TWJ Interviews: Lady Lamb The Beekeeper
It’s been a little more than two years since we first posted on Aly Spaltro, also known as Lady Lamb The Beekeeper. At the time, it was hard to believe she hadn’t caught the ears of everyone who’d had a chance to soak in her gritty, guitar-driven solo material. But it seems that with Ripley Pine, her first release with the aid of a label — Ba Da Bing Records, to be exact — she threw everything she had into making sure everyone would hear the same thing we did when the raw, honest tunes of Mammoth Swoon won us over: an impressive talent.
Spaltro bends and twists her voice around wonderful arrangements on Ripley Pine, and it’s a record worthy of every bit of attention it’s been soaking up. The songs are genuine and heartfelt, oftentimes highlighting the uglier side of an all-consuming love, and adeptly tackling the tenderest moments one shares with the ones they can’t live without as well. In short, Spaltro nails it on Ripley Pine, and our early affection for her music has been rewarded with an album that takes an awful lot of her musical history, gives it a thorough polish and makes sure it’s neither forgotten nor repeated, except when we play it over and over.
Spaltro was nice enough to take some time to answer some of our questions recently. What follows are her answers, which have been edited only for length.
Is it true you started playing music in the basement of a video store in Portland, Maine? Can you talk a little bit about those beginning days?
The video store was in Brunswick, Maine, which is like 20 minutes north of Portland. The whole store is actually in the basement, which was really conducive to me playing music there after hours. Basically I worked there for four years after high school. I deferred (from college) for a year – I was going to go to art school in Chicago after – and I was supposed to go on a service trip to Guatemala that fell through. So I was faced with living at home in Maine for the year. I started working at this video store that I had been renting at since I was 14, and it’s just a really cool place. I’m huge into films, and they had an amazing collection and really cool people that worked there.
I started playing music only a couple months after that. I got permission to be down there after hours – I would close the store at around 11 each night – and then I played music right after that really early into the morning. By the time it came time to go to school I was really invested in my music, and so I decided not to go and ended up working there the four years I would’ve been in college and was playing and recording music down there. It was just really a formative time for me. I felt focused and excited and creative and inspired and it was just an amazing place to be able to have at that time. It played a huge role in how I progressed stylistically, because I had a place to be super super loud and I wasn’t just sitting there writing acoustic songs, I was turning up the amp and getting really, really loud.
When did you decide it was something that you wanted to share with other people?
I kept it to myself for awhile, and then finally I shared it with my boss, who was a good friend of mine. He encouraged me to perform and I started doing that six months after I began recording.
This album was a long time in the making. How did it feel to bring all these songs together?
It was really intense and really challenging. I knew all along I wanted to record some of the songs I’d written early on properly on this record with real arrangements. I never felt like the songs were complete. They felt like works in progress, and they didn’t feel finished to me until I was able to arrange them for this album. Essentially I felt like I was closing a chapter on them so that I could move on. Because I felt they were important songs from an important time in my life, and that they still had value and relevance. I spent years self-releasing a lot of material, so I had to keep in mind that this album was going to be my introduction to most people.
So I didn’t want to let those songs go unfinished. In a way they were sort of re-born for me, because they’d never existed with arrangements like these.
There’s a lot of varied instrumentation and really cool tempo shifts, even within some songs on this album. Was it important to you for the songs to be as varied as they are?
It was important to me to treat each song separately and listen to what each song wanted. It was about paying attention to each song individually and trying to figure out what exactly I could hear within each one. For the record that means that some of them ended up staying really bare and some parts of certain stayed pretty bare depending on what I thought the message was. Sometimes I thought the attention should be more on the lyrics, or more on the instrumental – whatever each song called for.
What all did you play yourself on this album and what did you arrange with other musicians?
I played all the guitar, and I play bass on three songs. I play a lot of odds and ends – the banjo, the omnichord, the microchord, the autoharp, a lot of percussion. And then I arranged about 90 percent of the album. I had a little help on some things where I collaborated with my producer, like the piano and some clarinet parts and a trumpet line that was collaborative. The early spines of songs I recorded and fleshed out with friends of mine who play bass and drums in Maine. And then I spent a year figuring out what would come next.
Yeah. I didn’t try to work on these songs at all over the years until we were recording this record. Some of these songs were three years old, and they stayed solo songs until the album was being recorded. I didn’t give them any thought until I knew where I was going to be recording the album. It wasn’t until then, in the studio, that I started writing some of the arrangements on the fly.
One thing I really enjoyed is the way you use your voice as an instrument. Is that something you’ve always tried to do or how did it come to be?
It’s honestly very natural, it’s the way the songs were written. It was coming from a place of real emotion. If you hear sporadic feelings within a song, it’s because that’s how I was feeling in the moment. There are times when it’s more tender, and times when it’s more aggressive. Sometimes you feel shifting emotions really quickly in life, and when you end up writing a song within that, it’s how the song ends up too. If I’m quiet I was feeling quiet, and the same goes for when I get really loud, it’s all coming from a very immediate, present place.
