20 Questions With: Don Amero
Life for Don Amero is a balancing act.
Between breakfast and bike rides with his kids, Netflix and chill with his wife, and self-managing a successful music career, the Winnipeg singer/songwriter is always seeking perfect symmetry.
But despite his hectic schedule and countless responsibilities, Amero has established himself as a fixture on the Canadian music scene. Since debuting Change Your Life in 2006, he has released four more albums, played hundreds of shows and picked up a trio of Juno nominations – all while staying true to his values and convictions.
A family man through and through, Amero has made the rare decision to remain independent and tour less so he can spend more time at home. But make no mistake: the man can sing. With powerful vocals and a knack for storytelling, he manages to weave soul, country and pop for a sound he describes as “John Mayer meets Keith Urban meets Ed Sheeran.”
We recently caught up with Don to chat about family, influences and more. Here’s what he had to say.
How did you get in to music?
When I was 15 I picked up my Dad’s old 1950’s Gibson guitar and learned the ‘Em’ chord. I spent a week just playing that, and slowly learned one chord after the other. My Dad and brother basically came along and showed me a new chord every other day. Because I wasn’t good enough to play any covers I just started writing my own songs – a lot of them in ‘Em,’ even to this day.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
It’s called Next To You. When I was 15, one of the other reasons I became interested in music was a girl named Natalie and she was in the musical. I joined drama just so I could be around her. I wrote that one with a broken teenage heart … so I guess you know how that one ended.
Who are some of your musical influences?
My Mom and Dad would be my first. I grew up listening to their singing and playing, and it was my first introduction to real music. After that it’s a huge mashup of musicians from Elvis to Boyz II Men to Justin Timberlake to John Mayer to Martin Sexton to Kings of Leon to Coldplay. The list is really quite deep and very diverse.
At what point did you consider music a career instead of just a hobby or a side project?
The day I quit my “real job” and started booking my own cross-Canada tour. Until then it was just a side gig. Now music is my real job!
What were some of the “real jobs” you had outside of music?
I was a security guard, a server, a cook, a tuxedo fitter, a window frame sander, a dance teacher and a hardwood floor installer.
You’re pretty transparent when it comes to your family and personal life. Is there a difference between Don Amero the artist and Don Amero the father, husband, and friend? Is it difficult to balance the two?
Well, the artist is the polished guy who it seems can do no wrong. I guess it’s the best version of myself. Not that I’m not the “real” me on stage, but I control the content and it’s almost always a one-sided conversation. The father/husband/friend probably looks and feels somewhat the same, but now he’s intertwined in conversation with others and that is unpredictable. Hopefully either way people enjoy spending time with me.
What has been your biggest challenge to date, either musically or personally?
For me, it’s the struggle to stop and enjoy the moment. I’m coming off of having made the best record of my career, but almost as soon as it was out I was already thinking about the next thing. It’s a gift and a curse, I suppose. I’m glad that new inspiration comes, but I don’t want to take for granted what I already have. The other more personal struggle is the family/work balance. Any musician with a family knows the sacrifice this career takes.
What role do your Aboriginal roots play in your day-to-day life in general, and your music in particular?
I believe The Seven Teachings are ingrained in my soul. I owe that to my ancestry. I am also always conscious of the Creator watching over me. Everything I do, I believe contains the breath of the Creator and I hope that breath inspires and encourages everyone it reaches.
A lot of your original songs tell real-life stories and/or share powerful messages. How do you decide what to write about, and what do you hope people take from your music?
I feel for the most part I have written from my experiences, but I’m taking a bit more of a broad approach these days and writing more from a point of: “Can I make a connection to this song even though I haven’t lived it?” My hope is that people will always see an authentic performer who’s wearing his heart on his sleeve. I hope everyone who sees my performance will leave feeling encouraged and inspired to go out and do something good in their lives and for others. Maybe that means kicking a bad habit, or it could mean something as simple as just giving their spouse a little more love.
Take us back to 2006 and your Canadian Idol audition. What was it like, and what did you learn from it?
That was a tough blow to the ego. I remember making it to the final cut right before they picked the Top 22. I was so confident that I was definitely one of the top singers there, but alas I was sent home. In hindsight it was the exact thing that I needed as the motivation to make music a career. I figured if I could place in the Top 100 of all those that auditioned I must have something to offer. So, a few months later I was right to work on my first album independently.
Do you prefer writing or performing? Why?
Performing for sure. Writing is more like the work part, but it’s also work I enjoy. It’s nice to showcase the work.
What is your pre-performance routine? Do you have any superstitions?
No superstitions, but I like to have about 30 minutes to stretch and relax a bit. I do a few vocal warm-ups. I also just try to keep everyone light and happy backstage.
You’ve recently begun posting some cover videos online. What do you get out of putting your own spin on other artists’ tunes?
With covers you’re able to connect with an already-existing fan base. The hope is that you’ll catch a few eyes and ears, and that’ll pique some interest in what you’re doing and they’ll become a fan. The catch is releasing great video and great audio. There’s so many great indie artists doing this now that I feel like I’ve got a long way to go to catch up.
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
I think Jim Cuddy (the singer from Blue Rodeo). I believe we would do something pretty great.
If you could give one piece of advice to your 25-year-old self, what would it be?
Get busy. There’s lots of ground to cover. And do more core exercises (I have scoliosis and my weak core doesn’t help).
In 2013 you were nominated for your first Juno. This year, two more. Which one means the most to you, and why?
Well, I have to be honest in saying the Adult Contemporary nomination came as a complete surprise. Nominated alongside Jann Arden, Diana Krall, Johnny Reid and The Tenors. That’s no small feat. I have a whole team of people who helped make the album to thank for that one!
As a musician, how do you define success?
To me, success is not having what you want; it’s having what you need. I’ve always had my needs met. Do I dream for more in my future? Yes. But I’m content today, and that’s all I could ask for.
What’s the highlight of your career so far?
Having heard numerous stories from people who have found strength through the songs I’ve written. The awards are a nice pat on the back, but knowing that peoples’ lives are being made better by what you’re offering is truly rewarding.
You’re banished to an island with only a Discman and unlimited batteries. Which three CDs do you take with you?
Pushing Daisies, Pretending To Be Famous; John Mayer, Continuum; Boyz II Men, Cooleyhighharmony.
What are you working on right now, and what’s coming up for you in the next year?
More videos and some new singles to be released later this year and in early 2017. There’s a fall tour in the works right now. I should have all the dates up on www.donamero.com soon.
To connect with Don Amero, check out his social media channels below: