Out lesbian Amanda Lee Peers talks working with Gwen Stefani on “The Voice”

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If you haven’t tuned into The Voice yet this season, here is (at least) one reason to watch. Amanda Lee Peers, an out singer/songwriter from Rochester, New York, made it through the blind auditions last week singing ZZ Ward’s “Put the Gun Down.” Peers, who will be competing on Team Gwen, credits her girlfriend with reuniting her with her first love: music.

AfterEllen chatted with the talented musician about her upbringing in the church, her encouraging girlfriend, and what it’s like to work with Gwen Stefani.

The Voice - Season 7

AfterEllen: Like a lot of other artists, you got your start by singing in church. How did singing in church frame your musical education?

Amanda Lee Peers: The first church I went to…the church I grew up in was a very charismatic church. So music and dancing was a major part of almost every church service. I grew up learning how music can be emotional and influential, and just how powerful it is. I took up guitar at age 12 or 13 and began playing guitar for the church band because I thought it was a cool way to be a part of inspiring people in church. Later, I started doing back-up harmonies.

AfterEllen: I understand that once your pastor became aware that you are attracted to and date women you were told you couldn’t be a part of the band anymore. I’m sure that was very painful. At that point did you stop playing music altogether?

ALP: Yeah. I mean, there were certain things I didn’t agree with in the church, but it was still a big part of my life. . And when my pastor found out that I was in a relationship with a woman and told me that I could no longer be a part of the band, a part of the music. I was devastated. Church and music were so intertwined in my mind that when he took away music, he took away both. Playing music was just a painful reminder of the community I lost.

AE: So you took a break from music for three or four years until the day your girlfriend, Sandy, encouraged you to take it up again. Tell us about that.

ALP: I still remember that day clearly. At the time we were just friends. We were just hanging out and I mentioned that I play guitar and I sing a little and she really wanted to hear me. It took me probably a good hour to get the nerve up to sing for her. Once she heard me she said, “You are so talented. You have to pursue this. You have to share your talent with people.”

AE: Do you remember what song you sang for her?

ALP: “Green Eyes” by Coldplay.

AE: When you found your way back to music, you came back with a vengeance. You won a local talent contest, Loving Cup Idol, formed a band that opened for Bruce Hornsby, and even tried out for American Idol, The X-Factor and The Voice one other time before making it on this year’s show. What do you think was different about your audition this year?

ALP: The other times I tried out for American Idol, X-Factor or even the voice, I went into it with the mindset like “This is my chance. Everything is riding on this.” But this last time I auditioned for the voice I thought, “Yeah, what the heck. I’ll give it another shot. I’m not going to lose anything if I don’t go through. If I do, then maybe I’ll gain some new fans.” I was in a different mindset this time. It wasn’t something that I necessarily thought that I needed. I knew I would keep playing music regardless of what happened.

AE: You have such a rich and blues-y voice. What are some of your musical influences?

ALP: I’ve always had an appreciation for all types of music. I listen to jazz, punk, bluegrass. Even growing up- going to church, Christian school and listening to Christian music-I’ve always tried to find the farthest thing you would think of when you thought of Christian music. I went to public school for high school and started listening to Led Zepplin and Jethro Tull. I got int. I listened to Bob Marley quite a bit in college. He was a big influence. I’m also hugely influenced by old blues artists, like Son House, Leadbelly, Billie Holiday. I listen to neo-soul a lot too. India Arie, Floetry and Lauryn Hill really speak to me as well. Lyrically speaking, I love Pink. I also really enjoy the lyrical style of Andre 3000 from Outkast. I think I take some of my lyrical rhythm from hip-hop.

AE: And if you could open for any band or work with any musician?

ALP: ZZ Ward, whose song I sang for the blind audition, has a similar vibe that I do. It’s kinda blues-y, rock, pop. I would love to open for her. That would be awesome. The Black Keys would be amazing to open for. They’ve got that kind of blues rock that I’m going for.

I’ve always wanted to work with Pharrell as well. I like the way he’s always blended different genres. The blues with the hip hop intertwined is definitely the kind of niche I’d like to work in.

AE: In the meantime, our readers will be very excited to watch you on Team Gwen. What’s the best part about working with her?

ALP: She’s super sweet and really cool. One of the things that she mentioned in my blind auditioned was that I had good stage presence and that is one of the things she keeps stressing with me. It’s not just about singing. It’s about entertaining people and creating a show. So, that’s something we’ve been working on. And just staying connected to the song that I’m singing. If you’re not connected to the song, it’s not believable.

 

Gavin Rossdale, frontman for Bush, and Gwen Stefani’s husband is Amanda Lee Peers’ mentor for the upcoming battle rounds, which start next week. If you can’t wait until then to hear more of Amanda Lee Peers’ music, check out her original tune, “Songs of Freedom.”

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