Audra Mae’s talent is so raw and real that she literally can stop you in your tracks. She is the powerful voice heard in Avicii’s “Addicted to You,” now playing in San Francisco clubs. The song received a fashionable boost from designer Ralph Lauren, whose team co-produced the video for the song that is now running on Vevo.com. Audra Mae is not shown in that video, but you will remember her nonetheless.
Born in Oklahoma, Audra Mae is the great grandniece of Judy Garland and is the latest powerhouse performer to come from that impressive musical dynasty (see page 17). Her great grandmother Virginia was a member of the Gumm Sisters, whose youngest member Francis Ethel Gumm grew up to be Judy Garland. Virginia was quite a performer in her own right, and later changed her name to “Jimmie.” This is a family of strong women who continue to defy stereotypes while charting their own unique course. Audra Mae certainly carries on that legacy.
On Elvis’ birthday, with just $20 in her pocket, Audra Mae moved to California seven years ago. One of her first gigs here was performing at a Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation benefit. Leave it to brilliant executive director Ken Henderson to once again discover a budding talent. Since then, she has signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell. She recorded Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” heard on the
hit F/X series Sons of Anarchy. Audra Mae also has written songs recorded by Susan Boyle, Celine Dion and other well-known artists.
But we want to know more about Audra Mae, who is now recording her third album. (Check out her acclaimed debut, The Happiest Lamb, and her follow-up, Audra Mae & The Almighty Sound.) She generously took time for a rare interview.
Bay Times: We heard that you recently went on a 4-month, cross-country pilgrimage to find out where and why rock and roll came about. What did you find out? Also, please share any memories/anecdotes from the trip.
Audra Mae: Yes, I did! It was my “Divine Roots Pilgrimage.” As far as Rock and Roll goes, I learned that it happened because people from different forms of folk music were inspired by each other’s stories of oppression. Especially “The Blues,” which is an American treasure that changed the world. What killed me about it was that most of the actual places this music came from are still oppressed. These places changed history, but history has forgotten them. I didn’t see many monuments to true heroes, ya know? Mostly old white guys who caused the pain and suffering that “The Blues” was born of, in the first place. It was incredibly haunting and mysterious and Clarksdale, Mississippi, will cry out in my heart forever.
Bay Times: Speaking of journeys, your career has already taken all of us listeners on an incredible ride. How did you first know that you wanted to be a singer/songwriter?
Audra Mae: I grew up onstage, so I was performing before I was fully potty-trained. It wasn’t until my friends got me a guitar for my 17th birthday that I started to channel my creativity through playing and writing music, myself. Even then, it took me about four years to actually consider myself a songwriter. I was always a singer. So I guess I should have known, but it was second nature the moment it started, so it took me a while to see what was right in front of me.
Bay Times: Who are some of your mentors and musical influences, and how have they affected your life and music?
Audra Mae: Nina Simone is it. I grew up listening to every kind of music I could get my ears on, but when I heard Nina’s, it took me beyond where I thought “popular” music could go. No other voice in the entire history of the world has ever affected me like hers. She sings the truth. She makes me laugh and cry and she demands my attention with just a breath. Her piano playing is absolutely gorgeous, and I consider her the true Queen of Soul. Long may she reign.
Bay Times: Your work resonates with palpable integrity. Is it challenging to preserve such creative freedom and honesty in the music business?
Audra Mae: Thank you!!!! That means so much to me! Yes, it’s hard to explain to people who aren’t artists why you can’t take that job that pays like crazy because it’s “just not you” or it “just doesn’t feel right.” However, it’s hard for artists to do the daily, on-the-grind, work it actually takes to get your art out into the world. So, the goal should be to build a team around you who believes in you. If they believe in you and you work your ass off, you learn to trust each other and beautiful things can happen in this business when teamwork is at its most efficient.
Bay Times: You are such a powerful role model for women, given your intelligence, command of the stage and how you’ve handled your work. Do you think it’s still harder for women, as opposed to men, to be taken seriously for their music?
Audra Mae: Yes, it’s harder. Absolutely. But what are you gonna do? You can’t change it from the outside. Shoulders back, chin up and walk, with a smile, directly into the belly of the beast. Otherwise, go home. You’re in the way.
Bay Times: One of the videos for “Addicted to You” tells of a torrid lesbian love affair. Did you help with that story line? Any thoughts about it?
Audra Mae: I wish I could say I thought of it, but I didn’t see it until it came out. I thought it was beautiful! So much fun! And it was nice to see two young actresses own the screen without showing much skin. It was steamy and dangerous and classy all at the same time. I’m excited to be a part of it.
Bay Times: Our paper is the oldest fully LGBT owned and operated publication for the gay community in the San Francisco Bay Area. We know you already have a strong queer following that continues to grow. What do you think about the advancements made in terms of LGBT rights over the past few years, and do you think that music has helped in that effort?
Audra Mae: I’m so blessed to be alive and making music at a time when compassion seems to be the global issue. On every level, the people all over this planet are demanding compassion above all virtues. I wish it was such a no-brainer to everyone in the world but maybe, someday, it will be for our children. Music has always been, and will always be, the medicine, but without publications like yours, the LGBT communities around the world wouldn’t have a steady source of truth and community. To know you belong is the most important feeling a human being can feel.
Bay Times: We would love to see you perform again here in SF. Do you have a tour in the works that might bring you here?
Audra Mae: I don’t have any tour dates in San Fran at the moment. I love that town! When the fog rolls in, it seems like you’re in a city in the sky. The food is wonderful, music is everywhere, people are paying attention to life, and the history of art and culture is so rich and unique. I’d love to head up there soon and just go museum-hopping for a few days.
Bay Times: Your career is so full of twists and turns. It’s hard to predict what you might do next? Care to fill us in on any of your future goals with your music?
Audra Mae: I’m making my third record right now and writing and singing for lots of other projects. It’s truly a wonderful time to be making music. There are so many artists finding each other and working together like mutual muses. I can’t wait for the world to hear what I know is coming!
Bay Times: Please mention anything else that you would like our readers to know about.
Audra Mae: I would like to let your readers know that, though we surely have a long way to go, we’ll never get there by focusing on our pain. We must focus on our joy! Go celebrate tonight! Raise a toast to those who came before us, and to the legacy we leave behind! Be good to each other. We’ve got work to do.
To learn more about Audra Mae and her music, please visit: www.audramaemusic.com/