BY PABLO MAYO CERQUEIRO
Time seemed to stop for a second as her fingers started dancing along her paisley-patterned Yamaha keyboard. Although the room was nearly packed, none of the over 20 people at the show would dare to break the silence that suddenly took over Subcat Studios, at 219 S. West St., on the night of July 20. Amanda Rogers, 31, a Jordan-raised pop musician, had inaugurated the Sub Rosa Sessions, live-recorded monthly concerts where local artists play with regional and national bands.
“My piano picked the playlist for me,” Rogers said, for the G key above middle C on her instrument would constantly get stuck. Yet, such inconvenience didn’t prevent her from playing for over half an hour.
Once the last chords of her new song “Walking” faded away, the folk duo Arborea, hopped on stage. Shanti Curran, one of the band members, said the duo met Rogers at a show in Biddeford, Maine, about three years ago and automatically became friends.
“She could be a soul mate,” Curran said referring to the Jordan musician.
After more than a decade of being on the road and moving from place to place, Rogers came back to Syracuse a year ago looking for a new beginning. Now, she lives in her parents’ attic in Cato with her three cats – Gremlynn, Kitten-Face and Little Big Man Dude – and holds a position at Subcat Studios as the in-house graphic designer and education coordinator. While working at the studio, Rogers finishes wrapping up her new album, “Wild,” which will come out in early October.
“I cannot believe that I’ve been back in Syracuse for a year; it doesn’t even make sense to me,” she said in an interview at the studio two weeks ago. However, Rogers says she’s really enjoying this new phase in her life. “If you asked if I was happy right now and content, I would say yes.”
Rogers had rarely stopped touring since she graduated from Jordan-Elbridge High School at the age of 17 and has been playing piano since she was 5.
Her mother, Peggy Rogers, who’s a self-employed interior designer, says she found out her daughter wanted to play music when she went to pick her up from her neighbors’ in Jordan: “She was playing at the neighbors’ house, playing piano. I thought it was my neighbors’ daughter, and it was actually Amanda. I asked her if she would like to play piano, and she said “yes.” So, it started back when she was a tiny little girl.”
Almost immediately, Rogers began taking piano lessons. Yet, it wasn’t until she turned 12 when she realized music was her calling. She says listening to her favorite albums at the time – “August and Everything After,” by Counting Crows; “No Need to Argue,” by The Cranberries; “Dookie,” by Green Day; and Weezer’s homonymous album – made her understand her purpose was to become a musician.
“The albums were so great start to finish, and I was like “I want to do that,” she said. Around that time, she also embraced veganism.
When she was about 15, Rogers began playing at hardcore metal shows in Syracuse. She says hardcore metal was flourishing in the area in the second half of the 1990s, which gave her an opportunity to get on stage.
“I would play those kinds of shows, but I would play my pop music,” she said. “I have really no explanation for why or how, but hardcore metal kids loved my stuff… I was totally being myself, and that was the most unusual thing to happen at those shows.”
Once she graduated from high school, Rogers went to Boston to start classes at Berklee College of Music. After days trying to find an apartment without success, she decided to grab her car at the time, a 1989 Mercury station wagon, and go on tour.
“She’s just very kind and sweet, and I was worried about the world, her being out there in it alone,” Peggy Rogers said.
Rogers says she went on traveling and playing around the country – and even Canada and Europe – for over 10 years with occasional breaks where she would go home or work on her music.
“To me, it’s always been like “yeah, I’ll sacrifice having a normal life and having a home and a family, and consistency, and stability, and security.” I can risk all those things because what I’m doing is more important than myself,” she said.
However, Rogers says things changed last year when she decided to go home after breaking up with The Pleasants, one of her musical projects. She had just finished recording her last album, “Hope From the Forgotten Woods,” at Mount Hollywood Studios in Vermont, where she was living at the time.
During her ride to Syracuse, Rogers realized track 11 on the album was incomplete. She says she needed to get 30 CD’s pressed really fast, for her album was about to be released. According to Rogers, no business in town would do it but Subcat Studios. On the phone, she met her boyfriend and boss, Jonathan Lessels, engineer and manager of graphic design and duplication at Subcat Studios.
“So, once I met Subcat and met Jon, it seemed that I was on the right path,” she said.
Rogers says she immediately started helping at the studio and jamming with Lessels, who’s currently producing her last work.
“I got everything on tape from the first moment we started playing music together, and that’s how these songs came about,” Lessels said.
Rogers says “Wild” is probably her best album because, for the first time, she’s had the chance to work without any pressure.
“Wild,” is sort of like the sum of my entire crazy, wild life and this whole year of just being wild… I’ve always been myself, but to actually enjoy being that person and just be relaxed in it, that’s been wild,” she said.
Being in Syracuse has also provided Rogers with the opportunity to spend more time with her family. Her sister, Melissa Rogers, who bartenders at Buffalo’s Bar, in Baldwinsville, describes her both as free-spirited and family-oriented.
“We are outdoorsy people; we’re always doing stuff outside. We go hiking, we do a lot of cookouts, and we have bonfires,” she said.
Melissa Rogers also says her sister is an inspiring person who has been able to pass her passions onto her.
“She inspired me to play music, and I remember when I was little and she would sit down and show me some songs on the piano. She inspired me to sing and play music, and she made me actually love nature and being outdoors,” Melissa Rogers said.
Peggy Rogers portrays her oldest daughter with similar words, too.
“She’s so very compassionate towards humanity and nature. I used to always say that angels would sit right on her piano to go with her,” she said.
Rogers believes everything in the world is interconnected, which translates into her respect for life.
“It’s that kind of deeper thought that everything exists, everything has energy, everything deserves to have respect,” Lessels said. “It’s a loving, it’s a kind… It’s just like an epic personality.
Rogers says she sees writing music as a blessing, something that occurs because it’s meant to be, making the world better off.
“When I write a song, I don’t feel like it’s me. I feel like I’m a vessel for some other thing. It’s beyond my own understanding. It’s like an idea or a feeling was dropped onto me and it’s my duty to translate it,” she said. “At that moment, I’m super connected to the whole world. And I feel that that’s my duty, that’s my gift, that’s what I am here for.”