20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers
For our continuing 20:20 Q&A series,
Amanda Cook —bluegrass singer-songwriter, band leader, and Mountain Fever recording artist—
joins us as our thirtieth guest. That’s right—30! We at NoteWorthy Music remain ever thankful for our readers and our guests. We appreciate you all.
Today, Amanda shares her admiration for her father, a fellow bluegrass musician, writing with Grammy-nominee Thomm Jutz (a previous guest of NoteWorthy Music), making her art and staying true to herself, and more—all twined together by Amanda’s apparent appreciation and love for bluegrass music.
Welcome, Amanda, and thank you for joining us.
20:20 with Amanda Cook
NWM 1): Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
Amanda: Hey y’all, I am Amanda Cook. I am a bluegrass musician originally from Florida, making my home now in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I grew up with a banjo-picking father, and in my 20s really dug into the music and became completely addicted to the music and the family of bluegrass.
My husband and I married right out of high school and have two amazing children. I spent the first 17 years of my working life as a banker and one day decided it was time to pursue a full-time career in bluegrass music. It has been an amazing ride thus far and look forward to many more years making music.
NWM 2): What was your first concert as a fan?
Amanda: My first ‘real’ bluegrass festival was in Perry, Florida, and that weekend I was lucky enough to see Rhonda Vincent, The Lonesome River Band, and Cherryholmes. I had been to many events with my Dad prior to that over the years, but I will say that was the first time I was really dialed into what was going on on the stage.
NWM 3): Name three things that make you smile.
Amanda: I would say three things that really make me smile are my husband and the kids all being together and acting silly, making a meal for my family and my band and seeing them really enjoy it, and being on a stage singing as loud and as proud as I can.
NWM 4): Your new album, Narrowing the Gap, released March 26, is your ‘grassiest album to date.’
Tell us about this new album and what sets it apart from your previous three.
Amanda: When we started gathering material for Narrowing the Gap, I had it in mind that I wanted it to be a more natural representation of the music I love to make. We carefully selected songs that seemed to fit what we do as a band and who I am as an artist. It was important to me to have this album recorded with my touring band. That’s been a goal of mine from the beginning. The title Narrowing the Gap came from that thought process. We have narrowed the gap on where we started to where we want to be as a band. I feel this album represents us all very well.
It was important to me to have this album recorded with my touring band.
NWM 5): The latest single from Narrowing the Gap is ‘Lonesome Leaving Train’ which you wrote with the amazing Thomm Jutz, acclaimed Grammy-nominated songwriter and previous guest of NoteWorthy Music.
Please share about this lyrical song and writing with Thomm.
Amanda: I started writing this song back in 2009 and had tucked it away in a songbook. When we began the process of pulling material for the new record, I came across it again. I immediately thought about Thomm and reached out to him. I knew it would need some ‘fluffing’ up, and Thomm is such a great writer, and he knows my voice and what I look for in songs. He finished the song up and sent me a work tape just a few days later, and I was over the moon. What a great song it became!!! I’m honored that Thomm is willing to write with me, and I look to him for material for every album. I’ve said this before, ‘Lonesome Leaving Train’ is really my favorite track from the album.
NWM 6): What song/album could you play on repeat?
Amanda: The Bluegrass Album by The Bluegrass Album Band. It’s a go-to for me on every car ride. Especially now that I’ve really dug into guitar playing, what an incredible rhythm section!
NWM 7): Please share a unique childhood experience that you feel helped contribute to who you and your music are today.
Amanda: I can’t detail one specific experience, but watching my dad over the years play banjo and sing absolutely influenced my love for bluegrass music. The first lesson he gave me was to hand me all the volumes of the Bluegrass Album Band and said, ‘Sing tenor with every single track.’ I love to see him play and sing, he just gives it all he’s got and that inspired me to do the same.
NWM 8): Bluegrass Today‘s John Goad wrote, ‘One of the hottest voices on bluegrass radio over the past few years has been that of Florida-native Amanda Cook.’
We often like to ask bluegrass players for their thoughts on ‘truegrass’: Where is the line—or is there a line—between paying homage to the early greats and embracing the evolutionary alchemy of styles and genres?
Amanda: I think this is such a ‘hot-topic’ thing between bluegrassers and it’s hard to give an opinion without giving a wrong answer, but the way I look at it is every artist before us changed the sound of the music in some way. In their way! I look at Flatt and Scruggs; they did their own thing and changed the music. I would say all the greats that we all admire just played great music and didn’t think about being traditional or progressive. That’s the way I approach my music. I greatly admire all those before us that laid the foundations of this music, and I think they would want us to carry on and make the music ‘our way.’
Every artist before us changed the sound of the music in some way. In their way!
NWM 9): Where were you and what were you doing when you realized COVID-19 had just changed your life as a performance artist?
