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The rise of The Coppertone [Interview + Videos]

The Coppertone (poster)

When I heard the music of The Coppertone for the first time, I was dutily impressed at the range and intensity of the blues rock. It was quite apparent that "the blues" was something that truly stirred the soul and moved Amanda Zelina.

The only issue I really had, was could she produce this quality of music live? Often times, you can go to show to see an artist whose album you like a lot and are not as impressed by their live performance. Likewise, you may check out a show, whose record sounded "meh" when you heard their recording, but their live show blows you away.

So, I decided to check out The Coppertone's live show at The Hideout on Friday June 18th, 2010 (NXNE). What stood out from the beginning of her set, was the strong energy and power coming from the stage. Watching as the duo mixed drums/sampling with Amanda's guitar and singing was intense. It was impressive how she played a lot of material from her new album "Hidden Dreams".

The Vinyl release party is at 10:00pm July 30th at The Piston in Toronto. The Coppertone are going to be bring out some new songs! Check out their live show!

Here are clips from The Coppertone's June 18th performance at The Hideout. (Interview underneath videos)

After the show, we arranged to do an interview, with the results of that interview you can read below..

     To have the blues and express it in a way that moves people & has that emotion…cannot really be taught right? How did you get that intensity in your expression of your brand of blues. Is it a bit of everything that you learned over time (ie. LA experience)? 

For whatever reason I have always had a strong connection to the blues. I grew up on it and whilst that doesn’t merit an automatic honest response to be able to play the blues it was a starting point. I feel that the blues can not be taught. I think any individual who is going to attempt to play it must be innately in touch with themselves in an emotional way. Perhaps all blues artists are not outwardly emotional in person but somehow through the process of writing songs and performing them there is a safe and sacred place for those hidden emotions and real guttural truths that flows out of them. It took me a long time before I felt I was able to play the blues. I wasn’t about to put out a blues record the moment I picked up a guitar. The blues to me needs respect; it is where music in my opinion was truly birthed from. Therefore I made sure that I was in a place where with every note I hit and every word I sung I would be as un-apologetically honest as I could be.

     Now we know you like John Lee Hooker & a ton of other old school blues musicians, but are there any current contemporary blues artists/bands you dig & are into? 

Yes. I would have to say first and foremost Jack White. He has that intangible quality and sincerity with the way he makes music. Jack White is the blues, he does not just “play the blues” a lot of people play the blues... you take a one chord a four chord a five chord and some riffs and there you have it; 97% of all contemporary blues artists. I think what differentiates Jack from the majority of contemporary blues musicians is that he thinks outside of the box and he takes the form of the blues and f*cks with it. He is confident and creates songs that are his interpretation of the blues. I find that way more exciting than just carbon copying traditional blues and executing it technically perfect. Also I would say Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys; they also take blues to a different level. Last, there is a woman named Jo Ann Kelly who was one of the few English women in the 60’s who played the blues. She is not as contemporary but she needs a mention here. Jo Ann is passed on now but man she played and sung like she was haunted. I was recently introduced to her by friend of mine Dallas Green (City and Colour) and I will forever be indebted. She was this dorky looking white woman with a frail frame who played with guys like Mississippi Fred Mcdowell and really whole heartedly knew the blues.

     Can you tell us about that music school you went to in LA? I was curious what they taught you there?

I went to the Musicians Institute in Hollywood California. Funny story actually; I got one of my friends who I was singing in a band with to fake my audition tape. At the time I didn’t know anything...literally, I think I knew the shape of a “C” chord but not even the name of it. I got accepted, two months later flew to LA knowing absolutely no one and nothing about the guitar. When I got there I didn’t know: A) that they tested you to put you in an appropriate level: 1, 2 or 3 and B) that this school was for people who had already finished schools like Berkley and were going to get a greater understanding of what they already knew a whole lot about. So I stepped into the room where they test you and I was pretty straight up with them. I basically said:

“ Hey, I lied. I got my friend to do my audition tape. Please let me stay. I just flew from Canada and will work harder than anyone you have ever had in this program.”

Little did I know I was one of the two women that they accepted that year for the guitar program, all the rest were men. I suppose they could see in my eyes how hungry I was to learn and perhaps they were slightly entertained by my plea so they decided to put me in level one, feed me to the wolves and see how I would do.

