A Lamb Lies Down on Freret
Wednesday night at Gasa Gasa, Aly Spaltro, better known by her stage name Lady Lamb, will be visiting New Orleans for the first time in her career. Spaltro has been writing and recording since 2007. She began with all night recording sessions in the basement of the DVD store where she worked. After a string of self-produced and released records, in 2013 she had the opportunity to pull together new versions of many of her original songs into the record that would become Ripely Pine, her first major label release. This distillation of years of work into one record payed off as Ripely Pine found it’s way onto may critics’ “best of” lists for the year. This year Aly has returned with her follow up record, After. On this record, Spaltro has turned from the desires of her nineteen to twenty year old self to a more introspective exploration of both her humanity and our own. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lady Lamb about her new record and impending visit.
One of the perpetual scenarios in contemporary music is the experience gap between the creation of a debut album and its sophomore follow-up. I asked Aly to explain the genesis of her first record and how it compared to her new release. “The first album Ripely Pine, which came out in 2013, was comprised of 12 songs—a couple of them were newer—but most of the songs were from the time period when I was nineteen or twenty and writing down in the basement. So I had all these years to just gain the confidence and have a clear path for what I was doing and how I wanted to present myself. I felt like there was a very natural comfortable progression going into the studio…By the time I went in to record, the main challenge was opening up my solo songs and arranging them for a full band.
That was a tricky time because I was so used to performing those songs solo with an electric guitar and it felt like wrenching them open…When it came time to record this new record I had the experience of the first album and knowing how challenging and almost painful it was to knock my head against the wall arranging those songs. So I spent a lot of time in my apartment doing preproduction on that record and arranging them myself….I went in with fully fledged demos of all the songs. I knew exactly what I wanted them to be and sonically what they were going to be and it was just then the venture of trying to recreate the demos with as much energy as possible.” This personal attention the the detail of the music both in terms of lyricism and production is part of what makes Aly’s music so poignant. From her perspective, the honesty of the music is paramount. “If—I think—I wonder if the fans are going to like this or I wonder if the critics are going to like this then I make a piece of crap because I’m not thinking about what actually matters—which is making something that I love and am proud of…If you have a pressure that you put on yourself to succeed for other people, then most likely the piece is going to come out sounding like that. It’s going to sound a little desperate maybe.”
Part of the power in Aly’s music comes from a careful balance between the darker more animalistic side of human nature and her joyful—almost poppy—delivery. She locates the supreme joy of life even within its darker moments. “I usually always have the words before the music and generally the music serves as a sort of vehicle for the words and so—in that way—I think I’m in a good position to sit in the lyrics and get a feeling for what they might be saying and write the music accordingly. Sometimes there is darkness underlying—if the lyrics are dark—but I would call it playful overall. I never want to get too dark because I’m not attempting to write music that is wholly depressing. I like to write songs that are lyrically very vibrant even if they are a little bit dark or sometimes full of blood, and then mask it all under a sort of mostly playful musical style so that you can still bob your head to it and still have fun. But if you are searching for something more intellectual—or even more emotional—you can find it. I like to leave things open enough to fit whatever the person needs from it instead of laying out ‘this is what it is and you’re only going to get this one thing from it’.
In addition to the music, Aly also designs most of the visual elements related to her records and tours. Even though she has a different process for the creation of visual media, she approaches it with the same sense of creating a complete experience for her audience. “With music I tend to write and arrange and finish things in bursts without putting it down and slaving over it…I love the whole strategy of writing and finishing a song in a day. With the visuals I usually end up slaving over them more—they take a little longer to feel right. That’s how I know when it’s complete. It’s just instinctive. I know when it’s not working and not finished and I put it away for however long—it takes a little more patience.” This attention to every aspect of a record campaign springs from Aly’s belief in the album as totality. “I’ve found that you kinda have to not fight too hard against what’s happening [with digital distribution] and sort of accept the changes. But it does hurt a little bit that in this new climate some people don’t buy records and the concept of a finished piece is being left out a little bit. I still really believe in the importance of a fully finished work and a work that is tracked from start to finish—intentionally—with a flow. I put a lot of thought into that kind of thing and what helps me stay positive is knowing that there are plenty of people who still agree with that format as well and still really care about the whole album as a piece of work.”
Aly’s has created under the name of Lady Lamb, a space in which she can control every aspect of her creative process from the music to the art and graphic design. She is even her own manager. With so much of herself presented to the public, she works to maintain a private space for creation as well. “It’s kind of ironic that I fell into this life where I kind of share myself with strangers and get under a spotlight—which is so against my natural instinct. But obviously, it’s what I love to do….What is enough vulnerability? What is not enough? I’m giving people as much of myself as I possibly can without feeling that I’m losing a part of myself or my privacy. And I think that’s in part why I really enjoy having a moniker because it’s just psychological. I really like having a creative name and a creative space to carve out to express myself under—even though it is an extension of me. They’re one and the same—Lady Lamb and Aly…in Lady Lamb I’m not putting on a face. I’m being myself but for me, mentally, it is nice to have that extra space for creativity.” It is this very creativity that will be on display Wednesday night at Gasa Gasa. I highly recommend that you go out of your way to make this show.
This week is a big one for music. In addition to Lady Lamb on Wednesday night, we also have synth pop titans Poliça on Sunday evening. That same evening Dick Dale the maestro of surf rock will take the stage at the Howlin’ Wolf (I’m going to have to try to make both of these shows).
Also this week there is the small matter of French Quarter Fest. Listed below are the shows that stand out by date, time and location. Whatever you do make sure to catch Kristin Diable on Sunday.
Joe Krown Trio 12:30-1:45pm GE Capital/New Orleans Tech Stage
Panorama Jazz Band 12:30-1:40pm Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage
Allen Toussaint 3:45-5pm Abita Beer Stage
The Honorable South 4:30-5:30pm Voodoo Garden
Sweet Crude 12:35-1:50pm GE Capital/New Orleans Tech Stage
Irma Thomas 3:45-5:05pm Abita Beer Stage
Tank and the Bangas 5:45-7pm Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage
Bonerama 7:15-8:45pm Abita Beer Stage
Mississippi Rail Company 11:00-12:15 WWL-TV Esplanade in the Shade
The Tin Men 3:45-5:15pm WWL-TV Esplanade in the Shade
Lost Bayou Ramblers 5:30-7pm Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase
Flow Tribe 7:15-8:45pm GE Capital/New Orleans Tech Stage
Pfister Sisters 11:15-12:25pm Capital One Jackson Square Stage
Magnetic Ear 2:15-3:30pm Spanish Plaza Stage
Kristin Diable 5:15-6pm BMI Songwriter Stage
Raw Oyster Cult 5:20-6:45pm Abita Beer Stage
Astral Project 5:30-7pm WWL-TV Esplanade in the Shade