It's a welcome recognition, an affirmation and a bit of encouragement. But it certainly isn't what will define Don Amero's music or career.
The Winnipeg-born singer-songwriter was named Male Entertainer of the Year at this year's Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, and he considers the honour to be another step in what has been the slow, steady process of building a career.
"I was nominated 19 times before (in numerous categories), so to finally win one is nice," says Amero, 32, who has been touring and recording constantly since the fateful day in 2007 when he walked away from his day job as a hardwood floor installer to pursue music full time.
"I never wanted to be that guy who kept emailing everybody, saying 'Vote for me! Vote for me!' so it basically took six years to get enough fans on board to win one. But when I did, it meant the world to me, because I knew that the fans were really behind me."
With four albums to his credit -- including his latest, Heart On My Sleeve, which was released in October -- Amero feels like he's poised for a breakthrough in the mainstream music world.
"Every opportunity I get to compete in the non-aboriginal marketplace, I will take," he says. "Maybe 'competing' is the wrong word, but I'll use it in this case. Anyway, it's a matter of competing at that level, not just in the smaller pool of the aboriginal music scene, but the overall music scene in Canada and North America. That's where I'd like to be; I want to get my foot in that door, for sure."
A product of Winnipeg's North End, Amero says his first musical inspirations were his parents, whom he describes as fairly talented themselves and blessed with diverse musical tastes.
"My parents would have these kitchen parties, and I would hear them playing," he recalls, "and then they would always play records, and it would be Elton John and Alabama and Bruce Springsteen. Those are the things I grew up hearing.
"And when I got into my middle-to-later teens, I was listening to people like Jann Arden and Barenaked Ladies and Blue Rodeo -- and for me, that's kind of where it started, and that's who inspired me. Even to this day -- we actually just emailed Jann Arden and Blue Rodeo about their upcoming tours, to see if there's any possibility of getting on the bill with them. We're keeping our fingers crossed."
Amero's own musical style might best be described as a rootsy combination of country and folk and soul, with songs that draw heavily on personal experiences and observations. His most recent collection soars with joyful declarations and also digs deep into some of life's most painful moments.
In truth, there's a fair amount of heartache on Heart, but Amero says it's a reflection of where he's at and what he's feeling.
"One of the things I take pride in is that I won't write a song unless I can tell a story, and the story has to be something that I'm close to," he says. "I feel like your songs are like your children, and you really have to embrace them that way.
"A lot of the songs deal with heartbreak that I've seen -- there's one song called Alone that's a sad, sad song about a guy who kind of blew it, and his life is gone. That's inspired by my great uncle, who unfortunately was a slave to alcohol and just never was able to get it together. It was a sad thing to see him suffer that way; in a way, that song was my attempt to steer others away from that path, because I've seen how destructive it can be.
"There are a lot of songs in all four of my albums that go to those places, dealing with my family struggles and my home life growing up -- it's all very personal stuff. Lately, I've been saying that every night I get to go onstage and read my journal to the crowds. It's like I'm on the couch, and they're my therapist."
All of which is not to say, however, that Amero's life is a bleak, dark place. With a career in forward motion and a home life that includes one-year-old son Oscar, there's plenty to feel good about.
"I think I'm way more emotional than I was before," he laughs. "Maybe it's because I'm not getting much sleep these days... When I look at my past catalogue of songs, before Oscar was born, I feel very proud of them. But I think (fatherhood) has actually improved my writing."
Where he's headed next as a songwriter and performer, however, is something Amero can't readily identify.
"I don't know," he says. "It depends what I'm being inspired by. This particular chapter that I'm just coming out of (which produced Heart On My Sleeve) has been very introspective, probably because I'm a new dad, and I've thought a lot about where I'm going and what I want to do with my life.
"I'm 32, so I'm nowhere near thinking about my life's ending, but I guess I am thinking about what kind of legacy I'm going to leave behind for future generations. That's where I've been in my head lately."
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