In his book More Song-Writers On Songwriting, which features word for word transcriptions of author Paul Zollo’s interviews with musicians, jazz legend Herbie Hancock has this to say about his perspectives on music, life in general and his Buddhist approach to spirituality:
“...the human being has limitless possibilities. And that the core of what we are is not that thing we normally define ourselves as. The core of what we are is a human being. And when we define ourselves as a human being, it changes everything. So music now, I look at it from the standpoint of being a human being and use that as the foundation”
Although Saskatoon country artist Amanda Hagel has likely never read Zollo’s book, and jazz may or may not be something that often drops onto her personal musical radar, it’s not a stretch to say that she is an enlightened individual whose personal philosophies most definitely align with that of Hancock’s. In fact, her carefully crafted personal sense of spirituality stems from a series of life events that helped to mold and define her.
“I’m not sure if there was one single defining moment but instead many moments in my life along the way that have expanded and deepened my spirituality, which I would define as the inner journey to discovering more of who you really are,” Hagel tells NSMZ.
A series of family hardships as well as Hagel's own struggles with mental health via panic and anxiety served to quicken and perfect her inner sense of being. That inner journey she refers to, was arduous to be sure, but when Hagel came out the other side, she had evolved as both person and musician.
“As much as it can be intimidating and uncomfortable at times to step out in the world and reveal more of who you are discovering yourself to be, there’s something that keeps encouraging me to do so. I feel it each time I release a song or a piece of music that may not fit the formula of what’s commercially acceptable and popular in mainstream music these days. In the end, I trust the inner promptings of my heart and most importantly recognize, it’s not so much about me as it is about being of service to others,” Hagel explains.
With that in mind it should come as no surprise that Hagel has been able to tap into that spirituality and use her journey to mindfulness as inspiration in her own songwriting. It’s a process that Hagel struggles to put into words but essentially has to do with her finding her inner center of peace and tapping into that universal energy - call it “the source”, “God” or “Creator” but one thing is for sure, the feeling comes from within.
“I typically get a feeling with ideas and with inspiration. It's just an internal resonance that I feel. It comes from the heart, really. In those moments where I'm getting ideas, if I'm lit up, if my heart is lit up, I call it the happy dance of my heart, I know that the idea's right and I know I'm going in the right direction with it. I use that,” gushes Hagel about her compositional process, ”Some people might call it intuition, some people might call it that gut feeling you get but for me it's a connection that I think I have with a higher aspect of my spirituality. It's pretty cool. And I find I've been able to dial it in over the years and this record is the most dialed in I've ever been in terms of writing and hopefully that shows. Hopefully people are feeling it too."
With all this being said, Hagel’s recent full length release entitled Be the Light has come along just when the world needs her brand of spirituality the most. With the planet now slowly emerging from a pandemic, combined with an ever widening and equally divisive political landscape, Hagel’s optimism on Be the Light is a welcome change of pace from the standard fare offered up in the country music genre.
"When I first came up with the idea for the song 'Be the Light' it must have been over four years ago now. I remember the moment now vividly. It was the idea of that phrase that came to mind and I was like 'Okay I'm writing a song about this' and so then of course over the months that continued, I wrote it. I just kinda held onto it and with all the other stuff that I had going on, the covers stuff and the Christmas record, I was holding onto it and holding onto it until finally I thought that I needed to record the song and I was intending on releasing it in early 2020 or mid 2020 as the target but obviously with COVID everything came to a screeching halt. So I sat on it for a while,” says Hagel.
It seems to be a variation on a theme for many artists during this past year and a half of working under COVID restrictions. But art is art, and as the old saying goes “the show must go on” so Hagel pushed through and eventually released the record in spite of the pandemic. The serendipitous nature of the release of Be the Light as a song and as the title of the full length itself is something not lost on Hagel.
“I think for some reason the release of this record was just meant to be at this time. I feel like there's something happening. There's a change. There's a huge shift in consciousness that's occurring and things will be different fundamentally after COVID. Moving forward things are going to continue to change and this music and this message of living from the heart and coming from that place and being - I think it's going to be an asset and a crucial part of our moving forward as a people, to get a little philosophical about it, but that's kinda how I feel. That's what I feel we are going through. We’ve been through such hard times and difficulties with all of this and it’s really bringing that up in a lot of people. There's a shift in people. We're dialing in what's really important in life,` Hagel remarked.`
Sonically, Hagel relies on the 90’s country sound for musical inspiration. She loves the message in the lyrics of many of the songs of her heroes like Martina McBride, Patty Loveless, Lorrie Morgan, Allison Kraus, Trisha Yearwood, Sarah Evans, Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes, and Pam Tillis to name a few. And, simply put, these women knew how to write melodic, catchy, hook laden songs. The 90’s was very much a decade of female empowerment in music and it led to influencing a new generation of singer-songwriters in the country genre like Hagel.
“There was just a huge hub of these amazing female artists that were all doing so well back then. They were all superstars back then so I had record after record that I could listen to and that was a huge influence on me. A lot of the gals back then, not only did they have amazing vocals in terms of their delivery, but the songs back then, there were so many amazing songs. That's where for me it all started. I started to recognize the importance of a strong message in a song and being able to deliver that,` said Hagel.
At the end of the day, Hagel has released a record that is timely and chock-full of great songs. Working with producers Bart McKay and Jesse Weiman gives the overall product that glossy big radio appeal with a message of hope in its lyrical delivery. Be the Light is solid front to back and hopefully sooner as opposed to later Hagel will be able to get out and perform these tracks live to as many audiences as she can muster.
photo credits as follow:
Creative direction/design - Hal Schrenk Photographer - Liam Richards (Electric Umbrella) Hair Stylist - Tina Monz Make -up Artist - Loriann Zuzak