Aly Spaltro, the musician behind Lady Lamb The Beekeper released her debut, full-length album RiPELY PINE earlier this year and has been touring in support of the album ever since. In anticipation of her upcoming performance in Vancouver Lyfstyl’s own Kevin Vanstone recently talked with Spaltro regarding her favourite writing techniques, performing solo, and recording with producer Nadim Issa.
KV: What was it that first drove you to record music for yourself?
LLTB: I had just graduated high school, and I was stuck at home between my last year in high school and my first year in college. I deferred from school and was going to go to Guatemala for a year and that fell through at the last minute, so I was pretty much just home in Maine and had always been a really productive kid so I wasn’t happy just sitting around doing nothing. I was really into writing poetry in high school so I thought it would be a good challenge to start putting my words to music and start singing.
KV: I love the story of how you discovered your moniker. You were asleep, you left a notebook beside you bed, and it came to you in a dream. What does the name to you?
LLTB: It was so random that it popped into my notebook. It was somewhere between a dream and wires getting crossed. To me Lady Lamb has become a character, like a fictional woman. What’s funny is when I go over to England they assume Lady Lamb is a woman because it’s a very common last name in Britain, but a lot of people in the US think it’s some sort of whimsical character of a lamb, like an actually animal that is a beekeeper. To me it’s a woman, and it’s a really great thing that I have a moniker that allows me to carve out that space to express myself under that name even though it’s very personal material that I’m singing. It feels good to be able to have that space for creativity under the moniker.
KV: Do you have any other lyrics that came to you through this process as well?
LLTB: Definitely, a lot of lyrics have come out of my notebooks through my sleep. A lot of weird metaphors and alliterations, and a few other things have ended up in songs. One song on the record in particular, it’s called ‘Little Brother’ the lyrical content is entirely from dreams I’ve had where I’m saving my little brother from danger. I certainly wake up really inspired by the things I remember from dreams and a lot of times parts of dreams make it into my songs.
KV: It’s interesting that you used a moniker coming from a small town. What was it like stepping out into that new persona?
LLTB: Originally it was a way for me to stay mysterious and anonymous in my hometown. I didn’t want people in my town to be able to trace my music back to me. I was very nervous about how it would be perceived, and I couldn’t be objective about my own material so I was pretty shy about it. I lived in a town small enough that people knew me by name, so that’s why I didn’t want to put my name on the music. Over time it ended up being really helpful way for me not to be pre-judged as female a singer-songwriter with a guitar. It’s been really important to me over the years to say “wait you guys, that’s not all I do,” it’s a little more than that. The moniker has been a great way to expand over time without having to be Aly Spaltro And The So-And-Sos, it’s kind of all-encompassing and it has the potential for more players under the name.
KV: You’ve mentioned people perceive you differently before and after they’ve seen you play. How does it feel to change people once they’ve heard your music?
LLTB: It’s a nice validation and it personally feels really good to do what I love and put my whole self into it. I get lost in what I’m doing and it feels quick for me, it really fulfills me and it makes me really happy to think that it could surprise people or make people happy as well. I definitely think there’s a power in seeing me perform live, over just hearing my recordings. It’s really about the performance over everything else.
KV: Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I’ve found a number of biblical references stand out in your music. Do you find those references resonate with other listeners?
LLTB: I think it depends on the person, I really don’t know. I don’t know how it happens that they land in my music, but I am really intrigued by the bible. Until I was 12 I was going to church often and was part of that community so I do know it well, I think that’s how it consciously finds its way in there. I don’t know how people connect to it. I know growing up the music I was listening to, now that I look back, was heavy with biblical references. Iron And Wine and Sufjan Stevens, to name a couple. They’re singing a ton about stories from the bible and different characters and I don’t quite know why I latch on to it so much but I do, its super visual. I find it to be powerful imagery.
KV: You mention in an interview with Wellesy College that Bible stories are “so fucked,” is there one story that has inspired you to write more than others?
LLTB: I don’t think so, I couldn’t pick one. I find there to be something so palpable about faith in general, I’m intrigued by our need as humans to have hope in something and have faith in something. That sort of yearning for answer and yearning for love that is in religion, I think it’s so true to us as humans. It’s just innately in us, not even in religion but in relationships. We are constantly seeking something, seeking fulfillment, seeking love. That’s what I relate to most. That’s what I find so tangible about faith, and why I’m so intrigued by it. It’s super raw and needy and full of emotion and influence, and I think that’s just completely fascinating.
KV: A lot of your song are very honest and seem to involve a lot of self-reflection. Does writing solo help facilitate that approach?
LLTB: It could only be that way for me. I’m writing from experience and there’s no filter between me and the lyrics. It’s very personal at times, and other times it’s just observation. A lot of lyrics come from streams of consciousness I’ve written or conversations I’ve overheard or stories I’ve heard. And it’s a huge conglomeration of all of that mixed into one song a lot of times. I’m happy to collaborate musically with people but I don’t know if I could ever collaborate lyrically with people, I don’t know if that would work.
KV: So are the spontaneous writing sessions the best way to tap into that raw emotion when you’re writing something reflective?
