This month, The BandWagon sat down with Aly Spralto, more commonly known as Lady Lamb The Beekeeper. In our conversation, we talk about her creative process, touring, and the writing and recording of her new album After. Check out the March issue of BandWagon Magazine to see our review.
Top 5 records, off the cuff:
Texas Flood – Stevie Ray Vaughn
On Avery Island – Neutral Milk Hotel
Graceland – Paul Simon
Anything by Otis Redding
Age of Odds – Sufjan Stevens
BW: Who were your big influences when you started writing, and who are your big influences now?
L: I guess I added a couple early influences, early musical influences, from when I started to make music on the list I just gave you so. Neutral Milk Hotel was a big one for me. I started making music in 2007, and I was coming right out of high school, and in highschool I was listening to a lot of different stuff. Some other big influences were The Firery Furnaces. These are subconcious influences, I guess. Just bands that I really loved for years, and had their whole discographies. Furnaces was a big one. Sufjan Stevens is a big one. Of Montreal.
BW: Are you excited for their new one?
L: I am, yeah. There one of those bands that I’ll buy any record they make. I’ll just buy it without previewing it. Of Montreal is one of those. But yeah. I mean, now its hard to say what I’m actively influenced by. It really is a self concious sort of thing. But music I’ve been listening to lately? I’ve been listening a lot to Chad VanGaalen. Do you know him? He’s a SubPop artist. He lives in the middle of nowhere, I think, in the middle of Canada, like on the west coast, or maybe more central. He’s really amazing. He’s also just a brilliant artist, and illustrator and animator. And he self produced his record, and they’re just really great. Who else… I like Mac Demarco a lot.
BW: I love Mac Demarco. Salad Days was probably my favorite album last year.
L: Yeah, yeah. He’s so great. But yeah, those are just two guys that come to mind that I’ve been listening to.
BW: Where did your name come from?
L: Well, I started making music, and I’m a solo artist. Started alone, and started very secretly.
BW: In the basement of a DVD rental, right?
L: Yeah! I was a huge loner in those days, and I was trying to remain anonymous making music. So I basically had a journal that I kept by my bed in my early days of writing. I was really inspired at the time, so I was writing down a lot of lyrics in my sleep, and some parts of dreams that I could remember, and Lady Lamb was written in my notebook when I woke up. It sort of corresponded with this time that I had about ten recordings ready to go, that I wanted to share anonymously at the counter of my record store in my town. But I worked at a video store that was very central to my town, so I knew that if I put my name on it that it would be tracked back to me, and that’s not what I wanted. So from wanting to be mysterious, I just used that moniker. And that was long before I started recording. When I did I just decided that I wanted to make it stick. It was good for me to have it open ended so I could tour with a band, and not get pidgeon-holed as a solo singer-songwriter.
BW: That’s so funny you said ‘moniker.’ The next question I had was “Is Lady Lamb a moniker or a character?”
L: It’s a moniker, but it’s kinda both. It’s essentially from a dream, so I view it as a character. Lady Lamb is woman. She’s a fictional character. I like the idea of sort of carving out a creative space for yourself that’s absolutely a part of you, but 100% your personal– I just think it’s cool to have a spot where I can be creative under another name.
BW: Yeah, I get that. Sort of like an MC name in rap music.What was the first instrument you picked up, and when?
L: I first picked up guitar seriously when I was 18, and taught myself. My Dad was a guitar player, so there was a lot of times in my childhood where he would encourage me to learn, and I was just a little bit too stubborn, and just not in the mood. So I think the first time I ever picked up a guitar, I think I was 6 when my Dad got me a kid sized Stratocaster. I would put that on and bang around on it, but I had no interest in learning (laughs). The real answer is eighteen, when I picked up a guitar.
BW: There are a lot of family themes in your music. I know I really appreciate that, because I’m really close with my family. Do these themes come from a certain set of stories? Or do you even see it coming?
L: It’s really just inspired by any random thing that could be happening at the time., like memories of my childhood. My Mom has been writing her childhood memories for the past couple years for us to read, for my brother and sister and I to read. It’s just a huge gift, her doing that for us. It’s really inspired me. Over time, I’ve been more inspired by nostalgic moments from childhood. Or even more recent times. Like times I’ve had with my friends, the one’s that have moved me. Those are the ones I’ve been inspired to sing about.
