Name: Lady Lamb aka Aly Spaltro
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Current event: Lady Lamb is about to embark on a very special tour. In September and October, she will perform a selection of her songs accompanied by a string quartet. Aptly titled An Evening With Strings, these concerts will offer a unique and intimate look at the Lady Lamb cosmos - so unique, in fact, that she was compelled to do a documentary about it, I Feel A Stillness Growing. Get tickets here. In the meantime, her latest album, 2019's Even in the Tremor, is still available.
If you enjoyed this interview with Lady Lamb and would like to find out more about her, visit her official website. She is also on Facebook, Instagram, twitter and bandcamp.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
My relationship to creativity sometimes feels similar to a dormant volcano. I tend to be most inspired to write when a feeling begins to erupt from me.
I have written some of my most emotional and truthful work when when there is a sense of urgency, or a feeling like I couldn’t possibly ignore the impulse. On the other hand, I get a lot of inspiration on a slow day of walking, observing the world around me and getting lost in thought.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
To get started, historically I just need lyrics I believe in. When I say I wait for the feeling to pour out of me, it’s not a musical one, but a lyrical one. I layer my instrumentation based around my words, which for me have the most importance, and everything surrounding them exist to support them.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I usually don’t have a preparation process, though lately I’m experimenting with having more of a sonic palette that I stick to with parameters.
For example, right now I’m working on writing songs from the drums and bass first, as opposed to guitar. I’d like to see how changing my methods results in new ideas.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Lighting and coffee are certainly comforting aspects to getting into my work, but I would say ritualistically, I love to do a lot of walking and then be alone and have zero distractions. The more remote I can be, the deeper in the woods I can be, the better!
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
The first lines are never difficult. What is difficult is all the waiting in between … Sometimes I go weeks or even months without writing a word or a note. I never try to force it, so that when it does come, it comes very naturally.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
The lyrics always come first and apart from music. As hokey as it sounds, they always come from my heart, and they are always my truth.
I try to ask a lot of questions, some that I don’t have answers to. Mostly I write about what I really truly feel and have confidence that if it reaches me emotionally, it will reach someone else. A song like "Deep Love" for example, wrote itself in a way, and expresses the truth I wanted to get at.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
It changes. When I was first beginning to write, I thought what made good lyrics was craftiness, alliteration, metaphor. Lately, I am more drawn to lyrics that are very direct and vulnerable. I’d like to try to say what I mean as simply as possible.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
My approach is to throw too many ideas into a new song and then slowly chip away until it feels right. A song usually reveals itself to me in the peeling away of arrangement. I do have a few exceptions - Songs like "Even in the Tremor" or "Little Flaws" came to exist after thoughtful excavation of a lot of ideas thrown together.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I definitely believe that the truth is in following songs where they lead me. I hav often found that if a song isn’t ‘working’ it’s because I’m trying to control it TOO much. I have to remove my ego and think ‘my role is to help the song be what it wants to be, not to force it into something.’
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I definitely do my best to compile all my ideas and hang onto fragments of new ideas if they don’t fit into something I’m working on.
Generally, I don’t switch gears too much within the process of writing, but in a way, I think it’d be a good challenge to be able to change an arrangement and not be too precious about it..’Kill your darlings’ as they say … I have trouble with that!
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
For me yes, it is a very spiritual and sacred space. There is nowhere in my life that I feel more at peace than in the middle of writing a song, or arranging a song. It’s better than escapism, because it’s not just a process that takes over my body and mind, and transports me, it really grounds me in myself. It’s healing, and it can be like a drug - something I want to keep chasing always, to get that unique feeling of peace.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
It sounds dismissive, but I really just can sense when an arrangement is finished. If I don’t, at a certain point I just have to let go and call it. I always just want to make sure my message is coming across, and the music is lifting that message, not shrouding it. That is my main goal always.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Part of my process is definitely in getting an arrangement to a specific place and then putting the version on my phone and listening in headphones on a walk. I always like to bring the song outside into the world - it makes me feel like I’m hearing it for the first time.
I’ll make notes and adjustments from there and repeat the process until it feels right.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I am a producer myself and have produced or co-produced all my work. I really put my stamp on everything I do, and the entire process is deeply important to me.
Mixing is a challenge because at a certain point, you become too close to the music to be objective, but it’s important for me to be there for the process. My ears are tuned to every single decision and wanting it to be as good as can be. I’m a perfectionist in that regard!
I go with my gut ultimately - with the goal again being that the lyrical message and emotional energy are coming across at all times.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
For me, any state of ‘emptiness’ I feel is a positive feeling. I feel exhausted and relieved and sated after a record is finished. I never feel any fear that I need to get back to a place of creativity.
Like with the example of feeling like a dormant volcano, I always want a time of rest to reset and live outside of a creative space. I need time for my well to fill up, and I cherish that time of renewal as much as my creative time.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think the pleasure I derive from writing a piece of music is not totally dissimilar from the pleasure of making coffee in the morning (which is pleasurable!), or reading a good book, or taking a nice walk, or experiencing someone else’s art. For me, that is all a pleasure, and all part of my ‘dormant’ life; delighting in the experience of life, the observation of life … collecting all these moments for the next creative expression.
My hope always is to delight in the mundane, and to one day be able to express aspects of it alongside deeper experience. For me, they are both integral and meaningful - the key is to try to stay open and porous and collect every moment for the time when it all erupts. (laughs)