Lady Lamb: The Slow Burn

The ever-delightful Aly Spaltro talks about After and the perils of touring.

When we last spoke with Lady Lamb, aka Aly Spaltro, she had just released one of our top 20 albums of 2013, Ripely Pine, and was slowly, deliberately building a rabid fan base across the Northeastern US. Now, two years later, we called to check in on our CoSigned artist as she’s about to release her newest album, After, and start a massive country-wide tour. We spoke to her about the process of writing this album, the effect the release may have on her crowds, and the mind-fuck musicians go through when constantly touring and longing for home.

Are you on the East Coast currently?

I am, yeah. I’m in New York right now.

How are you surviving the onslaughts of snow out there?

I’m staying in today! [Laughs.] I’m feeling like it’s a good excuse for me to stay home and do some work on the computer.

I think that’s probably a great idea! Here in Chicago we got hit with all of that as well, so I think while we’re digging out, you guys are getting hit again.

Yeah. I had all these errands to do today. I was going to go to the post office, but I thought, Yeah, no. I’ll wait.

First off, the new album sounds really fantastic.

Oh, thank you so much!

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - After albumYour tour for that starts up soon, right? And it’s a fairly long tour as well?

Yeah, it’s a pretty long tour … I think for anyone. [Laughs.] But it’s pretty solid. I’m really excited. It’s been a really long time since I’ve been on the road for an extended period just because I’ve been here focusing on making this album, so I’m really anxious to go back on the road. And I get to kind of ease into it a little bit because I have three release shows in the Northeast in March. It’s a good way to sort of ease into the long one that starts in April.

Yeah, I noticed that. You’ve got New York, Portland…

And Boston, yeah.

Are there any places on this new tour that you haven’t been before and you’re excited to see? Or are they all places that you’ve played before?

I think I’ve been everywhere at this point except New Orleans. I’m really excited to go there, and luckily we have a day off so I decided, “You know what? Let’s just get an Airbnb and have some good downtime,” so I’m really pumped for that.

That’ll be excellent. You’re going on tour with a lot of propulsion behind you from your previous album. Last time you talked with us, you mentioned how you liked building your fan base kind of slowly and methodically. Since then, you just had a mention in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, and you’ve got a big push behind this album. Is it kind of weird now, two years after you last talked with us, having released your previous album, and now this album is getting a lot of buzz already? Do you expect it to be a different vibe in the crowds this time out?

You know, I really have no idea what is going to happen. [Laughs.] I can really honestly say that. The buzz so far has been positive and great toward this record, but I don’t feel overwhelmed in any way. I think, at least where I’m at, that it still feels natural — a natural, slow climb, ya know? I’m not really sure what to expect on this tour. Realistically, I’ll be still building pretty slowly. I think there’s just so many records coming out — so many new artists, new albums, and follow-ups coming out — that I think the wealth is distributed evenly. Which works well for me. [Laughs.] Like I [said in our last interview], I like a nice, slow climb. That’s the path that I enjoy. I don’t mind the slow burn, and I kinda hope it goes that way, in a way.

Right, but you know if it ends up that this album shoots you to heights that you’ve never seen before, that’s not a bad thing, either.

No, not at all! [Laughs.] I’ll take it as it comes, and that’d be awesome.

It’s a weird kind of hustle you have to have. A lot of people want to get to a point where they’re paying all their bills and having a great time, but there are some people who just want people to hear it and enjoy it and not feel like they’re inundating people with their music.

Yeah, we’re living in a time where you have to be a bit aggressive to make yourself stick with people. But I’m just enjoying the process so far, and, like you mentioned, if it catapults me, then fantastic. If not, I’m working really hard regardless. It feels wonderful to work really hard on something I love, so I already feel like I’m winning. [Laughs.]

Yeah, that’s fantastic. And getting into the new album: Having heard Ripely Pine, and hearing this one, it’s an interesting mix on this new album. Some songs from the previous album, like “Crane Your Neck” and “Bird Balloons”, are, for want of a better word, intense. You have that same kind of intensity on this album, but it’s almost put through a dream filter. What were the inspirations for this album compared to Ripely Pine? Have the inspirations changed at all? Did your recognition from Ripely Pine influence the sound on After at all?

I don’t think Ripely Pine influenced this one at all, but I do think this one is a natural progression in that, on the last album, the majority of those songs I wrote when I was 18 or 19 and arranged them when I was 23. So there was a lot of years between experiencing the emotions that I felt while writing those songs and actually touring with them and being defined on an album. Now that I’m 25, I’m naturally very far from the inspirations that fueled the songwriting for that last album. This record, and just speaking for, I don’t know, myself [laughs], is a little more evolved in themes, whereas the last album had very little to actually do with me. If I really look at the content on the last record, I think, I can see where my mindset was. I was clearly longing for things that I didn’t have. So this album, I feel, is a lot more about me.

It’s less dream-inspired and more real-life-experience-inspired. It has a little bit to do with my family, my friends, the things that really irk me and scare me, and a lot of me grappling with being far from home. I’m the type that really likes to make a nest, hence me being in my sweatpants today with a candle lit [laughs], you know what I mean? The record is about those sort of dualities. And coming from the standpoint on this new record of if I’m nostalgic for the past, then the perspective is one of acceptance and not bitterness.

I just turned 30 a few months ago, and I have the same idea of enjoying being in a big city, but at the same time there is such a great appeal to being in a comfort zone, in that warmth of family.

