If you haven’t heard of Amanda Pascali, I hate to break it to you, but you’re seriously missing out. Her immigrant-American-folk duo (consisting of herself and Addison Freeman) is a phenomenal partnership and the very definition of quality local music.
I had the privilege of interviewing Amanda and Addison at our studio for Coog Radio’s Concert Series a few weeks ago. They were both so kind and well-spoken, I decided to do a write-up for them in addition to the Concert Series video (which will premiere on our YouTube the week of November 15).
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hi and thank you for coming in today! To start us off, what instruments do you guys play?
Amanda: I play the guitar and I sing.
Addison: I play stringed instruments. I have my violin and cello tonight, and sometimes I play mandolin as well.
I came across this one interview you had, Amanda, where you described your genre as “immigrant-American-folk;” how did that genre develop for you?
Amanda: So, when I was going in to record the first songs from our debut full-length album, Still It Moves, I went to a studio and played “Hey Amorino” for the audio engineer. He was like, “What do you call this music? I’ve never heard anything like this before.” And I wanted almost to call it American folk, but then there’s obviously also influences from other places.
At the same time, it’s not traditional Italian music and it’s not traditional Eastern European music. It’s this music that’s kind of a conglomerate of all these different cultures all over the world. It’s always foreign, no matter where it is, and so it’s kind of created this space for itself.
I don’t know if this is too personal of a question, but my Brazilian-English-American friend talks sometimes about feeling a sense of discord sometimes, and not having a solid sense of place in America. Does that type of feeling play into your music at all?
Amanda: Definitely, yeah. As the daughter of two immigrants from two different continents, I grew up with this sort of identity crisis. I thought that I was super American until this one day in elementary school when my friends said like, “oh, but you’re not American;” at that point I was like, “Okay, I guess I’m not part of this group that I thought I was.”
At the same time, there are places around the world where I look like I fit in, like Italy. Italy also is the one place where my name is ‘normal,’ but as soon as someone starts talking to me and they hear my accent they’re like, “Oh, I thought you were one of us, but evidently not,” and they can’t place me. It’s kind of like people decide what I am for me.
Listening to your music was so crazy impressive to me. I wanted to ask you both, do you have any training, or was this all self-taught?
Addison: Thank you. Yeah, I guess I was classically trained, but not really for this kind of music. This is sort of something we built together. We rehearse and we sort of make it up as we go. There’s no sheet music, with this.
Amanda: Yeah, our music is really classical-inspired, but just the same as it’s not authentically from any one place, it’s by no means something that you would call “classical music.” Though, in the arrangements, you can hear that that’s an influence.
You mentioned building this music style together. Have you been working together from the get-go?
Amanda: Pretty much. I’ve been a musician since I was 12 years old. That was my job in high school, performing in bars, in a cover band. When I was 18, though, I decided that I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. Even though I had written songs in the past, I hadn’t shown them to anybody and I hadn’t branded myself as a singer-songwriter.
So when I was 18, I went to a folk music conference in Austin, where I was kind of like starting with this branding process, by myself. I met Addison there — he was playing in a band. And I went up to him and said, like, “Hey, you play violin! I have this idea and I really want you to be part of it.”
Addison: I think I approached you.
Amanda: (Laughs) But I had this vision and I wanted you to get it.
Addison: I remember seeing you play at the open mic at that folk conference and being so impressed and intrigued by your sound. It was like nothing that I’d heard before — and other people hadn’t heard before either.
I totally agree with that. And, I want to ask, tell me about this Immigrant American Folk Project.
Amanda: So, the Immigrant American Folk Project started out as an English language learning initiative. At the end of 2019, I teamed up with Noel Paul Stookey from the 1960’s folk civil rights band, Peter, Paul and Mary.
Oh wow, that’s crazy!
Amanda: Yeah, they played at the March on Washington and they were really, really huge and revolutionary during the 60’s. And now he has a nonprofit that he runs with his daughter, Music to Life; I teamed up with that organization and we put on benefit concerts in Houston for local organizations in Houston that provide basic resources for new immigrants. and refugees in the area. And then I got commissioned by Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston to do this English language learning initiative.
I created an asynchronous ESL program, designed to help new immigrants and refugees learn English through music during Covid-19. I made video lessons and held Zoom classes, all designed to help English language learning — but a large part of language learning, also, is the students’ own sense of national identity.
Now, it’s kind of turned into this storytelling project, where I tell the stories of those students that I was inspired by. And, of course, also the stories people that I meet in my everyday life that have incredible immigration stories, because we do live in Houston.
I was going to say, I’m sure Houston would be a hugely impactful place to launch this project.
Amanda: Yeah, and a lot of people don’t realize that, which is part of why I think it’s such a treasure to be doing this. I’ve said it a bunch of times: the South is coming up. I think it’s the new hub of the U.S. People don’t realize it, because they’re so used to New York being this hub where immigrants from all over the world come, but right now we’re in the most diverse city in the country and we’re in the South.
That’s such a cool story, and a great project. And I want to ask about another possible project coming up; your single, “One by One,” came out this September. Is this a single leading into an album?
Amanda: That’s the idea; we’re trying to put together an EP. But we’re independent musicians that just got out of a year of Covid-19, and recording is expensive, so now we’re trying to fund these recordings in order to manifest this vision of all these new songs. Our last album was 2018, and so much has happened since then, so we do plan for it to be part of a bigger project — but the finer details on that are later to come.
Addison: We’ve made lots of great connections; we have an awesome engineer and producer and other musicians we get to work with. We get to really taking our time to craft it the way we want; there’s no rush.
It was a wonderful experience getting to talk with these incredible musicians. Be sure to also check out Amanda Pascali’s upcoming concert, December 3, 2021 at Anderson Fair (here’s the ticket link). You won’t regret it.