BW: There’s such a unique rhythm to the way your songs progress. It feels like rhyme is not super important, the couplet style is not really important. The music is led by lyrics first.
L: Yeah, that would be true. The lyrics are the most important to me. Before I starting playing music, I wrote a lot of poetry and stories, so it was kinda a natural progression for me to decide I wanted to try to put some of my words to music. So definitely the way I write is influenced by that time period when I was writing more prose so rhyme is not of huge importance to me. But I’m really into simile and metaphor, and interweaving dreams and reality. I like to compile a bunch of phrases, and rearrange them into a story that works, which could be why you don’t see many simple couplets or anything.
BW: That style generates really organic, enigmatic lyrics. Is there a message that the listener is supposed to be taking out, or is it meant to be open ended, so anyone can pull anything out of any one of your songs.
L: I think its fair to say that I hope people gather what they want from it. I think that’s the goal for a lot of musicians. They don’t want to shove their own compartmentalized story down someone’s throat and expect them to connect to it. I’ve found it’s really important to connect with listeners by being sincere and by being as vulnerable as you can about yourself. A lot of the music I’ve connected to over time has been lyrically based in that vulnerability. But it is my hope that people take what they want out of what I’m singing about and come to their own conclusions in whatever way they choose.
BW: Who (or what) is the biggest outside influence on your music?
L: Hmm… (pause) I can’t really say one thing. It really is a collage. My music is, in my mind, just one big collage of many different things. So sometimes, for example, I’ll be watching a movie, and the character in the movie will say a phrase, and from that phrase, my brain will make a rhyme, that has nothing to do with the original phrase, but sort of spawns a new thought, or idea. I am inspired a lot when I’m traveling. When I’m driving, or in a car. So if I come up with a line, I just repeat it over and over again until I can write it down. Same with what’s happening before I go to sleep. So there’s some surreal stuff happening with what I’m inspired by. It really is just a huge mix. But a lot of it is just constantly being open to listening to what’s going on around me.
BW: After is your second album. What could you do in a sophomore showing that you couldn’t in your debut?
L: Well, this process was a lot different. The last record came out when I was 23, but it was a lot of songs that were written when I was eighteen or nineteen, and that were solo electric guitar songs. I then arranged them in the studio to be full band songs, which took a very long time, because I was very used to performing those songs solo. So it was a huge challenge for me to be open minded enough to hear the song in another way, to open it up to more instrumentation, because I knew that the songs warranted more instrumentation. But the process was really long and really grueling to get to that point where I felt like the songs were being defined in their final form. With this record, I wanted to be really prepared going into the studio. Between tours in the last record, I came home and wrote them and demoed them in my bedroom with a computer and keyboard and a drum machine, and arranged them entirely to be able to go into the studio and knock them out. I think one of the bigger scene changes was that naturally, the songs are thematically different, and have progressed past being eighteen or nineteen. I’m twenty five now, so a lot of the issues I was having then I no longer have. So I find that this album is a little more direct on concise, a little more existential, and its more about me, whereas Ripley Pine, the last album, was more about what I wanted from other people, and less about me. I just think that this is a natural progression. It’s even musically tighter, musically more direct. Some of the songs are a little shorter. I’ve challenged myself to write choruses, which I never do. I wonder how some of my fans will feel about that, because I think a lot of them are used to me meandering in my music, which is a thing that I love to do. But that was a concious decision. I wanted to make a really direct record.
BW: Describe your typical songwriting process.
L: It will generally start with knowing that I have a handful of lyrics on the back burner that I’ve written sort of recently. Within the last couple months. Basically, I’ll write and sit down, and start playing guitar. The melody comes first, but I always have lyrics in front of me. So I think the musical direction is coming out based on the feel of the lyrics I have, and it goes from there. The music is a vehicle for the words. I’ll start with guitar, and then usually I’ll demo it. I’ll do it in time, in the right time, so I can go back and write drums for it.
BW: In Ripley Pine there were a lot of wind instruments, and a little bit of string. They’ve returned in force in After. What’s your affinity for non-guitar instruments?
