Interview: Angie Atkinson

What a crazy couple of days it has been! Luckily, there was more fun to be had all around both last week and this past weekend. Music led the charge here and it was a female, Angie Atkinson, who wielded the powerful voice from the inception. Not only did she seem like the perfect way to start things off, but the music that followed was exquisite as a proud pinnacle of the arts. Her musical prowess and immense enthusiasm at Rockwood Music Hall provided fuel for the successful Women’s March across the country the following weekend. However, this woman’s journey through music is a story worth reading. She gave a well-detailed take on her life in music, past and present.  

Photo Credit: Ali Macomber

Everyone’s journey to their artistic craft is as varied as each artist. For Angie, it took a lot of twists and turns before music stole the limelight. “This is actually kind of a long story, ha-ha. So I’ve always been a singer. For as long as I can remember, singing has been one of my favorite things to do, something that brought me comfort when I was feeling sad or lonely. I would pop in one of my parents’ cassette tapes or drop the needle on one of their many LPs and just let the music transform me from the nerdy, shy kid I was into a total rock star with my living room fireplace mantle as my stage.”  

Photo Credit: Ali Macomber

“Still, I was always secretly afraid to make it into a career. I think I felt that making it my job would make me hate it. I also got diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic nerve pain disability, when I was in my late teens. So between all that and my own fear of rejection, I kept finding ways to talk myself out of it or make it a lesser focus. I dabbled in songwriting and sang with a couple of cover bands, but I never really took the plunge in earnest. After a few years off spent working and traveling, I finally went back to school to finish my degree. I ended up with a BFA in theatre because I loved acting too, and felt that I needed more work on that craft, as it never came as intuitively to me as singing. I spent a few years after graduating doing acting as pretty much a full-time job, between regional theatre work and local commercials and industrial films. I even did an episode of that Discovery Channel show A Haunting, which still airs sometimes. I get lots of Facebook messages whenever it’s on.”

Photo Credit: Ali Macomber

“Then in 2009, my marriage fell apart, and I moved up to New York to start over. I started out here focusing on acting, but my heart quickly fell out of love with acting as a profession. In 2010, I was feeling very adrift while finishing up a summer theatre contract with one of my favorite companies, Texas Shakespeare Festival. The artistic director Raymond Caldwell is a person I would consider to be a mentor, and I was talking to him about my fears of returning to New York and my waning passion for the acting grind. He asked me if I had considered pursuing a career in music. I told him all my trepidations about it, and he said he understood those, but told me he thought that I owed it to myself to try music out, and encouraged me to pick up songwriting again. So I did… After about two years of writing, experimenting, and playing coffee shops with generous musician friends who volunteered their time to help me get started, I finally curated and hired a band in 2012 and started regularly playing gigs. I’ve been playing regularly throughout the NYC metro area ever since, and I’ve loved every minute of it. So, thanks for the good advice, Raymond!”

Since then, this woman has not slowed down at all. Angie gave a mention to a few of her favorite works since music took over. “Well, all of my songs are like my babies to me, so asking me to pick favorites is tough! … Two that stand out for me on our last recording effort, ‘High & Mighty,’ are Misspent Youth and Great Expectations. They have very different moods, but they were both written about the same person! Relationships evolve, and when you’re a person like me who writes almost entirely autobiographically, the same relationship can evoke wildly different songs.”  

Photo Credit: Ali Macomber

“I remember breaking up with this guy at the crappiest restaurant on 10th Avenue, one of those places that I knew I would never go again anyway, so it was a safe place to have a breakup conversation. I asked for more. He couldn’t give it. After lots of tears from both of us, I walked away and wrote almost the entirety of Great Expectations in the shower about two days later. Well, then, thanks to social media, I found out that this guy had been playing me and seeing someone else all along and less than a week after our breakup had taken this other woman to Disney World. I was naturally super pissed, ha-ha, so I immediately put pen to paper and wrote Misspent Youth all in one shot. I’ll never forget; when I sent the demo of Misspent Youth to the band, my drummer Max Maples sent me a text that said, ‘Damn girl, that new shit is no joke,’ ha-ha. It really is a rather scathing tune, but it’s also deliciously fun and triumphant. Not all of my favorite songs come in one shot like that; some of them take weeks or even months to write.  … Those two happened to come together in my head very quickly, and I love how well the band was able to translate what was in my head into the accompaniment that we hear at shows and on the record today.  They really get me, those guys. I’m lucky to have such a talented bunch of musicians to work with.”  

As a performer, musicians are sent to venues without end. Miss Atkinson has had a ball with some of the best venues here in New York City already. “One thing I can say with a great deal of gratitude is that I’ve already played the two venues to which I most aspired when I was first starting out, The Bitter End and Rockwood Music Hall. I’ve been so fortunate to have picked up a nice following here in the city, and their dedication to watching me play and their coming out to shows and sharing the music with friends has allowed me access to these types of well-known venues that are great exposure spots for musicians at my level who are trying to reach a broader audience. Those are the types of venues that have regulars who show up just to see live music for the love of live music, and I’ve actually gotten some of my most devoted fans from playing shows at those places and introducing my music to walk-ins who had never heard of me before but just frequent those joints. We have done a few shows at festival-type settings, and I’d love to do more of those… Of course I’d love to play The Garden, ha-ha. One day at a time. I just want to keep making music and keep touching something in people with it. Hopefully by bearing all my very human feelings in public, I can help some folks feel less alone… You know, the more the merrier, because one day I’d like to have an obscenely nice bathtub.”

