Coming out is never easy, but telling the world about your true self while coming from a religious background can be downright traumatizing. Yet Amanda Jones, a.k.a. the Nashville-based pop and soul vocalist Dearly, is ready to do just that.
Since age 12, Jones has been working in the industry, performing with bands and fellow artists in and around her native Portland, Oregon. Having made a name for herself as a talented stage presence and music producer, she built a dedicated following and collaborated with the likes of rock band R5, YouTube’s singing sextet Cimorelli, and released an EP produced by early-aughts pop-punk legends Boys Like Girls.
Then last year, the singer decided it was time for a creative rebrand: she created Dearly (“I just love the definition of that word,” she says) and shifted from a more mainstream sound to her present-day energy of soulful vocals, with indie-pop vibes. Yet through it all, Jones — although ever an ardent supporter of the LGBTQ community — was in the closet.
“So, I’m gay,” Jones tells Billboard over the phone, fighting back tears. “I’ve felt a lot of guilt about it for a long time … I grew up with the idea that there was something wrong with gay people. I wasn’t allowed to watch Glee because it had gay characters in it. My grandfather, way later in his life, when he was almost in a retirement home, came out as gay. But because he was so dedicated to the church, he never acted on his nature. Which is just so sad, the fact that he never lived out his truth. I want my life to be different.”
Jones moved to Nashville from Portland to focus on her music, and hoping to become the person she was always meant to be. “My best friend in the world was already living in Nashville when I moved out here from Portland. We both realized that we were gay at the same time and came out to each other,” she recalls. “That was amazing, to have that kind of support, to be on that journey with my best friend.” It wasn’t easy for either woman, as coming out rarely is. “It’s taken a while to learn how to really love myself, to be really proud of who I am as a person and as an artist,” she admits. “But I’m so thankful for where I am now.”
Now, in her newest video for her single “Forget Your Love” (premiering below), Dearly plays the part of a forgotten party girl, stuck on her bed and surrounded by cellophane streamers, waiting for a call on the phone from a girl who may have meant more to Dearly than vice versa. “You can forget my name, it’s whatever,” she sings confessionally. “I won’t hold it against you, love/ If you don’t recall tonight by tomorrow/ Just know I’ll never forget your touch/ I’ll never, I’ll never forget your love.”
Billboard had the chance to chat with Dearly about “Forget Your Love,” her queer music inspirations, growing up Mormon in Portland, and more.
What was it like growing up in a Mormon family as a closeted girl?
I think that my family has become a lot more open over the years as I think gay people are more accepted now than they were five or 10 years ago. But it was still hard growing up and having a subtle, “well, that’s obviously wrong” in the back of my mind. Like I said, my grandpa, who actually passed away when I was in elementary school, came out as gay late in life. But because he loved the church so much, he said that he would never act upon his feelings. All of his kids were grown, but he never lived out his truth, he suppressed it all. I wish I could just go back and talk to my grandpa and tell him how loved he was.
Most of my family is actually from Utah, which is a way different place from Portland. So I’m also really grateful to have grown up in Portland, because even though my family was on the conservative side growing up, I was around so many different cultures and people and I was always questioning everything. So being in that environment, I was able to not feel as trapped in my own life as I maybe would have felt if I had grown up in Utah instead. Honestly, if I had grown up in Utah… I don’t think I’d be alive right now.
Congratulations on mustering the courage to come out and live your life as your most authentic self. Are you dating now?
Yes! So I’ve been living with a girl, my girlfriend, for more than four months now, and we’ve been together for over a year. I feel like she’s really the love of my life. She’s been super supportive too, of me coming out publicly. When I moved to Nashville, I was in a really low place for a second, so I checked myself into a mental health center. I think that was really the turning point for me. And she’s been incredible, so supportive. I feel blessed to have her in my life, to be able to love her openly.
Who are your current queer music inspirations?
Tyler Glenn from Neon Trees is awesome. Aside from being an amazing band who makes good music, Tyler’s done a lot of great work in Utah and beyond for LGBTQ Mormon youth, calling out the church for their toxic culture and just really being an ally to queer people everywhere. And then, of course, we love some Kim Petras. Angel Olsen is also fantastic, and I really look to her for writer’s inspiration.
So let’s talk about “Forget Your Love.” Can you tell us what it’s about?
So when I first released it, I was kind of like, this is a song about someone you fall for and then you never see them again, but you remember them forever. Ultimately it’s about those feelings you have with your first gay crush or your first gay relationship, and holding onto that beautiful yet forbidden feeling. I bascially put the first moment of me realizing that I’m gay into a song. Like, I’ll never forget your love. I’ll never forget your touch. I’ll never forget that first experience that I had, because in those moments, I knew myself
What about the story of the video?
So I’m in a moody hotel room and you can see me really going through the motions of waiting for call, thinking about a girl that I almost had locked down and kind of reminiscing about that. As a part of Dearly, I incorporate silver tinsel into all of my visuals. It’s a way for me to tie in mental health into my artistry, to keep that top of mind. So there’s lots of tinsel! But it’s there because it’s shiny, it reflects light and is very beautiful, but it’s also messy. I feel like when I’m getting really anxious, people’s energy can bounce around me. And to me, in my mind, it kind of looks like a jumbled pile of tinsel. So that’s a huge part of my brand and my video and where I’m going in the future.