L: I think that probably is inspired by hearing records I love that have that kind of Chamber Pop feel to them. I really love fully arranged records that are really…the music tells a story. An early record that I was really inspired by woodwinds and strings was Joanna Newsom record Ys, that came out in 2009 or something? That sort of sparked my interest in horns, and woodwinds, and string instruments can really add this really wonderful element, and help to tell the story of the particular song’s themes. Sufjan Stevens does that as well, and I’ve cited him quite a lot over the phone now.; And also, we’re living in a time now where I can sit in my apartment with a computer and a keyboard. And there are programs that have sampled horns. All these instruments, horns and strings, and are very good quality. And you can arrange and write these orchestrations without instruments. Just print out the sheet music, give it to the players and knock it out.
BW: I hesitate to ask this question, because I know when most people call me a millenial it’s kind of irritating. Do you consider yourself a millenial songwriter? When I sat down to listen to After, I resonated a lot with it in that way. Is there any truth to that?
L: There is some truth to that, but not on a conscious level. “Billions of Eyes” is one that might reference that the most. I think what found its way into this record is this struggle with the age that I’m at where I’m very nostalgic for the 90’s, and of a time where we weren’t all looking down at our phones (which I’m obviously guilty of, we all are). So this record is at a little bit about how do we connect to each other in this world where we’re all searching for all this instant gratification and its through social media, and its not even real. We’re all sitting together in a room looking at phone or at dinner with our friends. It’s not even in bad taste to interrupt your friend and answer your texts. Whatever, I could go on about it. But it’s just about when we’re all sort of yearning for human connection because we’re not being fulfilled by social media. “Billions of Eyes” is a song that I think talks about that the most. There’s a line that says ”I check my phone for the time, but I still wear my watch.” I think that’s sort of dealing with the confusion I have with remembering before I had a cellphone when I had a landline, and coping with where we’re going.
BW: In parts of the song, you’re talking about what we just talked about. Everyone has trouble connecting on a one-to-one human basis because of technology. And then in the second part of the song you feel like you’re over connecting, because you’re connecting on a performer-audience level with all these fans you’ve garnered. And maybe there’s a bit of a struggle tyhere.
L: That’s been asked before by a fan who was kind of concerned. (Laughs) He was like “Are you okay? Are we bothering you? I noticed in “Billions of Eyes” you seem to be really tired. Are you okay?” I think what I’m talking about there is… That was inspired by a tour I was on all alone. I was jumping from place to place, and I was physically exhausted. It’s not about being a musician and being onstage and connecting with fans. It’s more about being out of your comfort zone, being away from home, and those moments where we all feel overexhausted and kind of in a new place. I think that’s the part of the song where I’m talking about wanting to fall in a pile of laundry and take a nap. (Laughs).
BW: “Stay very, very quiet”
L: Yeah. Yeah. It’s less about being exhausted by my job. It’s just about that very natural human thing that happens when you’re far away from home. I’m a homebody. I love being at home, and I love being on the road, but there are moments when you miss the one you don’t have. It’s that “grass is always greener” type of thing.
BW: Who plays drum on this record? They are a monster on that kit, they’re fantastic.
L: (Laughs) I’m so glad you think that! I feel the same way. The drummer is my friend Marco Buccelli. He’s originally from Naples, Italy, but now lives in New York and I met him because he plays drums with this friend of mine Xenia Rubinos and they’re a duo. They were label mates of mine on the label that put out Ripley Pines. I’ve toured with him quite a bit, and Marco played with me a lot live, and he was my number one choice for drummer on this album. I felt like I couldn’t really envision anyone else playing drum. I was fortunate enough to have him come in for a few days and play those arrangements. And he killed it.
BW: What specific goals did you have when writing and recording this album?
L: Um… (pause) There weren’t really conscious goals besides wanting to make sure whatever I was doing, it was remaining earnest, and true to me, and sincere just like with the last record. I think there was a feeling I had of not compromising my vision, and checking in with myself throughout the process to make sure that I felt what I was creating was the most sincere thing that I could be putting out. And also wanting to be more open and to sing more directly some of the things that I love, and some of the things that scare me, really. Just a conscious effor to be vulnerable.
BW: Spat out Spit is probably my favorite single between the two you released. It’s a pretty spiritual song. May I ask your faith outlook? I think that’s an incredibly relevant point in this album for you.
