If I may introduce another creature into an already crowded equation, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is a rare bird indeed. Let’s take that name for starters. Its origins come from a dream which itself is a medium that plays an active part in Aly Spaltro’s songwriting, to give the Lady her true birth name. A scribbled title in a notebook she kept by her bed was deciphered as “Lady Lamb the Beekeeper”, and so the stage name was born. This may be before the artist had harbored precise thoughts of sharing her home-recorded songs with the wider public, yet it shows a desire to adopt a musical alter ego.
A name can be very powerful magic, something to get you known and then remembered by. The name Lady Lamb the Beekeeper suggests that the girl is going to be quirky, but the Lady has a wry counter to the obvious. “I’m not sure that the moniker has really gotten me known on its own,” Spaltro contends. “It’s a bit wordy, so I think it takes some time to stick. Some people are immediately labeled ‘quirky’ because of their name, but overall I think mine is unique enough to work and fit with my music. I’m also hoping the nickname, dropping ‘the Beekeeper’, has the potential to make Gaga feel threatened one day…hopefully starting a harmless rivalry!”
Lady Lamb, though, is not keen to compromise in pursuit of commercial success. Dressing up for photo shoots or onstage, doing songs she wouldn’t perhaps feel comfortable with, or acting up for paparazzi are all met with a resounding “nope.” Guess we won’t be seeing her in a meat dress, then. Who needs it? At just 21, Lady Lamb already has a bigger back catalogue than that other Lady, with the last three years or so seeing three self-released albums, another on the suitably titled Eternal Otter Records, and the tongue-in-cheek-named World Tour EP.
Mammoth Swoon is the latest of that prolific output, 15 songs described as a “collection of previously unreleased, rare, bedroom and radio tracks.” It opens with the beautifully bald segue of two bare-all numbers, “Up In The Rafters/Bird Balloons”, and takes you onwards on a rollercoaster ride of scattergun imagery, unexpected melodies, raw emotion, sweet moments, and self-reflection. It’s delivered solo by a young girl with a surprisingly raw, emotive voice accompanied by her own confidently handled, elemental acoustic or electric guitar and occasional banjo. The latter is nimbly plucked here on a jewel of a song, “Regarding Ascending The Stairs”.
Lady Lamb’s bio tells of her growing up primarily in the southwest (Arizona, California, and Nevada), moving to Germany in 2001 with her family and back to her home state of Maine three years later. There’s a certain restlessness in her work and also a great strength and confidence that may emanate from her nomadic past. There’s also an independence of spirit that seems deeply entrenched. Perhaps it stems from her early years, when she was never more content than when making mix tapes of oldies with a boom box and flashlight in her closet. That little anecdote closely recalls another free-spirited singer-songwriter, Kate Walsh and her pretend childhood radio station, Peppermint Radio.
From what she says, Lady Lamb’s roots are clearly an important aspect of her musical development. “I moved around quite often as a kid and had to adapt to my surroundings all the time,” Spaltro says. “I grew up in a pretty musical household. My dad plays guitar so I was really influenced from an early age, even though I didn’t begin really playing until I was eighteen”. She prefers electric guitar to acoustic, but confesses she’s still searching for the elusive perfect acoustic guitar. “I am really into instruments. I have my dream instruments and gear in mind. I also love picking up instruments I’ve never played before. My last was autoharp, and next I’d like to learn the mandolin.”
Lady Lamb confesses to a patchwork, intuitive method of songwriting that again shines through her work. “I spend a lot of time writing down phrases and memories on scraps of paper or committing them to memory while driving. I usually sit down and write a song when I feel the urge to sing, and I’ll take out the post-its and put them together. Sometimes, I’ll make a melody and sing improvised lyrics, which most times I end up keeping in a finished song.” There’s a therapeutic aspect to her songwriting that confirms she doing it for herself as well as for her audience, that she wants to make sense of the mess of life, share intimacies, and make connections through what she considers the most beautiful medium: music.
“Between Two Trees” from Mammoth Swoon shows another facet of Lady Lamb’s songwriting gift. It’s an oddly disturbing tale with Sapphic undertones told in a stream of consciousness. It’s lit up by a haunting, circular melody and an echoing vocal rasp, yet with an underlying purity and vulnerability to it.
You might want to apply the label of folksinger to Lady Lamb. After all, she was named Folk Artist of the Year by the Boston Music Awards in 2010. But labels do her music a disservice given its breadth and scope. “I’ve never labeled my music. I have a hard time trying to describe to someone what Lady Lamb sounds like. I don’t consider myself a folk artist by any means, but if you asked me what other ‘genre’ I fit into, I wouldn’t be able to answer,” she says. “I like the music to speak for itself, but I don’t mind being compared to other artists. It’s a very natural thing that people do when describing a sound to someone.”
Another thing Lady Lamb has going for her, however, is that those comparisons don’t come easy. She has a strain of the blues coursing through her, an affinity with the troubadours of the past but also a modern indie-girl persona. She doesn’t easily fit one mold. Her artwork is dreamy and childlike yet with a disguised innocence, while on another page of her engaging website we get glimpses inside her notebooks. Such snippets act as a kind of window into the artist’s mind that truly compliments the music.
With Mammoth Swoon, Lady Lamb has opened that window and produced an uncut stone: raw, with its share of flaws and imperfections, but beautiful and compelling, too. Her next project is to polish and layer that same content to produce a full studio album. Let’s leave the last word on that to the Lady. “I hope that people who pick Mammoth Swoon up love the content and it makes them excited to hear the studio recordings. I’d like my upcoming record to be rich and vibrant, while keeping the strength, soul, and raw quality of my live performances.”
Heading to Austin, TX next week for SXSW? Be sure to catch Lady Lamb the Beekeeper at Consequence of Sound’s SXSW Dot Com Day Stage showcase on Friday, March 18th. RSVP here!