Erika Amato is an accomplished singer, actress, and musician. Her stage-presence, her visual style, and most importantly, her sultry, expressive voice provide the focal point for Velvet Chain's smooth, straight-up vibe.
|Erika is a demure but feisty actress type, with a vibrant personality and undeniable talent. Something special about her voice makes her instantly different and alluring. Placed inside Velvet Chain's potent, spaced-out groove machine, her voice and style melt everything in sonic range.
Prior to Velvet Chain, Erika was pursuing her acting career full time. She was doing pretty well and landed a juicy part in a Quantum Leap episode where she played a Russian KGB agent. It was a season premiere two-parter and she had a co-starring role (footage in the Oddities section). She also had an appearance on a sitcom, and did all the other aspiring-actress stuff like theater groups, classes, plays - you know the drill.
Then, while taking vocal instruction from a super nice lady named Carly Moultrie, Erika met Jeff Stacy at a strange party out in LaVerne, CA, and about 6 months later, you had Velvet Chain.
Shortly after they met, Erika started singing backups in Jeff's band, which, at the time, was called "Heat Your Shack," and had about 9 people in it. It was a pretty weird band, known for heavy grooves and bizarre antics. Erika was attracted to the music because it was kind of artsy and had a lot of bass. Also, there were some interesting musical arrangements going on, and the band was both sophisticated and experimental.
However, this particular band unraveled only a couple of months after Erika's arrival (for a multitude of reasons not related to Erika). Her obvious vocal talent, however, was certainly not lost on Jeff, and in the end, he formed a new band around her. Now based in Hollywood, they recruited a new keyboard player and a horn player. Then, they recruited the drummer and guitarist from the old band, and that was the original Velvet Chain lineup.
|Erika has always been both a singer and an actor, and nobody ever really knew which would end up taking over. Well, it turns out, the answer is: both. Right now, Erika is balancing a blossoming stage career and Velvet Chain. She is a founding member of VC, writes a lot of the material, and is completely involved in the production of the band's music, particularly with vocal parts, melodies, harmonies, keyboard lines and arrangement ideas.||
|She was an only child, with an abnormal propensity for theatrics and singing. She was a very smart kid - in all the gifted programs and all that. She liked music a lot and started playing piano at 3. She ended up taking piano lessons for 10 years (but of course, now she says she can hardly play anymore). Her first dance performance was also at 3. Her first public singing performance was at 5. Her first acting performance was at 7. She was first paid for a recording of her voice at 11. She got a 620 verbal score on the SAT when she was in 7th grade. She took college courses at 12. In other words, she was one of those smart kids the rest of us love to hate, plus, she was super talented.||
And that was the problem. The situation with the other kids was not good. Erika was so different from everybody else that to them, she was a total freak. So, of course, they ganged up on her like crazy. She was locked in lockers, stepped on, beat up, and generally harassed every day of her life (assuming it was a school day). And even though she was a thin, tiny little thing, she was tough -- a real scrapper. She fought dirty, and was very crafty, aggressive, and downright dangerous to tangle with. She won her share of the battles.
|Probably the most eccentric
thing about Erika was her extreme hyperactivity and high energy level.
She was simply uncontrollable and a built-in, daily headache for her teachers.
For example, out of sheer boredom she would jump out of her desk in math
class and do a fake tap dance routine right in the middle of class. All
they could do was put her out in the hall, and half the time she would
find a way to distract the class, even from out there.
The thing is, it was a private school, and Erika was a brilliant kid that they needed to find a way to deal with. It was discussed that perhaps Ritalin or some other drug for hyperactivity might help, but after the appropriate evaluations, it was determined that she wasn't really "hyperactive," at all -- she was just a super-bright kid who was bored out of her mind. You don't give a kid drugs just because they're bored.
|Erika simply needed the world to go a lot faster, and after a while she would just erupt. Her way of erupting happened to be a song and dance or some other theatrical explosion.
Sometimes, Erika would come home after a particularly
rough day and go directly into her room, shut the door, and sing opera
at the top of her lungs, making up arias that would bag on the teachers,
the other kids, or whatever else the problem was. So there she was,
like 10 years old, by herself in her room belting out her own opera
songs like, "Nobody understands me, but after I die, they'll all
be sooooorrrry!", or "Susie and Jenny, you're pathetic little loooosers."
You can just imagine her mom in the other room
Things slowly got better over time, as the other kids got older and began to develop more appreciation for artistic pursuits. By the time Erika got out of high school, she was actually pretty popular. She had been the star of the school's sold-out run of Evita and had received standing ovations in all three performances. In high school, this kind of thing makes you feel special.
After Erika graduated from Kent Place School in Summit, N.J, she attended Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, New York. She majored in Drama and received both general honors and honors in her major. Her other specialty was languages, and she studied French, Italian and Russian. And, of course, she was in every singing group or performance situation within about 20 miles.
||Singing was always the most fundamental "given" in Erika's life. Erika has sung in every kind of situation imaginable, including acapella groups, chorales, musicals, madrigals, cabarets, operas, you name it. She was even a singing waitress for 2 summers at "The Show Place," (a specialy ice cream parlor) on Long Beach Island, New Jersey.|
In college, Erika enjoyed herself immensely. There was no shortage of intellectual and artistic things to keep her occupied, plus there was partying. She made a lot of friends, very few enemies, and of course, graduated near the top of her class. Within 3 months of her college graduation, Erika was in L.A. pursuing her acting career. About a year and a half after that, she and Jeff Stacy formed Velvet Chain.
Erika can play keyboards, recorder, and percussion, but in Velvet Chain, she's usually too busy singing and being the "front-person" to play very much apart from percussion on stage.
The first music Erika remembers being moved by is Beethoven. Her Dad would sit her down in a big wing chair and put those big, old-fashioned headphones on her head, and really let her have it. Sometimes he would use the regular speakers, but usually he used headphones for the full stereophonic effect (what a cool dad, huh?) Well, the thing is, his main motivation was to get Erika into classical music so that maybe, somehow, she wouldn't get into rock and roll. Boy did that backfire.
The first rock record Erika bought and really got into was the Police (Zenyatta Mondatta). Soon after, she bought everything they ever put out, and remains a big Sting fan to this day. But the band she flipped her lid for in a really big, sicko, teenage girl, plaster the walls with posters kind of way was· Duran Duran. Her room was like a Duran Duran Shrine. Then came U2, Tears for Fears, New Order, the Thompson Twins, the Cure, Culture Club, Violent Femmes, Eurythmics, and Bowie.
|The most potent influence
on her musically happened when she was about 14 or 15, listening to albums
like the Police's "Ghost in the Machine," Duran Duran's "Rio,"
and Peter Gabriel's, "So." What she remembers is being really
transported by the bottom end of the music - the bass and sub-bass elements.
It was beyond anything else she had experienced before with music. Although
Erika is a singer, when it comes to music, she's actually a really big
Today, Erika still likes Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bowie and U2. She still likes anything Annie Lennox does, and likes her voice best out of all the female singers. From the newer group, she probably likes Fiona Apple the most, or maybe Sarah McLachlan. Erika also likes Beck, Cake, Portishead, and Radiohead. (Radiohead the most).
Her all time favorite band· Gotta be the Beatles. If you were on a desert island, their collection would be the best one to have. What other band would be better?
The things she likes best about Velvet Chain are the cool bass lines and the dark vibe. The band sometimes has an orchestral feel that the likes a lot. There's a very sensitive dynamic that allows her to actually sing, instead of yelling all the time -- this can be hard to find in a rock band that is also capable of real power.
For information on Erika's current theatrical performances, click HERE