If first impressions are everything, Amanda Fields just made one that we won’t soon forget.
In fact, only five seconds passed on track one of her debut album, What, When and Without, before we were hooked. The lush, atmospheric production of the drum and steel intro to “What a Fool,” immediately followed by Fields’ delicate but commanding vocal, drew us in, and we stayed in her grasp until the album closer had run its duration. What, When and Without isn’t for casual listening; its heartbreaking tales (with the occasional offering of strength and resilience) read like poetry and deserve listeners’ full attention to truly appreciate them.
We chatted with Fields all about What, When and Without, as well as her musical roots, earning songwriting recognition, her plans for the year and more!
Pro Country: You began writing songs in elementary school and got an early start with singing in your family’s church. What was it about songwriting, performing and expressing yourself in those ways that connected with you so early in your life?
Amanda Fields: I think the desire to connect with people through music is something I was born with. I remember crying listening to Conway Twitty when I was four years-old, and I just enjoyed that connection with another person. That made me want to start doing concerts for my family at home so I could include them in that joy. Singing in church was my first taste of performing for an audience beyond my little bedroom concerts. I was so shy that it really didn’t feel good to sing in public at first, but I longed for that connection so much and to sing about the way I feel, so I just kept at it.
PC: When did that early interest in music and songwriting translate into realizing you could, and wanted to, pursue music as a career?
AF: I think I realized that a career in music was possible for someone like me when I saw the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” for the first time. It’s the biopic about Loretta Lynn, and it shows how she got her start in the music business as a songwriter and singer. I think I saw myself in Loretta in that movie; kind of shy, but always wanting to write and sing for people.
PC: You were born in southwest Virginia and moved to Nashville at just 18 years-old. What emotions were you feeling as you were moving so far away from home to be present in Music City?
AF: I was having a ball when I moved to Nashville at 18, and I was living in the place I’d dreamed of living since I was a little child. I was forming friendships in Nashville right away with people I’m still close with now. It was one of the best times of my life!
PC: In 2018, you won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest with Tom Buller and your song “Whiskey Ain’t Got Nothing on You,” which was judged by Rodney Crowell and other respected musicians. What did that distinction mean to you, especially coming so early in your career?
AF: I was thrilled to be part of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest and get to play onstage at Merlefest with my buddy Tom. Meeting Rodney Crowell was one of the best parts. I’ve studied his songwriting quite a bit, and it’s very special to meet someone you respect so much. It was an exciting day in my life that I’ll always treasure!
PC: After releasing your debut single, “Brandywine,” in 2019, it wasn’t until three years later that you released “Moving Mountains.” As release day was approaching, how much were you looking forward to offering new music again after that kind of layoff?
AF: I’ve been so excited to get the music I’ve been working on for the past few years out into the world. I love sharing my songs with people and I love hearing other peoples’ stories. It feels so wonderful to be connecting with people in this way again.
PC: “Moving Mountains” served as the first release from your new album, What, When and Without. What drew you to have “Moving Mountains” serve as the introduction and lead single from the record?
AF: I thought “Moving Mountains” might be a good way for me to introduce myself to new listeners. It talks about two of my heroes, Hazel Dickens and Mother Maybelle Carter, who led the way for women in bluegrass and country music. “Moving Mountains” is about recognizing you are strong enough to do things that seem daunting, and it’s also about living with purpose, and those things are very important to me. And I wanted people to hear Megan [McCormick] on the first release, because she produced the record and we wrote a lot of the songs together.
PC: “Moving Mountains” premiered on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country. What was it like to hear your song coming over the same airwaves that play so many legendary artists and songs in the genre?
AF: I jumped up and down in my kitchen when I found out they were going to play “Moving Mountains” on SiriusXM Outlaw Country. I couldn’t believe it. Megan and I are both big Elizabeth Cook fans, so it was surreal hearing her talking about us on air and playing our song. I’ll never forget that moment.
PC: While “Brandywine” is a Bluegrass tune full of that instrumentation, one of our favorite songs on What, When and Without, “What a Fool,” kicks off the album with a waltzy ballad and an excellent crying steel solo. How comfortable are you in both of those sonic lanes and what did you enjoy about exploring a more traditional sound on the album?
AF: Classic country music is my heart and soul, and I’ve been able to spend time in the bluegrass world since I was a teenager. I’ve always loved the sound of the banjo and those high lonesome harmonies. I love the sonic world that we created on my new record too; It feels like home to me in this moment.
PC: As lovers of cheating songs and waltzes, “2 Steppin’” is our favorite song on What, When and Without, and is a song you co-wrote with Dawn Kenney. Can you take us in the room and talk about how the song came together?
AF: That was a late night co-writing session with my friend, Dawn, over a couple glasses of whiskey. She’s good at pulling out details; ones I was reluctant to talk about. Dawn pulled the story together, but the truth kind of writes itself.
PC: “Diamonds” is the only solo-write on the album, and is a song that details the messy demise of a marriage. Can you take us in your head and talk about how that song came out?
AF: I wrote “Diamonds” by myself in about an hour. The night I wrote it, I had just heard a Loretta Lynn interview where she explained how she wrote songs and she said something like, “You just get up in A (chord), and you play your three chords, and that’s it.” What I got from that is that you don’t have to overthink songwriting, so I just wrote what was on my heart that night.
PC: Can you tell us what drew you to name the album What, When and Without and what it was about that line that you felt encapsulated the album as a whole and drew you to have it serve as the title?
AF: I like to have some little layers to things. The title What, When and Without comes from the first, middle and last tracks of the record: “What A Fool,” “When I Met You” and “Without You.”
PC: What, When and Without features several highly respected studio musicians, including Dennis Crouch, Russ Pahl and Ethan Ballinger, among many others. What was it like to share a studio and creative space with such collective talent and have them help bring the songs to life?
AF: I’ve worked with Dennis quite a bit before. We’d written, recorded and played together before this project. And Ethan and I went to college together! I’ve known him a good long while, and his friendship means so much to me. It was such a kind and passionate group of people to make this music with, and I’m forever grateful for those days we had in the studio together!
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from What, When and Without after listening all the way through?
AF: I hope listeners hear something they enjoy. I hope they get to feel something.
PC: Along with promoting What, When and Without, what do you have planned for 2023?
AF: I have some shows planned this Spring, and I’d love to do some traveling this coming Summer and Fall. I don’t have too many plans right now, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the journey leads!
*Amanda’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*
Great interview about a great album!