LAist Interview: Amie Miriello
Although Amie Miriello's first solo record, I Came Around, was released in September, this singer/songwriter already has quite the resume. She first made her presence known as lead singer of the band Dirtie Blonde, and opened for musicians such as Teddy Geiger, INXS and Gavin DeGraw. Once the band dismantled, she set off on her own and received support from some of today's top record producers as she crafted her debut.
LAist recently caught up with Miriello and learned about the new album, her gig at the Key Club this week and the time she had to play the part of the actual yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz.
LAist: What led you to pick up a guitar at age 15?
Amie Miriello: Well, I was always a singer, and I had been listening to Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell when I realized that the artists I loved were people who wrote their own music. I wanted to be one of those people and not just be a singer, so I think influences mostly led me to realize that to be credible you usually have to play.
Amie Miriello - "I Came Around"
Was anyone else in your family musical?
Yeah, my mom plays guitar and sings and my dad plays a little bit of everything. There was constant music in my family—it was great.
Your album marked the launch of Teresa LaBarbera Whites' BellaSonic record label. Has that been a surreal experience given that the woman behind the label launched the careers of some of the biggest female singers out there?
It's crazy. It's insane that someone who knows talent would be interested in helping me with my career. She's been such a pioneer for me. She's believed in me 100 percent—before the record deal, after the record deal and now with the new imprint.
What has been the greatest reward of striking out on your own as a solo artist?
The greatest reward is that I don't have to have a stupid meeting about every decision. I mean, literally, if I want to play anything, I can just play it. I don't have to say, "Hey, do you guys all know this song?" My buddy Jay (Miriello's co-writer, former Dirtie Blonde bandmate and best friend) and I have been playing together for 10 years, so we can just look at each other and know what comes next. It's nice to have that kind of creative freedom.
What's been the biggest challenge?
There are always challenges, but I guess because it's just me up there, it's a lot more pressure because I can't really blame anybody but myself if it doesn't do well. I can't say, "Oh, the drummer sucks."
In this industry it's so finicky anyway. The stars have to align for you and, unfortunately, it's not just about being good. So I think there's just a lot of pressure and I obviously have a lot of anxiety about it, but I'm trying to stay focused on the positive.
Amie Miriello - "Pictures"
I know that you wrote Dirtie Blonde's debut album in 12 days. How did the writing process for I Came Around differ from that?
It was completely different because I got to fly around, meeting different producers, and I got to see who I really wanted to work with and who I felt could show my music integrity. With the other record, I just really wanted to stop bartending and I kind of got ahead of myself. I thought, "I'm going to write a record really fast cause I need this record deal." It was more about getting started.
The process for I Came Around was really about taking the time to make the right record and feeling good about all of the songs. It took about a year and a half, and I realized that the songs that I still liked after that time should be the ones on the record. When you first write a song, you love it, you think it's the best. But then a year later, you might not think it's good at all. You really have to live with the material to know whether or not it has any sort of longevity.
I read one interview where you said, "There's nothing more gratifying for me than finishing a piece of work and playing it for myself." Along that same line, how do you know when a song is done?
For me, I just know when it feels right—when I play it and I can escape into it and feel really good about it. Obviously, with co-writing it's a little bit different because you have to say, "Do you guys think this is done and have we done all we can do to make the best song?" But for me, I'm not as concerned with whether or not it could be played on the radio; I'm more concerned with whether or not it's going to translate live.
Getting back to something you said a minute ago, did you ever bartend in music venues?
Yeah, I did. I once worked at this bar in New York called Snitch. The guys from Velvet Revolver opened it with the guy from Fuel. It was a rock bar, and it was really fun. Cypress Hill also played—it was a really small place so it had more stripped down bands. They would start at one or two in the morning, and would totally surprise the audience, so it was really cool.
That must have been a great education, too—a lesson in how to best engage a crowd.
Absolutely. It's always cool to watch people who are great at what they do. And then sometimes you're just surprised by people you think are going to be awesome and they suck.
Speaking of live performances, which song off your new album is the most fun to play live?
Definitely "Brand New." People go crazy. When I play my shows, a lot of people know every word to that song.
Is there any track that's still so emotionally raw that it's almost difficult to play live?
"Snow" and "Drifter" probably. Those are both very literal because they had immediacy, that was how I was feeling. "Snow" is about that feeling of not having control of my life. One day I'm, like, the coolest kid in school, and the next day I'm doing laundry at my mom's house. And "Drifter" is about the pain of really missing somebody, because I am away all the time. I miss my boyfriend, I miss New York—that kind of stuff.
Your vocals often seem to have this great inherent rhythm, such as in "Coldfront." Do you make a conscious effort to include this as you're writing a song?
It's just a natural thing. I don't even know, but people do say that to me, and it takes me by surprise. I think I naturally just sing in certain syncopations and I guess my phrasing is kind of different. But it's not intentional whatsoever.
How did the "Disarm" cover come about?
