An interview with Amy Bezunartea

Amy Bezunartea‘s song "Doubles" will give a good idea of what her debut solo album Restaraunts & Bars sounds like. "My baby, she works doubles," Amy sings lightly. "It’s such a spell that she is under, taking orders in her sleep / all those hours on her feet." When the low harmonies come in and the guitar strums along, you start to get a sense that this low-fi folk album is something you’ll be a fan of.

An out artist from Brooklyn, Amy has been performing with the band Clint, Michigan for the past few years, but is putting out her first solo effort on girlfriend Jennifer O’Connor‘s label, Kiam Records. Jennifer is a well-known musician who was formerly with Matador Records, and you might even recognize Amy from the cover of Jennifer’s last album, Here With Me, or Jennifer’s music video for "Always In Your Mind."

And while the girlfriends share a similar aesthetic for storytelling songwriting and complimentary guitar parts, Amy’s Restaurants & Bars has an overriding theme of spending time in establishments that are home to pivotal moments in your life, whether you realize it at the time or not. It’s something everyone can relate to, especially if you, like Amy, have spent a lot of time working doubles. How long have you been writing songs for yourself?
Amy Bezunartea:
Since I was a teenager, I’ve always dabbled in songwriting. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve taken it more seriously and phases where I haven’t. So, it’s something I’ve done for the last decade or so. I was in the band Clint, Michigan before I made this solo record. That’s the first time in recent years that I’ve performed my own songs — we played some of my songs in our sets, so being in that band was good practice.

AE: So what made you decide to finally do it and go on your own?

You know, it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for so, so long. It’s one of those things I’ve talked about endlessly and felt bad about not having done yet. I think this last year I just got so tired of not doing it that I finally just set a goal — looked at a calendar and sat down and set a series of dates to try to stay on track and keep writing and save money for the recording. And rehearse. And it sort of actually happened this time, so it’s a good thing.

AE: You must have had a lot to work with, having been writing so long and this being your first solo effort. Did you have to cut a lot from the album, or did you make decisions early on easily for what you were going to feature?

I wasn’t really sure in the beginning. There are some songs on there that are really old songs that I wrote, like, ten years ago. Some things I wrote weeks before I recorded the record. So it’s kind of odd in that way. And there were some songs that were, like, God I hope I can write a better song than that because I don’t want that to go on the record! I was lucky there were some old songs that were left off, some songs I wasn’t crazy about, so it’s kind of a mish-mash of all of that. There’s definitely old songs and new songs.

AE: What is it about restaurants and bars that are inspiring to you?

I’ve worked as a waitress for over a decade now. Not all of the songs are restaurant-related, but I think it was such a big theme in my life for such a long time — and not just my life, but it was what my friends did. It was this world I lived in, and I think I just ended up writing songs about it naturally. I think it can be sort of a dead end world, a little bit, and I think some of the songs are about that. I think a lot of the songs are about trying to change and move into something else, so it covers trying to get out of that business and into some sort of new career.

AE: Being stuck in work is such a metaphor for anything in life that you want to change, so it works out really well.

That’s good. I was hoping that would be the case.

AE: Everyone has feelings about restaurants and bars anyway. There’s just so many things that happen in them, that even if you don’t work in one, I feel like it’s something that’s so relatable on so many levels.

I was really hoping that, too, with that song, because it can be read in a lot of different ways. People waste their money and get drunk.

AE: What’s it like to work with your girlfriend on some of the songs, or have her be on your label? How’s your working dynamic?

It’s been really great. She’s just an enormous help because she’s done this before so many times, so I think she really understands all aspects of it. Also, I think I really needed to be pushed to make this record, and she really pushed me. There were plenty of times when I was, like, “I don’t want to do this or that…” or where I could have backed out of the process, or had it take longer. She really pushed me along in that way and she understands, I think, all the stresses of making a record and exposure and what are people gonna say and all those kinds of traumas. Plus there’s the business side of it, like, how do you have a record printed? Or who do I call to do this? She’s really helpful in that way. It’s been good. There have definitely been moments of — like, this summer where we’re just sick of each other and sick of the record and sick of talking about it.

