Oregonian - June 2004

Amelia leaps starward
COREY duBROWA
"Amelia singer Teisha Helgerson surveys the crowd with an impish grin on her face, like someone who's already in on the joke."

"It's the Saturday before Mother's Day and the fast-rising quartet is playing the biggest show of its career: a sold-out CD release affair in front of an appreciative hometown gathering at the Aladdin Theater. The assembly is boisterously encouraging Amelia's impromptu version of the "Pow, right in the kisser!" verbal jousting of "The Honeymooners."  

"Everyone says they love their mom, but I really LOVE my mom," Helgerson gushes between songs, tossing her tall tangle of hair as she peers into the crowd."  

"I love my mom, too," offers guitarist Scott Weddle, whose mother is also in attendance, having flown in from Montana for this evening's show."  

"Dude, you're so LATE," counters Helgerson to a chorus of laughter. "I said mine first."  

"Well, we see eye to eye most times," Weddle concedes, the band cracking up behind them."  

"Scott, sometimes I think you just want me to sing pretty and shut up," zings Helgerson before diving into Weddle's "Blackbird Pie," one of the 11 genre-bending compositions featured on the band's sophomore release, "After All" (self-released, Slow Down Records)."

 "The album is the best representation to date of Amelia's stock in trade: slow, melodic compositions steeped equally in jazz, country and various ethnic folk traditions. Part Patsy Cline, part Joao Gilberto and part Sade, "After All" is a leap forward creatively from Amelia's debut album and has grabbed the attention of AAA (adult album alternative) radio stations across the United States: Its leadoff track, "Jigsaw," has been added to the playlists of 20 stations in markets ranging from Portland to New York and is generating increasingly voluminous industry buzz."  

"The band recently returned from a whirlwind trip to the Bahamas after attending the influential Sunset Sessions, a gathering of radio programmers and record label tastemakers that often determines which bands are elevated onto the industry's heat-seeking radar. They've appeared on West Virginia's legendary Mountain Stage --the segment they taped aired one week ago -- and are slated to play a week of high-profile dates on the East Coast later this year. In short, Amelia is on a roll, and it's not far-fetched to suggest that the group's next album could be released on a major label."  

"Amelia's rapid ascent and colorful banter notwithstanding, the band's story unfolds over two distinct chapters. First is their hard-luck tale of second chances: For each member of the band, Amelia represents a sort of "last dance" with the arbitrary and frustrating gears that move the music industry. Then there's the second: the chronicle of a band growing beyond its original charter to become more than the sum of its gifts."

 "If this were simply another yarn about a good band with a great album to sell, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting as it ultimately is -- the story of Weddle's band becoming community property and not only surviving the shift, but also thriving because of it."

  Chapter One: Losering  

"But before we get into that story, you need to hear this one: The reason that Amelia exists at all is because the band's previous incarnation as the late, lamented Flatirons failed as gloriously as it did. While Amelia has opted for a subdued, jazz-influenced Countrypolitan sound, the Flatirons leaned toward an edgy intersection of rock and Bakersfield twang."

 "I feel like I've been living in the shadow of that band since we've been doing this," Weddle says reflectively. The Flatirons "had a shot at a major label deal, and it was heartbreaking when that didn't work out. Then we had an indie deal, but disintegrated before we ever got a chance to see how well it worked."

"The Flatirons' lineup included Weddle, Amelia's rhythm section of drummer Richard Cuellar and bass player Jesse Emerson, guitar whiz kid Jason Okamoto and talented torch singer Wendy Pate. The band recorded one promising album -- 1999's critically acclaimed alt-country essay "Prayer Bones" --and then dissolved in a hail of internecine squabbling and unlucky breaks. The lessons of this experience have stayed with Weddle and informed much of the way Amelia has gone about its business since forming back in late 2000."

 "It's frustrating when you're in a band that's talented but can't keep it together," Weddle laments. "This band is my chance to do things differently. There's something cool that happens when somebody with a great voice sings a song," he adds by way of referencing Pate's and Helgerson's considerable vocal talents. "It's different than being proficient at an instrument. I could do solo stuff, but then I'd only be singing to the bartender."  

"That "great voice" came to Amelia in the form of Helgerson, who had previously sung with her uncles and a few friends in the R&B act Say Uncle. At the time, Weddle was playing guitar for L.A. session man Warren Pash (who wrote the Daryl Hall and John Oates hit "Private Eyes" and has since become something of a fixture on the Nashville scene). Weddle tentatively waded back into doing his own music with Helgerson before asking Emerson and Cuellar to join the band. It was clear from their debut, 2003's "Somewhere Left to Fall," that Amelia would be a very different band from the Flatirons -- less twang, more swing. But none of the band's progress has come easily."  

"On that first record, I definitely had 'red light fever,' " recalls Helgerson of her initial nervousness recording with Amelia. "You can hear it."  

"Teisha's come a long way in terms of confidence," Weddle agrees. "That first record was hard on her. She was trying to sing the way I wanted her to sing . . . and it's hard not to smother when you're trying to help somebody be as good as you think they can be. But the days of me stressing about vocals in this band are over. I expect a lot from her and she delivered it. She's got a sound and the confidence now."  

Chapter Two: Come Together  

"The other through-line in "After All" is the gradual shift that's occurred within the band's dynamics over the past year."  

"Where "Somewhere Left to Fall" was all Weddle, all the time -- he wrote the songs, co-produced the album and generally supervised every square inch of the band's output -- "After All" features songwriting contributions from all four members and a much looser, more confident sense of teamwork than the debut. It's a development that suits Weddle just fine."  

"The changes "have been for the better," he agrees. "I don't have enough confidence in myself to think that I can write 11 songs record after record. When someone brings a song like 'I Read the News Today' or 'Better Than Sleeping Alone' (Emerson's and Helgerson's respective contributions to the new album), you'd have to be insane to say, 'No, I've got another one in my catalog that I'm gonna roll with.' You have to say, 'That's a fantastic song, we've got to record that.' It only makes our band better."

 "And then there's the song that has garnered the most attention of any on the record -- Emerson's jaw-dropping ballad "All but the Sea," an aching, piano-laced vamp that's pitched somewhere between midperiod Prince and late-period Billie Holiday. Recorded live in the studio with Emerson and Helgerson standing back-to-back as they played, the song is an ode to discovering life through love that ranks among Stumptown's finest compositions. It's a testament to the band's growth that a song so ferociously eccentric can be placed alongside the album's more pop-oriented material and still resonate as strongly it does.  

"I had that song for nine months," Emerson explains. "The chorus, chord progression and lyrics were all there, but I didn't really know what to do with it, and didn't want to force it. I was on the bus to work one day, and it came together. To be honest, I thought it was kind of weird," he laughs of the song's somewhat obtuse verse. "But (the band) gave me the go-ahead and said, 'Let's do it.' "  

"We've been through a lot this year," adds Helgerson. "I can't imagine that isn't reflected in some of the music. We've grown."  

"Our music has become the time when we can forget about everything and go to the place where all we are is just musicians," finishes Weddle. "There's a lot of buttin' heads in this band -- mostly between me and Teisha -- but when we play, that's when things feel good."  

"Here's to happily ever after."