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On The String: The Asheville Sound Of Amanda Anne Platt

Honeycutters

I always feel fulfilled and very much at home when I visit western North Carolina, the place where I first spent nights in the woods, first rafted on whitewater rivers, and first heard Doc Watson. I grew up in the central Piedmont region of the state, but those Smoky Mountains always felt close by, and in the years I’ve been on the music beat, my relationship with the area in and around Asheville has only grown richer and more rewarding. One big reason is Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters.

This signature Asheville band was formed around 2007 as The Honeycutters - a vehicle for Amanda’s songwriting and her duo with then musical and life partner Peter James. They found supportive fans, radio and press rather quickly. And by the time they released Me Oh My, their third album in 2015, they’d found their way to the region’s top Americana label - Organic Records - and were being acclaimed in the national music press as something special. About then, the Platt/James relationship came to an end, and after a bit of regrouping and time, it became the songwriter’s band with a name change to Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters.

Their sound is indeed organic and easy-going, rhythmically grounded and yearning with a gentle twanging ambience courtesy of Kevin Williams on keys and Matt Smith on guitar and pedal steel. They called it Appalachian honky tonk, and that works, because it’s all tied together with Platt’s emotionally relatable songs and singing. She spins plain language and common human situations into something elevated and poetic, a trick at the heart of great country songs from Cindy Walker to Merle Haggard. In our talk, Platt says she feels songs come from two directions, and she wanted to capture that dichotomy on the new double album The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, which came out in late February.

“The way that I experience creativity, it does kind of have these two extremes - kind of like the manic, high energy, outgoing, excited creativeness. And then there's the sleepy, more introspective, maybe you could call it sad,” Platt tells us. The album was released over 2021 in ten drops of a “Devil” side and a corresponding “Deep Blue Sea” side before being issued as a full 20-track, two-disc album. “I don't feel like all the songs on the Deep Blue Sea are sad. They're just a little bit quieter and more like maybe thoughtful. And so that's what that means to me at this point.”

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We zoom in on “New York,” from the Devil side, for example. The album-opening track brings a fresh spin on nostalgia as she reflects on leaving her old home place after it’s been sold by her family. Every time I’m taken aback by the line “I’m standing in the doorway with one eye on the street, afraid I’ll take the floorboards with me if I move my feet.” 

Another song we attend to is “Open Up Your Door,” a melancholy self-assessment song that opens the Deep Blue Sea disc. Platt says she wrote it in a fast sitting after coming home from a show by a friend that she found pure and inspiring, at a time in her life when she was preoccupied by business and strategy instead of her art. “I wasn't gonna record it because it was a very personal song to myself of like, Hey, I'm sorry, I feel like I totally let you down and abandoned you. And so that song was kind of a reclaiming of the Muse, if you will, just like, hey, let's get back in touch. So that made sense to start the album.”

We had our conversation in the kitchen of her century-old home in Black Mountain, NC, which Amanda shares with her husband Evan Martin (her drummer) and their two-year-old daughter. We talk about her moving to a city in the south she didn’t know a thing about to study guitar-building, how she came to find her admired spot in the music community and the thought process that went into this pandemic-era project. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst.