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Austin, Texas, United States | INDIE

Austin, Texas, United States | INDIE
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter


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"Chasing Amy"

Amy Cook seats herself on the basement floor of the not-yet-open Hotel Havana in San Antonio. The room is painted white and minty blue-green, with disembodied lamp bases strung wall to wall. Dressed in a fire-red jumpsuit, a catlike tilt to her sky blue eyes, Cook drapes slender arms over crossed legs. Any other musician with an album scheduled for imminent release would be in the frenzy of preparation. Amy Cook is cool, calm, and has collected herself by doing something unrelated musically.

Above her, on three floors overlooking this more peaceful section of the River Walk, the Havana buzzes. At the center of this hive of activity is attorney-turned-hotelier Liz Lambert, Cook's lover and the remarkable visionary behind Austin's San José and Saint Cecilia boutique hotels, as well as Marfa's Thunderbird. This latest addition comes with its own honeyed cachet, built on Navarro Street in the late 1800s as a European-style residential hotel. In Lambert's capable reimagining, the ambience is pre-Castro Havana in the Alamo City with a touch of Hemingway cool.

Cook went to work as a painter for Lambert in Marfa around 2005, at the Thunderbird. She later swathed the walls of the Saint Cecilia bar in a rich jewel blue, achieved using Venetian plaster. At the Hotel Havana, amid minibar refrigerators in tropical colors and cigar-friendly balconies, the singer refurbishes the beautifully crafted lamps. Dangling above her, they're in the grayish primer stage. Soon, they'll be glossy black. Amy Cook gestures sweepingly.

"Welcome to Lampland!"

It's the perfect greeting from someone whose new recording is titled Let the Light In.
California Girl

Her official biography offers little about Amy Cook's life before age 25. It's not that she's cryptic; now 35, she boasts roughly 15 years in the business and is still exploring the bounds of her talent. It's a gratifying journey for both the local musician and her passionate fan base, one increasingly accompanied by the press, which delights in hyphenated descriptives. "Indie pop singer-songwriter" comes closest to the slippery realms where Cook's music resides.

"It's weird, like nothing happened to me before then," notes Cook about the absence of her history with a faint smile.

She grew up in the Bay Area's Silicon Valley, learning to play guitar in the fourth grade for the church choir she sang in. She dabbled in songwriting then and kept it up throughout high school, moving to open mics when she started college in Los Angeles. At 22, she recorded her first disc.

Who were your parents and what did they do?

"I'm adopted."

The question becomes the elephant in the room. Cook herds it graciously, frankly, philosophically.

"My dad worked at IBM, and my mother was a homemaker."

The Cooks had no other children.

"I know my birth mother though," she volunteers, "and have a sister."

Do you have a relationship with your birth mother?

"If I'd had a different relationship with my adopted parents, it could have been fine, but we came from totally different planets. It may be that way [in biological families], but it's complicated when you're adopted because you don't know that."

Another pachyderm lumbers on the sidelines.

Did you always know you were gay?

She nods, the smile that so easily slides across her angular face tugging at one corner of her pink mouth.

"I had a girlfriend when I was in high school," she offers.

Rainbows weren't where her religious adoptive parents planned their daughter's search for gold in life, yet those looking for evidence of psychic scarring or a lost soul in her music will have to keep moving along. Cook is well-balanced with the status quo, though she's aware of the emotional effort involved.

"David Garza sent me a message the other day: 'When I ask you to come up onstage, come up onstage! Don't be the kid sitting on the side of the pool!'

"That's who I've been. That's the kid that is me.

"A lot of it is Liz. She's not going to let me be the kid on the side of the pool. It's taking me a long time to let go of that – that I'm not good enough."

A clatter outside the room of hanging lamps is accompanied by the voices of workers who fill every room in the hotel. Cook rises and tiptoes to the door, shutting the noise out as she playfully presses a slim index finger to her lips.

"Let's close the door. Lampland should be more private."
Sky Observations

"I lived in L.A. for 12 years, and I really liked it. But I just kinda thought I wanted to live somewhere else. Maybe it was the traffic."

