by CHRIS ROGERS
Amanda Grace was lying in a dental chair when she met Linda Corey. They exchanged the normal chit chat in between requests from Corey to “now, open wide.” Then Grace mentioned that she writes music. By the end of the visit, Grace offered to help Corey keep a promise to a late friend.
Corey did not know the first thing about songwriting, but years ago, she scratched out a couple lines and shared them with her good friend, Tim “Emil” McAndrew. McAndrew was a musician in popular Winona bands at the time, the Fabulous Ferraris and the North Country Band. “He said, ‘I expect you to finish that song,’” Corey remembered. “He wound up passing away with cancer, and I carried this scrap of paper around in my pocket for years. Then I got cancer myself and thought, ‘Gosh darn it. I’m going to finish this song.’”
Exactly how that was going to happen was unclear until Corey met Grace. With Grace’s encouragement, Corey drafted some lyrics and sent them to Grace. Grace tweaked them and coaxed Corey into writing another verse, Corey explained. Then Grace set the words to music and recorded the song, “Pages of My Heart,” on her 2012 album “Embrace.” “It was quite an honor,” Corey said. The album includes another track co-written by Corey — one about Corey’s personal triumph over cancer — “You Can Win.” After being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, Corey went through nearly three years of treatment and has been in remission for 12 years. It is a subject with personal significance for Grace, who has written about her nephew’s death from cancer. After that, Corey said, “I just grew to like [Amanda’s] music more and more because of the kind of person she is. She feels the pain and the joy of everything she writes about.”
This spring, Corey got a very special recording of “Pages of My Heart” from Grace. It is a little, clear seven-inch vinyl. It is a single; “Pages of My Heart” is the only song on the record. “My husband and I sat down and listened to the song, and I don’t know if [Amanda] told me there was a message on it. She just told me, ‘Oh, by the way, it’s playable on both sides,’” Corey explained. “And my husband and I said, ‘Well, what would be on the other side?’” So they flipped the little record over and dropped the needle. It was a recording of Grace speaking, speaking directly to Corey. Grace was sharing a personal message from her to Corey. “It was her talking about the bond we made in friendship and song, and that was pretty neat and pretty emotional,” Corey said. “It was just the fact that she did it for me, and how many people can say they have their own vinyl dedicated to them and it’s one-of-a-kind and it’ll never happen again?”
As much as fans might feel a gifted songwriter’s album is speaking directly to them, it is not — or at least, not normally. Recorded music is meant for mass consumption. This April, however, Grace got a unique opportunity to cut a collection of one-of-a-kind records at a throwback record company in Brooklyn, New York. After sending in samples of her music into a contest, Grace won free recording sessions at Leesta Vall Sound Recordings. The company is one of several boutique record outfits that employ an old-school method for making vinyls called lathe cutting.
Most vinyl records are pressed. Hot vinyl is squished between two molds that flatten the vinyl out into a disc and impress grooves in its surface. Before pressed vinyl there was lathe-cut vinyl, in which each individual record starts out as a big, blank disc. Instead of being molded into the vinyl, the grooves are carved out with a lathe. The sound quality from this method is inferior, but as far as the record cutters in Brooklyn are concerned, the lo-fi sound is cool. More importantly, lathe-cut vinyl is easier to produce on a small-scale, making it possible to produce very small runs of a record.
“It is very expensive to pay for pressed vinyl now,” Grace said. “If I were to go to these vinyl companies in Minneapolis and say, ‘I want 200 records made,’ they’d look at me like, ‘Uh…’” She raised one deeply skeptical eyebrow — good luck with that. Even getting CDs made can be an expensive proposition for a small artist, and on the music streaming services that are so popular now, independent artists get paid at lower rates than big record labels do, Grace explained. All of this is making it more difficult for small artists to make money from recorded music, she said.
Some musicians have turned to vinyl as a way to make money in the “everything is free” age. Certain listeners are willing to pay more for a vinyl record, and the records are harder to pirate. “Vinyl has just stuck around in a way other formats haven’t been able to,” Leesta Vall’s Aaron Zimmer told Grace during her visit. “And it’s wonderful because you keep this physical, tactile thing involved in the making of music.”
Leesta Vall goes a step further. In addition to making lathe-cut vinyl, the Brooklyn shop produces one-of-a-kind live recordings. Instead of recording several takes of a song, then picking the best one and producing it into one perfect version that will be published on every record, Grace recorded a bunch of takes and each take was cut into a record as she played it. Every record has a different live take on it. No two are the same. Many of Grace’s fans pre-ordered singles. They got to choose what song they wanted, and because each recording was just for that one fan, Grace was able to include personal messages to people like Corey. “Mom, you are the coolest,” Grace told her mother on a record just for Mom. “Thank you for bringing me up in music and making it a part of everyday life.”
“It was a unique way to give my listeners something special,” Grace said of the project. “I got to express my gratitude right on the vinyl, and it was only for them,” she added.
Grace will talk about her recording project and perform a few songs at a record release and social hour from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, June 21, at the Outpost, 119 East Third Street, in Winona. More information about Grace’s music is available at musicbyamandagrace.com.