We live in an exciting time – talented musicians have the ability to create and record in the comfort of their own homes, put that output online (Soundcloud, Bandcamp) moments after the recording is complete, and get some major attention without having to slog away in the basement or garage, post ads in the back of weeklies or ‘zines to find band members, put together showcases and fly in label reps or hope to capture the attention of an A&R scout as South by Southwest.
After learning to play a variety of instruments while growing up in Atlanta, Amanda Bantug is now based in Nashville where she recorded – at various locations – her debut EP, Blue, as well as her forthcoming EP, Red, which was primarily recorded in her bedroom. As a young artist who has been honing her songwriting and recording skills, Bantug has limited live experience under her belt but that’s the next step in her evolution and a short tour with fellow Nashville artist, Liza Anne, will bring Bantug to The Basement on Monday night.
Amanda took some time recently to answer questions I sent including asking for some tips on places to check out in Nashville.
Did you move to Nashville to follow your music dreams or was there another reason? If it was because of music, was the idea that it would lead to bigger and better things or did you just like the scene and want to be part of it?
I definitely moved here for music. I think it was both. I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta, so there wasn’t too much a creative scene to be a part of, so something like Nashville was enticing for me.
Are you part of a music community? Did you already know musicians when you moved to Nashville or did you have to meet people once you were there? If that’s the case, how did you meet other musicians/creative types?
I maybe knew like one or two people, but honestly the way this town works is if you know one person, you’re gonna meet their whole community. I don’t know why everyone here is so nice, but it really is very easy to meet people here once you know someone. So yeah, I just met all my friends organically. It wasn’t like I was trying to network, I just met them at parties or through mutual friends. I’m very lucky to be a part of the community I’m in right now.
Would you say it’s easy to stand out in Nashville or is the scene full of talented musicians all striving for the spotlight? What do you do to stand out and get noticed?
That depends. I’m not exactly sure how to answer that question because Nashville isn’t super diverse in having great exposure for different genres. It’s definitely hard if you’re a singer/songwriter, but I wouldn’t say trying to be an indie pop artist is that much easier. Our pop scene is slowly growing and there are so many us and we all champion each other, but I don’t think pop has the same support as say folk and americana. I’m not really actively trying to stand out. I’m just trying to play the best I can and be true to myself. Hopefully that is what is going to help me stand out.
There’s obviously so much talent right now in Nashville and the idea of “making it” is probably different for everybody but what artist or artists – either people you know personally or bands/artists you know about – are most likely to be somebody that we’re all talking about a year from now? And who is an artist within your own circle that you want to tell the world about?
Hmmm, gosh that’s tough. I’ve always been a huge Myzica fan and Micah Tawlks produced “Just Like a Dream” and I just think they’re all incredible writers and have something really special. Oh god, I don’t know if I can just give you one person. It’s incredible because I think all of my friends who are artists (whether that be music, writing, photography, etc) are insanely talented. Just to name a few: Biyo, Jake McMullen, Roma, and Jonie.
Listening to the Blue and Red EPs, was the original idea just to record some songs and see what happened or was the plan always to write, record and tour? I was listening to a podcast interview you did with Yadee Yadah and it sounded like you hadn’t done much, if any, touring and I couldn’t tell if you were looking forward to playing out.
Hmm, when I’m writing, I literally don’t think about anything else except for writing. I think I have to be very compartmentalized in that way so I can just focus on what’s in front of me and then take the next step. I’m still such a new artist so I’m kind of just figuring things out. As of now, I’ve maybe played 10 shows under Bantug, so yes playing shows is still a new thing, but the more I play, the more I am itching to tour. I haven’t played any shows outside of Nashville, so I am definitely equally anxious and excited to play out.
For the upcoming dates you’ve got with Liza Anne, will you be performing by yourself or are you bringing along a band?
I’m bringing a band! I don’t think I could play by myself, I’d vomit. Plus if I played by myself, I’m not sure I’d do my own songs justice.
You’re the main focus in “Just Like a Dream” but don’t appear at all in “Circles.” Can you tell me a little bit about how these videos came to be and do you have plans to make more videos with the release of Red?