L: How do I word that? I’m not religious, but I am interested in spirituality, I’m interested in pondering life after death and those things. “Spat out Spit” is coming from an existential standpoint.
BW: That makes sense. There are parts of it where it sounds like it might be a religious take, and that’s the case for a lot of the songs on the album. “Sunday Shoes” especially.
L: So, “Spat Out Spit,” just to go back to that for a minute, that’s sort of my more grown up outlook. Just a question of “Where are we? Who are we? Do we even exist?” It’s really getting down to that root. “Sunday Shoes” is inspired by a few things. It was written a long time ago, and I never put it on any record. It’s one of the songs for me that is completely fictional. I was inspired at the time by artists like Netral Milk Hotel and Iron & Wine and singers who were crafting these really interesting, visual, but clearly fictional stories.
BW: Sort of like The Decemberists?
L: Yes. Yeah. Exactly. Any sort of religious references were probably influenced by the fact that I grew up going to church when I was a kid. And now I look back and try to figure out all those memories. It’s a fictional song that really touches on life and death. In that song, I say something to effect of when you die, you’ll become your favorite color. In a way, “Spat Out Spit” is sort of an extension of “Sunday Shoes.” It’s kinda hard to say where that specifically came from. It started as a poem that I wrote in 2008.
BW: So if its completely fictional, I have to ask. Does she get eaten by the wolf, or does she get away. Or who gets away, if anyone?
L: I think the character in the song, whether its a guy or a girl, they get eaten by wolves.
BW: Oof. That’s rough. (Laughs)
L: Yeah, totally. (Laughs)
BW: I have to ask about “Violet Clementine.” When you go from “Vena Cava” to “Billions of Eyes,” “Violet Clementine” is just so out of left field, in the best, best way. Who is the male vocal on that track?
L: That’s my friend TJ Metcalf. He lives in Portland, Maine. We actually co-wrote that song many years ago. I came to him with the banjo and the melody, and then we sort of arranged that whole section with the keyboard and the back and forth vocals down in the basement of that video store I used to work, many years ago. We performed it a few times as a duo. We had a acquired a drum kit, so he played drums. It was quite a bit different from what you hear on the record. But he played drums, and we had a microchord that he would play, that was on the drum. And then I played banjo. And the song kinda went away from a while, but I really always loved it, and didn’t feel right not having it come out. Basically, with TJ’s permission, I decided to put it on this record. And I layered more arrangements on top of it, like the horn section and all that. It just used to exist as banjo and microchord and drums.
BW: From a genre standpoint, most of your music is pretty packed together. It feels like one distinct sound. And then this came out of left field, and it feels like folk, it’s got that rolling, funky horn section at then end. And the middle part with you and TJ feels sort of like The Violent Femmes to me. Sort of like midwest punk.
L: (Laughs) Nice. That’s awesome. Yeah, that song means a lot. I love that song, and it was really fun to arrange, and to build off of that early version and bring it back. And now we get to play it live again. For most people, its the first time hearing it.
BW: And it really fits to what you were talking about early, about how you like to meander. It doesn’t really have a chorus, just a series of verses. It utilizes that really great higher part of your register too, where it’s almost a yell. Just an absolutely superb song.
L: (Laughs) Thank you!
BW: I also wanted to ask you about “Penny Licks” in the vein of those enigmatic lyrics we all love. Specifically “We were not meant to raise this city up. We do not wish to start a family.” Can you unpack that line for me a little bit?
L: That is the other song of the twelve songs on this album that are co-written with TJ from that time period in 2008-ish. It’s very specifically about a time period when TJ joined Lady Lamb for a year with me and we played around as a duo. We had our first ever show in Brooklyn, and we lived in Portland, Maine, and it was a pretty terrible experience for us. We showed up in NY way too early, and it was cold, and we didn’t know where we were, or where to go or anything and so we were kind of wandering around. And so that’s about not wanting to be in NY, which is ironic because I live in NY now. It’s just about wanting to go back to Maine, and not caring about that city at all. And the whole “We were not meant to make a family” is specifically about how people used to think TJ and I were a couple, and we were best friends. And people just instantly jumped to that assumption. And that’s just us saying (laughing) “No, we really don’t — we’re not together” (Laughs). It’s not supposed to be any sort of proclamation beyond that.
