Music Features

Lady Lamb (Interview)

Aly Spaltro’s gift as a songwriter is how she highlights little moments in a life and uses them to find a truthful, emotional core. As Lady Lamb, her lyrics always have unexpected twists that seem like they would be too specific to be universal, yet they’re always relatable and powerful. Her music is just as gripping and unpredictable, with structures that are as likely to make a sudden left turn as they are to elevate into a rousing chorus.

Even in the Tremor, out on April 5, looks to be her most ambitious album yet. For the first time, rather than writing mostly about characters and the world around her, Spaltro has turned the mirror on herself. Putting her own experiences in song reveals a struggle familiar to many, between anxiety and hope. Deep Love has already revealed itself as one of Lady Lamb’s most moving songs yet, a track dedicated to the joy and affection people are capable of.

Joe Marvilli at No Ripcord spoke to Spaltro about diving into her own life, the push and pull of opposing emotions and inspiring Deep Love moments on the New York subway.

I read that this is the first album where you’ve explicitly sung about yourself. What led to that decision?

I feel like I usually end up getting pretty fixated on singing about other people or relationships. But this time around, I just wanted to keep it pretty personal. It took me a couple of years to write this record. I did a lot of traveling and tried to be really aware of my surroundings, what I was seeing, experiencing and learning. I had a lot of ups and downs along the way, had standard anxiety and that kind of thing come in. But I just allowed it to fall into the record and tried to be honest and vulnerable. I still sing about my family and friends but it’s just pretty personal.

Did diving into your own life like that uncover anything or lead to any surprises?

Really, it just led to trying my best to be as observant as I could everywhere I went. There were a couple of surprises for sure in writing the record. There were a few songs that either I felt stuck on for a while that opened up to me later. Or one particular song called Deep Love, that came to me really quickly one day. I wrote it without meaning to in like 10 minutes and improvised the lyrics. That was definitely a surprise and was the last song I wrote for the album, when I realized it was finished.

By accident, in the studio, I actually ended up co-writing the last song on the record, Emily, with my bassist. We snuck away during little 10-minute breaks to write it together and we ended up recording it at the last minute. There was some spontaneity involved, for sure.

You mentioned that you were inspired by places you were visiting. What were some of those places and what experiences do you feel they added to your writing process?

When I first started planning to write this record, I went upstate for two weeks alone and rented a house, and started writing in the countryside. That was really inspiring. At least half of the songs on this record came from that time period, little pieces of the songs or lyrics. The start of those ideas was at the cabin that I stayed in.

I ended up writing a few songs in Montreal. I stayed there for the summer. And I was really inspired by some traveling I did in Nicaragua and Mexico, and a little bit in Spain and Germany. I took my time with this record and just allowed all those places to seep in.

The title track introduces some more electronic elements whereas Deep Love is mainly acoustic. What else can we expect musically from this record?

I tend to write records where I let the song dictate to me what it wants to be sonically. It’s very Lady Lamb in that way. I started writing with more synths and piano. But there are a handful of different styles on this record. There’s solo acoustic, there’s even a hip-hop inspired drumbeat on one song. Sonically, it’s kind of all over the map. But thematically, there’s a common thread. It works together as one piece.

How would you describe that thread that runs throughout the record?

It has to be being in love and also grabbling with anxiety. Trying to fight towards self-love and self-acceptance. Sometimes there are songs, including the title track, where within the whole length of the song I’m going through those emotions of feeling a little insecure, or vulnerable, or self-loathing. And then trying to fight my way to being present and being self-accepting. That’s a common thread.

I definitely noticed on that track a push and pull between opposing emotions. How did you feed this tension into your songwriting? Was it a conscious choice or did it evolve like that?

I think it evolved that way. I didn’t try too hard to sit down and decide what kind of song I was going to write. I allowed for those battling emotions to just exist in one song. I feel the music I write is so tied to my real life that I really did try to find the hope in each song, as opposed to just writing a downer that ends negatively. Just as in my real life, when I’m feeling fear or whatever, my instinct is to try to feel better. I let that process work its way into the record.

How do you feel the process of writing this record dealt with some of those issues?

Writing has always been a very cathartic process for me. In writing these songs, I feel like I was helping myself out in real time.

What was it like working with Erin Tonkon on this record?

We co-produced the record together and she engineered it as well. She’s awesome. I had talked to a bunch of different potential co-producers, a lot of really gifted people that would’ve been wonderful to work with. But I always left feeling like there was something still not quite the right fit for whatever reason, whether it was that the person thought I should change my arrangements. I arranged the whole record myself at home, including all the drums, strings, bass, all that.

I felt very secure working with Erin. When we met, she really was a champion of my own arrangements, really believed in my vision and was super-enthusiastic. The funny thing was, while I was trying to figure out for months how, when and where I was going to make this album, she was my neighbor! She lives in Ridgewood [in Queens, New York] too. She lives right by the grocery store I go to almost every day. While I’d be walking with my girlfriend, complaining that I don’t know what to do, I’d be walking by Erin’s apartment!

We met at a coffee shop in our neighborhood. We really clicked on talking about how difficult it could be for women on the technical side in the industry to have the respect and visibility they deserve. We wanted to work together and try to help maybe any aspiring, younger female producers to feel like they could do it. It is challenging to make a name for yourself. So we wanted to make a record that sounded amazing and do it ourselves, and have that empowerment.

Do you have a favorite song on the record that you can’t wait for your audience to hear?

I’m really excited for people to hear the bookends. I’m pumped for the whole record but the first song and the last song are really special to me. The first song is called Little Flaws and it’s the first song I ever wrote not with a guitar. I wrote it on a synth. It’s full of heart and full of love and it’s also a little funny. It’s about when you fall in love with someone and you’re really starry-eyed, before you realize they have flaws that annoy you. But then they point out that you have them too.

And also the last one [Emily], I’m really in love with. It’s the one I co-wrote with my friend Benjamin Lazar Davis, who played on the record. He had this melody line that he’d been working out and I had the lyrics. We came together and hashed it out. The very last thing we recorded in the studio was Jeremy [Gustin] recording some drums for this song. It happened spontaneously in the studio.

I saw on social media that you’ve been sharing Deep Love moments from fans. Do you have a Deep Love moment that you saw this week or this month that you’d like to share?

I’d love to! I’m so glad you like this idea. I find it really inspiring. I think these little moments of positivity are really all around us all the time, if we just pay attention. About a week ago, I was in the Union Square train station. I saw a little boy with his mom. He was probably eight or nine years old. They walked by a homeless man who had a sign. The boy stopped his mom, asked her to wait, and he ran back to the guy and gave him his orange. That was just so touching. Just a little Deep Love moment that made my day.