INTERVIEW: Willa Amai

1.) Hi Willa and welcome to Vents Magazine! We’re pleased as sunshine to have you here! Considering that you’re keeping so busy lately, have you had time to take stock in how the still-young 2021 has been treating you?

I’ve been trying every day to acknowledge all aspects of my multifaceted privilege going into 2021. I think the fact that I’ve been so busy is a privilege in itself; being able to record, promote, and release music in such a volatile time is a product of my amazing support network and the hard work of my music team, and I am so grateful for how kindly 2021 has treated me and my family. At the same time, though, 2021 is not as different to 2020 as I think we all hoped it would be, so I’m trying to continue to learn how to be a better ally to the communities that are suffering in this time.

2.) Congratulations on the upcoming June 4 album release which is titled I Can Go to Bed Whenever! Let’s start things off with talking a little about what fans can expect to hear from thisincredible new work; for the uninitiated, how would you describe the album and your music?

I Can Go to Bed Whenever is one of my proudest achievements. Not just because it’s the largestbody of work I’ve ever released by far, but because of how gradient I feel it is. The album portrays all sides of my songwriting: the quiet, the angry, the sad, the loving, and everything in between. It’s a raw and emotional story, recorded live, and created with the hope that those who listen can see the album as a whole as well as each song for their individual personalities. I truly can’t wait for everyone to hear it!

3.) I Can Go to Bed Whenever is such a clever and fun title – how did you arrive at it?

I Can Go to Bed Whenever was actually my mom’s idea for my album title, if I remembercorrectly. I loved it as soon as she proposed it because it has a double meaning for me; a double meaning anyone who truly knows me will understand. The title has its superficial meaning, which is that the album is my coming-of-age story and the idea of no bedtime seems to work perfectly with that. But I Can Go to Bed Whenever is also a special phrase I used to say. When I was young, I developed an anxiety disorder surrounding sleep. I would feel anxious around the idea of going to bed too late or not sleeping at all, and the anxiety would just keep me up later and the cycle would feed itself. So, every night, I would make my mom promise me that…well…I can go to bed whenever! That double meaning makes the title so special to me, and I’m hoping to spread the word so everybody who listens can understand the title in that way, too.

4.) This is your debut album, even though by now you are a seasoned and celebrated artist. How do you feel about the overall effect you achieved with your freshman album?

I’m so proud of the effect I’ve achieved with this album, and that in itself is an achievement for me! I’ve never been good at appreciating my own work, or even listening to my own voice, for that matter, so I’m proud that I’m proud. Because we recorded all the songs live with people I loved and trusted, there’s a real emotion and intimacy in each song that I knew I wanted and feel so lucky to have. I’m hoping that those who listen can feel they’re there with me, that they can feel like they’re a part of the music.

5.) I Can Go to Bed Whenever was produced by the phenomenal Linda Perry. What was it like for you to collaborate with Linda?

I’ve been working with Linda Perry since I was 12, and every moment of work with her has been incredible. She is truly the most hardworking woman I’ve ever met, and watching her flourish in a musical setting is magical. I felt so honored to have her behind my music, and I still do. Her support bolstered this album onto a level I only dreamed it would achieve. Linda is a powerhouse of a woman, and I will forever be proud to say she has believed in me.

6.) Too Close has been tapped as the single to be released in conjunction with the upcoming album. What was it about Too Close that made it the perfect choice to receive that spotlight?

It’s funny, Too Close wasn’t the song I originally intended to be the starlet of the album, but as we got closer and closer to the release date I realized that Too Close embodied best how I felt while writing each of the songs. The album as a whole is just a body of work representing me coming to terms with getting older, and I think Too Close is the perfect way to convey that up front. The claustrophobia of adulthood is what created this album, whether all of the songs are about that specifically or not, so I thought I thought Too Close would be the perfect poster-child for the album.

7.) You’re the rare breed of talent that doesn’t seem to come down the pike all that often – the singer-songwriter. Can you talk with us about why it’s important for you as an artist to have a hand in the writing of your lyrics?

All of the lyrics for all of my songs are written by me, and only me. Linda has always made it clear that she has never wanted to tamper with my lyrical content, so every song you’ll ever hear from me that isn’t a cover is an unadulterated complete look at my psyche. And it’s always been incredibly important to me that that’s the case because I’ve always seen myself as a songwriter first. Songwriting is my passion, my outlet, the crux of what I consider to be my art form, so it will always be crucial to me that the words I sing are my own.

8.) Which comes first for you, the music or the lyrics?

The music and lyrics have always come together for me, which is so interesting because few people write that way and Linda Perry happens to be one of them. We both write in a weird way;

we hear a line first, that has both lyrics and melody, and take it from there. It feels fated that we’d write in the same way, and it makes me feel more connected to her as a songwriter.

9.) Do you have to be sad to write a song about heartbreak? Conversely, do you have to be happy to write about something fun?

