Amy Walker is making waves — the Clinton actress makes a record with Jack White
March 30, 2011 · Updated 11:33 AM
It’s not every day a rock star calls you up and asks you to come down to Nashville to make a record.
But that’s exactly what happened to singer, actor and “21 Accents” YouTube star Amy Walker of Clinton.
“Jack found me online and e-mailed my manager,” Walker said.
Producer and songwriter Jack White, the guitarist and lead singer of the former duo “The White Stripes,” was looking for spoken-word projects for his record label, Third Man Records.
“He was exploring accents, what they mean and how they’re received,” Walker said. “But he didn’t know what it was going to be, and was totally keen to collaborate.”
Walker was not hard to find, considering how fast her “21 Accents” video went viral after she posted it on YouTube in early 2008. Within three months, Walker was stealing the scene from interviewers Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira on the “Today Show,” followed by another stint on “Inside Edition.”
Now students from around the world seek her services as a singing teacher and dialect coach through an online service.
According to the YouTube hit counter, “21 Accents” currently has more than 5 million views to date.
White flew Walker down to Nashville for a few days in September. They went to the studio and started with a 90-minute interview.
“We totally hit it off,” Walker said.
The two talked about how people receive each other through how they sound, about how many people don’t like the way they sound, and about how where you are from informs your perspective and how others perceive you.
“Jack is from Michigan and still has a little accent,” Walker said.
“He doesn’t like that wide, flat sound. Here in America we don’t really have an accent to aspire to, like in England, where there is an elevated accent that comes from being educated.” Such English is also known as the “Queen’s speech.”
What came out of their discussion, and from what they explored in the studio with Walker’s voice, is a 7-inch vinyl record called “Discourse on Accents,” also available as a download on iTunes.
On the A side, Walker runs through her wide selection of accents as an improvisational rolling internal dialogue. The A side also includes a reading from a random article in the local newspaper, each sentence in a different accent. On the B side, Walker is interviewed by White, discussing everything from the overuse of the word “like” by modern teenagers, offending people by speaking in their accents, and a wide range of other topical subjects in an exploration of accents and dialects, and how they relate to people’s preconceptions, and influence prejudices.
For the “internal rolling dialogue,” White set up two mics in stereo, and Walker proceeded to “talk to herself” using improvisation and a variety of characters she pulled out of her hat.
On the second day in Nashville, White gave Walker a microphone and filmed her interviewing strangers on the street using a different accent for each interview.
“I asked people if they had an accent. There were lots of ‘noes.’” She even interviewed a guitarist who came outside a bar while still plugged in with his band who continued performing onstage while he continued to play and talk to Walker at the same time. White even played a bit while Walker kept the mic on them.
Ultimately, both White and Walker are very interested in the nature of speech and where it leads. White gets a little more in-depth about the subject when he talked to National Public Radio’s Bob Boilen on his show, “The Flipside With Jack White: Why He Loves Accents, But Hates His Own.” On the show, White talks about making “Discourse on Accents” with Walker, and also about the advantages of certain ways of speaking.
“I don’t like my accent. I can’t stand my speaking voice. And sometimes
I think: I live down south and I’m so jealous of the Southern accent,” White said.
“I love the humor associated with it; the way you can get away with things with a certain accent. I used to think that some of the things I said [would] offend people, but if I said it in a French accent or an Italian accent, that I would have got away with it, you know?”
Walker said that exploring accents has turned into more than just a lark for her.
“What I do is expanding the sense of oneself,” she said.
“If I can sound like you, and feel what you feel, then I can have compassion for you. We’re all really made of the same material. I might sound different if I was born in a different country, but
I would still be me,” Walker added.
It’s something we all do to a certain extent, she said, without being aware of it. How we talk to a baby is different from how we talk to grandma or to a bunch of strapping guys. It’s valuable communication. Just talking louder to a French person is not going to work if they don’t understand you, she added.
“When you really know someone, you know what word to say and how to say it so that they can feel you,” Walker said.
Walker received 50 limited edition tri-color (black, yellow and white) records and 100 plain vinyl records to sell on her own at www.AmyWalkerOnline.com, in addition to those being sold on the Third Man Records website. Walker sold out her copies in just under 37 seconds, and learned that one tricolor record was sold for $150 on Ebay.
Each record is packaged in one of 30 different covers featuring the vocal gymnast posing in a variety of vintage clothes and wigs, compliments of a clothing store in Nashville.