Cook returns from the door and sinks back down again to the concrete floor, crossing her ankles and leaning back on her hands.

"It seemed like a grind, and I couldn't figure out who I was as a songwriter. When you're in L.A., people tell you what you should do and how it's gonna work for you. After so many years, I wanted to go somewhere quiet so I could figure out what songs I wanted to do and who I was. But I don't think that was L.A.'s fault."

That's a first for the City of Angels, long damned and condemned as evil incarnate, the siren's call responsible for more misfortunes than fortunes. For Cook, those years in Los Angeles were the proving ground, trying her wings at such places as Hotel Cafe before heading to Texas. By some standards, she was becoming successful, especially if you count the touchy-feely soundtracks on shows like Dawson's Creek and Felicity. Even with her song "Million Holes in Heaven" on critically acclaimed series The L Word, advancement was relative.

"I couldn't get people out to shows," she admits.

A trip here for the Austin City Limits Music Festival got to her. She arrived in town and called Liz Lambert at the behest of friends. The two arranged to meet at the San José, but Lambert was running late.

"So I went to the Continental Club first. It was Tuesday night."

Cook displays a fill-in-the-blank grin.

"Toni Price. Hippie hour. Pot-smoking out back and people being so nice. It was my first introduction to Austin music, and it was fucking awesome. I loved it right away."

She and Lambert met up later that night. Cook's day job attracted the attention of the hotelier notorious for her hands-on approach. Cook learned the Venetian plaster method from an L.A. pro.

"A couple months later Liz called me and said: 'I need a painter. Do you want to come work [in Marfa] at the Thunderbird?' I was like, 'All riiiiight!' She got me there, and I never left. Went back to L.A. and got my stuff.
Liz Lambert and Amy Cook
Liz Lambert and Amy Cook
Photo by Jana Birchum

"In Marfa, I stopped thinking about what I was going to write and just wrote. It felt like I was doing it just for me – I didn't care what was going to happen with the songs. It was so liberating, like doing this," she says, waving at Lampland.

"I can paint lights, and I can go on tour. In L.A., I felt pressured to be successful, but being happy is not about those things. Like when you're traveling and finally going home, and you get to the gate at the airport with all the other people going home to Texas. Moving here just felt right."
The Escovedo Factor

Two years later, the Austinite released The Sky Observer's Guide, songs of starry introspection and wry observations. Its exquisite packaging included art by Amy Adler, Joni Mitchell's curator, and grabbed the attention of Out magazine, which counted Cook among its Top 100 of 2008. The recording made a flashy calling card and suggested there was a great deal more to come.

"I wasn't consciously trying to do anything different, but I wrote a lot of the songs on that record in alternate tunings," she says. "I had Brad Rice playing guitar and when he went off with Keith Urban, I felt really lost with the songs. I realized a lot of them didn't work with just me and guitar. When I went on tour, they weren't translating. It was kind of boring. I liked the record, the atmosphere, but I think I wrote it all in one place where my voice fit, and I hadn't figured out how to use my voice. I didn't know I could sing, and Alejandro showed me how to sing.

"We'd been on tour, singing songs – 'Laaaaaaaa!'" trills Cook operatically.

"And he'd be like, 'Yeah!' One night, after I'd opened and he was about to go on, he said, 'I'm gonna sing "All the Young Dudes," and you're going to sing the second verse.' And I was like, 'What?' There are a lot of words there, and they're not easy to learn! I looked them up on my iPhone and wrote lyrics on my arm. He could have told me the lyrics, but he wanted me to rise to the occasion.

"So, I got up there, sang the first and second line, then panicked, looking at my arm. All the blood rushed to my head – standing in front of hundreds of people and I'm not singing! It was like being a kid and peeing in class! But I pulled it off, I did something funny, did a little dance, and everyone laughed, and it was fine.

"The next night, he made me do it again."

The making of Let the Light In, produced by Escovedo – his first for someone else – ushered in a new era of creativity for Cook, who wrote the songs over a three-year period. It was a time spent learning the discipline of writing every day and discovering that some songs deliver themselves fully formed in 20 minutes while others require cultivation and gestation.

