UK singer-songwriter Lucy Spraggan chats new album ‘Choices’ released today

Photo by Adam Titchener
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Lucy Spraggan is a singer-songwriter from the UK. She had her debut on The X Factor in 2012, where she was the first artist to perform her original material on the show. After her video from the show went viral, Spraggan began touring and performing all over the world. The last couple of years have been challenging for Spraggan as she has had many changes in her life, all of which she has been very open about. Through these challenges, Spraggan has found new inspirations—new health and career goals. Her new album Choice is being released today, February 26.

We know you wrote the majority of the record while you were on tour in the US, so what inspired you? What was the inspiration for this new record?

I think lyrically, I’ve gone through a load of changes over the last two years, I’m eighteen months sober, and I got divorced. I changed a lot of things about my lifestyle, and it felt a bit like starting from the beginning. So I really wanted the name to reflect that whole experience. I’ve toyed with calling it zero or something that was just really resembled starting again. Then I kind of realized that I haven’t started again; this is just what life does. Life is just a series of choices that you make, and that’s what leads you places. So I actually called the album Choices. Then I wrote the song “Choices,” which is one of the later tracks on the record. So I was inspired by all of that, but the sound of the record, I mean one of the songs I wrote on a Harley-Davidson riding through Pahrump just outside Vegas, and I wanted it to sound like you are on a Harley in the desert or in a convertible driving down a dirt track.

What are some of your songwriting processes? Because some people will hear a chord progression first or they’ll have a melody first, or some people just have a book of lyrics they go through and they’ll read—go back and be like, “Oh,” and then be inspired to create.

Mine is always a lyric; it always starts with a lyric. So it will normally be just one line that will just grow and grow and grow. So there’s a track on the record that’s called “Animal,” and It’s like I’m an animal, and I was skipping when I wrote that. I had the lyric idea first, and I was listening to a Bollywood playlist while I was skipping, and that kind of gave me the sound that I wanted, and I wrote the guitar riff. In my head, it was to be a sitar, initially. I mean, that’s about as insightful as it gets; it’s just like, it comes out that way.

So do you do anything to spur creativity? If you go a few weeks and haven’t written a new song, is there anything that you do to get in the mindset, or do you not have any problem with inspiration—it’s just kind of always firing off?

I think luckily, I did, like you said, a lot of traveling, a lot of back and forth across the states last year, so that always helps me because really, I think most creative people are fed by meeting other people, listening to other people’s stories, or something that happens and you’re like, “Whoa.” There’s this song called “I Spent A Night In The Desert,” which is quite literally about that same trip. I spent a night in a tiny house in the desert in Nevada, and I turned to my friend, and I said, “This is the kind of night that you write songs about.” That’s literally one of the taglines in the song; it says this is the kind of night that you could write songs about.

Now also, I know that while this album was written mostly while you were traveling through the US, you recorded it in Scotland. That just had to be like insanely beautiful, that landscape. It looks like an amazingly beautiful country. You worked with Pete Hammerton and engineer Danton Supple. So how was it working with those guys? Did you feel like you had a really good collaboration with them and good energy?

Well, it’s the first album I’ve ever done in the midst of a global pandemic. Normally when I’m making a record, I really like to be there. I like to kind of sit, and I know it’s really annoying for producers. Because if somebody sends me something that’s fifty percent done and I hate it, they have to cut this up from the beginning. I spent a long time just talking to Pete about exactly what the songs meant and how I wanted them to come across. I think the definition of a good producer is to be able to take an artist’s words and their meaning; it’s almost like describing a painting and having an artist draw it. It’s the same process, and Pete is amazing at that. So I basically would get the songs sent back and forth. I’d make tiny adjustments; they’d go back to him and then to vocal. I went up to Scotland in isolation, stayed in this tiny cottage where I woke up one morning, and they had these big shaggy head Highland bulls in the garden. It was quite magical. And it’s funny because it was during some really rough times.

So with the pandemic, it altered your recording process as far as being in the same room with people. So how did you keep that energy alive? I know you said you and Pete were emailing and making adjustments, but sometimes to get that vibe of unity, being in the same room is kind of important. So what other ways was your recording process altered? Because there has to be, like you said, it was the first time recording during a pandemic. What other things did you have to adjust to?

I guess it was being forced to look at being quite creative, not freedom, because there was still freedom in it. I could make changes, but it was kind of nice to let go of the reins—forced to let go of the reins and let somebody else just do their job, which sure producers are like, score.

Right. You know they’ll have to micromanage.

