For Brent Amacher, a balanced life is tipping toward music
By Patrick Robinson
When was the last time you asked your insurance agent how his band was doing?
For Brent Amacher it’s a question he gets more and more often. Amacher has been selling State Farm Insurance in the Admiral District for more than a decade but it’s his other gig, as the leader of Brent Amaker and the Rodeo that is getting all the attention.
The band, a sort of cinematically themed country western band began in 2005 and thanks to Amacher’s film sensibilties and the work of the band’s representation with Terrorbird Media their music is showing up in films and television shows.
The band has toured Europe and played around the nation but Amacher calls West Seattle home. You might note the spelling difference with a K taking the place of the CH. The change was made he said to keep the two paths separate.
But maintaining a balance between his music and business life is blurring, increasingly tipping toward music.
His voice is a distinct baritone, not common in country music that has drawn comparisons to Johnny Cash and earlier artists like Dave Dudley but his own influences are wildly different.
"I've never felt like we've fit in any certain scene. Iggy Pop is more my hero than Johnny Cash. That's what I identify with. We do country music that is inspired by Devo, The Ramones and Iggy Pop. Myself and everybody else come from a background of punk bands. We just decided to do a cowboy band that had a cinematic feel to it."
That decision has finally led to the use of their music in a series of notable television shows starting in 2009 with Calfornication, then the Showtime series Weeds, and really drew attention with the song "Man in Charge" being featured in HBO's mini-series Big Little Lies. The latest appearance for their music is on HBO's Sharp Objects which also, much to Amacher's pride, uses four Led Zeppelin songs. The song used is "Country Sky"
"Film and TV producers come to companies like Terrorbird and they need music for their productions. They are great curators and they have access to a lot of independent music. Since Led Zeppelin is on the same soundtrack as us and if they are gonna throw down for Led Zeppelin you probably need a lot of up and coming well curated independent artists. So they go to these tastemakers and I've been fortunate enough to work with them."
On Sharp Objects Amacher said, "I have not seen yet what's going to happen with Country Sky, but with Man in Charge it went from not a lot of streams to more than 1.7 million. The reason is that people that watch these shows get obsessive about the music. Especially with these shows because Susan Jacobs who is the Music Supervisor for the program. She's well known for putting these great soundtracks together." Sharp Objects in particular is getting a lot of attention for the way music is used. It's employed in a way known as "diegetic" in that the viewers hear the same music the characters do. But each song is carefully chosen to serve as commentary or as an added dramatic layer.
But the band has built a mythos around itself through a set of persistent practices. First, wherever they go, they stay in "uniform", that is to say all band members wear all black or all white shirts, coats, hats, boots and a particular kind of pants called Wrangler Wranchers. They board planes this way, eat in restaurants, even travel in a van, packing only socks, underwear, personal items and these outfits. The focus on imaging is then extended through videos (often low tech) and sometime elaborate photoshoots occasionally in exotic locations. From time to time the costumes are enhanced with masks, or gloves. Included in some shoots are women, in provocative or langorous poses.
Their live performances are mix of straightfaced western music delivery, boot scooting two step dancing (Amacher is originally from Oklahoma after all), the occasional leap from an amplifier, sometimes fog and lasers and often a burlesque dancer named Ruby Mimosa an instructor and performer with Burlesque Boutique.
The band is not signed to a record label and with the massive changes in the music business Amacher says he would sign with a big label but at this point does ok on his own. " I am an independent label. I can do everything an independent label does" That being said the business is no longer as lucrative. For many performers the bulk of their revenue comes from live shows. "Not for me," said Amacher," because we do these kinds of extravagant shows. I almost always walk away with nothing in my pocket and sometimes I spend more than I make. If we get a guarantee, I split it evenly with my band and then I have production costs. Rather than eating up the revenue, I pay my guys, because they are all pros and need to get paid. I'll spend way more than my one-fifth cut to put on a show. To this day I don't know if I've ever really made money off a show. To make money in live music you need to be able to tour nationally and play theaters. If you are filling theaters as a headliner, you are making money."
Streaming pays very little so the cinematic deals are the biggest source of revenue for now.
His day job is about evaluating risk but the music business has risks too. "The biggest risk for me is that I could live a very conservative boring life and be safe. But I chose a long time ago to live and follow my dreams. I'm so fortunate that I made some decisions early on, getting a degree (in finance), starting a business that lets me go out on tour and will still be there when I come back. I had a music attorney help me years back. I told him I felt sheepish being an insurance agent and not working as a barista somewhere because that's what all the hipster musicians were doing. He shook me into reality saying 'Brent what are you talking about. You've got the best deal on earth. Every musician I know tells me they do this or that when they are not on tour. You've got a business that will always be there and you don't have to work as a barista. Wake up!"
That was the moment he co-branded the insurance agency with his cowboy image."That's when I said I'm going to be one whole person. Yeah I sell insurance and yeah I'm a musician.I'm just so much more relaxed now because before I felt like I had something to prove. My customers love it."
For Brent Amacher the lesson is, "No matter who you are, no matter what you age, chase after your dreams. It's never too late.Go for it. All the meaningful stuff I have in my life is because of that. I have friendshps and relationships that have more depth because I have. It enriches your life on so many levels when you have the courage to go after what you want."
The band's current lineup consists of :
- Brent Amaker-Vocals/Guitar
- Ryan Leyva - Lead Guitar
- Jordan Gomes - Bass
- Ben Strehle-Rhythm Guitar, back-up vocals
- Bryan Crawford-Drums, back-up vocals
Listen to some of Brent Amaker and The Rodeo's music here:
Follow Brent Amaker and The Rodeo on their website http://www.brentamaker.com/
or on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/BrentAmakerandtheRodeo/