by Xanthe Pajarillo
Aly Spaltro started writing music in the basement of Bart and Greg’s DVD Explosion, an indie rental store in Brunswick, Maine. After the decision to release her music anonymously, she adopted the moniker Lady Lamb, which was taken from the random scribblings she made in her notebook while asleep. In the span of her eleven year career in music, she has toured with the likes of Kaki King, Neko Case, Beirut, Cuddle Magic, and Xenia Rubinos.
Her first two albums Ripely Pine, After, and EP Tender Warriors Club received critical acclaim. Consequence of Sound called her “A songbird with a bleeding heart and lungs three times too large for her body.” She precedes her reputation as a champion for vulnerability with her highly anticipated third full-length album, Even in the Tremor, which releases Friday, 5 April 2019. She announced, “The whole idea of this new album is the push and pull between calmness and chaos, joy and anxiety, self-loathing and self-love.”
Lady Lamb is on a continuous mission to help us find the courage to stay sensitive in a harsh world. Even in the Tremor’s themes of dualism are wrapped in melodies and lyrics that feel akin to 2AM conversations with a dear friend. This carries into the accompaniment of her song “Deep Love,” in which she encouraged fans on social media to use #DeepLoveMoment to share tiny moments that force us to reflect on the beauty of our existence. In the opening track, “Little Flaws” she coos, “Baby, you’ve got little flaws just like me. You try to be hard but I know you’re a softy.” In “July Was Mundane” she goes further and apologizes for pain caused, repeating, “It’s a feat to forgive me.” The album is a representation of the healing power of honesty and another beautiful addition to her gracefully maturing collection of work.
Last month I chatted with her to discuss the process of writing Even in the Tremor, challenges for women in music production, growing up as a military child, staying sane as an artist who wears multiple hats, and more. It was truly a #DeepLoveMoment.
Xanthe Pajarillo: How’s prep for the [Deep Love] tour going? Are you still in Brooklyn?
Lady Lamb: Yeah, I’m in New York now and it’s going really well. I just announced the second single an hour ago, “Deep Love,” so I’m elated. I didn’t really sleep last night because I was really excited. I’m on cloud nine right now.
XP: How long did it take to write your new album, Even in the Tremor?
LL: It took awhile. I ended up writing Tender Warriors Club by accident while I was trying to write this record. I did a lot of traveling and brought a portable recording rig with me to keep writing from wherever I was. I wrote in Berlin, a little bit in Mexico City, Montreal… I wrote “Prayer of Love” in Sweden while I was recording Tender Warriors Club. I felt like it was meant for the full length. In my mind, their stamp is all over the place.
XP: It took you a long time to find a producer that believed in your vision. I’m so glad that you stuck to your guns because it’s a really beautiful record -- I know I keep saying that...
LL: No, thank you! It’s so true. The reason why it sounds so beautiful is because I really just stuck with my gut and waited until I found the right collaborator, believed in my own arrangements, and sonic ideas.
XP: How did you keep persevering with all the negative people?
LL: One of the things that I have always felt so strongly about is making sure every decision I make is with a real honest assessment of not compromising my vision or integrity. It’s been eleven years since I started, and I don’t feel like my gut has ever steered me wrong. I’ve never looked back on any decision I’ve made in my career and regretted it. It wasn’t too difficult. The difficult part was wanting to be back with my fans. It was kind of hard to hide out for as long as I did.
XP: You ended up with producer, engineer, and mixer Erin Tonkon. What was it like working with her?
LL: It was awesome. The romantic side of the story is that I would be walking around my neighborhood in Queens with my girlfriend everyday complaining about, “Oh why can’t I figure this out? I’m really anxious to get started. This person is cool but I don’t know, I don’t feel totally right about it.” And everyday that I was having this conversation with her, I was actually walking by Erin’s apartment. She and I are neighbors, we live seven blocks away from each other. It felt fated when we finally met at a coffee shop in our neighborhood and got to talking. I felt like I really had a supporter of my vision, a really enthusiastic, intelligent, and capable partner. I made my decision so quickly and we started within a month.
XP: You and Erin said women on the production side aren’t taken seriously. How have you personally dealt with and handled that?
LL: I used to get really defensive. When I was younger, I had so much I wanted to prove. Men would patronize me. On the live touring side of things, you’re standing there, you brought your own microphone, you’re hooking up your own pedal board, your own instruments, and the sound engineer is asking your male bandmate to answer questions for you, asking, “What kind of mic does she have?” The hilarious thing is that my male bandmate has no idea what mic I have. Maybe he’s not a gearhead like I am. It’s that super biased and misogynistic outlook. I used to get really upset about it, but now I feel more confident in my abilities, so when I feel like I’m being mansplained to, I let my work speak for itself. I put on a really kick ass show, and in this case, make a really beautiful, rich, poignant, professionally sounding record, and make anyone who doubted me just eat their words.
