Amelia Presley’s Upcoming Single “Harm Nobody Else” is Her Own Story of Survival
When you hear Amelia Presley sing, it is impossible not to hear pangs of profound sorrow wrapped in a soulful voice fraught with struggle and deeply buried secrets. It’s a burned up and scarred over foundation from which her songs have been harvested, and she a phoenix born of the very flames that have tried to consume her completely. Through her newly acquired liberation from her own emotional self-imprisonment, she aims only to set the record straight with the release of her new single “Harm Nobody Else,” and in so doing, act as key-bearer to others who find themselves in that same kind of bondage. Presley doesn’t want pity. She only wants you to listen.
The song took only minutes to write, but was over 25 years in the making. Physical abuse is often that way, something that is kept in the shadows out of shame until one tear drop too many falls and forces the flood gates to open. From the age of 3 years old to the age of 15, she silently bore the crushing blows of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her stepmother. With this declaration she hopes to help other survivors validate their own feelings by facing them head on rather than living under the burden of their abuser’s secret.
Enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard to fund your music passions. Selling your horse and trailer to get your first Nashville studio session. Which artists and songs inspired you to choose a music career?
I love this question because I don’t have a very typical answer. Years ago I would’ve searched my brain to come up with what I was “supposed” to say, but I’m finally at a point in my life and career where I can think more clearly and remember more clearly. I attribute that in majority to the fact that I have healed much more, and with that, I’m able to be more honest. That may sound strange to think that even when asked questions as simple as this, my first instinct used to be to come up with the “right” answer instead of the honest answer. Growing up, whether my answer was honest or not, it was often “wrong” and would result in being punished. That caused me to not really know what telling the truth meant even into adulthood. So, here’s the honest answer: I did not have any musical influences growing up other than my papa. He wrote songs and would walk around the house singing them. When my papa was home, I was safe from the abuse of my stepmother. So, hearing his voice resonating throughout the house was comforting. It meant I was safe. Music became my safety too because of that. I don’t think I really knew what a career was when I decided that music would be mine. All I knew was when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, a singer was the answer because singing meant I was safe. It was the only escape I had. It was the only thing that made me happy. It was and is the only constant in my life and it will be until the day I die.
Recording singles. Released an EP and a full length album. Appearing at the CMA Music Festival and on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Favorite career moment to date?
Again, I used to search for the “right” answer for this one and, not surprisingly, the Grand Ole Opry was always my answer. There was some truth to that, but the answer has definitely changed at this point. The entire process of recording, performing, and talking about my song, “Harm Nobody Else,” and the healing and connections with other survivors that has resulted has been my defining moment to this point not only in my career, but in my life. If I had to pinpoint a time throughout that process that really sticks out, I’d have to say that telling my story on The Country Network had a huge impact on me. I was doing a live MusicThon alongside some very talented people including Bri Bagwell, Sara Hobbs, Rachel Stacy, Brandon Rhyder, Curtis Grimes, Darrin Morris, Jamie Richards, and all of these other well-known names that I was honestly amazed to be next to. I had planned on singing a new song called “Yote” first, then talking about “Harm Nobody Else” before performing it. I knew that my nerves would cause me to forget what I wanted to say about the song, and it was too important to me to let that happen. So, I made notes to read and decided that I was just going to be honest and let folks know that I was reading notes because I wanted to be sure to say everything I needed to say. As I predicted, my nerves did get the best of me. I had been so anxious about talking about the song on that platform and it was all I could think about. The mood was light when I was on set. I was joking back and forth with the comedian host, William Lee Martin, and I had a moment when my mind told me to just sing and not talk about the song at all. I started to sing my first song, “Yote”, and couldn’t remember the lyrics. My mind was blank from contemplating the gravity of the next song. I choked, and just decided to stop in the middle of the first verse. I gathered myself, and explained why I was so nervous and couldn’t continue the song. Then, I pulled my phone out of my boot and started to read the notes I had made before playing “Harm Nobody Else”. When I finished playing, I had a sinking feeling of defeat as I walked off set. I felt like I had screwed up, and I apologized to the camera crew. Their reaction was humbling. Their demeanor had changed, and they seemed to really be moved. The reaction from others as I walked toward the artist area was different too. I felt invisible when I first arrived, but I felt seen after I played. The experience was very humbling for me. I’m glad I messed up, and I’m glad I decided to be honest about it. It was all real, and what I was going through was not hidden or polished. I think that’s important for other survivors to see. The last thing I want others to see is me being stone faced talking about this song. I want them to see that this is real and it’s not always pretty. It’s important to be completely honest and show that healing is not wrong, and no part of it is something to be ashamed of.
