Meet AMMO: On Freedom, Love, and Self-Discovery When Art is "Dangerous"

Photo: Dale Bridges

Perhaps the hardest thing humans must do is struggle with finding themselves, and for Utah-born and Mormon-raised LGBTQ+ artist AMMO, that search has proven to be a journey.

"My grandpa is a very accomplished Mormon author," he explains. “Being a writer myself, there was always kind of this push [from him] I felt to keep writing.” While the encouragement at first was a positive source of motivation, he soon realized that there was a constant pressure on him to conform to his family's values. “As a teenager, feeling this pressure to conform while also starting to make art for the first time, I made the mistake of putting what other people wanted for me ahead of myself.”

And so began AMMO's journey to realize who he was apart from the beliefs that cornered him. “I think that that was kind of where the vision started in my mind, is when I started using my writing to talk about my feelings rather than the religion." He pauses, then continues: "You know, that’s when my art became dangerous.”

For most, it's likely strange to consider how expression through art could be perceived as a threat. But this was the reality AMMO had to face head-on during his youth in the LDS church, during a period typically marked by self-discovery and coming into one's own identity. It wasn't long before he realized something wasn't right. "Through doing a lot of research and seeing the way that this organization treated people—especially how they had historically treated people of color and women and LGBTQ+ people—I realized that these values just didn’t align with my values. I’m a big believer in free love. I'm a big believer in equality. Didn’t work.”

When asked about how this past might have affected the way he writes music today, AMMO deliberates his answer, then cites songs of worship. "I think being raised in the church I was exposed to a lot of religious music—I sang in the choir growing up, I sang solos in church growing up. There’s a way that people write about God that I think is really beautiful. You know, nothing says 'I love you' more than a hymn. So I've kind of applied that to my music now, writing [hymns] about the things that are important to me." While he no longer believes in God, he recognizes that there are other things in life that have replaced that force. "Love, art, sex," he lists. "And sometimes drugs," he adds, laughing at his own honesty. “Everything I write is in one way or another a hymn in my mind.”

And, fittingly, AMMO is inspired by artists who do the same. "I feel like there are not many contemporary artists who are able to marry strong contemporary lyricism with classic music," he admits. So he draws from the inexhaustible: Amy Winehouse, Bill Withers, Tracy Chapman, and The Rolling Stones, to name a few. "They capture something very unique and timeless."

Influences of soul, pop, rock, and plenty other genres are audible in AMMO's first—and currently only— release, "Macy." Produced by Mike Wuerth at Long Island Sound Studios, the track is at surface an insanely catchy blend of powerful vocals and smooth instrumentals, but look deeper and you'll find a trench of emotion and complexity in the lyricism. The song is addressed to his ex-girlfriend, and aims to offer her an explanation for everything that came between them.

“Both of us were kind of unique in our own right and were in the process of figuring out what our faith was,” he says of the importance of their relationship. But once he got in bad car accident, became addicted to the opiates prescribed to him, and overdosed a few times, their relationship was greatly impacted. "With her help and the help of my friends I made the decision to travel overseas to Japan with few friends from [Brigham Young University]." He explains that the country's drug restrictions make it extremely difficult for anyone to get a hold of American pharmaceuticals there, a huge factor in why he chose it as his destination for pursuing sobriety. "But then I met this photographer in Roppongi and we went home together—and I’d never gone home with a guy before. So I came back to Utah having cheated on someone for the first time, and it was with a man. And I was sober."

So "Macy" is certainly a hymn in its own right: a hymn of discovering one's own identity in the real world, with decisions affecting real people and culminating in both epiphanies and complications. "[The experience] was the beginning of me realizing that I didn’t believe in sexuality or gender... I just think that people connect and when they connectroll with it."

AMMO has four more unique songs he will be releasing over the next few months, along with intermittent remixes. The remix for "Macy" by XXLLUSH (Jake Fairbanks) was released just this Friday. “I’m [also] working on an EP here in Nashville that I’m hoping will be finished at the end of the year.”

There's plenty more to AMMO to be considered, from his 2016 stint on MTV's Real World: Go Big or Go Home to his outspoken hatred of social media. But what's most important is that after all these years, he's found who he is. He is no longer a product of his circumstance—he has values of his own, and his music stands as a true testament to that.

"I hope that when people listen to my music it gives them a sense of freedom. Liberation is such a big part of what has made my life what it is, and that feeling is the best feeling on earth. Freedom is the greatest thing I think we can feel as humans, aside from love."

Photo: Dale Bridges

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