Perth local Aminah Hughes will be serenading WAMFest 2018 with her siren song and unique blend of folk, roots, jazz and blues.
The songstress will also release her debut album, 'Blue Wooden Boat', next month.
With plenty of experience in the music industry – she has featured on ten albums over the years – Aminah is excited to share her personal tracks with the world.
I've heard a couple samples from your debut album and it seems like a great collection. Tell me how this album came about?
Thank you. I’d sung and played and written on ten albums in Australia and Europe, but this was my first solo release.
I write across the genres of folk, alt. country, blues, roots, jazz, soul and spoken word, so I wanted to make an album that reflected that, because it allows me to move in any of those directions next without it seeming out of character, and I really enjoy having that freedom.
You've previously collaborated with other musicians, but this one is purely yours. How is that different for you?
I’d done a bit of co-producing in the past, but this album marks my debut as a producer so that’s a very different position to be in.
Seeing an album through from conception to release is a massive undertaking. I was based in Ireland for seven years, so a lot of what ended up on the album was influenced by my environment and my musician and writer friends at that time. I recorded the album in Ireland, USA and Germany, then did my vocals at home in Perth.
I’d been working and jamming with great people in Europe and the States and I wanted to collaborate with them further and get them on the album.
I comped every instrument on every track and cleaned and edited all of the files, so I spent a lot of time alone in the studio, where in the past I’ve been able to breeze in and out as a vocalist and flautist and leave the hard work to someone else.
With this release I’m launching my independent label, Blue Wolf Records, so a lot of my work around the release has been about the music business side of things; having that amount of control over the project has been quite empowering.
Do you feel prouder or more connected to the music 'cause it is your own work?
Four of the albums I’d previously appeared on featured songs I’d written, so I’ve felt that connection before. But having a full album that makes a statement about my work and who I am as an artist is very satisfying.
The songs are mostly mine and yes, I had a moment just today where I saw them listed and felt a bit proud that they’re mine. I also cover some ground by Archie Roach, Joni Mitchell and Scottish protest singer, Dick Gaughan, and I recorded a Russian folk song translated by my friend Thom Moore, who sadly passed away earlier this year.
It was really nice to bring the folk element into it, because I started out as a contemporary folk singer in the backrooms of Fremantle. I’ve written a few hundred songs and I’m excited about where I’m going to go with the next few albums, which I’m starting to map out.
You'll be showcasing at WAMFest; what do you have planned for the performance?
I’ll be introducing my new band! I’m lucky to be working with some of Perth’s smoothest musicians. We’re launching my album at The Ellington Jazz Club 11 days after WAMFest, so we’ll be having fun, getting into the groove and promoting the launch.
You've played with some pretty big names. Robert James sings your praises. He has compared you to big-time folk artists like Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco. What do you have to say to that?
I’d say he’s very kind. I’ve received a lot of comparisons to artists, that I can’t quite get my head around or accept, because they’re giants.
I do think both Joni and Ani have a strong focus on truth telling, as does Tracy Chapman, who I love, and that’s definitely my jam.
Also, Irish journalist Kate Winter paints you as an ethereal Celtic goddess - that must feel pretty damn gratifying?
It’s quite humbling. I was compared to an 'Avalon Goddess' in a US magazine article as well. I’m told my strength inspires people. I love connecting with an audience through intimate honesty and storytelling. Either that or it’s the cheek bones.
You have a wonderful ability to invoke realms of magic and beauty. Kate Winter called them (and I agree), 'tales of love and rebellion, campfires and warriors, the earth and the moon, injustice and freedom'. Why are you so drawn to these images?
I’m first and foremost a writer. I studied music but I came to songwriting through poetry and, like everyone, I’m writing a novel. I trained as a screenwriter and director, after years of being a film reviewer on radio and I’m preparing to direct my first short film, which I wrote.
I love poetry, imagery, classic cinema – I’m quite romantic in that way. And I’ve always had a deep fire for justice.
Which is your favourite fairy tale element – your sort of signature stable you often try to incorporate?
There’s probably not one element, but water has featured quite a lot: as a symbol of change, cleansing, and a means of travel. When I stayed on an island off the Irish coast of Mayo for six weeks, I wrote eighteen songs and of course they all featured either the ocean or rain. A lot of my songs tend to be set at night. I love the moon, the stars and fire. But my favourite fairy tale element is the strength of those who persevere.
The album artwork is your creation, isn't it? Firstly, it's beautiful. Simple and stunning I think. Can you tell me more about it, how you thought of it and how it relates to your tracks?
Thank you. It’s from a larger carving I made and printed. The image of the woman in the boat is a homage to the beautiful paintings of John William Waterhouse. You’ll see she’s holding a twig, which is a reference to Quan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of compassion.
I worked with a wonderful graphic designer, Paul Dennis, to hone in on the image and enhance it from the print. We used other parts of the print on the back cover and throughout the album booklet. The print captures the image of the album’s title track, 'Blue Wooden Boat', but it also relates to my sense of being quite solitary, as a songwriter.
I don’t really co-write, so for me songwriting comes out of a very quiet, vast space that I go into in order to create.
You have an album launch show upcoming in November. Do you get excited about performing?
Of course, the polar opposite of that quiet space we go into when we write is getting up on stage and performing. It can be an odd thing.
I actually wrote a piece about how I deal with stage fright in Boston music magazine, Infectious. I came to the conclusion that I’m more afraid of not getting the chance to perform than I am of performing. I used to get terrible stage fright but then I learned to go into that deep, creative space again, in a different way, and to really be present with what I’m singing about. Of course, having a hot band helps with having fun onstage.
You have a new band now. How did that come about?
I came back to Australia. I played an Irish festival in Perth in January and Fairbridge Festival in April, experimenting with a folk/ jazz crossover. The band I have now is made up from those two festivals, plus a couple of new cats - some of Perth’s finest players across the realms of folk, country, blues and jazz. I’ve lucked out with all of them.
What can we expect from you guys onstage?
Beauty, exploration, many, many chords and the truth.