The out Austin-based singer found freedom by releasing her expectations
RICH LOPEZ | Contributing Writer
Amy Cook has friends in high places — and almost by accident. The indie artist may not yet be a household name, but for her latest album, Summer Skin, she has a rock ‘n’ roll legend, a queer music icon and a noted producer just hanging around doing their thing to make her shine. All in a day’s work for the lesbian singer who nonchalantly acknowledges the cred that has landed on her album.
“Austin is a nice place to live, and the people I know have been kind enough to help out,” she says. “I’m friends with Patty, and she’s been dating Robert.
When he wanted to take a listen, how do you say ‘no’ to that?”
“Robert” is Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Cook’s longtime friend just so happens to be dating one of the gods of rock ‘n’ roll. Did we mention that this is Robert FUCKING Plant?
After days of traveling, Cook is back at her Austin home for 24 hours before heading back out for a performance at the El Cosmico fest in Marfa. Perhaps she’s run through her squeal moments, because at this time, she’s ready to chill and relax. Summer Skin is a rich album of tunes that don’t just play, they surround — and despite fellow players on the album, the one thing you really hear is Cook.
“I just wanted to say whatever was in my heart at the time and I went in with less expectations of myself,” she says. “I think that allowed me to be freer and go with the flow, so this album felt like a sort of emancipation from pressure.”
Cook’s songs exude confidence instead of being intimidated by Plant or a group of players that included singer and bassist Me’Shell N’Degeocello, guitarist David Garza, singer-songwriter Ben Kweller and her friend Patty Griffin. Craig Street, who produced Norah Jones’ Grammy-winning debut Come Away With Me, then put it all together to create an album worthy of year-end lists. Although she mentions lowering her expectations, that doesn’t mean the pressure was off.
“I think I have to pressure myself with some sort of demands, but there are false ones that kept happening. There was this part of sharing things I wanted to and knowing what I wanted to keep for myself. Knowing that, I felt very confident with these songs.”
That sureness also helped keep her songs in check and even when someone like Plant or N’Degeocello might veer a bit, she kept her vision. Cook lived with these new songs for a year and once it came to recording, she could recognize what it should sound like or when it felt wrong.
The 37-year-old singer considers herself an honorary Texan now after moving her, eight years ago from Los Angeles. Austin is the perfect fit for a musician but there she found much more.
“I felt this sense of community and the music and the people are so inspiring, so it’s just been an amazing feeling here,” she says. “To be part of that in any way is an honor. I don’t know how I might fit into ‘Texas music,’ but I have a great love for making music here. And my girlfriend lives here.”
Cook’s other half is Liz Lambert, the noted hotelier behind Hotel Saint Cecilia, El Cosmico, Hotel San Jose, Hotel Havana and Jo’s Coffee, making them quite the lesbian power couple. They have been together for eight years and for Cook, because of their vastly different careers, it’s the perfect match.
“She’s helpful in a lot of ways because she’s smart,” Cook laughs. “She’s good at the business stuff which is a part of the great team of people behind me. But we’re both so busy and traveling that it works out for us.”
Cook brings her show to Dallas Thursday (Dec. 6), opening for Mark Kozelek at the Granada Theater. With an amp in her confidence, Cook says days are better now as she readies her guitar to perform for the crowds.
“My instincts are better and it’s not as mystical to me,” she says. “I’m more knowledgeable about my craft and I need to use that to my advantage. When I’m writing, I hope to connect with somebody even as a lesbian woman. Music is universal and speaks to everybody regardless of the pronoun. I’d love my songs to be straightforward and hit you in the gut.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 30, 2012.