Oregon Music Guide - May 2004
OREGON BAND TO WATCH - AMELIA
By BRIAN BLAIR
A little after four in the afternoon, the dinner crowd is still a couple of hours away and there’s only a few patrons inside the Mexican eatery. Those that are present in the east Portland restaurant appear to be either waiting for someone or just looking for someplace to be.
In the back corner, Scott Weddle works his way through a healthy sized burrito and makes light conversation. When the topic turns to the band he formed, Amelia, he returns to his burrito without a word. Teisha Helgerson, the group’s lead singer, looks at the guitarist, realizing that he’s left her to fend for herself, and offers a “Uh huh,” that says she’s not surprised by this move.
As the mastermind behind the group, Weddle could easily dominate the conversation and offer up all of the intricacies of the band and its music but he holds back to allow Helgerson the opportunity to field questions. Just as with a number of his other actions, it’s obvious that this is another attempt to coach the singer towards her inevitable stardom.
Meeting up in 2000, the two were drawn together by mutual admiration. Weddle was serving as a member of the alternative country act The Flatirons and Helgerson was fronting Say Uncle. As a friendship grew, the pair started working on music together with Weddle teaching Helgerson how to play guitar and control her voice.
”I grew up singing in a way that would not be called ‘subtle,’” Helgerson says matter of factly.
With the dissolvement of the Flatirons, Weddle spent his time playing alongside Warren Pash (who’s major claim to fame has been that he cowrote Hall & Oates hit “Private Eyes”). At the same time, he was performing an occasional show with Helgerson.
The makings of a band started coming together for Weddle and he started plotting out a group that would move away from the alt country he had been doing. He had an idea of the sound he wanted to achieve but he realized that the most important element of the band would be a strong lead singer, which he knew he had in Helgerson.
”I chose to be in a band with Teisha because she’s the best singer I had heard,” says Weddle. “It wasn’t like, when I heard Teisha, I thought, ‘She sings too powerfully for what I’m trying to do.’ I thought, ‘Whatever she does, it’s probably going to sound good singing my songs.’”
Assembling the band around Helgerson, Weddle contacted a couple of his former bandmates in The Flatirons, bassist Jesse Emerson and drummer Richard Cuellar. The four started working on the five songs that Weddle had ready but found that things weren’t coming together as hoped.
”It took awhile for Rich and Jess to understand,” says Weddle. “We played together a few times but all the songs were in the wrong keys. I listened back to recordings and I’ve got Teisha singing really low and all this stuff. It was just a learning process.
”Just because I had a vision didn’t mean I knew exactly how to get there.”
The music that Weddle had in mind is something he describes as “cinematic” and “melancholy,” and he says that he drew it’s elements from Calexico, Elliott Smith, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.
Asking the band to describe its sound is akin to asking a blind man to describe the color red. There’s a lot of fumbling around the definition and parts of it sound decent enough but there’s never a solid answer that summarizes it completely.
After each of the members takes a stab at explaining the band’s music, Weddle honestly responds, ”The more we get asked this question, probably the better we’ll get at answering it. I’m probably about 10 interviews away from being able to describe it.”
Others outside the band have said the music is reminiscent of Norah Jones, which is mainly a result of Helgerson sultry, chanteuse vocals, while others have pointed to a similarity to the Cowboy Junkies. The band is aware of the references but seemed slightly confused by them. Still, each of the members seems to realize that the comparisons aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
”I don’t think any of us would object to having comparisons made about what we sound like, especially if it’s helping someone find our music in a record store or tell a friend about us,” says Weddle. “But, if you ask us if we’re trying to be like those bands, in most cases not. It’s a coincidence more than anything else.”
The new album, After All, which the group says is more “collaborative” than the group’s debut, Somewhere Left To Fall, displays a band that draws from various sources but only as influences and not as blueprints. What the group has created is a sound that is smooth and intoxicating but able to move into more upbeat material without sounding contrived.
Behind the captivating voice of Helgerson, the band could easily just phone its performance in and issue standard generic melodies, but it doesn’t. The group creates rich compositions that serve Helgerson’s voice in the way that only a collective of accomplished musicians can.
Amelia is a band worthy of any praise and recognition that comes its way and, if After All is any indication, there’s certainly a lot in the group’s future.