LLTB: I’ve found it to be a really interesting approach. In my experience with writing streams I find I’m really connected. The first lines of lyrics are really just about what I’m looking at or my day, and as you keep writing you become more and more disconnected and things get kind of weird. It can trail off into other tangents, or word associations. You’ll write a word and rhyme it with something entirely different which will take you down a different path. And it’s kind of fun to write pages and pages of stuff until you forget what you wrote on page two. Reading it back you get some really fascinating stuff, and I’m really intrigued by that sort of letting go of your mind, letting your hand write and write. I’ve definitely pulled a lot of lyrics from that approach.
KV: Are you able to easily assume the perspective of another when you’re writing?
LLTB: I’ve honestly tried to write from a different perspective but I find if I’ve written a song like that I’m not connected enough to want to perform it. It kind of gets lost in the dust. I don’t personally connect to that way of writing. I wish that I could do it, but for me to really sing it and give it my all it has to be from me or from experience whether it’s something very personal, something I’ve heard, or a stream of consciousness.
KV: Let’s get to RiPELY PINE. It’s a great record, and I think one of the coolest things about it is that it was strictly conceived by you with little outside influence. Just how many instruments did you play on the record?
LLTB: I haven’t counted, but I played all the guitar and bass on three songs. I played random stuff like autoharp, microcorg, omnichord, and a lot of percussion, I think that’s about it. I had a drummer for the whole album, and a bassist for five songs, and then I had strings and horns come through. I think all the other stuff I played, and my producer played all the keys.
KV: How did you meet your producer? It seems like you two are a perfect match.
LLTB: We definitely are. Two years ago I was asked to record a song, either an exclusive song or a cover for this blog called Brooklyn Based. And their whole thing was they teamed with my producer Nadim and his studio. They had the band go in and record one day sessions to record a song and the blog would release the song for free as an MP3. I was chosen to do that, and I went in with a few friends of mine who came down to New York from Maine, and we did a Bob Dylan cover, but Cher’s version of it. It’s a song called ‘All I Really Want To Do’. We recorded that in a day and just had a really good, easy going experience. So my friends went back to Maine and Nadim scheduled the day that he was going to mix the song, and I learned that day that he used Logic Pro, and that’s what I was planning on using to make RiPELY PINE on my own at home. So I asked if I could go into the studio and watch him work with Logic while he mixed and we just really hit it off that day. I think we were there six or seven hours mixing the song and talking about my plans and how I wanted to record on my own but how I was having trouble wrapping my head around all the parts I was hearing in my head and how to execute them myself. So he basically emailed me a couple weeks later and asked if I wanted to sit down over dinner and talk about working together, and I just knew it was a perfect fit. I just had a gut feeling. We started working on it a couple months later and spend a year on it, all of 2012.
KV: And you never disagreed the whole time…
LLTB: We literally never disagreed the whole time, it was so bizarre. I had all these ideas in my head and it just so happened that Nadim agreed, we were just on the same page. It was like from day one we both visualized the same finished product. When I would say “This song doesn’t need drums here, but maybe in this verse,” he would respond “That’s exactly what I was going to say.” Or he would say something and I would finish his sentence. We just were chugging along together the whole time and it was a complete team effort between the two of us. We were the two in the studio every day for a year working on it tirelessly. He’s just one of those fantastic guys that doesn’t bring his ego into the project in the way that could ruin the song or make it change direction. He was just so tasteful and patient, we both agreed that the most important thing was to respect the song and allow them to be what they were meant to be. In that way we both took a back seat and let the songs make themselves.
KV: So was there any pressure to add instruments at all, or were you comfortable leaving songs stripped down?
LLTB: There wasn’t any pressure unless my ego got in the way. If I was having an off day, I would try and force things on to a song, but the whole time I would know in my gut it was wrong and it wasn’t working. It was a huge challenge and there would be days that we were working on something and I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. So I had to painstakingly take things out of the song and then put them back in to find how I had mis-represented the song. So what that meant for the final product was a song like ‘Crane Your Neck’ originally for months there were drums in the first three verses, and I just knew something wasn’t right. And it wasn’t until a couple months before the record that I realized we have to take the drums out, so we did. I got to a point when I was comfortable enough to realize when I was overdoing something. Songs like ‘Florence Berlin’ which is completely solo, or songs like ‘Little Brother’ is only guitar, and the only thing I gave it was harmony. Or a song like ‘Regarding Ascending The Stairs’ I just let it be what it wants, let the lyrics be the focus rather than the instrumentation. It really was a difficult road to figure out what the songs wanted.
KV: By all accounts you’ve really honed in on your music identity, and it seems like working with Nadim Issa has been perfect for that. How do you approach live shows now that you have a bulk of polished material?
LLTB: For the most part the live show is still solo, and that’s just what it has to be right now. I just did a headline tour that was mostly the Northeast and some of the Midwest. Earlier than that I had friends playing drum, bass and keys but at the moment I do not have my own band put together, that’s what I’m working on now. The rest of my shows this summer are going to be solo, and following that when I go back to all these cities again it’s going to be at least a trio with drums and bass. I had two experiences doing that in May that were awesome, the trio really works. It allows the songs to be more fun and danceable but not too complicated or chalked full of stuff it doesn’t need, it was very concise.