I pretty much lived in my practice room which we had access to 24 hours a day. The greatest part about that school was the fact that they had all of these amazing musicians who had careers under their belts come in and have open jams every day. There would be these rooms with doors open down the hallways and each room had a different jam going on. I would always be in the blues room. I was too nervous to jam for majority of the time I was attending so I would sit there and listen...and watch..and ask questions. Slowly but surely by doing that I garnered enough confidence to start joining in. I still think beyond and theory or technicalities I learnt there it was those open jams that truly taught me the most.

We were forced to do these live performance workshops where they would give you a song every day and you had to learn it, go up on stage in front of a large audience (pretty much everyone in your program) and play it with a band; first the rhythm part and than the solo. That was f*cking frightening. I think I had indigestion for the whole time I was there because of it. Again, it taught me to be fearless and that the only way you learn is to take risks and attempt anything even if you could fall flat on your face in front of hundreds of people who are better than you. It taught me blind confidence.

     You have some sick guitars & equipment (I saw at your NXNE gig at The Hideout). Can you get a little music geek for a minute and tell us what equipment you use & how you get that yowling guttural guitar sound? 

I play through a 1842 Silvertone Sears amp and a Fender Blues Junior. I use a fulltone Soulbender pedal for the fuzz, and an old memory man delay pedal. I just got a POG pedal which I am thrilled about! I have always been drawn towards fat, fuzzy, dirty guitar tones and I find that this set up works the best for that. I feel like that fulltone pedal and its germanium transistors bite into the air, it’s definitely not a weary sound.

     Nationwide album release of The Coppertone – Hidden Dreams is coming soon. Can you tell us when and where is the release party?

The Vinyl release party is July 30th at The Piston in Toronto. We are going to be bringing out some new songs so I am particularly excited for the evening.

     Any Canadian touring planned in support of the album? If yes, do you have any dates/details? Who you would be touring with?

Yes. The details are still being worked out.  All the updates for that will be through my website: www.myspace.com/thecoppertone  

     It must be so difficult writing the album, performing, and planning everything. Do you “do it yourself” and set up all your gigs, or do you have a label, promoters to help you out?

I am DIY right now with a killer team around me. I think it is important for any artist to know the inside and out of how to get from point A to point B. I find knowledge is power in any discipline and music is no different. It has been a wonderful challenge to do it all myself and to be forced to learn the business side of things. I am so involved in what I do and that is so rewarding. I am lucky and have a handful of dedicated, talented, passionate people behind me. I feel a performer is only as good as their team (if you want to do music as a career). Fortunately I have more people being added to that team very shortly and we will take this to the next level. 

     Do you find it hard for “blues” music getting appreciated and accepted by radio, TV? Do you find that frustrating?

I don’t find it frustrating. I find it challenging. As I have mentioned before a challenge is important. It forces you to think outside of the box and to re-invent new ways to reach people. For me personally it’s never been about “fitting in” it’s been about “ creating your own environment in what you’ve got given” There is no pity party in success, there is only forward thinking and forward action. I don’t have time to waste, and so to sit and talk about why it is so frustrating that there is no place for contemporary blues in today's music industry is useless to me. I create something honest, I figure out how to reach people and I see nothing as a problem, I try to just see solutions. 

     How was the recording process in studio? Where did you record it? Who produced the LP?  

It was all done at Catherine North Studios on tape with my late best friend Dan Achen producing it and the wonderful Micheal Chambers Engineering it. The recording process was fast and fun. Both Dan and I are obsessed with vintage guitars/guitar tones. We are also both rough perfectionists. Meaning, we both will drive ourselves crazy with getting the right moment but will leave in any imperfections that occur during those moments. We decided before jumping into the project that we would make it happen quickly as not to tamper with the raw energy behind the songs. I have never had so much fun working on a record. I like to keep my sessions private. So at any given time there was really only 3 or 4 people in the room including myself. Mainly Dan, Micheal and myself. We were like the three musketeers, I will cherish those days in my soul more than anything. 

     How did the samples and electronic sounds – were those your arrangements, did you write those parts or was that more Nick?

The “electronic sounds” on the record are all done by Dan. He played a KILLER Ebow and an old CASIO plastic midi guitar. There are no samples. We laughed so hard in the studio messing around with stuff we knew nothing about really. All that stuff was the genius Dan Achen. 

     Any plans to expand The Coppertone into a 4 piece band or larger? It seems a lot of indie groups start off smaller and then balloon into this mega band. 

