Amy Lynn Zanetto and Alex Hamlin met in 2006 while on tour with a European leg of “Grease: The Musical” in Switzerland. Not only did they appreciate each’s other musical abilities, the couple also blossomed romantically. Together and apart they have played all around the world gracing the stage with Duffy, St. Vincent, Lucy Woodward, Yo La Tengo, Spoon, The Radio City Orchestra and many more. While developing ideas for making music together, they both connected on 1960’s pop and soul music marked by powerhouse vocals and and a thick horn section. This is the musical foundation for their group, Amy Lynn and The Gunshow. They’ve performed at many of New York City’s top venues, including Joe’s Pub, Highline Ballroom, The Mercury Lounge, The Bitter End, and The Bell House. Alex took some time away from the baritone sax to answer some questions about their beginnings, their sound, and their name. As you read, listen to their latest single, “Clearly, It’s Me”.
JW: Your bio states that your love of music is only approached by your love for sports. Had you, at one time, considered a being a career athlete?
AH: At the end of high school Amy was offered tennis scholarships for college in her home state of Connecticut. It was then when considered making Tennis a full time career. She just realized that she wouldn’t be able live her life without doing music everyday. So she decided to go to music school instead. She still likes to play tennis and enjoy kicking my butt every time we go to the court.
JW: Listening to your music, it’s completely rooted in a big 60’s soul of Motown Records and some Stax Records influence. How did you did settle on that sound as the musical foundation of this group? Also, talk to me about the spark behind naming the band, The Gunshow.
AH: When we started this band we were looking for music that used a lot of horns had soulful singing, irresistible grooves, and pop oriented songs. At the time, we were already listening a lot to the 4 CD box set of Otis Redding put out by Rhino. Something about those songs really got through to us. Part of it is just how simple and yet interesting all of those songs are; each one designed to stick in the listeners head. We also listen a lot to other bands with horns like Earth Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, Chicago, and James Brown. But those bands typically have one or two guitars, an instrument we decided we would not have in the group. Otis Redding recordings put less emphassis on the guitar and that just worked better for us. So that tradition just held a heavier influence over us.
The name “The Gunshow” stems from a joke Amy and I have with one another. You walk up to someone and ask, “Do you have tickets to the gun show?” and then they say, “What gun show?” to which you reply, “This gun show!”, and point at your flexed biceps. In context of our band there is an element of irony because pretty much everybody bodies are not of the body building type, perhaps excluding our drummer, Jared Schonig. The name stuck because its fun and easy to remember too.
JW: Alex, while the bio states that you met Amy in Switzerland during a European leg of “Grease: The Musical”, I’m curious to know how you got involved in musical theater.
AH: I got involved because a contractor for musical theater “pit” musicians gave me a call one day asking if I wanted to go to Germany to play in the pit for the show. He found out about me from other saxophonists in New York City. It was pure luck that Amy and I ran into each other on that gig. It was ideal time for me to go because I had no ties keeping me from leaving the City for a few months. I had never been to Germany before and that was a place I curious about anyway.
JW: What’s the songwriting process like in this band? Melodic ideas or written ideas first?
AH: Amy and I write songs together and also collaborate with song writers as well. When it is just Amy and I, the whole process usually starts with a simple idea for a chorus or a verse that one of us will bring to the writing session. From there we brainstorm about the melody, harmony, groove, tone, and what the lyrics and song is generally about. On rare occasions one of us will come to the writing session with a complete song with lyrics. Whatever is presented will likely be dramatically different by the time the two of us are finished with it. Once we get the song completed, the next step is for me to arrange it for our band of three horns, three vocals, keys, bass, and drums. Amy always helps me figure out what to do about the back up vocal parts because writing for voices is a bit outside of my comfort zone. There are quite a bit of original songs and arrangements that have not made it to a second public performance because they didn’t vibe right with the audience. We figure the audience knows best in terms of what song is a “keeper” or destined for the “trash bin/recycle heap”.
In our collaborations with other song writers, our style of collaboration varies. With our friend Joe Kinosian who co-wrote “Clearly It’s Me” with us and Anna Marquardt, they wrote the majority of the song and then sent us a mp3 of them performing it with just voice and piano. Joe sent along the sheet music and then from there Amy and I worked on the groove, what the band wool be playing, and the finer vocal nuances Amy would use to taylor the song to her vocal style.
Recently, Amy and I collaborated with another song writer, Alex Forbes. We went to her apartment with a voice recorder, pen, paper. We started the whole session by just talking about what was going on in each others lives and then narrowed the discussion down to what kind of song we were interested in writing through a “brainstorm” session. I presented a melody and lyric idea with only dozen words or so in length and then Amy and Alex piled on there ideas. One pizza and a 2 liter ginger ale later, we had one and a half verses and chorus down! We had to go our separate ways for the rest of the evening but by the time Amy and I woke up the next morning there was an email from Alex F. waiting for us that had a recording of her singing the bridge and the missing 2nd half of the 2nd verse.
So as you might guess, our songs get written in many different ways, sometimes in a day sometimes over many months. What is tricky about the whole process is that you never know exactly what you’re going to end up or when you’re going to get it!
JW: The song goes, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York!” You’re getting good attention in New York and playing top rooms. What’s the next step for Amy Lynn and The Gunshow?
AH: We’ve just completed the filming of our first music video for our song, “Clearly It’s Me”. This something we’ve never tried before and we’re very excited to see what our director for the video comes up with. The reason for making the video is so that we can turn more people on to our band. Being that we live in a visual world we thought it’d be worth shot at trying something like that.
We’ve scheduled a bunch more writing sessions. In the next year we would like to release a full length album of 9 to 12 songs that really capture the essence of what we do live.
In the realm of performing, we’re like every other band out there – we really are interested in playing more music festivals where we know we can get out in front of new listeners and hopefully win over some more Gunshow fans!