Forming the Highway Sisters with fellow Texan KK Bodiford. What have you two been working on during the quarantine?
Well, when the quarantine started, we had just recorded our new single “Black Wedding.” We had a sponsor for radio promotion and were gearing up for the release and a radio tour. Then, when the world stood still we decided to wait. “Black Wedding” is an important song for us both because it talks about taking the skeletons from our past and putting them to rest. It’s a healing song, and it’s got an eerie feel. It’s probably my favorite of the songs we’ve recorded as Highway Sisters so far. We still don’t have set plans on how we will release it, but we want to do it right rather than rush during a time that may not be right for release. So, to answer your question, during quarantine KK and I have talked almost every day on the phone. It’s kept me sane. When I am not on the road, I often get anxious and depressed. Sitting still is not really my thing. I’ve yet to figure out how to relax, so talking to KK has truly been my biggest pick-me-up. We are so goofy and will talk for hours about absolutely nothing. We just entertain each other and it’s been so necessary during quarantine.
“Harm Nobody Else”. Turning the pain of your past into lyrics. How has writing this song helped heal your own heart?
When I first wrote the song, I really didn’t feel much healing. At that time I was still really good at hiding that pain inside my shell. I didn’t connect to it yet. It wasn’t until I revealed the entire story behind the song publicly that I started to heal. That was all very recent. When I told my story publicly, it felt like a huge weight was lifted and replaced by the weight of pulling that truth into myself. I fell into a very deep depression, but for once I expected it. I told myself that I was about to be depressed, and I knew it would be bad. I prepared myself to have thoughts of suicide, and I did. But, since I was prepared to have those thoughts, I was also able to get through them and I learned a pretty life-changing lesson through that. I remember laying in bed feeling as if I wanted to disappear. I had no need to reach out for help. I didn’t want help. I wanted to die. Then, I remembered to just push through because I knew those thoughts would come. I just told myself to wait. It wasn’t long before those thoughts passed. Then came the revelation moment. Thoughts of suicide are intrusive. They happen when your mind is not firing on all cylinders. Thinking of all you have to live for during that time does not help because your mind is not well. Thinking of all you have to live for only makes sense to a mind that is thinking logically. I think people who suffer from depression should prepare themselves and expect those thoughts to come, but to just remember to wait. Just wait and wait and wait until the thoughts pass. I think a lot of lives can be saved if we start talking about what to expect and how to get through it. It’s a very common experience and it’s not anything to be ashamed of.
Filming the video, on your own, at the family home where the abuse took place. How difficult was the decision to cast your own four-year-old daughter?
The decision to cast my daughter came from a very heavy moment in the studio while I was recording the song. That entire day was magic. Eric McKinney has a way of making people feel at home in his studio. My sister, Tori, who I didn’t meet until I was 18 was there. That really meant the world to me that she was there. We didn’t really get to know each other until after I talked about my story publicly and I think it’s because I had started to heal and had more room to heal other aspects in my life too such as having a relationship with my birth mother and siblings who grew up knowing her. My good friend, Taylor Long, was also there and ended up laying down some lead guitar on the track while he was there. Taylor was also on stage with me when I first told the truth about the song months prior, and he became a big part of my healing. Them being there in the studio wasn’t really a planned thing, but that adds to the beauty even more. These integral pieces of my journey were there for the recording part and I know God painted it that way. They lifted my mood and I got through recording the song so passionately because I knew that Eric, Taylor and Tori were right outside cheering me on. Then, toward the end of the day, I finally broke down. I was recording one last run on the vocals and I started to visualize what the music video would entail. I started to see the words I was singing playing out and I saw my story start to finish beginning with me as a three year old child. My daughter is the same age as when the abuse began and I suddenly saw her face replacing mine. Then I broke and stopped singing. I started to cry and I couldn’t gather my composure. I could not bear the thought of anyone harming her. She’s so little. I decided soon after that I had to have her play me as a child in the music video because seeing her in that position is painful. I needed the video to be painful because without that, it wouldn’t be real. If people don’t feel that pain, how are they going to decide to help make change in the world. It’s so easy to go about life and leave the injustices out of your mind. That’s a big reason why abuse remains a secret. A “Behind The Scenes” portion was added to the end of the video to show that my daughter was actually having a lot of fun when we recorded the scenes. That’s the first time she’s ever done anything like that and I’m so proud of her for taking directions so well and for showing the emotions I was asking her to show. She won’t know how big of a part she played until she’s much older, but I’m so proud of her. Her performance will change people’s lives.