XP: I love how you handle that because I’m going to film school right now, and it’s the same deal with women in the industry.
LL: I feel you. When Erin and I met, she told me “You wouldn’t believe how many women have dropped out of music, engineering, and producer programs because they couldn’t handle the judgment and always having to defend themselves.” You have to have really thick skin, be really stubborn, determined. A lot of women don’t stick with it because of the alienation. We had a discussion about wanting to start changing and have more visibility. If Erin and I can talk about how we made this record alone together, between our apartments and a studio, then we’re hoping that young women who feel like “I can’t stick with this” maybe will, and someday we’ll get to a place where there’s so many of us so it’s not even a question anymore. We hold our place.
XP: Was there ever a moment where you felt that way, that it was getting too much and you might quit?
LL: Definitely. In fact, some of the songs like “Deep Love” came from those feelings of hopelessness. I felt like I was alone on a island trying to make my art and spending my days doubting my ability. I think every artist can attest to that feeling where you don’t feel like hot shit everyday. You feel totally vulnerable or you’re having trouble figuring out how to execute what’s in your head, and there were so many days where I would be sitting at my studio desk at home and just start crying out of frustration, like “I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know how to do this.” I’m so glad all of my closest friends said to me, “This is temporary. One day you’re gonna look back at this difficult time, smile, and be so happy that you pushed through and made your record.” I’m sitting here on that other side right now. It just takes a lot of courage to not fall into a pit of self loathing.
XP: Thank you for sharing. I feel like it’s important we hear things like that. We only see the successful side of people and think, “They probably didn’t deal with anything.” It’s always comforting to hear that side of the story.
LL: It’s not easy. Anyone who says it is, they’re probably just compartmentalizing the difficult time. But it is important to have a place where artists can talk about their challenges so that we feel like, when we’re struggling, there’s a light on the other side.
XP: Going back to your album, I have a lot of your old stuff like The Tingly Circus and everything, so I was re-visiting it to see how it’s evolved.
LL: Oh, that’s amazing!
XP: There’s an increase in all these arrangements and instruments, and there’s the risk that it’s not gonna feel intimate anymore, but you successfully keep that intimacy. Was that a specific choice or did it happen naturally?
LL: It means a lot that you noticed that because it is a conscious recent thing that I do where I’m always checking in with myself and making sure that I’m present, that I’m not phoning it in or sitting in booth like “Singing a song, here I go!” I try to take my ego out of the arrangements. If the song doesn’t seem like it’s working, then I’m probably forcing something that it doesn’t want to be. Oftentimes that means I’m subtracting from the song. I’m trying to bring it to its essence and not overdo it. I think a lot of times when I as an artist have overdone something, it’s because I’m insecure, like “I’m dousing this old song in reverb because I just don’t feel that my voice is good.” It’s a conscious check in to believe in yourself and be kind to yourself. That can help simplify your final piece into being the intimate, honest thing that it’s trying to be.
XP: From your beginnings until now, how have you seen the music industry change?
LL: What I’m told is that people are no longer listening to full albums. I think some [industry] people are very focused on streaming numbers, how to be flashy and grab people’s attention when their span is quite small. For better or worse, I really cling to the belief in a full album as a piece of work. The same way that you would sit down and watch a whole film, you’re not gonna watch that film in twelve sections mixed up. I really put a lot of thought and care into how I track the songs. When a record comes out that I’m really excited for, I give it my full attention. I put one song one and listen to the whole thing in nice headphones so I can really immerse myself in what the artist was hoping I would hear. I believe that those people still exist. I’m making my work the way I always believed in -- an album being a journey. You have to adapt to the times. I have my music on Spotify and I’m cool with that because a lot of people that wouldn’t have otherwise heard the music hear it. I do try to keep that classic traditional approach.
XP: I know I’m guilty of listening to albums on the computer.
LL: I do the same.
XP: For my really favorite ones I try to put on the headphones and it’s interesting because it’s a whole new experience, like “I missed this little instrument in the background and I’ve known this song for so long.”
LL: Yeah, totally and there’s no wrong way to listen. There are many ways. I put on music in the background and I may only listen to a record with my nice headphones the day it comes out, and then I’ll listen to them with my earbuds. It’s all good.
XP: You said this album is the most vulnerable you’ve ever been. Which songs were the most emotionally challenging to write?