Totally. I think this is the struggle we all have, the grass is always greener thing. I forget the exact quote, but Kurt Vile said it really well on his last album. The line is about how when he is out on the road, he yearns for home, and when he’s home, his mind stays out in the world, out on tour. That’s a very true struggle, I think, at least for myself, and I’m sure a lot of musicians or a lot of people who have to leave home very often. I wouldn’t trade anything. I absolutely love to tour, but this record is a little about what I think about when I’m away from home.


Original artwork by Dmitri Jackson. (Buy prints + more)

It’s interesting listening to this new record because a lot of it does feel like we’re just sitting inside your head. Right off the bat, a song like “Spat Out Spit” starts with you sitting on a bus, and you’re just peeling an orange, but then you’re looking around you, and it spurns off a whole new thought process.

Yeah, this album is a little bit about that. It’s about simple acts or tasks that turn into much deeper thoughts. The first song, “Vena Cava”, sets a little bit of the tone of the record with the line from the first chorus: “I’m awake, but I cannot be found/ Daydreamin’ so far down.” So this record is a little bit in my head, and it’s coming from my heart and coming from my life and what I fear and love. I really wanted to give people more of an insight into myself than the last album.

There are artists who have written personal albums like you’re describing, but it’s almost uncomfortable how personal it becomes. Were you conscious of keeping it personal, but a little bit at arm’s length?

I think as an artist that’s a subconscious thought for sure. Sometimes what we deal with as musicians is people really connecting with what you’re saying and feeling like they really know you. While that’s a really beautiful thing, and I strive to connect with people by making music, there is a wanting to keep a bit for yourself. I’m a very introverted person, so this is my attempt to give as much of myself that I feel I can without feeling like I’m sacrificing my privacy. I don’t know how else to put it. [laughs]

I feel like as a musician I strive to be as open and vulnerable as I can, and I’m proud to have made a record that, though so far from the frenetic content of the last, is just as vulnerable in its own way.

I feel like the way that you’ve said it — with “the listener in your head” and following your own mental whims — makes it more personal than someone spilling their whole guts out.

Right, yeah.

And you learn more about a person by how their brain works than necessarily what they’ve got deep-seated in their heart.

Yeah, definitely. Throughout the process it’s also a goal to write in a way that is not too alienating so that people can also find what they’d like to in it. Some of the musicians that really inspired me early on are musicians that write from a very specific point of view, but come out with a record that is so universal. One that comes to mind is a band from Michigan called Frontier Ruckus. They sing a lot about Michigan. The lead singer, Matthew [Milia], who writes the lyrics and all that, writes so specifically about his childhood in Michigan. I’ve never been a preteen boy growing up in Michigan [laughs], but I connect so entirely to what he’s saying that I can see my own childhood in his songwriting. I think that’s the goal!

Sufjan Stevens does that well. He’s also from Michigan, but he’s singing songs so specific, yet, in their detail, you can very easily gather your own experiences. I think that’s true art right there.

Yeah, being able to have that specificity, but also leaving it open-ended enough where people aren’t going to feel alienated.

Yeah, exactly. It’s really great!

What was the process with recording this album, and did you have any collaborators coming in?

I co-produced this album with Nadim Issa, who also produced the last record. I went into the studio very, very prepared. I wrote and arranged all the songs, demoed them fully at home, wrote all the drum parts, and arranged everything in my computer, then basically went into the studio and was ready to, in a way, recreate the demos. It was very different from the process on the last record because last time I went into the studio I had all the songs written, but I arranged them in the studio, which took a really long time. This took a much shorter time. Two of the songs, “Violet Clementine” and “Penny Licks”, were originally co-written with my friend TJ Metcalfe, who will be touring and playing bass with me. I elaborated on those early songs we co-wrote, and I expanded upon them and arranged them basically. So the big horn intro on “Violet Clementine” I arranged a few months ago — stuff like that. But those are two songs that were written in 2008, maybe, and I either elaborated on the arrangements or built off them for these final songs.

Basically, I played all the bass on this album, all the guitar, and a lot of the odds and ends. My friend Mark came in and played all the drums, and I layered everything on top of it. Then I had friends come in and play horns and strings. The process was very true to my early days of making music, which I really loved and missed: writing a song and layering it from the ground up. It was a very conscious decision this time around to make this album in that way, and not live. Because it’s the way I love to make music. I love taking things from the ground, which in this case is drums, and layer bass, guitar, vocals, etc. over it.

Are there some instrumental parts that you may not be able to play live? Is there looping and things like that to cover those parts live?

There’s going to be horns for the release shows in March from my friends in the band Cuddle Magic, who are opening the shows — Cole [Kamen-Green], the trumpet player from that band, played trumpet on the album — but for the longer tour, it’s going to be a trio: me, drums, and bass and organ and samples. When I was sitting down to arrange the songs for playing live, I was conscious of wanting to add in textures that would be difficult to create without other players. There is some sampling going on, there’s some organ happening, and TJ, who is playing bass, is handling a lot of the extra textures that help make the arrangements really full.

I love seeing three-piece bands that sound like 100-piece bands.

It’s a good challenge! It’s nice to say, “OK, this is a concise live show. What extra textures can we add with just the three of us to make it work?” It’s a very self-sufficient kind of experience in that way. It’s really cool.


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