KV: So you’re obviously very comfortable on stage performing solo. Do you have any special tricks to get into a show?
LLTB: I usually start my set with an acapella song and I used to play it under a spotlight with dim, centered lighting but as of a few months ago I started messing around with starting in the pitch black, especially if the show is seated. I found that it’s a really nice way to ease into the set, and gives the show a certain focus for the crowd without seeing me first. It’s also a really good way for me to warm up, it’s really relaxing for me to sing in the dark singing a song that takes a lot of physical power to get out. And in the dark it’s really helpful for me to really focus on my voice and get into the show before the lights come on and I start playing guitar. The next song starts directly from the acapella, very loud and distorted.
KV: That reminds me of the effect of your moniker. You’re forcing people to pay attention to the music rather than letting them look up and judge you for being a small girl with a guitar.
LLTB: It’s funny I’ve found if I’m doing a support show they have no idea what I even look like. I don’t go on stage until it’s dark and I kind of just weave my way up there. They don’t really see me until I start playing guitar, and I think it’s a really simple way to focus the ear on the music without the visual. It’s an interesting intro.
KV: Have individual songs emerged as a favourite to perform live?
LLTB: People seem to like the first guitar song after the acapella, which I’ve always enjoyed playing, it’s called ‘Bird Balloons’. But my favourite song to play is probably ‘You Are The Apple’ the 6th track on the record. It’s really fun to play with the band, and it was especially fun to play that song with strings for my release shows, where I had a quartet. It was so fun I was laughing during the song, I just couldn’t believe how much fun I was having because it’s so, so different to go from playing alone onstage to having a band behind me or having a quartet. It just clicks into place; it’s so much fun to play with other people. That’s why I’m really looking forward to having my own band soon.
KV: Touring is a great way to expose yourself to new audiences, but today technology is playing a bigger role in discovering new music. What is it like to offer songs up for free while attempting to monetize your music in other ways?
LLTB: You know I’d rather people have it than not, that’s really my stance. You can’t really fight against what’s happening now with people downloading music. What artists have to remember is we’re in a time where just because people are downloading your music doesn’t mean they aren’t so excited about it. That’s just all they know. When a kid downloads a Taylor Swift album they LOVE that record, they’re not trying to disrespect the artist, in fact they think they’re supporting that artist, which they are in a way.
KV: But not in the way you might like.
LLTB: Exactly, but it’s still support. Honestly I’m making music in a time where you kind of have to accept that it’s the way. You can’t be pissed people aren’t spending money on the record. What’s nice is people buy the music on tour, which is super helpful for you on the road. But I’ve just comes to terms with that, it doesn’t upset me, it’s just the way it is. You’re just going to have a bad attitude if you’re fighting against the way things are. Also I’m just coming off my first studio record so I’m honestly in the zone where I’m super proud of it and excited about it, and I just want people to hear it. That’s what is most important to me right now. You make money these others ways and I’m lucky enough to keep afloat and pay rent and that’s really all I’m focused on right now.
KV: How has social media played a part in exposing yourself to new audiences, are you a big fan of using those mediums?
LLTB: You know I use both Facebook and Twitter, but I definitely use Facebook more. I don’t feel particularly attached to either. I’m not a big social media hound, but I understand how they’re helpful and how they’re the tools to use these days. We’re in the position as artists to be super accessible and you can choose to be very accessible to your fans and create an intimate experience through the internet by just writing back to people or asking questions and having little dialogues, and I really appreciate that. It’s important to me for my fans to have a little bit of access to me and to ask me questions if they want to. It’s really special to get back to fans. Someone will write me something on Facebook and I absolutely remember that story when they come and they tell me it again at a show and I see their face. That’s really exciting to me, it’s a useful platform.
KV: You’re scheduled to tour most of the summer and you mentioned you are looking for a backing band. Have you been able to think beyond the touring of RiPELY PINE?
LLTB: I think about writing new material every day. It’s a little tough right now because I’m engrossed in touring, which is fantastic. I don’t have too much time to think about what the next one is going to be, but I’m excited to start writing for it. I’m excited for the next step of putting a band together and continuing to tour.
KV: Have you had any spontaneous writing spurts recently?
LLTB: Lyrically, yes. There was a time when I wasn’t writing at all and I was just super focussed on the record coming out and everything that comes along with that. I was just back in the United States from Europe and when I was there I found myself writing a ton of lyrics, which is a good sign. I generally write a song with lyrics first, it’s rare that I sit down with the guitar and sit down to write an instrumental. When the lyrics are in place, the songs come. So I’m happy to say I do have some new stuff waiting for music.
KV: OK one final thought. Do you have anything to say to the fans in Vancouver coming to see you play Wednesday at the Media Club?
LLTB: Vancouver is by far one of my favourite places I’ve ever toured, and the only place I’ve played is the Media Club, so I’m super excited to come back, it’s a total highlight on this tour. I want everyone in Vancouver to know I’m extra pumped about coming back.