LL: Young Disciple. It’s the one song on the record that is solo. It was recorded live with just my vocal and acoustic guitar. The genesis of the idea came to me years and years ago and it took a long time for me to express it the way that I wanted to. It’s about looking back on my childhood when I was a little kid living in Arizona. My parents went through a religious phase of being born again Christians, but more for the community. The song is chronicling the story of when I first learned about death. When we first learn about death, that memory can stick with us forever. We know exactly where we were, whether it was “The Lion King” that did it. For me, it was my mom telling me. I had this memory of being so pissed at her, even when I was five, “Why would you do this? You’re confusing me. You’re being so nonchalant.” I’m happy that I finally got to write this song because I think for a listener who’s been with me for a long time, it’s like “What’s with all the Jesus references? Is she religious? What’s her deal?” It’s all really stemming back to childhood, which a lot of things are, and trying to understand my upbringing.
XP: Have your parents listened to the song?
LL: I don’t think they have. I haven’t sent my mom the record yet, and I sent it to my dad -- and bless his heart -- he’s so cute, he is retired Air Force and he discovered in the last few years that his passion in life is screenwriting. He lives in Texas, outside of Dallas Fort Worth area. After work and in his spare time he has been writing prolific amounts of screenplays and shorts. He asked me for the record last week and then I never heard back about it. He said, “Sorry, I’ve been really busy working on my short, I’m gonna film it. I’m getting my crew together.” That’s cool, Dad. Get to it when you can. Yeah, he’s busy. It’s funny. Then he sent me the screenplay for the short and he said, “What’d you think?” and I said, “Sorry Dad, I haven’t gotten to it. I’m busy with my record.” So we’re the same, we’re both putting off each other’s projects.
XP: Do you feel like being a military kid influenced you creatively?
LL: Yes! I think it influenced deeply who I became because I moved around every three years. My extended family was in Maine, my grandparents and siblings were in Maine. We were mostly in the southwest and then at one point we moved to Germany. I got really good at being mobile, adapting well, and being cool with packing up and moving around. I love to tour and be on the road. It’s comforting to live out of a suitcase and start fresh. It’s obviously a really amped up version of my childhood moving around, but it prepared me so much. It was such an awesome experience. It was hard too because a lot of people don’t realize that when you grow up as a military family, your means are very modest. They pay for your housing and stuff, but you’re really trying hard to make ends meet. I had a very modest childhood living in base housing, but my family was really close, and it’s in part of just how they made their way into my music. We were so close because we were all we had. I think that made an impact on our closeness and the fact that they’re in a lot of my songs.
XP: How is your German?
LL: Nicht so gut. [Laughs]
XP: [Laughs] Do you speak any other languages?
LL: No, but one of my life goals is to become fluent in Spanish. I feel like I have a knack for language and I’ve really fallen in love with Mexico City. Each time I go I pick up more Spanish, but my hope is to live there for an extended period of time and take a really in depth course.
XP: What was the choice behind filming the Even in the Tremor video there?
LL: I’m really into ancient history ruins and this complex called Teotihuacan [Translation: The place where Gods were created]. It’s so old that people don’t know who built it. It’s pre-Aztec. It’s an actual town that at one point had 100,000 people living there. It’s absolutely incredible. There’s a line in “Even in the Tremor” that was inspired by Teotihuacan: “I dream in dripping colors of every ruin we’ll never lose ourselves in.” I thought, next time I go back I need to film a video there, and needless to say it was so difficult because there were actually hundreds of tourists. So it was like, okay, let’s pretend we’re here alone… that means waiting ten minutes at a time for very slow groups of annoying people to mosey by.
XP: Wow, you would never have guessed that watching the video!
LL: When I was editing it, if there was one take where one person showed up with a fanny pack in the background, it’d be like,”Shut it down. This is not working.” It killed the vibe instantly.
XP: Then there was that dog that happened to walk through.
LL: Yes! Actually there were dozens of stray dogs that lived there on the complex. It was like “Isle of Dogs” style. It was so amazing. They’re not tame but they’re not aggressive. They don’t come up to you, they don’t want love, but they are fed by the people who sell their wares there. They’re beautiful and healthy and run around in packs. They sunbathe, nap, and I saw four of them at a time just frolicking around like they own the place.
XP: You said that you edited your video, which was edited really well. I always felt like musicians would make great editors ‘cause it’s a very musical form. Were you self taught?
LL: I was, but to be fair I did it with my girlfriend Erica. She was manning the controls on this one. I just did the “Deep Love” video using Premiere Pro. I was actually enrolled to go to the school of the Art Institute of Chicago after high school for film editing. Then I found music and kind of branched that way into the production side of music. But I love editing. I love the amount of focus it takes, the minute details, and how eight hours can go by in a snap. It’s fun.
