News/Thoughts

Chasing Her Dream

Singer/Mandolinist Amanda Cook started singing music with her dad when she was in her mid-20s through her mid 30s. Her dad, a well known banjo player in their hometown and regionally in Florida, bought her a mandolin to play when they formed the band. “I was literally learning to play an instrument while I was in the band,” she admitted.

“Dad bought me a mandolin and said ‘here play this.’ Amanda laughed. “At the beginning of the band I was playing mandolin in Florida and then our bass player quit. So dad went and bought me a bass and said, ‘hey play this, we got a show this weekend. So the rest of the time that I was with the band I played upright bass and sang lead. When I started my first band I made the statement, I have nothing against bass players, but I don’t want to play bass.”

Trial By Fire
“It was literally a trial by fire kind of scene,” she said. “But it was a great way to start, with my dad, and having that push behind me all the time. I had someone to be accountable to. Dad would tell me when we had a show coming up and needed me to learn certain songs.” Of course, Amanda was working a full time job and raising a family with two children all at the same time. “I did what I had to do,” she said, “to make it all work.”

The band played regionally for about 10 years until 2013, When Amanda got, as she put it, “a hankering that I wanted to do my own thing.” Amanda said she got brave enough and decided to go out on her own and record her first album. “I did an independent release of my first CD,” she said. “And that just created a fire in me to hire a band give and it a shot on my own, for real. It was kind of like you go big or go home.”

Just Go For It
She hired a band, hit the road, and signed a record deal with Mountain Fever Records in 2017. “That’s when it really just kind of took off,” she said. “We were really working hard, and we still work hard, but when we signed with Mountain Fever it really took off.”

Amanda was a bank manager for the majority of her career, all the while playing music and being a wife and mom. “I would say that music was a really serious endeavor for me the last few years of that. After I made the first record and got it released, I hired the band. When I got the band together, I came home from work and told my husband, ‘look, if I’m really going to do this the only way to take this to the next level is for me to not also work a full time job.”

“So I walked into work and quit my job,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I gave a few weeks notice and came home. I think there is a time in everyone’s life that things are made to be at that time in your life. If I’d done that 10 years before, it wouldn’t have worked.”

Just Takes Time
Amanda said it probably took about five years for the endeavor to make any sort of major contribution to her career. “We put everything we had into to being successful, and worked hard getting the right band members, and the right chemistry. We did have some turnover in that five year time but not very much. We had to find the right people. Now we have everybody in place for this run. They’re very loyal to me, and we’re doing very well.”

Amanda said she was 35 when she decided she wanted to really try to make it as a professional musician. There’s this idea out there that if you didn’t start playing mandolin when you were six years old and come up through the ranks in the family band that you probably don’t have a chance to do something like this as an adult, but that’s obviously not the case. Amanda was on the second round of balloting for two different 2019 IBMA awards. That should be encouraging to anyone wondering if it might be too late to start a new career in music.

Young Inspiration
“I did grow up around music,” Amanda admitted. “My dad played banjo ever since I was born. I’ve been around the music and been to jams, so I was indoctrinated into that culture at a very young age. But I didn’t come into this seriously until I was an adult. However I immediately fell in love with the music. I immediately had the aspirations as well, she recalled. “My philosophy is if you work hard there is really no limit to what you can do if you’re willing to work to do it.”

This is full time now for Amanda and her band. “It’s funny, at IBMA, last fall when we were showcasing, that week to me was one of those moments when you take photographs in your mind because you realize how much you had wanted the dream to come true for so long, and it was happening. I tell my husband all the time, ‘one day when I’m 80 years old, I will still look back to those little time frames, because to me that was a huge moment in my life to stand on that stage an look out to where I once sat in the audience with my dad, and dreamed about being on that stage. It was pretty incredible,” she recalled.

A Dream Come True
“I honestly never thought that I would even hear myself on the radio. Every time that it happens, it’s still a wake up call for me. It’s still like an unreal moment, very surreal. When I hear myself on the radio, I never thought that it would be; that I would be here.”

Amanda just released her second project on Mountain Fever, Point Of No Return, and said that she’s come to love the production side of things a well. “I love wearing the producer’s hat,” she exclaimed. “I didn’t realize it until recently. But I just enjoy that creative part of putting an album together. So this latest project has added an extra dimension of enjoyment to it.”

“I have always had this idea where this is the moment in my life where this record is going to come out, and that’s the way it worked for me with all three records that I’ve done. The creative process is a mixture. Caroline, my banjo player, and I, are the original two members of the band. We started the band together in 2014. She and I write a lot together, and then we add songs from other fantastic writers we find. So this record is a snapshot of where we’re at as a band at this time in our lives,” she said.

“I’ve got this fantastic lineup of musicians, however they do not yet get the recognition they deserve,” Amanda told me. “My goal is to use the platform that I’ve worked hard for, for them to get recognized for their talent as well. Otherwise, we’ve already accomplished so much of our goals now. It’s great. I’m on a long term contract with Mountain Fever Records, so now the goal for me is to continuing to make good records, and continue to write, and be secure in my ability. I’ve come this far, And I want to just keep working.”

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