Well, my management also manages the Smashing Pumpkins, so when they were doing their tribute album, they asked me to do a song. At first they gave me a song I'd never heard of and I felt like no one would even know that I was covering anyone. And then they let me do "Disarm" and I was so psyched, cause I'm a big Smashing Pumpkins fan and I loved it. Plus it was fun to put my own little alternative acoustic vibe on it.
Have the Smashing Pumpkins heard it?
I don't know. I think I'd be too scared to ever talk to Billy Corgan. He's so intimidating. I'll just assume he thinks it blows. And that's totally fine with me. (laughs)
I heard you do a great cover of "Mary Jane's Last Dance," too. Any other covers you'd like to try?
I like doing covers that guys sing, because I think that's a little more interesting than singing exactly like a female artist. But most of my favorite artists are female, so it's hard for me not to just cover every single Tori Amos or Joni Mitchell song. But then that would just be me copying them.
But I've done "Dirty Work" by Steely Dan before, and that's always fun. We did a cover of The Band's "It Makes No Difference." We do obscure covers for the most part. I think that's because my friend Jay is so obscure that it would be his nightmare to ever do a cover that people would know, which completely defeats the purpose of doing a cover. (laughs)
You'll be performing with singer/songwriter Bob Schneider at the Key Club this Friday. How did you two end up connecting?
I've never actually met him. I got connected with him because the people at my label heard that he was doing a tour and I really wanted to get on a grassroots, acoustic kind of tour and not do another crazy pop one. I wanted to do something that people who really care about music come to, and his fans are those kind of people. Plus I got to listen to his stuff and I was really excited.
With the touring I did with Dirtie Blonde, we'd always play these enormous theaters and I just felt like, "OK, what the hell am I doing here? No one even knows who I am yet." So it'll be good to be able to play the kind of place where people will listen to you and won't be yelling, "Take your shirt off!" to one of the band members.
I know that in the past, you've opened for people like Gavin DeGraw and Teddy Geiger, and that you're friends with Amy Lee. What's some of the best advice you've received from other musicians?
Amy's a really free spirit. I don't think she really gives a shit about that kind of stuff. We actually became friends recently and we connected because we're so sick of everything having to do with this industry right now. We're so sick of what is considered to be cool and hot. I think that the best advice that any of them have given me is just to not think about that stuff and not be persuaded to change so that I can be more what people think is cool—slutty or poppy or anything.
None of the people who really make it who are truly cool ever let themselves be something that they aren't. I think I kind of did for a while, and now I really don't want to.
I think that pop has been given a negative connotation over time, but the essence of pop is just popular music. I think that if you put that in context, it's a positive thing. I try to remember that.
The new American Idol judge, Kara DioGuardi, did some co-writing on your album. What is she like?
Yeah, she's amazing. I would love to work with her more but she's probably the busiest person ever right now. She's a new celebrity all of a sudden. She's like me—a crazy, Italian, loudmouth, funny-ass person.
Now, I read in your bio that you played the part of the actual yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz when you were in school. Could you shed some more light on that? It sounds sorta painful!
It's true. I had a yellow leotard with yellow tights, and they painted a road on me. And I did cartwheels up and down the road. I'm not joking; it was awful.
I guess they just had too many kids and they had to give us all something. And I was always a really sarcastic person, so even as a kid, I was like, "Are you serious?" I was not one of those kids who was going to fall for being the yellow brick road. I was so pissed the whole time. I told my parents, "Mom and Dad, please do not come." (laughs)
Since you're in LA this week, I was wondering if you have any favorite restaurants or stores you like to visit when you come to town.
Oh, hell yeah. I spend so much time at Bar Marmont. And I love Winston's. My friends in LA are awesome. They always take me to the most fun places and I kind of use LA as an excuse to just be really crazy. I mean, I'm a New York person, but I love LA, too. I get really excited when I know I have to go write or record there.
What do you like to do in your downtime? Do you have any hobbies?
Well, I'm an insane eater, so I work out a lot. I'm also a runner, because if I didn't do that, I would literally weigh 850 pounds.
I draw a lot. My grandmother's an artist, so I often visit her in Newport, Rhode Island, and we spend weekends just drinking wine and painting. It's so fun. People ask me, "Oh, so you have to go visit your grandmother?" And I say, "Trust me, it's a party up in Newport!"
Since you were a blonde for a while, how are you liking the dark hair?
So much more. I look like myself again. As a blonde, I would have to wear a lot more makeup because it drowned out my complexion. It's easier. I look better and I look more natural.
Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add?
I would just like for people to know that I really need them to buy my record. And it's urgent that they do. (laughs)
Thanks for speaking with LAist, Amie!
Don't miss Amie Miriello Friday night (10/17) at the Key Club beginning at 11:30 p.m. (It was originally scheduled to take place at Safari Sam's, but on 10/16 it was changed to the Key Club.) For more info, visit her myspace page.
Photos by Crackerfarm Photography