"Once you start doing something every day, it gets easier. I was afraid for a long time that I would give a lot of time to something and not be good at it. When it got easier to write, it was easier to give more time to it.

"I was playing with people I really loved, but Alejandro said, 'We're going to play with different people on the record.' He knew what he wanted and what we were going to do. We did a lot of preproduction where he'd say, 'This is how the song is going to start, where it's going to build.' He really pushed for as much feeling as possible in the songs."

Some of that feeling came from those who worked on it with her – Escovedo and his six-string crony David Pulkingham; Austin's latest name resident Ben Kweller as her co-writer on "Let's Go Down to the River," with the luminous Patty Griffin and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson singing harmony; Stephen Barber's elegant arrangements of the Tosca String Quartet bassist backed by Bobby Daniel and drummer Sammy Kestenholtz with David Boyle on keyboards. Boyle also lent his recording and mixing talents to the album, mastered by Dave McNair. Much of Light's sparkle comes from the diamond edge Escovedo puts on Cook's sharpened songwriting.

The compelling "Moonrise" is already heard on KUT, but "Saltwater," "Hotel Lights," and "Let's Go Down to the River" are likely favorites. The titular track and sly "I Wanna Be Your Marianne" further map new turf.

"I like writing story songs and had just watched [The Rolling Stones] Rock and Roll Circus and listened to T. Rex. Marianne could be anybody."

Cook smiles, using a similar disclaimer about the song "Mescaline," which she admits ultimately did inspire that one. Except Marianne's the name of one of rock & roll's redeemed goddesses, a moniker immortalized in countless song titles by artists from the Who to Leonard Cohen to Tori Amos. And the song sounds like Escovedo dug into it, the visceral combination of artist and producer that makes real studio magic. Isn't that what a songwriter wants?

Cook nods in agreement and rises, walking to the door and opening it. The musty surroundings of the larger basement area contrast with Lampland's compact tranquility.

"Want to go upstairs?"
Spaces in Between

Perched on the top step outside of the Hotel Havana, Amy Cook tamps a Natural American Spirit cigarette from its blue pack and lights it. The cirrus smoke floats into the cloudless sky, drifting one way then twisting another. Tattooed on the inside of her right arm is the word "bird."

"It's an ex-girlfriend's nickname; we're still good friends," she explains then giggles. "We call it 'lesbian Scrabble,' because she had my initials, 'ANC,' tattooed on the inside of her arm. For her new girlfriend, all she did was add a letter at the beginning and at the end. It was perfect."

Looming is the release of Let the Light In and a tour with the Heartless Bastards. Also in the cards is Amy Cook: The Spaces in Between, a documentary directed by Todd Robinson. While it's not Cook's current look or repertoire, the film is symbolic of her ongoing progress.

"As a singer and a songwriter, but mostly as a person, I've grown into my skin since then," she muses. "I've been lucky enough to find some great teachers and cohorts in Austin I've learned so much from. And I also have a girlfriend who's really inspiring to be around. She makes you believe anything is possible. That you can do what you set your mind to, and you should have a good time doing it."

On cue, Lambert appears behind her holding a menu – anyone want to order lunch? Her hair is short, sandy blonde, tousled like a well-loved stuffed animal. Cook looks up with a winsome smile, shaking her shoulder-length locks no. Lambert leans down and kisses the top of her head.

Amy Cook Let(s) the Light In at the Hotel San José CD release, Thursday, April 8, 6pm.
E-mailing Amy

Who do you love? It's a question about music Amy Cook bounced around in conversation, then elaborated on by e-mail afterward. In her own e.e. cummings style (Cook's a longtime fan of his poetry), and unedited, this was her reply:

when i get asked who i really love musically i get overwhelmed and i go blank.

here are some really important ones. i love music and every kind of music so a lot is left out,

like stevie wonder, and shuggie otis and replacements and david axelrod and miles davis and the gun club and

the kinks and mazzy star and patti smith, talking heads, nirvana, etc. ... kenny rogers first edition! ... i could go on forever though, so here are very faves and i'm sure i'm forgetting somebody so important.

