The daughter of a rock legend and a pioneering businesswoman, Amy Leavell Bransford forged her own path with trailblazing Aviary Beauty + Wellness and SparrowHawk Studio, both located at Studioplex in Old Fourth Ward. With a second location of Aviary opening in Summerhill this June, we talked to Bransford about growing up in a famous family, meeting David Bowie, and her mission to create space for artists who “color outside the lines.” And, of course, we got her eclectic Spotify Playlist (listen below) filled with new and classic tunes.
Q. Aviary was a trailblazer on Intown’s spa scene. Can you reflect on your decision to open the shop and its growth after more than a decade in business?
A. When I opened in 2009 it was a response to the fact that I didn’t fit into the mold of the typical Atlanta spa. I had experience working in a local day spa that was very “Zen with a water feature and New Age music” and that wasn’t me. The other option was very clinical, like a doctor’s office. When I found my 1,100 square foot studio in Old Fourth Ward, I knew it was home. The space is very rustic, industrial and the history of the building really spoke to me. The courtyard entry with all of the fruit trees and vines makes Studioplex one of Atlanta’s most unique buildings that has always been home to creative residents and businesses. I opened a boutique tattoo studio there in 2017, SparrowHawk Studio. Again, it was a response to there not being a place for artists to work who felt like they didn’t fit into the mold of the typical shop. I am very proud of that; we are a collective of Misfit Toys. Now, I am expanding Aviary Beauty + Wellness to a second location in Summerhill. I guess we just keep going to try to provide jobs for people who want to color outside the lines.
Q. Your mom, Rose Lane Leavell, ran a successful boutique in Macon for a quarter of a century. What did she teach you about running your own business?
A. I literally grew up in mom’s shop, Cornucopia, which was Macon’s most fashion forward boutique. She opened it when I was 2. Mom was carrying lines like Betsy Johnson many years before it was a department store brand. Going on shopping trips with Mom to Atlanta and New York taught me to look for brands that are unique and not ubiquitous, which I do for my own business today. Growing up in a woman-owned business, whose clientele were also mostly women and trans women, influenced me a lot. Macon also had an underground trans and drag scene at the Pegasus Lounge until it burned in the 1980s, and many of them shopped for their gowns and apparel at Cornucopia. So being a child of my parents exposed me to a lot of experiences that shaped who I am today.
Q. Your dad, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, is a familiar name to anyone who loves the Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones. How did growing up in a musical household inspire you?
A. My Dad moved away from his hometown of Tuscaloosa, AL as a teenager to go to Muscle Shoals and play on soul records, which was a shocking thing to do at the time. This was all with the civil rights movement happening in the background. When I stop to think about that sometimes, I think how punk that was for the era. He later moved to Macon and met my mom, who worked for the record label. So, they were OG “it” couple in the early 1970s. I also worked for Capricorn Records as a publicist to bands like Cake and Widespread Panic when they moved to Atlanta in the ’90s. Having the experience of growing up in a musical family and then later having the experience of working with the Walden family really shaped me. Phil Walden [co-founder of Capricorn] was a legend, and I got to work outside his office every day.
Q. Okay, you have to dish on at least one cool celebrity encounter.
A. My favorite one ever is David Bowie. It was during a Rolling Stones tour in the ’90s when backstage of every concert was a who’s who of celebrity A List. I saw Dad talking with Bowie across the room and walked over to inject myself into the conversation for a forced introduction. He was such a kind man he asked me a lot of questions about myself with genuine, even if pretend, interest. I’m not sure whether Bowie tried to elevate me to his level or he met me at mine, but it’s a thing I think about a lot in relationships. Meeting people where they are is something I strive for.
Q. What song or album is on constant repeat these days?
A. The first song on my playlist is Wildfires from the band Sault. This is probably my favorite stye of music. Also, I love Cherry Glazer. My husband [Steve] and kids went to Pappy & Harriet’s for lunch on a visit to Joshua Tree in 2018 and they were performing. I have been pretty obsessed ever since. My kids, Rocco and Miles, are 12 and 15 and in their own music discovery right now. They are delving into bands like Gorillaz, Radiohead and Tame Impala. I loved Brit pop so it has been fun to rediscover Damon Albarn music with them. I also remember doing the same thing with my parents’ records when I was their age, except it was REM’s “Murmur” or Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland.”