While her creative flow and music is on point, the struggle never truly leaves while hopping from one place to the next. “Oh goodness, so early on in my efforts, I was playing a show at this place (I think it’s closed forever now) called Bar East in the Upper East Side. I had played there once before, and they were great people and really supportive of my music. This show was an important one, because I was auditioning the guy who would become my first official drummer, so I wanted to make a good impression. So as I said, this was early on in my efforts, and I hadn’t developed much of a following yet. Exactly two of my friends showed up, God bless them. Still, the bar was full of people when the evening started, and I felt hopeful. Unfortunately, we were the last act of the night, and by the time we played, the bar was pretty tired and had all but emptied out. The set was actually super lit and felt amazing musically, but by the end of it we were literally playing to my two friends, the bartender, and the sound guy. I was so upset that all I could do was laugh… The drummer had a great time and agreed that night to work with me, so I guess it wasn’t all bad, but man, it was painful, ha-ha.”

Photo Credit: Ali Macomber

As the music world continues to be more flexible than ever, readers will have to wait for Miss Atkinson’s memoir to learn the full extent of it from her point of view. “I honestly have so many thoughts about the music world today that I could write an entire book about it… I’m only just getting to know it as more than a consumer but also an artist attempting to find my niche in it.  I will say this: I hope the trend toward artist inclusivity and the movement away from ageist and sexist tropes that have made being a woman in rock so challenging, I hope that trend continues. I’ll leave it at that for now, ha-ha.”  

Music may not be her end all be all in the arts. “I wouldn’t mind doing some acting again. To me acting and singing/songwriting are just two different disciplines of storytelling, and storytelling is really what I’m interested in. Any way I can do that, I’m into it. I enjoy making music videos, and I get to bust out my acting chops for those, which is always fun. I’m thinking of taking a few film acting classes again soon to get back into practice. I admittedly prefer film acting to theatre, just because the physical discipline and time commitment required for theatre acting is incredibly intense for a person with fibromyalgia. I have so much admiration for my friends who are theatre performers. They are such strong human beings!.. Yeah, I enjoy the intimacy and immediacy of film. I’d love to explore that more.”

Angie’s time in the music space has spurred some clever creative ambitions for later down the road. “Oh man, if I could, I’d have an entire orchestra behind me, ha-ha! At least two guitars, a string section, a horn section, the works! My keyboard player Dan Crowley also produced ‘High & Mighty,’ and he added the lovely touch of trombone player J. Walter Hawkes on select parts of Misspent Youth. It was really just a simple trombone line but it added SO much to the mix and the overall sound of the song. It elevated it to the rooftops. I’d love to be able to have that level of sound all the time. I am definitely going to be adding some fiddle to some shows this year. When I first started playing out, I was working with pedal steel player Jeff Lampert, and I was using a lot more traditional country music sounds. I’ve steered away from that a bit, but I’m starting to miss it. I’d love to throw it back into the mix on some of the new tunes I’ve been writing and see what happens.”

Influences are not hard to find for this musician. “It’s always been my ambition to be the love child of Cyndi Lauper and Jon Bon Jovi, ha-ha. Oh man, I don’t even know where to begin. I grew up in a household that was always filled with music. My parents are both singers and actors too, and our house was always filled with one kind of music or another. I grew up listening to and singing along with Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna (oh my God, SO much Madonna; I still have a framed ‘Like A Prayer’ poster hanging in my room), Billy Joel, The Bangles, Tom Petty, Olivia Newton-John, Heart, Pat Benatar, Cher, Whitney Houston… Just listening to and attempting to mimic Whitney as a kid is how I taught myself to belt, ha-ha! As I got older I got into Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Concrete Blonde, Letters To Cleo. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what I would consider the full scope of my influences, because every piece of music I hear influences me… I will say this: when I first heard Jon Bon Jovi’s album ‘Blaze Of Glory,’ this sort of western rock opus that served not as the soundtrack for the film Young Guns II but more like a mood-setting companion album, I thought, ‘Oh wow. That’s what I want to write…’ I think musically speaking, that album had a huge impact on me… I also can’t escape my inherent Lauper-esque weirdness and oddball sense of style and expression, the thing that always made me stick out like sore thumb in the rural environment in which I spent my formative years… It’s sort of the merging of those two sides of my personality that created the ‘urban cowgirl’ sound that I have now.”

When not living the life, Angie attempts to take it easy when she can. “… I have the day off work today, and like most rock stars, I am scheduled within an inch of my life. You have to stay busy to keep yourself out there in the landscape of music, especially in a city like New York where there are dozens of new and amazing talents popping up every day… Today I am giving myself a much-needed day of rest. I’m thinking bubble bath and maybe a skincare mask, some yoga and some bad television, or maybe good television, if I’m feeling ambitious!”

Photo Credit: Ali Macomber

For those who are curious about what is next, keep an eye out for her new musical endeavors to come. “I actually have a couple of cool things in the pipeline! One is a music video for Misspent Youth, and the other is our next recording project. Kind of working on both of these things at the same time, in the pre-planning stages for both. I’m super excited! Last year was a hard year for many of us, and I’m determined to make this year better. So I’m hitting the ground running! Can’t wait to share all of it with y’all.”

As mentioned before, Angie Atkinson is a rare talent who is providing optimistic and powerful music for a time where it is needed most. Her spirit and general good nature will be sure to attract fans with ease and her music will keep people listening endlessly. Go check her out and stay strong out there!

Jam On.

Photo Credit: Ali Macomber


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