simon and garfunkel

big star

jeff buckley

t rex



rolling stones

david garza

the escovedo

patty griffin

neil young

sam phillips - Austin Chronicle

"Album Review"

Over time, a musician’s career can take unexpected turns. Many artists peak early and stagnate, while others suddenly find their footing and make that leap from something good to something special. When this happens, the performer often seems as surprised as the audience. The past couple albums from Austin singer-songwriter Amy Cook—whose tunes have shown up on such TV shows as Dawson’s Creek, Veronica Mars, and The L Word—have emphasized her folksier leanings; 2006’s Bunkhouse Recordings, made in Marfa, was particularly spare and dusty. But she has always had a gutsier, more visceral side, and on the Alejandro Escovedo-produced Let the Light In (Roothouse Records) it comes to the fore. Escovedo, with his affinity for seventies glam rock, lays on the guitar grit, and Cook, who has a warm, textured voice, takes on the confidence of a Janis Joplin-style belter. “Mescaline” and “I Wanna Be Your Marianne” jump out of the gate with real swagger. The title track is anthemic and powerful, if a bit strained, and the blues-drenched “Moonrise,” on which Cook wails repeatedly, “When you gonna look my wayyy?” is riveting. Yet amid all the commotion, it’s a more wistful moment that steals the show. “My face was always pressed against the glass,” Cook sings on the album’s first single, “Hotel Lights,” a magnificent remembrance of yearning and revelation that features Patty Griffin on backing vocals. “You were the only one who ever asked / ‘Why don’t you come inside?’ ” - Texas Monthly

"She just keeps movin' on"

Amy Cook finds growth in movement. From L.A. where she penned tunes for TV and film to the eclectic, west Texas town of Marfa (the backdrop for films like No Country for Old Men) to Austin, Cook has travelled and evolved, all leading to the finest recording she’s made to date, Let the Light In.

Produced by the musician’s musician, Alejandro Escovedo, Cook brings songwriting confidence and rock swagger that lies someplace north of Lucinda Williams (listen to the opening track “Get It Right”) and east of Sheryl Crow, two artists also known to have hung their hats in the live music capital of the world. Patty Griffin and Ben Kweller contribute their considerable talents to the album and Escovedo’s influence is especially heard on “Mescaline” with its virtuosity of blasting guitars and string quartet. On “Moonrise,” she laments “Some people wait for Jesus Christ. Well I guess I’m never satisfied. I’m just waiting for the Moonrise.” Even if she never finds a physical destination to put roots down, she’s arrived in a musical sense. - Paste


“Many musicians would admit that one goal they strive for is: to make the listener feel like they are spending time with an old friend. Amy Cook’s latest release recalls the comfortable moments of silence that punctuate the dialogue of friendship. The Sky Observer’s Guide serves as a roadmap or a solo drive across many miles, or a one-sided conversation that does not demand a response from you other than devotion. Intimate but not intimidating, leisurely but not lazy, this album is the perfect companion, as all it aims to do is please you.

"'Sunshine' is soaked in the same golden hues of a Norah Jones melody while still maintaining a sound owned entirely by Cook. "Feathers To A Crown" begins with bittersweetrefelction and churns out a stirring finale with strings and percussion that build in momentum. The true gem is the opener, "Coming Home (The Eclipse)," a song that is just flat out sexy. Cook's soaring voice echoes the ethereal quality of Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays.

(Interesting note: Amy Adler, who curated Joni MItchell's only sanctioned art show, created the sepia rendering of Cook on the cover)

----Megan Renart - Austin Music Magazine (July/August 2007)

"Album Review - The Sky Observer's Guide"

Talk about an appropriate title, The Sky Observer's Guide is an ethereal wonderland where "a cavalry of birds pluck cannonballs from the sky," dreamers "cover the moon with the top of [their] thumb," and folks "listen to the thunder and let it take you under." Amy Cook's fixation with the cosmos makes sense. In 2005, the west coast native left smoggy Los Angeles for the endless firmament of Marfa, Texas, where she wrote these songs in a four-week burst. Perhaps the flurry of creativity, and the emotional rawness it captured, is what allows the album to flow so effortlessly. The opening trip "Coming Home (The Eclipse," "The Answer" and "The Reveler's Goodbye" provide a foundation solid enough to support somewhat indulgent lapses such as "Where Do We Go?" and "Pearl". Here's a promise: fans of Shawn Colvin or Garrison Starr will swoon repeatedly for the gorgeous "Sunshine" and "Feathers To A Crown".

