Amy Stroup: A Nashville Musician, Artist And Ideator
You might not know the name Amy Stroup just yet. But go to Spotify, click through her decade-long discography and there’s a good chance something about her sound will feel a little familiar to you: a poppy handclap on the chorus, an earworm melody, a reminder of something you may have heard before but can’t quite place. Her music has accompanied hundreds of commercials and films, as well as more than her fair share of TV shows—think the big, emotional powerhouse moments on primetime blockbusters like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “This Is Us,” shows that Stroup herself says she once watched the same way she used to listen to college radio, trawling for a new favorite song.
But that’s not the only place you’ve heard—or seen—Stroup’s work. And once you recognize her, you’ll start seeing her influence everywhere. Stroup resists categorization—the kind of artist who slithers out of your grip the moment you think you’ve got her pinned down. Sure, she’s the woman behind that string arrangement that made you well up during your prestige TV favorite last week. But she’s also half of the gritty indie rock band who your best friend blares in the car on road trips (they’re called Danger Twins, if you’re curious), and she has a few other side projects up her sleeve with a sound that will further surprise you (Sugar + The Hi-Lows, Ten Out of Tenn).
And, oh yeah—she’s also got an entire parallel career as the co-owner of Milkglass Creative, the creative firm that designed Chris Stapleton’s latest album art and conceptualized the cover for that new novel you read last week.
“I’m an artist, you know?” Stroup says. “I think about music in terms of sound, but also in terms of what it takes to reach someone with the whole package.”
And seemingly vice versa. Stroup’s business partner at Milkglass is also her songwriting partner, Mary Hooper. “Her default mode of expression is design, while I definitely default to song,” says Stroup. It’s no surprise, then, that when Stroup talks about writing a song, she talks about giving each track the color or tone that it needs, arranging music like a vector image until every element shines.
Stroup is a musician by training, likely helped by a genetic bent. She grew up hearing stories about her great-grandfather, a pianist who played live accompaniment at silent-movie houses in the south during the 1920s. But she says she’s always had an awareness of what her music might go on to do in the world, whether as the soundtrack to this week’s episode of “The Walking Dead”—a modern-day version of what her grandfather might have composed for a screening of “Nosferatu”—or transforming it into a physical album, with every bit of its packaging as carefully designed as the songs themselves. “I naturally bend towards things that draw you in, that make you pay a little more attention.”
Stroup chased that inclination out of the town where she was raised in Texas—she credits a Loretta Lynn documentary with the inspiration for the move—and landed at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she continued her childhood study of classical piano and guitar, picking up degrees in business and marketing. But her real ambition was always to “really figure out this music thing,” as she says. And, she wasn’t alone. “In Nashville, you go to the grocery store, a bookstore, a restaurant—and everybody around you wants to be a songwriter,” Stroup says. “There are so many talented people who go unheard.”
Even as she says this, Stroup sounds steady and shockingly cool. While her particular elastic, high-pop sound situates her firmly in a corner of the music world often associated with overnight teenage stars, she hasn’t felt a need to chase that particular version of success. Instead, she’s tried to walk a longer path. “This is definitely an industry that worships the young. I always knew I wanted a career that lasted a long time,” she says. “I grew up on Patty Griffin, Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks—and not just their first albums, but their whole careers. It’s this question of, ‘How do you stay in the game, but not only be about the game?’”
Stroup’s upcoming album, “Helen of Memphis,” is a kind of answer to that question. On the album’s first single, “Magic,” Stroup’s sound takes on a raspy, laid-back indie-pop drawl that’s spiked with something pleasantly sour thanks to a beat from Taylor Dexter and Wesley Singerman, two producers part of the L.A.-based SuperCookie production team. The song is wry, smart and slyly aware of the sounds driving the forefront of our current indie pop environment—fans of Santigold and Sylvan Esso will love it. But there’s something about Stroup’s new music that’s coasting pleasantly above the trends, too. She seems more interested in pushing her own voice forward than keeping up with the crowd. Turn your back, and she might just decide to morph on you.
“The song you want in your teens, and your twenties and your thirties—it’s always going to be different,” Stroup says. “You’re changing. As an artist, changing with your audience is so important. I want to be people’s life soundtrack.”
This story originally appeared in ALIVE Issue 1, 2018. Purchase Issue 1 and become an ALIVE subscriber.
Photo credit: Attilio D’Agostino.