Monday, August 23, 2010

Artist Interview: Tamra Engle's Vision for Action

I met Tamra Engle after seeing she was teaching songwriting in Berkeley. I soon found out she was not only a teacher, but a powerhouse of a musician, activist and business strategist, with deep roots in the music performing and recording business. She recently discussed her current projects with Bird in the Tree.

Q: You write, perform, teach workshops, and help artists with their business strategy. How do you keep those activities in balance?

TE: Without organizing my time it would be impossible. In addition to those tasks I also am running a household, and contributing to a long-term relationship.
I am no different than any of your readers who have struggled with trying to do it all. I have learned a great deal from 25 years in the business world. I noticed that regardless of the task, environment, or industry without having structure and a “plan” to help manage the time and tasks it would be impossible to stay organized, focused and always moving toward my goals.

Q: Can you talk about how your songwriting process may have changed or not over your career. Do you write everyday or wait for the muse?
TE: I didn’t start out as a writer. I started as a guitar player, and used to grab my mom's poetry books and try to put my music to the words. [Then] I got into college I read Thoreau and Rumi and I realized THEY were poets that spoke to my heart. Not Longfellow, or Robert Frost.
I was struggling to find out who I was, and songwriting became an extension of my guitar playing. I would sit on the beach and write these corny pop songs. At the time, I was starting my band the Ms. Fits and my brightly optimistic music didn’t really fit into our punk sensibilities. So not much of my lyrical material made it on tour back then. :-)
Currently, I am spiritual & physically inspired by events, and individuals around me. I feel like some of my best songs have come from experiencing or viewing the huge emotional experiences as a result of our current economy, and the impact it has had on the American working class. I have found myself listening to stories and then stitching the experiences together ...much like a quilt...little threads of the truth woven together to create their own stories and characters.

Q: You're committed to several causes, including ending violence against women and children. Can you talk a bit about how you combine music and activism?
TE: Music is how I, and so many others, express their voice, and heal. As a child, having music in my life gave me life. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez taught me how music was a platform for change and healing.
As a survivor of domestic violence, I made a deal with my God one day that if I survived, I would do what I could to let other women (and girls) know that there is so much more to life on THIS side. Music is the balm that soothes, heals and makes our communities rich and vibrant places.

Q: What are you working on (recordings, shows, events) right now and what can audiences expect from Tamra in the coming year?
TE: This year I have turned my focus on others. I have so many tremendously talented friends who are unknown to the music-loving public, because they are artists, and don’t understand how business principles apply to their art. I have worked hard to create a life that enables me to incorporate all that I love, and make a living wage doing it, and I LOVE helping others figure that out with their art.
I have finally gone back into the studio and begun the process of recording another CD. The songs change and breathe as you play them out live, and I really have enjoyed giving myself the space to capture those sounds, textures and genre’s to create a very different kind of sound and feel for this project.
I am also doing a lot more public speaking and moderating in schools and colleges addressing topics near to me. I’m currently assembling an organizing team to help put together a show this fall called “Walk Away,” a variety show and silent auction to raise money for local services and create dialog in our communities about ending violence against women and children. I am intentionally placing the focus of this to benefit local organizations, because quite honestly, there is a ton to do right here in my own community to effect change.
I am talking to local business owners and finding like-minded partners who want to make a difference in their own neighborhoods. If any of you would like to end violence against women and children and to be part of team 'Walk Away' let me know what your skills are and let’s make a difference in our community.
To contact Tamra about 'Walk Away' or find out more about Tamra's work helping artists with business strategy, visit

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