These songs all seem to come from a very raw emotional place. When you perform them live, do you ever feel transported to that same place?
I definitely feel some imagery come to mind, even if it’s not something that actually took place. Realistically I’ve moved on from a few of the events that prompted the writing of these songs, so I don’t feel stuck in that time anymore. But the physical effort that it takes to sing these songs creates emotion in me that’s very real when I perform it. So the performance is very honest and true but I’m not re-hashing old things from the past or anything like that.
“Florence Berlin” is my favorite song on the album. I wondered what that song is about, if you don’t mind talking about it?
I don’t really know what that song’s about. I wrote it in Clinton Hill when my friend moved to New York and I was house-sitting for a friend… I guess it was two winters ago. I remember just sitting on the couch and it was snowing out – we had a really bad blizzard in New York the day after Christmas. And everyone was stuck inside and the snow was piled high and you couldn’t walk anywhere or go anywhere. I wrote it in that weekend.
Honestly it’s very reminiscent of a lot of my songs where if I’m saying “you” in a song, whoever I might be referring to or inspired by changes even line to line. So some songs can be about six different things or six different people, and that’s one of them. My attention span kind of shifts quite a bit when I’m writing. The lyrics were improvised for that one. They weren’t written in a notebook, so that’s an example where I’m talking to five different characters in a song. But it’s a love song. The general idea of it is that notion of wanting to travel with someone you care about ad see them experience new places.
What’s the reception been like and the touring been like for you with this record?
The reception has been wonderful and I’ve been lucky enough to do support tours a little bit. The time in Europe, with the exception of a few shows, the majority of them were an introduction to the people at the show. That was exciting, it’s always really fun to play to an audience that isn’t yours and try to win them over.
All the U.S. touring I’ve done so far has been either headlining or co-headlining, and so that’s been so exciting. I’m basically going to these cities and playing to people who really liked the record or haven’t seen me yet or I haven’t made it to their city until now. That’s always fun because sometimes people have been waiting for me for years. I remember when I was in Columbus in May I had two people who had been waiting since my second self-released album just to come to Ohio. That is so fulfilling to me.
Honestly, no exaggeration here, if there’s not that many people at a show sometimes, if there’s like one bunch of people that have been waiting there, it’s worth it to go all that way and it’s important to me to be able to come to cities where people have waited to see me. I’ve been nothing but surprised and flattered and humbled this whole time since the album came out.
Are you looking forward to going out on the road with Thao & The Get Down Stay Down?
Oh absolutely. This is another one of those situations – I’ve been a fan of Thao since I was like 17, probably her first record. And I’m just inspired by her and I really love her and she’s a badass guitar player and it’s fun to watch her play. I’ve seen her live over the years and I did one one-off show with her like three-and-a-half years ago in Burlington, Vermont. So I was excited to get the email that they wanted me to be on their tour. I’m really flattered.
Where does the name Lady Lamb The Beekeeper come from?
Like six years ago when I started playing I was keeping a notebook by my bed. I started writing a lot of lyrics in my sleep. It was pretty much just written in my notebook when I woke up one morning. I’d written it in my sleep, and it might’ve been in a dream I had or something but I have no recollection of it. It was right at a time when I wanted to release songs anonymously, and so I used it as a moniker.
When you’re on tour, what is your favorite thing to do or is there something you make sure you do when you get to a city?
Touring is difficult because a lot of times you have a long drive and have to be at the venue at 4 in the afternoon, and you don’t get that much time to do or see much of anything. I generally try to find whatever restaurant that place is famous for or food that place is known for. I’m super into finding cool food on the road.
When I played in Columbus, I was playing at The Basement. Across the street is the stadium, Huntington (Park). I only remember that because I had an amazing experience. I don’t know what it was but I had a ton of time on my hands. I was playing a pretty late show and I had two openers. There was a game right across the street, and my bassist and I went and literally watched the game for like three hours. We just sat and relaxed and there was beautiful weather and a beautiful sunset and there was no rush and it was amazing. So amazing.
Little things like that happen on tour and it’s a huge deal because you usually don’t have time for anything at all. When you’re on tour it’s all about the little pleasures like… when you do laundry and when you get a nice shower. Or when you get a nice breakfast and when you have a nice cup of coffee. Or when you get to see a baseball game. You’ll talk to any band and they’ll tell you they never have time to watch a baseball game. So that was a huge standout for me.
We are The Wounded Jukebox. If you had to assassinate or murder a jukebox, how would you do it?
Ah that’s so mean! My instinct obviously would just be to ram it with a baseball bat, but… I’ll stick with that, in honor of talking about baseball. But I’d just wound it. I wouldn’t kill it.
If someone were thinking about coming to see you live, what would you tell them to seal the deal?
This is going to sound super cheeky, but I’m terrible at selling my live show except telling people just to come. That they won’t regret it. And I know that’s like a diva thing to say, but if I have friends that are trying to persuade people to come that’s what they say, to just come see it. So that’s what I would cheekily say. Just come and see it, see for yourself.