record but couldn’t tour when it was released because she was pregnant, so Willy asked me to go. When we got back, he sent me a letter along with a recording of five songs, with just him on acoustic guitar. I still have the letter. It was really sweet the way he gave me an “out” in case I wasn’t interested. Out of that batch of songs I picked Oil Rigs, Colfax,” and Stateline. They were the songs that jumped out at me right away. I flew up to Portland from Austin for a rehearsal and met Jenny and Freddy for the first time. When we recorded Colfax, The Delines had never played a gig together.
The Damnations TX, with yourself and your sister providing girl-girl harmony vocals, are probably closer in style to early Richmond Fontaine than The Delines. Had you anticipated back in your Damnation days that you’d be singing lead in a band with comparisons to Bobby Gentry and Dusty Springfield?
I always loved both of those singers, but we were a loud bar band so in order to get above the amps I had to scream. My style of singing was so different back then.The Delines are very aware of dynamics and taking our time to set the mood for the story. The hardest thing for me was to not rush the phrasing, to take my time.I had to develop a whole new approach to singing and on stage, I didn’t have my bass to hide behind. I had no idea what to do with my hands or how to just stand there.
Tell us about your musical background and influences prior to The Damnations?
There are so many different styles of music out there that I love, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I love a lot of the Stax recordings and the music coming out of Nashville in the 70’s. I love the clever language in some of the old country songs, Ray Charles, Chopin Nocturnes, Billy Holiday, classic rock, X, the list is huge.
Willy (Vlautin) has repeatably stated how uncomfortable he often is as a band leader - notwithstanding the regard that Richmond Fontaine were held – and more comfortable writing than performing. Colfax, the debut Delines album, was essentially written for you to communicate. Flattering?
In the letter I mentioned earlier, Willy said that he wrote these songs for me to sing, flattering is an understatement, I was blown away. He has always said the nicest things; his encouragement makes me want to do my best.
I naively expected Colfax to be a one-off album with Willy moving on the other challenges after its release. If anything, The Imperial sounds even better as if you’ve all managed to perfect the country soul vibe visited on Colfax. Have you plans to complete a hat trick of albums and beyond?
We talk all the time about the next 10 records we want to make! I don’t want it to end.
I believe you had already began working on The Imperial prior to your horrendous accident?
Yes, that right…
I can only imagine the trauma and pain involved in your recovery and a dozen procedures. Setting aside the enormous physical trauma how did you deal with the whole episode mentally?
I was a mess but so many wonderful people helped me through. I had no idea what touring again was going to be like. I didn’t want to be having panic attacks in the van or on stage. I didn’t know what I was physically or mentally capable of, but this last tour was amazing. I could feel the support from the crowd and the band.
Was your musical career and an ambition to get back on stage even a consideration during this period?
Yes, The Imperial was a record we were all proud of and to not finish it would have been a shame. I was so relieved that the band was willing to wait for me. No one ever pressured me to do anything until I was ready. I love them for that.
Some concerts are magical, leaving the listener on a high for days. I know I speak for many when I include The Delines show at Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin in January, as one of those occasions. There was something special about it, everything just appeared to flow perfectly, it reminded me of a homecoming celebration, the setting, the sound, the playing and your vocal delivery. Have good did it feel to be back on stage playing to adoring audiences?
Wow, what a great way to describe that evening, it was so special. I walked out on stage and someone yelled “welcome back Amy, we love you” and it ended with a standing ovation. None of us will forget that night!
I recall you appearing on stage with Richmond Fontaine when they toured The High Country back in 2011 and how apprehensive you first appeared on stage. Watching you perform so confidently and relaxed that night with The Delines was a transformation. Has your struggles and recovery over the past few years changed your perspective as a performing artist?
The High Country tour was fun, but I was really nervous about being the new person in the band and not wanting to mess up, plus I’m not Deborah. I was worried that the R.F. fans wouldn’t like me. These past few years have changed me. I realized I’m stronger than I thought and I’m tired of being afraid. I reallywanted to feel at ease on stage, I wanted to enjoy it, soak it up, interact with people.
You’ve now completed a gruelling tour with shows across the U.K. and hardly a free night. How do you feel mentally and physically, now that it’s behind you?
I feel really happy about our tour, and excited about the band. I didn’t know what I was capable of, but I threw myself out there anyway and it feels really satisfying. It helps to be in a band with four of the coolest people around.
Are The Damnations TX history at this stage or can we expect to see yourself and Deborah recording again and rocking out front with the band?
The Damnations share a house and we are family, we never broke up. I have every intention of making another Damnations record, maybe Deb’s son will play on the record also, after all he’s the kid who got me my job.
Either way we can look forward to seeing you back in Ireland performing at Kilkenny Roots Festival in May.
Can’t wait and thank you for writing about our band.
Interview by Declan Culliton