Most teens spend their formative years feeding their angst with appropriately emotional tunes, holing up in bedrooms with the voices of those artists who they think truly understand them. Amy Fleisher Madden, however, was not most teens.
Before she was 20, Amy was launching the careers of the likes of New Found Glory and Dashboard Confessional -- and, a few decades later, she channeled all of those experiences into her stellar debut YA novel, "A Million Miles." The book tells the tale of a girl very similar to Amy, named Maddy, who goes on tour with her favorite band, Crimson + Clover.
"A Million Miles" is not your typical YA novel in many ways -- not that there's anything wrong with traditional YA (you know we're fans at MTV News). But the realness of the book is novel -- and refreshing. The dudes of Crimson + Clover are endearing, tragic and overall kind of disgusting, as teenage dudes in bands (and even non-teenage dudes) are wont to be. Maddy is attracted to them at points, but the book is far from some romance novel about hooking up with a rock star. It's a book about loving music and being young. And it's a book about growing up, too.
Appropriately enough for a woman who started her own label when most people are learning to drive, Amy DIY'd her book as well, raising money on Kickstarter and publishing it via her own press and label, Animal Manufacturing Co. She even sells merch for Crimson + Clover and is working on music so that her fictional band can become a reality.
Lucky for us, Amy took a break from... doing all that... to talk with us about the book, the bands and what you need to know before going on tour should you choose to put the "I" in "DIY." Yes, I did just say that. Yes, I do kind of hate myself.
MTV: You started your own label when you were a teen. That's pretty... wow. Was it hard?
Amy Fleisher Madden: Running a record label as a teenager was incredibly difficult -- every day was a new challenge because I was not only learning to run a business, but I was simultaneously learning to be an adult. Also, it was really hard to understand the magnitude of what I was doing or what was happening around me. To this day when people talk to me about Fiddler I’m still surprised they’ve heard of the label or the bands I’ve worked with.
MTV: Who were some of the bands that you signed?
Amy: The first band that I signed that really broke through was New Found Glory. After their EP, I released the first Dashboard Confessional record and that was an uphill battle the whole way. From there, some smaller bands: The Bled, The Higher, Name Taken and Recover. Just a few indie darlings.
MTV: So your book is also about a girl who started a label as a teen. How much of it is autobiographical?
Amy: For the sake of the narrative, Maddy’s life is much more streamlined -- but the feelings are the same. The desire to do what you love with your friends, to risk it all just to see what happens -- that’s purely autobiographical. Obviously, certain themes will run parallel in my and Maddy’s life, but her story is fiction. Sure, we both started record labels as teenagers, but her favorite color is blue and mine is orange.
MTV: Is the band in the book based on a real band? If so, which one?
Amy: Crimson + Clover is fictional, but to create a fully immersive experience, I brought them to life. I holed up in a studio with some friends and we wrote and recorded some songs that we felt embodied the sound and style of 1999.
MTV: How intense was the writing process for you? Must have been pretty crazy.
Amy: I’ve done many things in my life, but nothing was more intense than writing this book. I reached new levels of self-doubt and self-loathing -- which I’m told is totally normal for writers.
I truly think I’m a changed and better person because of it, though. I wrote the first draft in a month. The strangest thing is that I never would have thought that being a copywriter would prepare me for writing a novel, but I was so used to writing for 12 hours a day in a chaotic office setting that when I finally sat down to write what I really wanted to write, it just poured out of me. And I didn’t even have to wear noise-cancelling headphones.
MTV: Why did you decide to release the book yourself?
Amy: When the book was actually done I started to meet with agents and lawyers -- and I just didn’t click with anyone. A lot of people I met with said, 'Music books don’t sell,' which is a pretty ridiculous statement.
If it wasn’t that, people told me that my book didn’t have enough sex in it -- that Maddy should be more promiscuous. I know that publishing is a business, and sex sells, but when you have a book about an awkward 19-year-old traveling with a band, smothering the story with sex kind of defeats the purpose.
I suppose if I had written 'A Million Miles' in the 'Twilight' era as opposed to the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' era, my band members would have needed to be vampires. I found myself feeling the same way that I did when I started Fiddler so many years ago, so I started researching self-publishing.
MTV: What would you tell a teen who wants to start their own label/put out their own book?
Amy: In the words of Nike, just do it. Do your homework first, though. Read everything you can about what you want to do, learn from other people, and learn from your mistakes. When I started my label my only punk rock resources were Maximum Rock N’ Roll, Punk Planet, or members of bands that were older than me. The world has completely changed. We have infinite information at our fingertips now -- so you really have no excuse.
MTV: What are your top three tips for touring with a band?
1. Underwear and socks are gold. Pack as many pairs as you can.
2. If you’re working on the tour, be really careful about when and where you party. It’s one thing for a band member to be a little drunk -- it’s a whole other animal when the person that’s easily replaceable is wasted. (Ed Note: Don't drink if you're under 21, obviously.)
3. Let go of everything. You will lose your mind if you get too attached to anything on tour (possessions, space, politics) because you’re going to be tested in ways you never thought imaginable. It’s like how everyone thinks they’d be the cool roommate on 'The Real World.' Give it a few weeks. Everyone cracks.