The last few years have been huge for queer artists — especially, in my opinion, the past three years. There are so many LGBTQ people making damn good music and explicitly queer music that I feel all aglow with appreciation and adoration for these artists.
Every week, I meet a new artist who I put into heavy rotation. Recently, a friend put me on to Amelia Jackie, a New York-based folk singer-songwriter. Amelia just put out a new record, You Can’t Fuck The Internet, and it’s a gem with so many great songs to add to your playlist for everything from kissing to crying.
Amelia’s voice is at once sweet and smoke. She’s got an undeniable grit that persists in her vocals that I’m drawn to, and the lyrics often match this mood. When I talked to her, we discussed how she wanted people to listen to this record. Our mutual friend said she had been putting the album on during dates — to great success.
I said I imagined driving down a dusty road in an ochre-colored landscape, no other cars on the road, just myself and the distance. Amelia laughed at this because, as she described it, she wrote this album in a situation that almost directly matched what I had conjured.
“I definitely write a lot when I’m in my car alone. Many of the songs were written when I was living in rural northern California. So you kind of described the landscape, so that’s magic,” she said.
In addition to having a friend in common, Amelia and I share another thing: We are both poets. Amelia studied poetry at The New School in New York, and her love of literature is evident in her songwriting.
“I’m a writer and poet first,” she says, which makes me think of my favorite song on the album, “Terribly Blue.”
The first lines of the song are
“momma wanted it all to be good
take you by the ankle and dip you in gold
everybody knows that we did not have gold
so she washed you in diet coke,”
and its the kind of poetics of the everyday that attracts me as a listener, and as a reader. As listeners of music, we can be drawn to either the melody or the lyrics first, sometimes both, and I find that the lyrics are what first drew me into Amelia’s music.
There is so much written and said about the link between music and poetry, and some argue that music is inherently poetry. I think there is an express difference between the two, but when they marry, as they do on You Can’t Fuck The Internet, it’s totally enrapturing. You get lost in it, for about an hour you’re in the world of the songs, a world that might be parallel to your own.
In my world, in the poetry I read and the media I consume, there is this thread of queer longing that persists. I’m a sucker for a heartbreak anthem, for a lonesome and forlorn sound. I think folk music naturally lends itself to that feeling, but not always. Amelia’s album has that sense of longing. It is perfectly exemplified in the song “White Rabbit.”
The refrain of “I’m gonna lose you” in the song just pulls on your heartstrings and makes you remember whoever you’ve lost in love. Amelia says that while she didn’t go into writing these songs with the purpose of depicting queer longing, it is definitely present in her writing as it was in her early queer life.
“When I think about my identity, what constituted me, I do feel that. There was this feeling of being attracted to girls in school and kind of being snubbed by them. That is a huge part of my identity in music. You know, just this feeling of the unrequited or repression. I think that’s just like part of one of the characters of who I am like in the writing process, you know?” she says.
In “White Rabbit” we get these lines of pure poetry
“I built you a house
of baby finch feathers
can you miss a town
if you don’t miss the weather”
and there is so much in those four lines, namely the fragility of the house that was built. The painstakingness of making a house from something so light and small.
While talking with Amelia, this idea of characters or voices we write in that are adjacent to our own voices, was so compelling to me. I know that for me, my written voice is much more confident and self-assured than the voice that I speak in. That’s what makes music and poetry so magical: You can be yourself but an exaggerated version, a version that builds houses out of feathers, that can be dipped in Diet Coke and still come out gold.
Within the lyrics and the melody of these songs, I find a very clear blues influence. Especially in the penultimate track, “Laughing and Crying.” There’s a kind of Queer Americana vibe to the song. Even in Amelia’s story, there is this feeling, from being born in Florida and moving around the south, to being taught guitar by a lesbian singer-songwriter named Laurie Gelman. Americana, for white and straight Americans, has a patriotic backbone to it. But when I think about the phrase “Queer Americana,” there’s something very different in it, because our experiences are so different.
There’s a loss in Queer Americana, in queer blues, that is different from what the word originally meant. Despite that loss, there is a triumph in surviving an America that would rather you not exist.
Amelia worked on this album for years before it was released, and now that it’s out in the world, there is a sense of happiness about it.
“I’m definitely not a perfectionist, but I want everything to be lined up before I release a project. So I often delay things. I will delay something if I feel like things aren’t set up in the right way. But the reality is that nothing’s ever going to be perfect. I waited for a lot of people to be out of isolation, and I thought I shouldn’t release the record when I couldn’t tour. Eventually, I was just kind of like, I’m just so happy with whatever happens.” she says.
As I listen through to the album, again and again, I feel a fullness that is not unlike eating your favorite comfort food. I come back to driving down in that landscape, allowing the instrumentation to propel me forward. I let myself feel the magic in music that conjures images of freedom for me, even of escape. In addition, and maybe because of the longing in it, this album feels like a leaving. A goodbye to a place, a love, that doesn’t suit you anymore.
In “All Around Town,” Amelia sings
“so I sing you the song of your favorite night bird
and I buy you the things that you don’t deserve
heartache heartache heartache is old
and it grows in your chest like a black black mold”
and I think to myself, yes, heartache is one of the oldest feelings we have sung about for centuries, but it feels fresh and new and uncharted every single time. This album makes heartache feel new, but not unconquerable, and that’s what makes it so good. That image of driving away or toward something is intentional.
You can stream You Can’t Fuck The Internet now or buy it on bandcamp to better support the artist. Amelia is also on tour currently supporting Hooray for the Riff Raff, so maybe you can catch her live in your city.