While a music student at Colorado State University, Mandy Harvey lost her hearing due to a degenerative connective tissue disorder. Devastated, she left school and took a break from music.
When she returned to the stage, Harvey found a new world that eventually led her to a finalist spot on the TV show "America's Got Talent." KUNC arts reporter Stacy Nick caught up with her on tour to find out what the last two years since "AGT" have been like.
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Stacy Nick: So, you have your new album, which is your first major release, "Nice To Meet You." Where did that title come from? Did you feel like you were kind of reintroducing yourself to audiences?
Mandy Harvey: A little bit. You know, it's a couple of different things. So it's saying, "You don't really know me yet," because at a certain level, I feel like I'm just discovering myself. I'm just learning who I am.
So, there's no way that you could know me, but it's also the first line in my song "This Time." And that was based off of a conversation I had with a homeless woman when I was in middle school in Denver, and she grabbed my arm and she said, "Nice to meet you. Are we flying or is it all in my head?" She just needed somebody to just stop for a second and go on a journey with her. And so the album is my own journey and it's kind of like, "Hey, let's do this."
What was the inspiration for this album for you?
We know, it's funny. As an adult, I rewatched a familiar cartoon, "Alice in Wonderland" and I was just so frustrated. I was watching the whole thing and she gets to this part in the forest when she's lost and she's alone and she's crying, and as she's crying and she's in the thick of it, all of the animals and the creatures start to disappear, they just vanish.
And it was a huge thought to me that her entire journey through the frustration, and the turmoil was all something that she could have avoided. It's all something that she had the ability to just wake up and not be there anymore. And I had so many long journeys that were so hard and so frustrating whether it was getting divorced or dealing with kind of the change of who I am, and adjusting to a world with my hearing loss and just kind of readjusting to the world.
I was so bitter and so frustrated and so angry, and I was like, I have the ability to wake up. I have the ability to not think so negatively. I have the ability to step forward into a different possibility, a different tomorrow.
And so the album from the first song, which is "Heart on Fire," and it goes, "Wake me up when it's all over," that's Alice falling asleep. That's me falling asleep and allowing myself to kind of go on this mental journey.
And then eventually there's a song called "Waking Up." And that's the reality of understanding that the world isn't just going, I have a lot of decisions to make and I have a lot of responsibility for making my life happy and positive. It's a choice.
So I'm waking up, and so it's my own personal journey through my own Wonderland.
One of the other songs that I wanted to ask you about was "This Time." One of the lines you say, "I'm not the same kid I used to be."
Yeah so, like I said, I met that woman when I was in middle school handing out socks near the 16th Street Mall. And when she told me her life story, it was just this really dark story about how she was a Russian ballerina. She was going to become a star and then she ended up having an accident. She shattered her ankle and she couldn't dance anymore, and she just gave up on life and then she let go of my arm and she just walked away. And it was this heavy conversation that seemed to come out of nowhere. But at the same time it spawned me to make a decision to say, "Okay, dreams die. Life gets complicated and messy."
My dream at that time was becoming a music teacher. If my dream ever dies, I can't give up and become this woman. Ten years later I was faced with the same problem and my dream died, and it was just like a flashback of seeing her face. I've become her. This can't be the end of my story. This isn't who I am and so it's about taking the painful steps forward.
I also really liked that you covered Radiohead's "Creep." What made you decide to do that particular song?
When I was on "AGT," I felt so out of place and so kind of lost, and I guess it's just a very scary process for me. And so as I was sitting in this hallway and all of these people, all these contestants were there and their managers or their, their parents and everybody's taking videos of themselves and they've got like social campaigns and they've all been on TV before and they were just really natural. And I was just like the dork who'd never been on TV before, who didn't know what was going on, just trying to survive. I just couldn't get that song out of my head.
You play piano on that, right?
Yeah, but I started playing that song on piano to push my boundaries and to get past some fear because I've had a lot of fear of playing the piano since it was the last real class that I was allowed to have as part of a music major. And so, it was always a real negative emotion that I had connected to playing it. And so I made a pact to play the piano for one song at every concert that I did for the entire year. And I just started playing "Creep" because it was how I felt.
I also saw that you collaborated with Not Impossible Labs on a wearable device. It's kind of like how when you go on stage, you don't wear shoes so you can feel the beat. Right?
Yeah, absolutely. But it's like amplified in a crazy way. It's wearable technology. Their goal was to kind of suit me up so that I would be able to understand the music that's being played around me in a live setting. But not just the feeling of the beat, being able to understand and say, okay, this is the piano running across my chest. This is the bass playing right here on the back of my spine. This is the electric guitar on my wrist.
And in the end I ended up doing a full symphony concert where I had like 20 different channels. I had every section and I could feel each section as they collided together. It was so brilliant.
So when you think back to your start, when you were doing open mic nights at a jazz club in Fort Collins to now, how does that feel?
It really does feel weird. I mean, it's a good weird, but it is bizarre. I never, never expected that I would be doing what I'm doing now for my full-time job. You know, I was working at the Colorado Center for Arthritis and Osteoporosis for nearly 10 years in Longmont. So I always thought I was going to have like, a day job and then do music on the side in an exhaustion, double, full-time job situation.
But I was happy with working that hard, and now to be able to work two full-time jobs worth of work, for something that I'm super passionate about, it's a dream. And I am super blessed and super thankful and super thirsty to do a lot more. I want to be able to do so much more.
I'm fortunate that I have connections to do some of that stuff. Like I've gotten to travel the United States and I've gotten to donate ukuleles and help music programs start in schools and I've gotten to hang out with so many amazing people. It's been a hell of a ride that's just starting.
Mandy Harvey is performing Dec. 7 at Dazzle in Denver.