No, actually; sometimes I find writing about an emotion I’m having a hard time feeling in that moment can help me reconnect with it. If I’m having an anxious day or feel frustrated about something, writing about love or beauty or happiness can help alleviate that pain. And, conversely, I can often write more profoundly about pain or sadness when I’m out the other side of it and can look at the situation without the fog of bitterness.

10.) You’re also an incredible stylist, wrapping so much of your own persona around a lyric that it’s difficult to locate where the songwriter ends and you begin. Do you enjoy sort of transforming another artist’s work to suit your own style?

Yes! I’ve always loved doing covers for the sole purpose of imprinting myself on a song. I sort of imagine each song like a blank sheet of paper. Each time an artist covers it, they can write their name on it, mark themselves as part of it, and make it into something new. So my favorite songs to cover are those with vast amounts of space for a myriad of ways the song can be reinvented.

11.) An example of your artistry as a stylist with another person’s lyrics is your earth-shattering rendition of What’s Up. What went into the production of the music video for this song?

I think the music video for What’s Up was a perfect manifestation of the song. We began work on the video in late February and early March of 2020, mere days before the quarantine started. We planned on finishing the other half of the video a week or two later, but once lockdown hit we couldn’t finish it in the way we intended. So, half of the video is me singing in a dark room, knowing nothing of what was about to happen, and the other half is people singing along in their homes around the world, already knowing too much despite how little had happened at that point. I credit all of the magic of that video to the people who sang for it, and to Tyler Brown and Dexter Demme. They are two incredibly talented young people, and it was so fun and eye opening working with them.

12.) Who has inspired your own journey in music?

I’ve had so many inspirations over the course of my journey thus far. Carole King embodies exactly what I’ve wanted my career to be. She wrote so many amazing songs for so many people, and continued her own career simultaneously, gaining the love and respect of the general population as well as every powerful musician and executive in the business. In my wildest dreams that is the career I’ve aspired to have. But there are so many amazing songwriters and performers that I’ve respected in different ways. The songwriting of Fleetwood Mac will always

be magical to me; the drama of the performance of Queen is something I can only dream to achieve; the drive of Brandi Carlile is awe-inspiring. As a human race we’ve been so lucky to have experienced so many talented individuals and groups in our history, and so many of them inspire me to this day.

13.) You began writing songs when you were a wee lass of nine, a true Old Soul. What motivated you at such a young age to pick up pen and paper and write about heartbreaks and social injustices?

From the moment I was born I loved to talk. The one thing I’ve been sure of my whole life, even at that very young age, was that I wanted to express how I felt about…well…everything. So once I realized how incredible it felt to convey my thoughts and emotions while including an artful aspect of it, I knew I had to do it for the rest of my life. I’ve always said nobody has a monopoly on pain. I think I read that somewhere, although I don’t remember where. What I know is that I was really young when I started writing songs, but I don’t think that should be out of the ordinary. I think the only reason everybody doesn’t write songs so young is because they don’t have access to the resources to know how to do that at that age, not for a lack of something to say.

14.) At the age of fourteen you collaborated with a big hero of mine, Dolly Parton. What was that experience like for you and what did you take away from that partnership?

Dolly Parton is everything you would ever hope her to be and more. She was the kindest, most nurturing person I’ve ever met. Talking to her you forget how adored she is globally. She saw how terrified I was to work with her and she worked so hard during our time together to make me feel we were equals. Being able to arrange a song for her and then perform it with her gave me a confidence I hadn’t had before, but more than that Dolly proved to me that fame and fortune are no excuse for cruelty. She is one of the most famous people in the modern world, and yet she is also one of the most compassionate people you’ll ever meet.

15.) An unavoidable question in this day and age: How has the worldwide pandemic altered how you tour as a musician?

The truth is that I’ll never know what the pandemic did in terms of alterations with tour plans. I’m still in high school and I actually care very deeply about learning and going to school, so before the pandemic I hadn’t toured at all just because scheduling a tour around high school is incredibly difficult. Who knows what would have happened had the pandemic not hit us, but I’m incredibly grateful for where I am as a performer regardless.

16.) You’ve been made the Ambassador of NAMI. Can you explain what this entails and why it is so important to you?

Becoming a NAMI Ambassador was incredibly important to me. I’m very open about my journey with mental health, and that’s always been a pillar of my career; I’ve wanted, from the beginning, to tell my own mental health story with the hopes that I could make genuine change, however small, in people’s lives. Especially now, I’m at a point with my anxiety that I feel I can prove to people that there is a light at the end of every tunnel, even though some may be longer than others, and becoming an ambassador for NAMI was the perfect opportunity for me to actually make that point. NAMI is an incredible organization and I couldn’t be more honored to work with them.

17.) Final – SILLY! – Question: Better movie about music – This Is Spinal Tap, That Thing You Do or Almost Famous?

This Is Spinal Tap! This movie is genuinely a part of the foundation of my family. We have somany inside jokes about that movie; we did even before I had a music career. That movie encapsulates everything the music business is in the funniest way, and watching it myself is such an enjoyable way to feel proud of what I do and poke fun at how ruthless the industry can sometimes be.

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