Talent Show: The Tender Gritty Music of Amanda Winterhalter

On August 10, Town Hall’s stage will be graced by musician Amanda Winterhalter for a single release concert. Tickets are on sale now! Get to know her a bit more:

There was a record player in her house growing up in the rural hills of Stanwood, Washington. There were records, too. A Bread album. Cream. The Rolling Stones. Anne Murray. “My mom really enjoyed Anne Murray.” Amanda Winterhalter suddenly breaks into song as we talk. Tender, with a little grit beneath. There was a record player at her house but the needle broke and no one bothered to fix it. It sat, getting dusty.

The Winterhalter house wasn’t a musical house. There weren’t tunes playing in the living room. The radio was rarely on. In the car they played oldies and gospel (Amanda’s mom sang in the church choir, after all). There was contemporary sacred music that piped through the car’s dinky speakers. “Amy Grant was very influential to me.” Amanda breaks into song again—a short refrain.

The house she found music in was a house of worship, a church the Winterhalter family attended frequently. “I wanted to do musical things,” and so she joined the choir. Her mom was a soloist from time to time. Amanda thought that was pretty cool. Sometimes, they sang mother-daughter duets together. Amanda started soloing at church when she was around 10 years old. She picked up a guitar as a tween and started learning chords and learned how to pluck the strings. As a teenager she joined a church band. “The youth worship team played the cool Christian music—drums, electric guitar, and shit.” She laughs a warm bright brassy laugh. “I lead the youth band and it’s where I learned a lot of my foundational band skills. I was quite ambitious. I loved music.”

Music was sacred to her, and still is. But secular tunes began to catch her attention. She listened ardently to the first ladies of jazz, the honeyed voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the blackberry vines of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington. Also, Lauryn Hill. “It was the Video Music Awards, or something, and Lauryn Hill began singing ‘To Zion’ and it blew my freaking mind.”

Shy by nature, Amanda didn’t join many music groups in high school and when she went to college (Northwest University in Kirkland) she majored in English, though her desire to pursue her art grew and then grew more.

“My senior year was an inflection point. It was my time to rediscover music.” She took voice classes, ear training. She was a member of the chamber choir (“It melted me away”). She took music theory classes. She was becoming versed in verses.

She decided, shyness be damned, to enter the school talent show. She sang and played the guitar. She wore all black and was decked out in leather boots. She played Mindy Smith’s ‘Come to Jesus.’ And what happened? “I fucking won that show head over heels.”

She discovered that she could call herself an artist. She started writing her own songs in earnest. She was working in Olympia as a teacher when she joined a band in Shelton, Lower Lights Burning. She sang backup vocals, played piano, banjo, accordion, mandolin, pump organ.

From there she started making connections with local and regional musicians. She wanted to become enmeshed in the music scene and she felt Shelton couldn’t hold her. She moved to Seattle and soon ran into Geoff Larson, a jazz bassist who ran, and continues to run, The Bushwick Book Club Seattle, a nonprofit where local artists write and perform original songs inspired by books. She started singing songs at Bushwick events. She opened for Elizabeth Gilbert and Geraldine Brooks before their readings that were put on by Seattle Arts and Lectures.

Winterhalter and Larson became friends and developed an artistic partnership. Through working with him she began finding her form, the shape of her style, and her voice. “He helped me find the sound that felt true to me.”

He also helped her record her first album, Olea (2016). She’s got a full band now with Larson on upright bass, Rick Weber on drums, Nick Drozdowicz on electric guitar, and Ed Brooks on pedal steel. Winterhalter says, “With our diverse backgrounds and our diverse influences, we’re really starting to swing.”

On August 10 at Town Hall Seattle they release in concert the title track of her forthcoming album, What’s This Death (2019). They’ll be joined by The Drifter Luke and Old Coast. The album has all the parts that have helped make Winterhalter feel whole—cathartic lyrics, warm tones, deep wails, and wrenching growls. “It’s my way to have a voice in this world.” She suddenly starts singing again and a record player, gathering dust in someone’s house, is aching to be played. Winterhalter’s album comes out  early October 2019.

Below is a recent song she wrote about the Mount Saint Helens explosion:

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