Amanda Riley has a special way of cutting through the noise of everyday life with her music. Guided by a career-defining persistence, determination, and an appetite for making her dreams her reality, the New Jersey-born-and-bred artist has spent the last few years showing the world what she has to offer, creating eclectic acoustic songs and playing numerous shows throughout NJ and NYC. Comforting, calming, and, at times, even cathartic, her upcoming album release, Secrets I Told To A Soundhole, is an insightful collection that draws on the experiences she has lived on her musical journey so far, a journey that has taken her on the seas two years in a row aboard the Flogging Molly Cruise, to the stage at Asbury Park’s famed Stone Pony, and that has allowed her to perform with one of her biggest artistic inspirations, Frank Turner.
We introduced Amanda to Lesley Greer, AKA Lyra Star, an independent yoga-loving dreamer, currently based in San Francisco. As a solo artist, Lyra’s imagination and creativity truly shine through her work while her pure, ethereal vocals and profound lyrics reveal a highly aware, genuinely creative soul that never lets go of the importance of following her dreams. One of those dreams is coming to fruition this March, as she releases her debut album, aptly titled A Thousand Dreams.
The two artists got to know each other through our latest Bands Interviewing Bands. Check it out below.
Amanda Rose Riley: We are both releasing our debut studio albums after writing and performing for about four years. Mine is very much about my journey up to this point. How would you describe the path you’ve taken to get where you are and what the experience has been like for you?
Lyra Star: About four years ago, when I was living in Santa Rosa, I woke up one day and just realized I wanted to start songwriting and composing music again. I had dabbled in it when I was in high school and college, but it had been kind of absent from my life for a little while. My friend told me to go play at an open mic, and I was terrified. I vividly remember that first open mic and how nervous I was. Something inside of me told me I needed to keep doing this. I continued to play and eventually book gigs, but it was always a side thing. My main job has been working in education at Montessori schools, but I have slowly realized over the past few years that music is my true passion. It makes me so happy to play and write and be creative, and this album is the result of me finally feeling ready to put myself out there in the world as an artist. I still get nervous when I play, but there is also something exhilarating and wonderful about being onstage.
Lyra Star: Do you consider promoting your songs and playing music to be your main job or do you have another job or jobs that you do? I am getting ready to quit my main job in order to pursue my songwriting, and it is scary because I’m not sure how I’m going to make money if this is my main focus. What has been your experience with this aspect of the music industry?
Amanda Rose Riley: I try to think of it as my main job as a mental hack! I stopped working full-time about a year ago, and luckily I have supportive family that I get along with helping to keep a roof over my head. I currently still make the majority of money off my part-time non-music admin work, though I do seem to spend much more time on music. I try to take it one step at a time, at least laying the groundwork for as many different musical income streams as I can and keeping the faith. You never know if it will work out, but the more positive I am, the better I will be at making music and building essential relationships!
Lyra Star: I can definitely hear the influence of punk rock in your songs. I’m curious as to what made you choose to have a gentler sound by using the acoustic guitar rather than electric? Do you usually perform with an acoustic guitar or do you sometimes use an electric guitar? Have you ever dabbled in playing other instruments?
Amanda Rose Riley: I always preferred electric guitar when I was a teenager, I wrote punk songs (though I didn’t perform publicly at the time), and my dream was to front a punk band. I still love punk music, but at a certain point I just fell in love with acoustic guitar music and that’s what I’ve been interested in playing ever since. I see the acoustic guitar as a much more interesting and versatile instrument in many ways. I do enjoy playing piano/keyboard from time to time to get out of a creative rut, but I’ve never had enough motivation to master it!
Amanda Rose Riley: In listening to your new song, “Devils Game,” I can hear a wide variety of musical influences. What do you consider to be your main ones? And do you have any big non-musical influences, such as visual artists, literary writers, etc.?
Lyra Star: Tori Amos really inspired me to start playing the piano again, and her album, Little Earthquakes, was pretty life changing for me as far as music goes. I listened to it over and over and over when I was in 8th grade. In high school, I really started to listen to a wide variety of music, and I have favorite artists across all genres. Radiohead is definitely one of my favorite bands because I think what they do with music is amazing… each album is so unique, and they have really pushed the boundaries with their more recent work. I also listened to a lot of jazz when I was in college, and I really love singers like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. I could go on and on about all of the different music I listen to, and I’m so grateful for the variety of music that I exposed myself to before I started creating my own. As far as visual artists, I always liked the whimsy and magic of Marc Chagall’s paintings, the haunting, ethereal photography of Sally Mann, and the nature art of Andy Goldsworthy. For literary work, I always loved the poetry of Mary Oliver, and my favorite book is The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.
Lyra Star: What are some of your main musical influences? Are there certain albums or artists that inspired you to start creating your own music?
Amanda Rose Riley: Well, everyone who knows me knows that my primary influence is Frank Turner, of course – I do have an impulse tattoo that says, “WWFTD?” after all. Frank is on a British label called Xtra Mile Recordings, and they release more than their share of music that inspires and influences me. I have eclectic influences though, from punk – The Bouncing Souls have probably had the biggest impact on me in that genre – to some nostalgic ’90s pop and country (I grew up listening to a lot of country), to contemporary folk and indie music that I like to explore when I have the time. In general, live music is a big inspiration for me, whether it’s one of my favorites or a local artist I’m hearing of for the first time. One of my biggest inspirations in the world is seeing a talented artist absolutely rock a show when only a handful of people are watching.
Lyra Star: Your website looks very professional. Did you create it yourself or did you hire someone to help with website design? How important do you think it is to have a really nice looking website for marketing yourself and your music?
Amanda Rose Riley: Even though people probably spend more time with artists’ social media posts than with their websites now, it’s still really important to have your own space online that looks and behaves exactly how you want. No ads, no competing messages trying to steal the visitor’s attention away. For me, it’s a great place to blog about my news, let people easily access music and videos, see where and when I’m performing, and buy music and merchandise. It is actually a website I recently made myself using a hosted WordPress.org, I like that, being on a budget, because you can play around with so many free themes and plug-ins to get nearly limitless customization with a relatively small amount of effort, and the only cost is the web hosting.
Amanda Rose Riley: Following your dreams and never giving up is a big theme of your album – it’s even in the title, A Thousand Dreams – and indeed, it’s a big theme of mine, too. What would you say to someone who is starting to lose hope in their dream after years of struggle and obstacles?
Lyra Star: I would say keep going and breathe…it can be hard, especially when pursuing creative endeavors, but life is short, and following your passion is so important. Life will throw obstacles at you no matter what you are doing, but I think it’s so important to do what makes you truly happy.
Follow Amanda Rose Riley
For fans of: Allison Weiss, Michelle Branch, Frank Turner
Follow Lyra Star:
For fans of : Imogen Heap, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell
Bands Interviewing Bands: Amanda Rose Riley (left) photo credit: Shared Tokens Photography. Lyra Star (right) photo credit: Olivia Browning