Teenage kicks

An unknown 17-year-old singer-songwriter goes from Novi to solo at Hollywood's House of Blues

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Amanda Morgan's "Saturday in June" single is out now. For more info, go to amandamorganmusic.com. 

She plays on May 23 at the Hard Rock Café, 45 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-964-7625.

Amanda Morgan is 17 years old, and she's on the brink of some fairly hefty national success. Fucking 17. She could be writing Hunger Games fan fiction or drinking Boone's Farm in playgrounds after dark. But she's not. Rather, Morgan wrote her first song at 10 about a boy and since has honed her skills as songwriter, guitarist and singer.

But Morgan strays from the contemporary teen beat milieu; this isn't Justin Bieber-y bullshit. While her ambitions for fame and fortune are lofty, she's proud of her writing, of her subject matter. History shows that the best songs arise from life experience — so what can a 17-year-old show anyone who isn't a teenager? Her songs tell another story, so set your preconceptions aside. Whether a 17-year-old has really loved and lost is irrelevant. What matters is that she thinks that she has, and she articulates that with the skills of one twice her age or more.

She steps in well-dressed, face made up, as if attending a photo shoot. Rather than going for some standard-issue beat twentysomething hipster thing, she sports a sort of country-soul hybrid look. 

We meet at the WAB bar in Ferndale for an interview that was canceled at nearby Tempermill Studios, where Morgan recorded her most recent single, "Saturday in June." Morgan appears with both her manager and parents — though her folks move to another table. Her manager, Jason Brown, does not.

On the surface, this isn't a big issue. He seems like a genuinely nice dude, and with his underage client he's obviously protective. Morgan ends up looking to him for approval when answering questions. She's a sweet girl, disguising her nervousness throughout. She comes across like a normal, though perhaps unusually adjusted, teenager, one who's musically gifted.

Morgan's been playing guitar for four years and singing her whole life, which is something that "came naturally."

All of her songs, she says, are about relationships, heartbreak, first love, "all that cheesy stuff. It gets my feelings out. I've always found that I can express things in my music that I can't express in words. If I'm having a conversation with you, I can't make the same point."

She's surprisingly musically self-aware; says her sound hasn't evolved much but, then, it hasn't had time to. She has loved Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple and other singer-songwriters "since I was really young, and I guess it just had a big influence in my style. She's into basically anybody who's ever sung about being angry about a relationship.

"I don't really feel like my music fits in a certain box, I think it crosses a lot of genres; pop, rock, country, Americana, all that kind of stuff."

Again, it's hard to shake the feeling that she has been thoroughly media-coached for this interview. So let's swim through the bleach. Morgan was brought up in Novi and says she had a normal, happy childhood, and there's no reason to dispute that because she's self-possessed, a strong-willed young woman. She's attending school at the Roeper School in Birmingham. "Roeper is for gifted people, although it depends who you talk to," she says. "Most teenagers have issues, having friends with the experiences that I've had. I deal with a lot of jealousy and anger toward me, but that would happen in any school. The adults at Roeper are more supportive than I would get at another school."

Sounds like traditional high school stuff. Morgan gets shit from other students because of the attention she gets from her music. Yeah, kids are cruel when they want to be. 

What other problems does this singer-songwriter face? 

One is finding venues in which to perform, not so easy for a teenager who performs solo. "It's difficult, because bars won't hire me," Morgan says. "So I play a lot of coffeehouses and do gigs wherever I can. I'm lucky because my parents are completely and fully supportive. That makes life a lot easier."

Morgan recorded "Saturday in June" — her second single — with Dave Feeny, a local institution who has done time in Blanche and Goober & the Peas, and produced Loretta Lynn and Jack White. The single was the follow-up to her 2010 EP "Land of an Endless Sea" (recorded when she was 15). Feeny is an incredible musical source and the young musician knows it.

"I love Dave. He's wonderful. He's so creative, and he just puts everything he has into his projects. It makes me really fortunate as a musician to have worked with him. [The single turned out] better than I hoped. I really didn't want to do 'Saturday in June.' That was not my choice to record, but Dave ... he said that one had the most potential."

Morgan may not care much for the Hunger Games or Twilight, but she likes hanging with her boyfriend, and the last concert she saw was Taylor Swift. She likes to bowl. 

"We went laser tagging last week," she says. "Stuff like that. We're really devoted to family. Between my house and his house, we spend a lot of time with our two sets of parents. Every Friday I'm at his house for dinner."

Next year, Morgan heads to Arizona State University to study business law. "I mean, I hope to be a famous musician someday," she says, "but I chose a major that I thought could benefit me either as a normal person in the street or as a professional musician.

I've been [balancing music and school] for the last four years. There's no code on how to do. It's one of those things you have to suck up and say 'OK, I'm not going to have a social life.'"

These are eventful times for Morgan. As you read this, she'll be in L.A., nominated for four indie music awards. "I'm playing the afterparty at the House of Blues in Hollywood," she says. "There's a social network for upcoming bands and artists called the Indie Music Channel. The creator of it, Christopher Ewing, is also a radio host, and two of my songs were really popular on his show. He called me up and asked if I wanted to play. I don't know how I got nominated for the awards, but it's nice."

Indeed. Morgan deserves a shot. 

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