You may recognize the haunting croon of Milwaukee-based singer Amanda Huff from her collaborations with artists across genres — from the smokey jazz of Strangelander, to electronic collabs with artists like Dream Attics, Bonelang, and a track with MSO cellist Peter Thomas. Our partner 88Nine Radio Milwaukee had a chat with the artist this week to dig into how she transitioned from collaborations to her own solo album Hemiptera.
I noticed you have a “630” area code. I’m guessing you didn’t grow up in Milwaukee?
This is the part where I have to admit I grew up in Illinois. I grew up in the suburbs.
I came here about 8 years ago, for art school at MIAD. I was a double major in Painting and ISA, which stood for “Integrated Studio Art.” You could do whatever media you wanted, but all the classes were focused around building concept, rather than technique necessarily.
I was always more private with my musical pursuits. I didn’t have any musical knowledge, so I didn’t go to school for it. Art seemed like a better bet. But while I was at MIAD, I was always in musical projects. I used to be in a folk band. I did installation work where I would use sound. Much of my musical pursuit didn’t start until after college.
Were you always singing around your house? When did you realize you were interested in singing?
It’s weird, I remember when I was five at my grandparent’s cabin, just listening to everyone walking around the space and trying to imitate their voices. When I realized I could do it pretty well I thought, “the voice is pretty interesting, you can make it do ten different things. Let me continue playing with that.” That developed over time into this constant play of sounds developed through many showers and being locked in my room. Bless my mother and father for putting up with every awful noise that emanated from my living quarters. You gotta learn how to wail somewhere!
When I first heard about you, you were collaborating. Now you have solo work out. What was your journey to becoming a solo artist?
I feel like I just came into the scene a year ago, even though I’ve been here for years. Just staying under the radar. One of my biggest goals when making music is to have versatility in my abilities. I spent a long time hopping around different genres, trying to hone in on different tones and capabilities of my voice. So, when it came to articulating things that I personally wanted to communicate through my music, I would have a proper toolbox. I’ve done a lot of different features with hip hop, Dream Attics, electronica… it’s really hard to find your own voice and have it be something you want to commit to.
The hardest part about being a singer was nobody told me I would have to be the leader or the face of it. I have to answer the questions, I have to talk about the concept and my lyrics… It’s not only difficult to constantly make sure I’m sounding articulate, but also that I’m meaning what I’m saying from the heart. I’ve always been a really intentional lyricist, but to have the courage to talk about the things then when they are darker, it’s hard.
This story is from our partner 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.