by Jason Bayani
Amber Flame is a multi-talented artist from the Pacific Northwest. She was born in Texas, raised in Arizona and now resides in the Bay Area. Aside from her work as a poet, she’s also the lead singer and composer for the band, Last of the RedHot Mamas. She’s been on several slam teams and is currently representing Oakland at the 2014 Women of the World Poetry Slam.
1. You have lived in Austin, Seattle, (possibly some other places) and now the Bay Area. How have the cities you’ve lived in informed your work and how do you see your new home influencing your writing now or possibly in the future?
I was born in Austin, but actually grew up in the Phoenix area and then Tucson area of Arizona. Washington and Arizona are opposites in almost all ways – so I moved from dry and hot to wet and cold, from open racism and extreme segregation to passive aggressive racism and unacknowledged “liberal” privilege and gentrification. I grew up unaware of my blackness, of my black culture, because I was the only black person in my family. In Seattle, I discovered that – I went from being the darkest person in a primarily-white family to the lightest person in a black family. I became a mother and an artist there. The peculiar inability of white people in Seattle to really openly and lovingly address their privilege and their racism influenced the militancy in my writing, the urge for change. However, almost my entire community in Seattle was composed of artists of all mediums, genres, and races. It was a great place to become an artist. I believe the Bay Area will be the measure of the quality and longevity – the effect – my art can have outside of that enclave. I am just beginning to explore the universality and accessibility in my artmaking, outside of the personal story.
2. How do you manage your time as a writer and a musician? Is there any separation that needs to occur or do you find you slip into either mode easily?
I create whatever I am moved to in the moment. My muse can be a finicky bitch, but minds most of all when I try to put off writing something down or recording something to work on later. I no longer remember what the thing was if I ignore it the moment the inspiration hits. As a mother, I make myself time to make art as an act of self-preservation. Which often means not enough sleep. I keep several projects burning in my head at once, so I can do a little something here, write a little something there and feel like I make progress across the board.
3. This is a question I’ve been wanting to ask all musicians lately, especially since we are a week away from Valentine’s Day. On a strictly musical level, what makes a love song a love song and how do you personally recognize one by sound alone?
This one is a tough one. There are so many kinds of love songs. I am also really about lyrics. I love a good lyric. So what is the connection between “I Hate Myself For Loving You” and “Only You”? The ear, and the place you are in emotionally. On sound alone, if the beginning matches my mood and I’m feeling all love-y and schmoopy, it’s immediately identified as a love song. So it’s not sound alone. It’s my emotional state coloring it. For instance, I love to sing “I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You)” – one of my favorite covers to do. As a queer woman, I’ve sung it with irony – never loved “a man” the way I love you “a woman”. I’ve also sang it in anger, to the one man I had a love affair with – how dare you treat me badly when you are the only man I’ve ever loved. Same song, same voice, totally different intentions. Also, I am realizing that most of the “love songs” I think of are not about being happily in love. Hmm.
4. I was going through your videos on youtube and found the first poem I heard you do at the Berkeley Slam. And as it was at that time for some reason I can’t get the thought of unleavened bread out of my mind. The intersection between religion and sexuality is often explored, however you seem to bring in this idea of consumption (taking in the spirit, consuming food and flesh) that I find fascinating. It’s something that is definitely not a passive act. How do you think this speaks to your relationship to both these subjects?
Religion and sexuality are both things you express physically, with the body. I remember my religious experiences with my senses. I remember my sexual experiences with my senses as well. Indulging in the desires of the flesh precluded taking the spiritual flesh of Christ. It’s what you do, put into, your body. I am having a hard time explaining this. I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian. The church was our entire life. Pretty much every day of the week included a church activity, it was our social circle and our entertainment. No TV, secular music or movies. It was the biggest influence on my aesthetic in all things. Neither religion or sexuality are things to be passive about. Both sex and religion require your body.
5. If you could steal any characteristics from your favorite artists and make them your own, what would they be and who would you take them from?
I’d take work ethic and drive from Beyonce. Longevity and relevance from Prince. Jennifer Hudson’s voice. Anastacia Tolbert’s versatility as a writer. Rachel McKibben’s ability to write the dark and disturbing. Neil Gaiman’s talent at fantastic. Michael Connolly’s facility at learning/playing instruments. Janelle Monae’s swag. Fiona Apple’s lyricism. I better stop…
You can visit Amber’s website here http://afirecracker.com/