Americana singer-songwriter Amilia K Spicer is set to release her third album Wow and Flutter on April 28, 2017. In February, she released a music video for the single “Fill Me Up” which was filmed in the woods in rural Pennsylvania where she explored as a child. The New Texas Magazine called Spicer “A formidable talent” and her music has been compared to Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Lanois.
Accompanying Spicer on the album are a talented group of musicians. Contributing artists include keyboardists Rami Jaffee (Wallflowers, Foo Fighters) and Mike Finnegan (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal), Woody Guthrie disciple and singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave, and bassist Daryl Johnson (Stones/Dylan). Guitarists Tony Gilkyson (X, Lon Justice) and Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams) appear as special guests. She also produced the record with the assistance of multi-instrumentalist Steve McCormick. Malcolm Burn handled mixing.
Recently completing the Folk Alliance Festival in Kansas City, MO, Spicer is out promoting her new album and, as I see from her Facebook page, doing some photography shows, but she took some time to answer some of our questions about her new album and songwriting.
Wow and Flutter is due out April 28th. The name has a dual meaning. Can you explain that?
“Wow and Flutter” is an audio term, mostly related to analog recording, and refers to pitch variations caused by speed variations. Without getting too deep in to the nuances of it, the warbling sound of a record on a turntable can be an example. So, it relates to my obsession with tone, but I also love the way the phrase itself sounds. It has a sensuality to it, its own undulation, like the rise and fall of your chest when you breathe.
When did you start writing the music for this album?
My whole life. (laughing) That is probably true for all artists. Every experience you have goes in to this mysterious well, and you put your bucket in, never really knowing what will come up when you pull the rope. But, more specifically, most of the songs that ended up on Wow and Flutter were written in the midst of making it, when I already had enough tracks in the can to fill an album. That meant the song list kept changing, and I kept moving the finish line. I blame the guitar. But every new instrument inspired a slew of new songs, which then all wanted to be included, those pesky rascals.
The one older song that had remained on the record until the very last minute, was called “True,” and ultimately did not make it, but will be on the next one. That was the toughest cut for me to make, because I wrote “True” many years ago, and it’s been waiting its turn. It’s a very special song to me, but like I said – next album!
You also played multiple instruments on the album. I saw your video about the making of the album and you mentioned you started out on the piano, but then decided to learn to the play the guitar and then the banjo. So how long have you been playing those stringed instruments, and can you tell us what other instruments you used in the writing process and how they helped shape the songs?
Yes, about half way through recording this record, I finally picked up a guitar for the first time. Songs came pouring out immediately, and some were way beyond what I actually could do (well) on guitar. It became a matter of trying to catch up with my writing, even for seemingly simple stuff. But it was a very exciting stage, a time of great inspiration.
For the most part, writing on guitar (and then banjo, mandolin), confined me in a way that felt, ironically, quite freeing. Because it forced me to simplify things, and that made me take chances in new ways. I couldn’t play melodies like I was used to doing on piano, or do anything fancy at all. I was used to providing my own bass line, and suddenly couldn’t do that, but I found work-arounds. During the first six months or so of beginning guitar, I developed this strange thumb thumping thing. That was my messy work-around. I have since moved on from that, but really, anything that helps facilitate the songwriting process is fair game, in my opinion.
Mandolin inspired a little ditty called “Here She Comes,” which again, didn’t make it to the final record, but was an important part of the journey. Because, like writing “Fill Me Up” when I first picked up a banjo, finding three chords on a new instrument can be rather exhilarating, and that’s important for the song you haven’t written yet.
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How did you pull together the musicians and is there anything unique that you look for when you have a project in mind?
I had many Texas friends I wanted on this record, so that just meant I had a good excuse to be in Austin more often. I had a hard drive with the Protools files with me, so I wrangled some of my pals there to add their talents- Gurf Morlix, Jimmy LaFave, Ray Bonneville, Mike Meadows. And in my other city, LA, it was a combination of people I already knew and played music with, and some wish-list folks that required a phone call.
My recording partner, Steve McCormick, had his own impressive rolodex, so we discussed who might be best suited for what song. Those were fun conversations. Like, which one of my heroes do I get to call today?
There are a lot of super talented players out there, so it’s not just technical proficiency I look for. The notes they don’t play are just as important to me. I’m all about tone and space. In the studio, you also want someone who is comfortable in that setting. That sounds obvious, but someone who brings with them their own production, if you will, means there will be an interesting collaboration, and that’s my favorite part of recording.
