Who is Amy Denio?
Amy symbolizes the creative openness that was late ’80s Seattle. While grunge somewhat predominated then, Northwest music crossed all lines and genres including acoustic pop, psychedelia, garage rock, folk/punk, and the avant-garde. Amy’s music simultaneously encapsulated all and none of those styles. She created music without boundaries. A multi-instrumentalist, Amy has sang, played guitar, bass, drums, accordion, clarinet, and saxophone throughout her musical career.
If you ask most musicians about influences, they’ll give you a litany of bands or solo artists. Amy lists something called “found sounds” as one of her biggest inspirations. “I love making field recordings,” she says. “…I love going around and trying to find interesting sounds that you might not normally notice. For example, there are all these drawbridges over various canals and things in Seattle….They’re made of metal, and so cars going over—the wheels actually make the metal kind of sing…so they’re like singing bridges. Things like that—that’s found sound.”
Amy’s early musical progression did not foretell of her coming explorations, however. “Started with the Carpenters and went directly to Led Zeppelin,” she says. “Jimmy Page was absolutely my hero.” Amy’s world opened up when she worked for college radio in Massachusetts. Her musical interests began to include jazz, world music, and free improvisation.
In 1985, she moved to Seattle with her band, the Entropics, and soon found a place within the music community. At the time, the Entropics featured two drummers, one of which was Amy. “That was what we called a ‘four-legged band,’” she recalls. “So [both percussionists] played drums and other instruments at the same time. So we got really good at playing kick-drum/high hat saxophone duets. I played bass and drums at the same time, and guitar and drums at the same time.”
While the band’s experimental approach brought admiration from many, some audience members inevitably scratched their heads, unable to ascertain exactly what they were listening to. “I remember this farmer with a weather-lined face,” she says, “coming up to me [and] saying, ‘Y’all are great musicians, but I can’t stand that music that you guys are playing.” The Entropics lasted until 1987, when Amy formed Tone Dogs…a band that initially consisted of two bass players and a drummer.
Amy’s musical explorations did not place her within grunge’s inner circle. That being said, Seattle’s pre-Nevermind late ’80s era showcased a plethora of experimental music, some even including such grunge stalwarts as Jack Endino and Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron. Matt asked Amy to join a side project of his called Couch of Sound, which also featured Chip Doring of the surf-rock inspired Crypt Kicker Five. “I have to admit I’ve been racking my brains for weeks trying to figure out how to describe Couch’s music without making it sound thoroughly wretched,” Dawn Anderson wrote in the April-May 1988 issue of her fanzine Backlash. “Let’s see, they’re An Art Band Who Rocks. But they’re not heavy and sexy; they’re sort of loud and cute.”
“Aww, that’s nice,” Amy responds. “Thank you, Dawn. [Laughs.] Loud and cute…I must’ve just gotten my permanent then.”
Amy got to know many of the grungier musicians as she worked for Yesco/Muzak, along with people like Mark Arm of Mudhoney, Chris Pugh of Swallow, Tad Doyle of TAD, Ron Rudzitis of Room Nine, Grant Eckman of the Walkabouts, and Bruce Pavitt of Sub Pop. Despite that association, she never found herself drawn into the heavy/sexy musical world. “[Grunge] just wasn’t interesting to me,” she says. “Everybody was doing it, too. So, I was like, ‘Well, I think that that niche is taken care of.’” [Laughs]
Amy has continued her unbridled musical exploits to this day, cementing her status as a “musician’s musician.” As always, her creations continue to defy written description. “That’s your job,” says Amy. “I just do the music part.”