I never say never. The Coppertone is a moniker for Amanda Zelina. It was a way for me to get away from the last solo record and come out with something so contrasting to it and have it accepted and make sense. People were able to grasp the sudden switch in style or rather commitment to it with a “band name” as opposed to my name. Having this moniker also made it easier for me to delve in and feel “Safe” creating the record. I chose to do it as a two piece because it’s a challenge. A lot of my favourite blues musicians created a full band sound with just them and a guitar ( ie. the way Junior Kimbrough played the bass line with his thumb and played lead lines with the other fingers). Adding a drummer as the only other member of the project created this excitement inside of myself. The project became more focused and intimate. Who knows if there will ever be more members, perhaps. If that were to happen things would need to stay true to the essence of the simplistic nature that The Coppertone embodies.      

     Your NXNE show at The Hideout was impressive. You totally brought it that night! Curious, you seemed to be “totally” into the music when you are performing (eyes clothes, dancing with your guitar, in the flow). Are there times when you are out there & you aren’t “feeling it” because I guess the “blues” is pretty hard to fake right? 

Sure. There are times when it takes a second to get inside of myself... Performing for me is like a meditation. I have to forget about all those thoughts racing around in my head and tune in. I would be in-human if I didn’t have times where I wasn’t “feeling it” but I have learnt how to be aware of that and how to get myself into it. That is my job. If I didn’t have the ability to give an honest performance every time I wouldn’t be doing my job as a musician and the audience certainly would be getting their money back if that was the case.  

     There was a sample malfunction I think in either the last or 2nd last song in your set at The Hideout. You were so quick on your feet to change it up & keep the show going! (a polished performer!). Does that happen often? 

ha. Well, in any show you have to be aware that sometimes things just aren’t going to run perfectly. Those moments are good for me as a performer because they open you up and make you vulnerable which is humbling. You just have to remember that you are the same brand of human as your audience and everyone has “malfunctions” in their life, the more gracefully you move forward from yours the more you can inspire others to do the same. 

     Were the songs on the record easy to write (almost wrote themselves – your dream) or was it a tough process to write?

The songs that ended up on the record were all stream of consciousness. They were written as soon as the words were scribbled on the page and the notes were played on the guitar. It’s funny how that happens, and it doesn’t happen all the time. I was lucky. It all came down to trusting myself and not second guessing.  

     At these music fest shows, you often have 5 or more bands performing on one night! Do you happen to check out other bands on the bill or at other clubs? Did you see any other shows at NXNE?     

I checked out Nicks band Spirits at Sneeky Dees. They were amazing.

       What does Amanda Z do in her free time (hobbies/interests)?

I am obsessed ... OBSESSED with music documentaries/biographies etc. I love watching how other people are in the studio or their writing process, or to learn about their lives and get a better understanding of what made them tick. When I use to live in LA I would live in rice and eggs for every meal so that I could afford to go to Ameoba music every week and pick up a new DVD. I collect them now, it’s kind of like education.  

I also love spending time with my family up in the countryside. There is nothing more soothing to me than to be surrounded by dirt roads and people I love.  

     What do you see Amanda Zelina doing & where you in 5 years?

Creating honest music, Recording new projects, Collaborating with those I admire, writing/producting a movie or my own music documentary, Putting out a poetry/photography book with my sister Veronica Zelina (www.shitsngigs.blogspot.com) Touring, making an income through music that I can live off of and give back to those who need it in order to do what I am doing (creating my own music grant for young kids who don’t have the tools/finances they need to support their growing career) Learning, educating myself and above all living every moment of it fully.  

     What is a secret talent that you have that you are willing share, and haven’t told in an interview yet? (ie. Ping pong) 

Good question. I am really really good at bowling. In fact, I want a custom bowling ball pretty bad right now.  

      Do you get nervous before you take the stage/performance? 

For about half an hour if that. I remind myself that this is what I live for, I have a quick conversation with Dan ( Achen) hypothetically of course; I go to the bathroom take a bunch of deep breathes and just go do it. By the time I hit the stage I’m good.

      What is your favourite song off “Hidden Dreams” to perform live? 

Tricky question. It varies night to night and to whatever mood I am in on that particular evening. Some nights it can be “Run” and some nights it can be “ Mile Type Of Love” and than others “ Satisfied Mind” or “ Heroine”. Just depends. 

      What’s next for The Coppertone? 

Touring, videos, new songs... That’s a really loaded question because I always have a million ideas in my head at any given moment. There will be a lot of new ways to reach people through music, new incentives, exciting arenas to put out the music and to get people involved in it. I’m really interested in moving forward with creating memorable ways to reach people.

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