❥ I always hate when my plans get changed. It makes me feel out of ... control, but God never fails to show me that the…
Heartbroken reading your quote, “ I don’t want to feel ashamed anymore. I want to talk about it so other people feel they can talk about it too. And now that I am, the world is a different color and I feel like I am in my own body for the first time.” How did you choose to partner with The Heart of Texas Children’s Advocacy Center for your upcoming Virtual Single Release Party on Facebook?
Some of the incredible employees from the center came into Pioneer Tap House in Brownwood, Texas one night and told me that they had watched a performance online of me talking about the song. By the end of the night, after the tap house was closed, they were all still there talking to me. I was bawling as they each told me what they did for children and told me stories. At that moment, I realized that this song and my story was actually reaching people. I still struggle with connecting with the fact that I could possibly impact anyone else’s life in such a big way. They showed up and requested that I play the song several more times, and they were actually one of the reasons that I decided to record the song so soon.
Heart of Texas Children's Advocacy Center
A statewide association that promotes the efforts of local children’s advocacy centers in Texas - providing hope,…
I decided to ask people to donate to The Heart of Texas Children’s Advocacy Center during the virtual release party because I’ve seen firsthand how they are changing lives because they changed mine in a very short period of time.
The Insignificant Diary of a Burden Named "Phoenix" on Apple Podcasts
"The Insignificant Diary of a Burden Named Phoenix" is a series of chapters written by singer-songwriter, Amelia…
“The Insignificant Diary of a Burden Named Phoenix”. You wrote the six chapters as a form of therapy. And awareness — reading your aunt’s response to the podcast — that abuse can be hidden from even those closest to a child. Where can those who suspect abuse, but don’t know how to help, turn?
I’m so glad you mentioned the podcast because I have been procrastinating recording new episodes. I actually have about 15 chapters written and I’m still nowhere near done. It’s been pretty tough recording it maybe because speaking is not as comfortable for me as singing is especially with something that makes me feel so vulnerable. In regards to my Aunt Sandra, I portrayed her as “Aunt Grace” in the story. I tried to tell her that I was being abused when I was very little, but I don’t think I actually communicated how bad the abuse was because I was too little to really know how. She did confront my step-mother and it just resulted in my step-mother banning me from going over to my aunt’s house anymore. Even my own father didn’t know how bad it was because it only happened when he was gone at work. I tried to tell him too, but when he confronted my step-mom, I just got punished the next day when he was gone. Again, I wasn’t able to communicate what was really happening to him because I was so little. So, I just learned to hide the abuse even more because all I knew was that I’d get in trouble if I told the truth. For those who suspect abuse, please don’t think that it’s none of your business. Don’t stop until the child is saved. When signs of abuse are explained away, don’t take those explanations as the truth. If you feel in your gut that a child is in a bad situation, never stop trying to save them and never believe theirs or the abuser’s explanations. Abused children are masters at lying. Even for those who don’t suspect abuse, be on the lookout for it, and talk about it…not under your breath, but in a normal volume. The more this becomes a normal part of conversation, the more it will come out of the shadows. The people who you would never suspect could be the very same ones putting children through hell. Call the police. Report. Report. Report. Get that child out of there! A child is the responsibility of their parent, and when their parent is the reason they are not safe; that child becomes all of our responsibility.
Planning the tour in support of the new single since January. What have been some of the positive connections you’ve made while rescheduling dates during the pandemic?
I’ve had about half of the tour dates canceled, and I’m trying to come up with creative ways to keep the tour going with the shows that are left. The pandemic has actually opened my eyes a lot more to the idea of online concerts. So, instead of being overly anxious about the canceled dates, I’m excited to fill the space between dates on the road with online shows in beautiful places along the route. I have a feeling that I’m going to meet and connect with so many more people due to the fact that some of the tour will no longer be in traditional venue settings. No matter what happens, I know it will be for a reason. I went into quarantine kicking and screaming but I’ve learned that my plans were not nearly as epic as God’s plans for this song and my story. I know that He has something much more amazing written for the rest of my story, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.