---- Brian T. Atkinson - No Depression (Sept/Oct 2007)

"Album Review: The Sky Observer's Guide"

Alt-folk singer-songwriter Amy Cook got fed up with the industrial grind of L.A. - where her songs first got recognition on teen dramas like Dawson's Creek, Laguna Beach and Veronica Mars - so she packed her bags and headed for Austin. Along the way, she momentarily settled down in the West Texas ranching and artist outpost of Marfa, where she found new inspiration in the vast surroundings and wrote two new albums, last year's The Bunkhouse Recordings and this year's The Sky Observer's Guide. On the latter, ethereal acoustic numbers like "Coming Home (The Eclipse)" and "Sunshine" alternate with poppy distorted-guitar numbers like "The Reveler's Goodbye" and "Bright Colored Afternoons" - all of which are anchored by Cook's incisive writing and beautiful voice. Through her simultaneously upbeat and haunting music, Cook finds metaphors for her life under the giant sky and ultimately leaves listeners seeing stars.

--- Stayton Sonner - Texas Music Magazine (Summer 2007)


Full Length Releases:
From the 52nd Story (self) 2000
The Firefly Sessions (self) 2003
Bunkhouse Recordings (Marfa Records) 2005
Sky Observer's Guide (Roothouse Records) 2006
Fine Day For Flying (EP) (42 North Recordings) 2009
Let the Light In (Roothouse Records) 2010
Summer Skin (Roothouse/Thirty Tigers) 8/21/12

sync licenses:
Good Wife- Hotel Lights
The L Word- Million Holes in Heaven
Veronica Mars- Fireflies
Paris Hilton's My New BFF- Coming Home (Eclipse)
Paris Hilton's My New BFF- Feather's to A Crown
Laguna Beach the Real OC- Windows
Beautiful People- She Dances On
Charmed- Hotel Lights
Extreme Cribs!- cues
Felicity- Magic Wand
Dawsons Creek- Silver Superliner
Dawsons Creek- She Dances On
Dawsons Creek- Windows
Party of Five- Windows
Jake 2.0- You Got Me
StrongMedicine- She Dances On
Strong Medicine- Magic Wand
Amargosa- (feature film)- She Dances On, Marta's song, Magic Wand
Miss Match- Nevermind
Wisegirls- 200 Meadows



Amy first made her mark in Los Angeles, where she epitomized the rise of the "indie" artist, self-releasing records and finding success licensing her songs to television and film.
Longing for inspiration and a change of scenery, Amy moved to the small West Texas town of Marfa in 2004. It was there on the front porch of an old house that she recorded a collection of lo-fi folk songs that would become "The Bunkhouse Recordings," complete with crickets and coyotes.
Soon after, she moved to Austin where she recorded "The Sky Observer's Guide" (a collaboration with Los Angeles artist Amy Adler) and caught the attention of Alejandro Escovedo, who tapped her for opening duties during his "Real Animal" tour. They followed their traveling act with "Let the Light In," an Escovedo produced record that garnered critical acclaim and featured the song "Hotel Lights," which became featured on many favorites lists in 2010. Patty Griffin sings background vocals on the track. Opening shows for Heartless Bastards, AA Bondy, Escovedo, Chris Isaak, and others followed.
In August, Cook will release her finest album to date-- Summer Skin-- a collection of songs by an artist whose time has come. Showing off newly inspired vocal prowess, her most cohesive project to date features production by Craig Street and a virtuoso band including Chris Bruce, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jonathan Wilson, and David Garza. Special guests include Robert Plant, Ben Kweller, and Patty Griffin.
Summer Skin will be released August 21, 2012 on Roothouse Records /Thirty Tigers.