We caught up with Amanda Dill on the road from San Diego to artsy Prescott, Arizona. Driving west to play a gig with her band, the Cadillac Angels were headlining on a Saturday night at the city’s very happening Raven Cafe.
Now, Dill is no stranger to the spotlight, modeling and acting intermittently over many years. Heck, she even appears in Top Gun. Playing a general’s wife at a funeral, she got to “hang out with Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise on set.” But, it’s this recent turn as a self-taught bassist in the Cali-based Cadillac Angels that’s really making her a rockstar.
One might think Amanda Dill leads a charmed life. But this was not always so, due to the volatility and intense struggle of her early years. Hard earned, this latest success, Amanda calmly insists that she lives every day with deep gratitude for all the good stuff that has come her way despite those growing-up pains.
The down-to-earth, gently effusive Dill grew up with an often-absentee mother and a violent alcoholic father (who she is actually close to today). Her parents divorced when she was only two. Moving around a lot as a kid, they depended on the kindness of friends (sometimes strangers), or lived in low-income housing. Years that toughened her up, but didn’t make her a victim.
Dill’s been on her own since the tender age of 15 (she was a junior in high school). Forced to support herself, she graduated with a small scholarship, continued to work and went to college at night. That bachelor’s degree finally came at the age of twenty-seven. Going on to a good career in tech, she later returned to study, starting her own interior design firm which today remains one of her many creative outlets.
So how did this mother of four college-age kids, world traveler, vegetarian and dog lover start jamming on a bass in the first place? She explains: “I was just curious about it. You know, something I’d never done…I never played an instrument before in my life. I always thought of myself as not musical at all. I like to dance and I enjoy music, but I didn’t grow up with it though either, wasn’t in our household…I just thought, four strings, it’d be easy, easier than a guitar. Come to find out it is quite difficult,” she confesses with a throaty laugh.
“I’m pretty adventurous and I’ve never ever felt that there are limitations.”
“So, being in my early 50s, I’ve never thought I’m too old for anything. I was always curious about instruments and I do have four children and no one has had a lesson and they’re all incredibly musical.”
Amanda’s children have all clearly inherited her zest for living life fully and finding what makes you happy. This is no small feat, considering where Dill came from.
“A lot of my attitude about all this comes from my childhood. I had to survive and succeed.”
But it’s those difficult times, which she tends to humbly downplay, that built Amanda’s resiliency and fearlessness. “A lot of my attitude about all this comes from my childhood. I was presented with a whole lot of challenges and I worked hard and tried to be a good, honest person and do the right thing — and every time, really, it paid off. And things have worked out,” she confesses, “knock on wood.” Knock knock indeed!
She will admit to a fear of heights, though. But in typical Amanda Dill style, she went skydiving for the first time last year with her then 74-year-old mom (who has since passed). “Just that moment of looking out of the plane, the 1, 2, 3, jump — the reward of accomplishing something that you were so fearful of — I love that feeling. I love putting myself in an uncomfortable situation, and then trying to get to the point where you’re comfortable with it.” Her other biggest fear: great white sharks. So, of course Amanda plans to go cage diving in South Africa in the near future.
“Girlfriends are good. Good for the soul.”
She summited Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, with some girlfriends recently. “We started at 3:30 in the morning. Freezing cold at the top. It’s super treacherous, a really difficult hike. The next one on my radar screen is Machu Picchu in Peru.” For Amanda, that’ll be another girls’ trip. She adds, “That’s another trick to happiness, having girlfriends. I have my close-knit group, my best girlfriends, and my aunt Laura. They’re my rocks. They keep me grounded and support me.”
Playing shows is the scariest, most vulnerable thing
Amanda started following the Cadillac Angels because her aunt Laura (who’s also her best friend) was a big fan. Introduced to frontman and singer/songwriter Tony Balbinot back in 2009, Amanda fell in love with their music. During a show, Tony invited Amanda up on stage to sit in and play for the first time. She only had one song learned under her leather-studded belt, mind you.
She recounts with a chuckle, “My feet are glued to the stage, I did not move an inch. And the whole time I thought I was going to barf. I thought I was going to absolutely lose it. I did one song, and then Tony, the lead singer, the songwriter of the band, looks over and goes, “Do you have anything else?” I was like, ‘Nope, that’s it.