Amy Petty knows how to venture deep into the mystic.
That mystical plunge occurs in a refreshing musical dreamscape known as “The Darkness of Birds.”
For Petty’s newest album and first in nearly a decade, the Saginaw folk rock singer-songwriter dives headfirst into a wondrous musical realm that exists between day and night. It’s the vivid, haunting place where dreams mimic real life, but quickly dissipate once the sun rises.
“I thought I knew what it was going to be when the songs first started coming. I didn’t necessarily sit down to write an album. I was inspired by an idea and then wrote a song. Eventually, they all came together, and I didn’t know why. In hindsight, I feel like it was more of looking at who people are and how they get to where they are,” said Petty, who dropped her new album today.
“It’s more like an observation of the real side of people, and that’s a very broad thing from murder ballads to contemplating how we fit into this vast universe, and we fall all across the spectrum every single day. It feels like a complete thought instead of just one idea that I decided to investigate at length. It just feels like lots of aspects of the same person.”
Petty eloquently explores those different sides throughout her magical 11-track observation. In a sense, she serves as an oracle predicting which scenarios or paths will best guide people toward their destiny. The glorious opener, “The Dreams That Are Waiting for Us,” urges people to follow their instincts, realize their potential and overcome obstacles to fulfill their lifelong dreams.
Deep synths, bright guitars and dramatic drum taps nicely echo Petty’s larger-than-life vocals – “In the sky there’s a lullaby/And you cannot hear it until you close your eyes/These are the dreams that are waiting for us/When you sleep there’s a melody/It will play in you the way it plays in me/These are the dreams that are waiting for us.”
“The first one was based on words that my daughter said to me. She’s just the coolest kid, and she inspired me like crazy. I love where the song came from,” Petty said. “I don’t write a lot of optimistic songs, not that there’s a lot of optimism in that song, but it just feels very uplifting to me in some way. I love the instrumentation, and it’s kind of rocking on some weird level.”
Murder Ballads and Late-Night Worries
Next, Petty reverts to dark, unspoken fantasies in “Murder Ballad (The Innocent Cry),” which features a headstrong woman who seeks deadly revenge on her duplicitous lover.
Originally a live favorite, Petty beautifully translates it to the studio with soulful vocals, eerie synths and emotional acoustic guitars – “I never thought I’d have to have this talk with you/I never thought that this is what it would come to/In the middle of the desert in the midday sun/You with a shovel and me with a gun.”
“I just literally sat down and made that story up. Mostly, it was an exercise to see if I could do it, and then it ended up being a story that I liked with a weird character. I want her to come back into another song. I’ve got some other ideas, and I’m hoping she’ll make a reappearance at some point,” Petty said.
Outside of her brilliant murder ballad, Petty questions the proverbial fork in the road on “The Other Way,” a dreamy guitar-laden track filled with heartfelt vocals wrapped in lament – “One will go, another will stay/How will they know if they should have chosen the other way?/I will go or will I stay?/And how would I know I’d always wonder the other way?” It reflects a fascinating, yet bothersome question that keeps people up a night and fearful of finding more regret.
Petty also tackles late-night worries on “Closer to Gone” with booming percussion and echoing “oohs” to represent anxious voices running rampant in people’s heads – “Another dream gone, a good intention passed/And you’ll remember now and then/And what you meant to you never got to do/And it won’t come around again.”
“That one, I wrote when I realized I was waking up in the middle of the night and having those mini panic attacks you have at two o’clock in the morning for no reason at all. By 11 o’clock in the morning, you sit back on it and think, ‘That’s so dumb, the things I was worried about,’” she said.
“I’m not really worried about those things in real life, but at two o’clock in the morning those ideas are terrifying. I was highly aware that a lot of people do the exact same thing, so this is who we are, we all deal with it, and it made me feel better as I was writing the song.”
From ‘Birds’ to the Live Stage
To capture such a lush and expansive sound across 11 tracks, Petty collaborated with Andy Reed of Reed Recording Company in Bay City to record and produce “The Darkness of Birds.” Together, they handled all the instrumentation and added layers of warm guitar tones, eclectic percussion and ethereal background vocals.
It’s also somewhat of a departure from her two poignant acoustic-centered predecessors, “House of Doors” (2010) and “Mystery Keeps You” (2008). Originally signed with Red Pill Entertainment, Petty chose an independent path and launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for “The Darkness of Birds” last summer. Not surprisingly, about 160 supporters contributed more than $14,000 toward the campaign.
“It was a humongous leap of faith, and I had no idea what to expect. When I started doing the math and realized what I needed, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is why people do Kickstarter.’ I didn’t expect the kind of support and people just selflessly giving. That was humbling in a way that I did not expect at all,” Petty said.
A Royal Oak native, Petty has built a strong local and national following since sharing initial demos for “Mystery Keeps You” on Myspace in 2006. As a classically-trained vocalist, Petty’s harmonies soared in the pop-rock world and led to live performances at prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Club Passim and Tupelo Music Hall. She’s also shared the stage with Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Suzanne Vega, Steve Van Zandt and Loreena McKennitt.
Tomorrow night, Petty will share the stage with Freeland singer-songwriter Laurie Middlebrook-Spear at Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre and perform “The Darkness of Birds” in its entirety during a sold-out performance with a full band. She’ll be joined by husband Billy Petty (keys), Mike Robertson (guitar), Donny Brown (drums) and Reed (bass).
“I love Trinity House, it does feel like my home stage. I have lots of other shows that I’m going to be doing, but this feels like the official place. We are a big band for that small room, so we’re going to have to be mindful of that, and we’re going to have to work with that space,” Petty said. “Every other time I’ve performed at Trinity House it’s been just me and a guitar, but to fill up that room with a band is going to be very special for me.”