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Amy Helm on New Album, Recording at Levon’s Barn, and What May Be in Her Father’s Archives

“The greatest change happens when we just forgive people and forgive our own ignorance,” say the Woodstock, New York, songwriter, who probes the idea of a reckoning on her LP What the F…

"It became very clear, very early on that we were being held by something that was bigger than us," Amy Helm says of recording her new album 'What the Flood Leaves Behind.'

Ebru Yildiz*

When Amy Helm set out to record What the Flood Leaves Behind, her third solo album released in June, she found herself being called home. The singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist cut her last LP, 2018’s brooding This Too Shall Light, in Los Angeles, and it was time to reconnect with her musical and familial roots. Helm rallied producer Josh Kaufman and a host of ace players to the other musical epicenter of Woodstock, New York: the rustic barn where her father, Levon Helm, hosted his legendary Midnight Rambles from 2004 until his death in 2012.

Helm has described the barn and the on-site Levon Helm Studios as a tuning fork for musicians, a magical conduit into the heart of creativity. Listening to What the Flood Leaves Behind, it’s easy to see what she means. It’s a living, breathing LP, shaped by rich acoustic chords, pulsing horns, immersive organ, and Helm’s elastic voice. Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor, Mary Gauthier, and Erin Rae all contribute to the songwriting, and Kaufman — the Bonny Light Horseman member who’s played on Taylor Swift’s recent folksy adventures — dials up the warm production. The album’s sense of optimism, even at its most tenuous, is unmistakable.

“When there’s so much joy going on, it’s creates an interesting space to get into the deeper, more vulnerable stuff,” says Helm, who probes her family history on the track “Cotton and the Cane.” We talked to Helm about the origin of the album title, her personal songwriting, and what might be coming from her father’s archives.

The title comes from a line you sing in the opening track, “Verse 23.” What is it about that lyric that shaped this album?  
That line is defined by the line that follows it: “what the flood leaves behind/is what we’ve got to make.” I love the idea of being stripped to the most bare parts of ourselves: spiritually, emotionally, even financially. I like the idea of redefining ourselves over and over again and rising up from that, feeling stripped of what we knew.