XP: Do you have an interest in working on films -- editing, film scoring, directing?
LL: Yeah, I really love editing my own work and I have an interest in scoring in the future, I would really like to do that. Film is as an equal passion to music. I’m super into it.
XP: What’s your dream style of film to score?
LL: I would like to score a foreign film. I love foreign film. But I’ll do anything like documentary, indie, I watch every genre. I’d even do a horror film, that’d be fun.
XP: You write your own songs, produce, your album art, videos. How do you manage all these roles and stay sane?
LL: Dang. That’s real talk. It’s hard. I’ve been so fortunate in the way I’ve maneuvered my career that I make a living out of it. I wake up everyday and I work on whatever project needs to be done, all day long. I have a manager now and she takes a lot of the stress off my shoulders. I am so involved in all the visuals and all the art projects to the point where sometimes I’m like, “oh my tour is in five weeks I should probably practice. I forgot there’s music to be played.” It can be a little hard to manage it all but it’s second nature. I would probably spin out if I relinquished these duties to someone else because I really get a lot out of it. Not to say I wouldn’t want to collaborate with video directors or something in the future, but it’s really fulfilling.
XP: I know you did a lot of covers in the past like Cher and Elvis. Would you ever do a covers album?
LL: I might. I think it would take me awhile to compile ten or twelve songs that I would want to cover because I think that they would have to have a real meaning for me, in order to want to recreate them.
XP: I really love the Cher one for “Believe” because it’s so different from the original. I love the original too.
LL: That’s so funny. My best friend and I were walking around Manhattan in 2011 and we were just talking about how great Cher is. He was jokingly like, “I challenge you to go home, cover this song, and make it sad.” I was like, “Okay, I’m not doing anything tonight.” I just pumped it out and was like, oh, shit this is good. This is the essence of the song, the song is really sad. It’s kind of heartbreaking. When you slow down the tempo, you can really gather that from it.
XP: I love that it can work in two different forms.
LL: It’s awesome when a song’s content is pretty devastating but it’s got a pop beat. I like that.
XP: For this album’s theme, you said it’s to understand what we’re here for. Do you have any thoughts on the answer?
LL: I think about this everyday, a lot of people do. I have no answers, but the song “Deep Love” is an autobiographical song. In one of the verses, on the day it happened, I was walking home and passing by my neighbors. They were having a really simple moment of love between them, and I felt like I was on drugs. I know it sounds dumb, but when I see love or a moment that’s so simple and tender like that, I feel so full and so ecstatic to be alive. It inspires me and I feel like life is good. The closest I’ve come to an answer is that we’re here… we’re like beings of light… we are love. We are made of love and our point is to give it. That’s the closest I’ve come to an answer and I’m fine with that. It’s a beautiful reason to be, if that is the reason.
Even in the Tremor is available for purchase from Ba Da Bing Records. [Disclaimer: this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]
Lady Lamb Tour Dates:
Wed. April 10 - Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom *
Thu. April 11 - Montreal, QC @ Le Ministere *
Fri. April 12 - Toronto, ON @ Drake Hotel *
Sat. April 13 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe *
Mon. April 15 - Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop *
Tue. April 16 - Detroit, MI @ Deluxx Fluxx *
Wed. April 17 - Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall *
Fri. April 19 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry *
Sat. April 20 - Milwaukee @ Back Room at Colectivo *
Mon. April 22 - Omaha, NE @ Reverb Lounge *
Wed. April 24 - Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge *
Fri. April 26 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court *
Sat. April 27 - Boise, ID @ The Olympic *
Mon. April 29 - Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett *
Thu. May 2 - Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret ^
Fri. May 3 - Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern ^
Sat. May 4 - Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios ^
Mon. May 6 - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall ^
Wed. May 8 - Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room ^
Thu. May 9 - San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar ^
Fri. May 10 - Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar ^
Mon. May 13 - Austin, TX @ Antone’s ^
Tue. May 14 - Dallas, TX @ Club Dada ^
Thu. May 16 - St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway ^
Fri. May 17 - Nashville, TN @ The High Watt ^
Sat. May 18 - Atlanta, GA @ Aisle 5 ^
Sun. May 19 - Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight ^
Tue. May 21 - Raleigh, NC @ Kings ^
Wed. May 22 - Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel ^
Thu. May 23 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry @ The Fillmore ^
Thu.. May 30 - Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere ^
Fri. May 31 - Boston, MA @ Royale ^
Sat. June 1 - Portland, ME @ The State Theatre ^
* = with Renata Zeiguer
^ = with Katie Von Schleicher