Amanda: We played a show in central Florida on March 12, 2020. Heading home from that gig, the band and I listened to the news on the radio and we all just rode in disbelief that our world had changed during that weekend. It was such an eye-opening experience, that we all had taken for granted that we would have shows and be able to travel together.
NWM 10): A couple of years ago, you moved with your family from your native Florida to the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Please share about your new geographic location and what precipitated your move.
Amanda: We moved from a small town in Northwest Florida to a small town in Southwest Virginia. We live in Laurel Fork, Virginia, now and we absolutely love it! I was offered a position with Mountain Fever Records as a sound engineer after completing some sessions in late 2018 into 2019. The move also made touring a lot easier being more centrally located to my band and gigs.
NWM 11): What is a favorite of your songs? Please tell us a little bit about it.
Amanda: It is hard to choose a favorite because I love them all for different reasons, but the song ‘Midnight 402’ holds a special place because it was the first song [of mine] I heard on the radio. It was an incredible feeling to know that so many people would hear that song, and what a fantastic response we got from fans from everywhere!
NWM 12): What message, if any, is integral to your work?
Amanda: I’ve said this many times this year, when I started my career I was trying to find my place in the music world and now that I’ve been at it for a while my mantra is ‘Stay true to yourself.’ I want to make good music and just make my own place in the genre. I strive to be original and unique like other artists I admire.
NWM 13): Who might we be surprised to find on your playlist?
Amanda: I guess folks would be surprised to find Celine Dion, Norah Jones, and Adele in my playlists.
NWM 14): What has been a particularly memorable or rewarding experience of your career so far?
Amanda: I’ve had a lot of memorable experiences and met so many of my heroes, that’s an incredible part of bluegrass. I have to say one of the most memorable shows was one of our showcases at IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association] a few years ago at the Vintage Church. Junior Sisk got up and did a few with me and my band, and I got the chance to sing tenor with Junior! I was so excited I could hardly stand still.
I was trying to find my place in the music world and now that I’ve been at it for a while my mantra is ‘Stay true to yourself.’
NWM 15): What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
Amanda: It has been so humbling and surprising to me the way the bluegrass community has welcomed me with open arms. We released our first album on Mountain Fever Records in 2017 and it took off so quickly. The fans reached out, and I was just so humbled that so many folks loved the music we were making. It has been incredible.
NWM 16): Apart from live music, what are you most looking forward to when things return to ‘normal’?
Amanda: I think that because music is such a part of our everyday life that festivals coming back and being out will make us all feel better, but I can’t wait to be able to just openly hug folks again!
NWM 17): What is a core tenet by which you live your life or approach your music?
Amanda: I think that you get what you give in life. I think kindness and care for others makes all the difference. I carry that into my career for sure, taking the time to speak to someone or give them a hug makes their day!
NWM 18): If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
Amanda: I would love to see the Stanley Brothers or Flatt and Scruggs live. How cool!
I think kindness and care for others makes all the difference.
NWM 19): What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you which we might not know to ask?
Amanda: A funny story I guess: My husband didn’t hear me sing or even knew I could sing until I was in my mid 20’s. (And I’ve known my husband since we were 9 years old). I kept it to myself, and the only other person in the world that really knew I loved to sing was my grandmother. I entered a singing contest when I was 25 and my husband was mortified, he just knew I was going to bomb. I ended up in 3rd place.
NWM 20): What’s next for Amanda Cook?
Amanda: We are already pulling material for the next album and gearing up to get back out on the road playing.
Burning Down the Mountain
Originally from Florida, now making her home in the Virginia Mountains, Amanda Cook acquired a love of bluegrass from her father who played banjo throughout her childhood. In early 2007, Amanda formed bluegrass group High Cotton with her father and received her first taste of performing, fueling a fire to continue on a professional level. In 2013, determined to create her own sound, Amanda stepped out on her own and released her first solo album, One Stop Along the Road. The project made it into the top 150 Roots Music Bluegrass Album Charts for 2014 and 2015 (#61 for 2015 #56 for 2014). The self-released album also brought Amanda significant regional attention and furthered the desire to grow her brand, resulting in the addition of a full touring band.
In early 2017, Amanda signed with Mountain Fever Records and recorded her debut album, Deep Water, on the label. Amanda was excited for her 2nd album project, especially that she and band member Carolyne VanLierop co-wrote the title track. Amanda has created quite a loyal fan-base through her palpable delivery of a soul-wrenching song. And her light-hearted, down-to-earth style helps her create an undeniably strong connection with her audience.
In late 2018, Amanda signed a long-term, seven-year, five-album contract with Mountain Fever. Her second project with Mountain Fever, Point of No Return was released April of 2019. Blazing into 2020, Amanda and her amazing band released a hard-driving bluegrass tune “Get on Board.” Her third label project Narrowing the Gap was released March 26, 2021.
To learn more and buy stuff visit www.amandacookbluegrass.com
You may enjoy our previous 20:20 with Tommy Emmanuel
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