The next time Harley-Davidson or Indian is looking for a new spokesperson, the bike makers ought to consider Amelia White and her motorcycle stunt, which really has less to do with how she performs on a bike than with the associated mystique of highway rambling, leather, grease and grit. She—the gender of the pronoun is particularly important here—wrote a song embodying that. Neil Young may have sung about a "Motorcycle Mama," but few women other than White have sung about what it's like to be one.
The slinky, tremolo-laced song in question is the title track of her new album, Motorcycle Dream. As she slurs the snaking, blue melody, she sounds restless, self-possessed and a little seductive. Ditto for the lyrics: "Turbo engine between my legs / Somebody on the back, arms around my waist." And ditto for the video she made with Brian Gaskill: It begins with her walking alone beside a railroad track, moves through a sexually charged encounter with a dark-haired mystery woman and ends with her riding off into the distance on a motorcycle. It isn't hers, though. Says White, "I wish I did have a bike. A friend of mine at the last minute loaned me that bike for the video."
The experiences that actually inspired the song weren't so glamorous, which says something both about the challenges she faces as an independent musician and her songwriting abilities. "I'm not sure we could say I felt as tough as the song may appear," she says. She'd just found out she was going to lose her house in Nashville, which triggered memories of a time when she'd felt similarly rootless.
"Well, the story [in the song] is true," says White. "It was more than a dream. This neighbor of mine did lend me a motorbike. I didn't have a license or anything. He just taught me to ride. He just said, 'Whenever you want to use this, go for it.' I was 17 and I rode the hell out of that thing. And I think when I lost the house, in that moment...I just kind of realized the depth of loss in my life, I guess, from doing art and being kind of a freak. It immediately took my mind back to riding that motorbike when I was 17."
Counting the Candy Heart EP that preceded her Black Doves album, Motorcycle Dream is White's third release since she moved here from Boston. All were produced—at least in part—by Neilson Hubbard. "I'm personally interested in my recordings having a little bit of art-rock feel to them," she says. "And I think he really hones in on that."
On the new album, atmospheric touches—namely guitars that glide, chime and twang, a twinkling of keyboards and shadowy backing vocals—frame White's casually melodic, straight-ahead folk-rock. The set wraps up with the absolute antithesis of the title track: "Morning Song," a sunny new-love duet with Jon Byrd. Their two voices—hers reedy and even-toned, his solid and direct—are the only indications that this is the work of the same person as the writer of those other more introspective (though certainly not all bike-related) songs.
And if the motorcycle fantasy doesn't catch on like it should, maybe that duet will. "The dream of being a songwriter is something that I live and I don't doubt that I have it," White says. "But the dream of having a little bit of financial reward for that is ever moody and elusive.... I'm hoping that continuing to do this, you know, would bring a little bit more financial reward. At the same time, that's certainly not why I do it."
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