I was uncomfortable being the face of Bantug early on. It was my second single ever, so I wasn’t ready to be the “main focus.” So many blogs were pinning me as mysterious, but that was never my intention. I just wanted people to hear my music and I didn’t have an interest to exactly introduce myself right off the bat.
In short, “Circles” is about finding someone who you’ve been either searching for or wondering what kind of person is right for you, and once that person is introduced into your life, you immediately back off cause it’s too good to be true. For a while, I was just dating people that I knew weren’t good for me, and I did that on purpose because I knew it would end. I was scared to be with someone that was right because that should just kind of be terrifying, right? So for the video, we interpreted into a situation where it goes two ways, and depending on the choices you make, you end up with the aligning outcome.
For “Just Like a Dream,” we wanted to make up this imaginary world to kind of go off of the song title. The song is about how everything in our life never lasts, whether it be good or bad, and so we played around with that concept with props that represent those things in our life: wealth, satisfaction, power, childhood, and so on.
You’re young and have grown up in the instant gratification online world where people are constantly measuring likes, retweets, shares, etc. When you put songs up on Soundcloud, do you obsess over checking the reactions or do you feel like once you launch them out into the world, it’s time to move to the next song?
Of course I obsess and I fucking hate it. We all know social media is our downfall and being an artist, you can’t not have it. I’m actually in the middle of trying to not be so discouraged and it’s really really tough. But, I just have to keep going and do what I do best, and I’m just gonna be going through ups and downs like we all do haha.
If I understand correctly, you do a lot (?) of self-recording, maybe even a lot just using your computer. On your own material, do you ever collaborate with other musicians? If so, is it the same musicians or do you mix it up and work with different people?
Yeah! I recorded probably 70% of the record in my bedroom. I haven’t co-written with anyone on this EP, but my pal Grayson Proctor (who is in Biyo) co-produced and mixed the entire thing. I wanted less hands on this so that I didn’t lose the vision for what I had in mind. I haven’t introduced a lot of people to collaborate, I think it’s only been like three people. That’s just my preference though, I think co-writing is fantastic for some, but it’s not my cup of tea at the moment. For me, I want to do as much as I can on my part until I can’t finish something. That’s when I’ll let someone into the picture.
Along the same lines, in the podcast interview, you were talking about collaborating on songs. Is that a pretty common thing? What does collaborating offer you that writing on your own doesn’t?
Oh my gosh, I think co-writing is sometimes someone just asking someone on a date or something like that. It’s so common. People can be so loose and be like “hey we should write sometime” like it’s asking someone out to coffee. That’s fine and all, that’s just not me. I’m not comfortable doing that right now, and maybe one day I will be, but for me I need to be an a safe space. I’m still growing so much as a writer and I want to explore that on my own or with very trustworthy friends.
I suspect that in most cities, the best things to see and do aren’t actually in the downtown area but I’ll be in Nashville for two days in mid-May for a conference. I’d prefer not to do the touristy things in my free time (unless it’s something that can’t be missed). Any recommendations on what I should see or do – live music venues, restaurants, record stores, coffee shops, etc? And, if I’m looking for the best wings in the downtown area, where should I go?
You’ve come to the right girl. I see that you know I’m a chicken wing fanatic, huh? Martin’s downtown has some pretty dope wings if you need to stay downtown, but some of my favs are Knockout Wings, Dolce Vita (it’s a pizza place, but I promise you their cajun wings are incredible), and Miss Saigon. Sometimes the best wings are not where you would think. Enough about wings — I love Steadfast Coffee, Fond Object which is a vinyl and thrift store, and across the street is a dope ass deli called Mitchell’s Deli. If you’re looking for something ~cool~, try Old Glory, but one of my favorite bars is Edgefield Sports Bar (which also has great wings and a damn good chicken sandwich) and it’s just this dive bar with darts and billiards.
Finally, if you had a DVR in your brain that had the ability to save up to 2 continuous hours of memories that you could play back in detail whenever you wanted, what 2 hours would you have recorded from 2017?
When I saw Beyonce on her Lemonade Tour.