BW: I hesitate to ask this questions, I don’t want it to come off wrong. We live in such a great time for non-pop female performers. People like Haim, Courtney Barnett, yourself. Is there ever a time with your song-writing or performing where you see yourself more saliently as a female song-writer or performer? Or is it just a person creating content?
L: I would answer that by saying I don’t think that male musicians ever think of themselves as male musicians. It’s not a conscious thought. I don’t think any of us have the conscious thought that we’re female musicians. We’re just musicians, and the only time that we are conscious of it are when people are drawing attention to it, which happens all the time. There are even categories. You can win awards for Best Female Rock Band, not just rock band. We’re still living in a time where there’s a separation between the two. But yeah, to answer your question, no, I never think of it like that.
BW: So you’re actually coming down to the Larimer Lounge in Denver in May. Hopefully the BandWagon will get down to see you, I know I’ll be there either way. Do you have a favorite tour experience? Or a good fan interaction?
L: One time I was playing a solo set in Vancouver. I was about to start playing “Crane Your Neck,” which at the time, I would always play as the last song of the set. It was an intimate show, and intimate room, just a really wonderful night. This girl just shouted out, like totally not out of bounds, just so sweetly, that that song made her start learning to play guitar. And so we had this really wonderful interaction for a minute about that. Me on stage, and her in the crowd. (Laughs) It was just an all around special night to begin with, but whenever anyone comes up to me and says that, I feel completely flattered and flabbergasted. Like I started playing banjo because of Sufjan Stevens, and the overdrive pedal I’ve been using for years, i bought because I love Stevie Ray Vaughn, and he uses that pedal. Like I know the feeling of being influenced by people, and to be that for someone, it’s just a really special feeling.
BW: Are there any songs on either album about moments like that. Moments where you were totally taken with on tour?
L: Hmm… (pause) No, I don’t think, blatantly moments from tour. But certainly moments from my life. In the song “Ten,” that song is specifically about moments that have impacted me. One moment for example, I was on a drive — well, I guess that was on tour. So yeah, I was on tour, but I was on a drive between Hudson, New York and Burlington, Vermont, and it was a very snowy night, and I was in the car with my friends who I was on the tour with, and my friend Henry and I were just singing Bright Eyes songs really loud, and just driving down this really snowy road. And that was a very impactful moment. Little things like that find their way into my songs.
BW: Yeah, I remember that. Is that the part where you talk about the boys are asleep in the back, and the girls are singing up front?
BW: I have that memory. That exact memory.
L: Yeah, it’s a great one. I feel like most of us have had that moment. It’s really blissful. Henry’s band is Milkman’s Union, and they were asleep in the back.
BW: What is your favorite snack food on tour?
L: Oh, man. (laughs) There are many things. Uh… On the road, I eat a lot of bananas because they’re just a really simple, easy fruit. Um, yeah, bananas. Things that you can take with you. Bananas, trail mix, dried fruits, that kind of thing. Beef jerky is another one.
BW: That’s a really healthy list of junk food.
L: (Laughs) Well, it’s tough! I sometimes would like to eat M&M’s and chips all day, every day, but you get really sick of that on the road. Just driving from gas station to gas station just ends up being about where you can find the healthiest food. You end up eating veggie Subway sandwiches. You hardly end up picking McDonald’s because you feel so gross. (Laughs). It’s constantly one of those adventure. You’re looking for juices and smoothies and that sort of thing to stay a little bit healthy.
BW: Have you ever toured overseas?
L: Yeah, all over Europe. Europe and the UK.
BW: What was your favorite place in the UK?
L: Um… I really like Brighton, but London, probably. Just all round great place to be.
BW: Where in Colorado have you played?
L: Just Denver, a couple times. The Walnut Room, and maybe the Larimer Lounge? I’m forgetting the other venue. It’s next to the Walnut Room. No, it’s the Hi-Dive, that’s what it was.
BW: Is there anything that makes playing in Colorado unique? Besides all the pot fumes everywhere?
L: (Laughs) Well, naturally, going to Colorado is a very specific experience on tour because the altitude change. That’s definitely a memory. Every time I go to Colorado, I end up having to drink fifteen bottles of water just so I can get through it. I’ve had great experiences in Colorado.