“The PNW is beautiful, resilient, and in some places wild and terrifying,” an Interview with Amanda Winterhalter

Filled with poignant stories of the Pacific Northwest, Amanda Winterhalter talks with Lonely Arts Club about her large musical project, Fatality Records. Incorporating famous and personal deaths of Seattle and beyond, Winterhalter and a group of talented musicians have teamed up to capture historical accounts of the PNW with an expiration date.

image of Mt. St. Helens erupting

Hi Amanda and welcome to the Lonely Arts Club! What was your first spark of inspiration for Fatality Records? What about Pacific Northwest stories of death intrigues you?

I was by myself on Easter several years ago in a cabin on the Washington Peninsula. I sat at a table with a kerosene lamp and wrote letters. I listened to the Strait of Juan de Fuca rushing against the beach rocks. I thought about Hallie Latham Illingworth sinking into a lake.

I had heard about the Lady of the Lake as a teenager, reading books about Washington history and Washington ghost stories. I’m not a pursuer of the paranormal, but I’ve always loved a good ghost story. There’s usually something unresolved in a ghost story, and I like that. It makes the reader or listener have to choose what to think, what to believe, what to hope for.

Remember the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, and the car that gets pulled out of the lake? That scene (that whole movie) is so visceral for me, and when I learned about Hallie’s story, I had the same visceral response. Every time I come back to it, there’s a new layer to that response – why did she come to Port Angeles, so far from her origins on the other side of the continent? Why was she alone? Why did she marry such a monster? Why did it take so long to solve her disappearance? Why did her murderer face such small consequences? Is she glad to be a ghost story?

The Pacific Northwest is beautiful, resilient, and in some places wild and terrifying. Just like people. This diverse landscape and diverse people are full of stories that resonate with me, stories I hope people hear and tell forever. Who knows why we like the things we like?

image by Amanda Winterhalter

Do we listen to these stories as stories from the past, or is the history of death here to teach us a lesson?

There’s no lesson here about death – but you can always learn something if you want to. People can listen to these songs and hear whatever they want – they might just enjoy the music and the melodies. They might consider their own mortality or their privilege. I don’t think these songs are necessarily dark and heavy and hard. They’re just true, as are the stories.

This is a collaborative project, and I can only speak on behalf of my own contributions to it. The nine other contributing artists, plus contributing essay writer, may have a different take on this question.

image by Pinehurst Photography

In your deep dive through research, writing songs, working with musicians and artists for Fatality Records – what kind of process was it to create such an expansive project?

I planned out a few different versions of the project before I was half-way into it. Money’s always the trouble. I was fortunate to receive an Artist Support grant from Jack Straw Cultural Center, which provided discounted studio time for recording. That was very exciting, and I couldn’t have proceeded with the project without that support. I applied to other grant programs for additional funding and didn’t receive any from those applications (maybe funders weren’t super keen on this death project idea), so I had to pare down the project a couple of times as I pared down the budget.

In December 2018, I was ready to move forward funding the recording myself with the Jack Straw support, and I reached out to a handful of artists I hoped would join me as contributors. They all said yes! And then a few more artists approached me about the project, and I said yes, please!

Between my full-time day job, working on a band album, curating local shows, daydreaming about getting a cat, and bringing Fatality Records to life, I just didn’t have time to drum up the resources I had hoped would support the full scope of the project (visual art for each song, an interactive digital zine, album art, partnerships with local organizations, and substantial compensation for all contributors). I definitely had a few moments, even up through the recording process, when I panicked and thought I’d have to pull it all to a halt and defer it until I could find some more money to pay for the full production. Levi Fuller at Jack Straw was 100% supportive and helpful, and he kept me on the ground.

The thing that happened that I did not expect is that these amazing (really, some of the best people I know) artists all said YES to doing this work. Also, because I had intended to keep the project fairly minimal and keep costs down, I had anticipated the songs being a straightforward singer-songwriter in style, but we ended up having a wonderful span of styles from full bands to duos to single voice and instrument.

A lot of people give me a blank look when I tell them about this project. They don’t really get it. But these artists who said yes get it, and I think they like it, too – like I do. And I think people who listen will like it.

What is it about Seattle / PNW music culture that keeps you immersed in this city/place? What makes this area’s music different than other places?

I’ve lived my whole life in Western Washington, so I don’t have an authoritative perspective about how music scenes work in L.A. or New York or Nashville or Austin, etc. But I do feel that Seattle is special.

I believe that landscape is a major influencer of art, and that influence manifests pretty clearly in the Pacific Northwest. We go through our trends here like everywhere else, but Seattle’s a fairly diverse music scene, representing a whole range of genres from grunge to traditional folk to dream pop and hip hop and on and on. But the thing that keeps me immersed here is the community. I appreciate being part of a multi-generational community of musicians that builds each other up and helps each other out. They show up to this work because they love to make music and they genuinely want to share, to hear, to participate, and to contribute to something larger than their own personal gains. There are just some really lovely, really cool artists in Seattle, and many of the bands and musicians who launch onto the national scene from this city emerge from the support of that authentic community.

What is the future like for Fatality Records? Where is it going and what are your hopes and dreams for this project?

I hope that Volume 1 will help garner significant funding for the project to continue and produce more volumes and expand to include a growing roster of contributing artists that represents the diversity of the Pacific Northwest and its stories. My dream and hope for this project as it moves forward is to amplify the voices and stories of people of color, women, and historically underrepresented communities and individuals.

Your album release party is coming out June 12th. What can the audience expect when they go?

Volume 1 releases on June 12, with a show at Hotel Albatross in Ballard (7:30pm, $10 cover, 21 and over). It’s just incredible, all these talented artists also said YES to playing at the release show, so the audience will get to hear all ten songs from the album performed live, along with a couple other songs from each artist. You’ll hear Asher Deaver (of Old Coast), Debbie Miller, Reggie Garrett, Arthur James, Annie Ford, Nick Droz, Leslie Braly, Joy Mills & Tom Parker, Lo-Liner, and my band!

Plus, it’s my birthday, so it’ll be a real hoot.

Fatality Records Debut will be playing June 12, with a show at Hotel Albatross in Ballard (7:30pm, $10 cover, 21 and over)

To learn more, visit their website and Instagram

ambrotype headshot by Lindsey Ross

A life between grey coastlines and ragged mountains gave Amanda Winterhalter a scope for the gothic Americana music she creates with her Seattle-based band. Joined by Geoff Larson on upright bass, Nick Drozdowicz on electric guitar, and Rick Weber on drums, the band showcases an arcing sound that may unfold and lift as lightly as a sheet in one song, or drive and build to a frenetic fuzz on another. With their multi-genre backgrounds in jazz, folk, country, gospel, blues, and rock, they infuse Winterhalter’s songs with a broad palette of styles that forms a cohesive grit and tenderness. Amanda Winterhalter’s band’s album comes out in October of 2019!

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