You recorded this album in three different cities. Why was that?
My gypsy nature means I live, essentially, in three places, so it made sense to bring my work home with me.
So, the east, west, and center of the country were all accounted for (PA, CA, TX). I also recognize that I’m in constant search of inspiration, so will go to anywhere to reunite with magic.
You also produced the album. Is this something new for you, or have you always produced your albums?
I always have been involved in producing, from my very first demos to current times. With my first demos, I didn’t have much technical knowledge, but I had good ears, so I depended on them, and always tried to find people who understood my vision. In the years since, I’ve been learning and listening, so I record gear to ear, as I say. And, this record was the deepest journey for me, in getting what was in my head and heart to the outside world.
But, I didn’t produce this alone. My engineer, Steve McCormick, who recorded the bulk of the record, co-produced it, as well as played on it. He is a brilliant mind. My daily experiments of “let’s try this…” were, therefore, always possible. Our skill sets in the studio complimented one another, and the artistic collaboration was deep. At the root of it all was a love for that intangible vibe, the je ne sais quoi, that can curve your spine. And then doing our best to quantify the part we could in the audio chain. We were both obsessed with songs, tone, and tubes. Lots of conversations about tubes.
You’re also involved in film producing? How did you get involved with that and do you blend the two creative forms of visual and music together to create your songs?
I originally wanted to be a film director (that was after marine biologist, and Olympic swimmer as professional goals), and did work on several film projects in LA before I switched sides, so to speak.
Going from being a filmmaker to songwriter was not difficult, because I’m still telling stories from the movies in my head. Very little has changed in that regard. But the harder transition for me was going from behind the camera to in front of it. I resisted THAT for as long as I could, until the universe got impatient and gave me no choice.
My two worlds are colliding in a beautiful way now – something I always wanted. Making music videos has been a fun way to combine them, and I’m working on the next one as I type this! But I have a few other media projects that have been waiting for me, and now that my record is finally finished, I look forward to new creations and collaborations.
Over the last year, as I was trying to get this dang record to comply to my wishes, I did find another artistic outlet that saved me, and that was photography. I began experimenting with photos I had taken in Tibet and Nepal, and stumbled in to a style I really loved. Working on these images (which also included Pennsylvania, Joshua Tree) was how I began to feel like an artist again, which I truly needed. The record was past the fun part, and was in that “almost there” stage, fighting me every last yard, and I felt so far away from being an artist. Here it is a year later, and I just had my first photography show, showing 31 pieces, and my CD is finally here!
Originally from rural Pennsylvania, you currently split your time between Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, California. Do the different areas have any effect on your songwriting?
Yes, my surroundings very much influence my songwriting, right down to the colors I associate with the geography. I’m a very visual writer, and most of the time, I don’t write in a linear fashion, but more together vingettes from the movies in my head.
So, the landscapes of Pennsylvania, the green fields and open spaces were probably the genesis of loving reverb and delay, my sonic equivalent to memory. Texas brought out my feistiness, and Los Angeles – the allure of shadow.
Covering “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” on Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young in 2008, how did you get involved in that project?
I am so honored to be on this great compilation! So many badass women on it.
My inclusion came about because I won a competition, actually. The record label was holding a contest for recorded versions of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”
The rest of the CD was already finished, apparently, and the remaining track was going to be the “best” version they could find out there of that song. I was very late in hearing about the contest, and it seemed every female I knew was already working on it. I don’t normally like music competitions, but the proceeds for this entire CD were to go to Breast Cancer Research, and that was and is a cause I deeply cared about, so I thought I’d give it a try Naturally it was a full-on sprint and scramble, and I called in favors for studio time. Several of my friends helped out- Lon Miller and James Combs, most significantly. I produced the track, but didn’t start out knowing what I wanted to do with it, other than I wanted cello, and I figured I’d do a bunch of harmonies, because that’s my favorite thing to record. You always have to make a bunch of compromises when doing a project quickly, and I’m not great at saying it’s “good enough,” but it was a fun whirlwind of creativity. And, I ended up winning!
Wow and Flutter Track Listing:
- Fill Me Up
- This Town
- Train Wreck
- Shake It Off
- Down to the Bone
- Wild Horses
- What I’m Saying
For more on Amilia K Spicer and her music, visit her site HERE.