AE: When you go home, how do you turn off the work?

I think we’ve devised sort of like … just taking time off from each other. Like, she’ll go to a movie or go do something in the city and I’ll be at work. I think we’ve gotten past that phase, but we just sort of take a break and do our own thing and not be together, which makes us like each other more.

AE: You’re basically out and known as queer or lesbian or however you identify? Was that ever something you were concerned about when you were thinking about being a musician?

Not really concerned about it. I mean, just as a female singer-songwriter, and especially as a gay female singer-songwriter, I think there are lots of clichés and stereotypes and stuff like that. I think that bothers me. I think people judge female singer-songwriters enough, and then they judge gay ones even more on top of it. I think that was definitely something I thought about, but then it’s also something where I just feel like, well screw them. It’s kind of their problem. Or they’re missing out, so … I mean, I’ve definitely thought about it, but I think maybe five years earlier or ten years earlier I would have been much, much more concerned with it than I am now. I’ve also been on Jennifer’s records and toured with her, so I think that made me much more comfortable with the idea, too.

AE: I never got the sense from her that it hindered her career in any way. Do you know if she feels it has been something that’s affected her?

I don’t think she sees it like a hindrance, really. I think it’s even more than a gay thing — it’s just being a woman. I think it’s just hard to be a female singer-songwriter sometimes. I think you get judged more harshly than a guy singing about his life and his feelings. It’s a whole different story.

AE: That’s actually a great segue into the song “The Light." What inspired you about that? I saw in your press release you were talking about the death of Brittany Murphy. Can you talk a little bit about what you were thinking when you were writing the song?

When I started writing it I was just down. I think it’s easy to get lost in trying to be something that you’re not and, like, needing clothes or haircuts or to go here or there. Just needing all this stuff to keep you being something that you’re not anyways. Even just making the record, once I started thinking about what other people are going to want it to sound like — is it going to sound cool enough or be cool enough? Or indie rock enough? Then all of the sudden you’re just … you’ve lost yourself. You’ve lost what was actually good in the first place. Or interesting. When I was working on that song was when Brittany Murphy died, and it was just … walking around Brooklyn and on the cover of everything — the Post, the News, the New York Times — just these sad pictures of her. It was sad to see this emaciated person that was this quirky, interesting actress — whether that’s true or not. I don’t know what her true story is. But this person who just got lost completely, who could have been a weirdo and it would have been fine.

AE: So what would you say is the gayest song you have on your album?

Definitely “Doubles” is by far the gayest song on the record. I don’t know if it reads that way to someone just listening to it, but it is about a relationship with another girl who works a lot and I don’t even know if it comes off as romantic, but I did write that about someone that I worked in a restaurant with. Someone I never had a serious relationship with, but we were friends and I really had a crush on her and I liked her a lot. She worked, like, three different jobs and I worked all the time and we were always exhausted and burnt-out. That was pretty much the inspiration for that song.

AE: Where exactly did you grow up?

I grew up in New Mexico and Arizona, too.

AE: So did you listen to a lot of old country?

Yeah, my parents really did listen to Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. So I kind of grew up with that music around all the time. It was definitely what I heard growing up.

AE: Are they supportive of you being a musician?

Yeah. They’re insanely excited about this record. It’s really nice.

AE: What are your hopes for the release?
I think I’m really just hoping to enjoy myself, I think, and not get too nervous. Have a good time at the shows, you know? I think that’s my greatest goal, is to really enjoy the week. We have five shows that week and I’m kind of a nervous performer. I’m trying just to rehearse as much as possible so I’m ready. That’s all I’m hoping, is that the shows go well and I’m able to actually, like, be there and enjoy them.

Restaurants & Bars is out today.