Although only 23, Amanda Zelina has already experienced death and rebirth. That notion is at the core of her full-length debut album, Love Me Till I’m Me Again, the culmination of a three-year journey that found the singer/guitarist chasing her musical ambitions to Los Angeles before returning home to Toronto, consumed by a battle with her demons.
Her art proved to be her savior. Reaching back to the primary sources of classic songwriting: blues, country, folk and soul, Zelina infuses this mix with raw emotions, and a haunting voice that stands apart from the current influx of female artists. In fact, it can be said that her closest musical contemporaries are male, as she draws heavily from the same well of brutal honesty as Ray LaMontagne and Ryan Adams. Similarly, Zelina’s strength is that her music crosses all boundaries. Her only intention is to penetrate the hearts of all who listen.
Born and raised in the town of King City north of Toronto, Zelina’s first musical connection came through listening to blues and soul tapes her father played on road trips. She says she first started developing song ideas during this time, but didn’t act upon it until graduating high school and taking up the guitar. Her next move was to L.A., ostensibly to study music more seriously, although she admits her primary motivation was to pursue what ultimately became a doomed relationship. What followed was a rapid descent into clinical depression and a diagnosis of Bi-polar disorder.
Before leaving L.A., Zelina recorded a live album, Subtitles, comprised of her earliest songwriting efforts, but once back in Toronto an entirely new approach emerged, mostly due to how treatment for the disorder had forced her to question her past motives, belief system, goals, and everything else that made her who she was. “For the first six months I was basically immobile in my house,” she says. “It’s hard for me to explain it to people, but I didn’t even have the energy to physically write things down. All I could really do was press the play button on my stereo, so I spent the entire time listening to all kinds of music and working out ideas in my head.”
Once able to pick up the guitar and sit at the piano again, the new songs rushed out in a torrent until a unifying vision for the album, both musically and lyrically, became apparent. Zelina began recording Love Me Till I’m Me Again on her own, but when she approached City And Colour producer Dan Achen for mixing help on two tracks, he immediately offered to do the entire record at his Catherine North Studio in Hamilton.
The results present Zelina as a fully formed artist now in the same league as her heroes. From the loping beauty of “Midnight Train” to the fragile intensity of “Love Leads The Way,” Zelina wears her heart on her sleeve, but like all great singer/songwriters, there’s always a sense that the ability to do that didn’t come without learning some hard lessons along the way. “When I moved to L.A., I still didn’t know what my musical niche was because I was just writing constantly,” she says. “Then when I really got into playing guitar, and eventually slide guitar, it suddenly clicked that the blues and soul I’d been listening to my entire life was my true passion. I finally understood it.”
It may be hard to gauge the true depth of those struggles when encountering Zelina’s outwardly charming personality for the first time, but the second she begins a song like Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” it’s all there in the voice and guitar. Amanda Zelina has all the tools to join the illustrious ranks of internationally renowned Canadian roots artists, and Love Me Till I’m Me Again is a sure-fire introduction