It’s the artist’s middle name, isn’t it like, micromanaging. I mean there’s only three people who played on the record. So it’s a lot smaller in terms of creativity, and it was very different, but some people would make a record like that as a project. So we all do things differently.

The rider had a different bottle of alcohol each night.

I know you have gotten really into physical fitness, and you have your own fitness and meal program called Fully Rewired. What inspired you to start that because that’s a big endeavor considering you have a career as a musician. So how did that come about?

Funny enough, the fitness part of my life was quite well-timed because the only thing that is left for me to do at the moment in my spare time is fitness. Most of the time, I throw myself into work; I’m talking eight or nine months of the year, in a small year on a short tour. So basically, I stopped drinking, and I was the definition of party, party, party, party—big shows, getting drunk. The rider had a different bottle of alcohol each night. It got too much, and my life got to a fork in the road where I was trying to hold down being married and having a home life. I’d been on the road for thirteen months, and every time I mess something up, I didn’t think about it, I just drank. I decided that was it. I went out and I got absolutely obliterated, and I woke up the next day and said, “I’m not doing this anymore.” That was the last time I had a drink.

The process was for six months, I didn’t know who I was. Without alcohol, I had no idea who I was. That’s just a fact. I lost a lot of weight, like fifty pounds. I changed so many things, but while I did it, I made some huge mistakes. At some point, I was eating 1200 calories a day, and I was working out twice a day. That’s dangerous, you know, it’s really dangerous. So I decided to make Fully Rewired because I don’t want people to see what I did and say, “I’m going to do that.” Completely with no education about it like I did because I was a zombie. All of these feelings I had— I quit drinking, and I was desperately lonely, and I had no idea what emotion actually felt like. I wanted to put that in my plan and be like this is totally natural, and this is how to deal with it, or this is how I dealt with it. I got an award-winning nutritionist and personal trainer on board who knew what they were talking about scientifically, and then since then, I’ve become a qualified personal trainer too.

You’ve been very public about all the challenges that have been going on in your life. Now, I know it really helps you connect to your fans. A decade ago, musicians and celebrities tried to have this perfect persona, like, “Oh, I have no problems, my life is perfect.” I really like the fact that you share your life with your fans because being very transparent is very brave—you open yourself up to criticism, which I know you have had online and on social media. I think you handle it brilliantly. Can you talk about your decision to be so open about your life with your fans?

I think from the very beginning of life, I’ve been a massive over-sharer. When I was twenty, twenty-one, I went on the X factor in the UK here and I played my own songs. I was the first person to do that. I ended up being the third most-watched video in the world on YouTube that year and the most Googled artist. To me, there was no transition into fame; it was just boom, overnight—not overnight success because I’ve been playing shows since I was twelve years old, but overnight fame. So I never really learned about how to transition from being a regular person to somebody who’s looked at all the time. So I’ve always just been—it wasn’t even a query about when I was on the show, no one asked me if I was a lesbian, I was just a lesbian. Because I was like, that’s just who I am.

So for me, my oversharing, which has sometimes shot me in the foot, like when you get divorced, then you have to tell the entire world, and it’s in the newspapers where your relationship fails and stuff. It’s a kicker, and it’s a lesson. But I guess it’s really nice to be able to say, actually, you know what? I suffer with depression; I suffer with anxiety. I resemble a lot of issues that everybody has, so why shouldn’t we talk more about that? And the movement of like, I just want people to be kinder. That’s kind of my aim on social media, I will share everything, but I want people to only speak to me online the way they would in real life.

I am so sensitive.

Now, do you have any advice for young people or anyone who’s being cyberbullied online? Because you have very tough skin, but some people don’t when they’re younger and very sensitive to some of these things.

I am so sensitive.

So how do you deal with that?

For a long time, I used to let it cut me right to the bone because the first thing I am, out of any other trait, is so sensitive. People say things to me, and it really hurts me. Sometimes it sits in my brain all day long. I can remember some four words that people called me five years ago—I am so sensitive. What people keep telling me well, as a musician, you should have thicker skin; you should expect this. My issue with this narrative is that narrative is exactly the same as, “Well, what was she wearing? She deserved that”. It’s a lesser severity, but it’s the same narrative. It’s like, so somebody gets mugged because they’re walking out late at night, and then modern society says, “Well, why were you walking late at night?” The real question is, why are there people mugging people? Then we will all be muggers. There will always be bullies, but I think that my advice to people is don’t get a thicker skin, don’t be sensitive, and tell people that you are sensitive. Because on my platform, what I’ve been saying is, listen, if you’re going to say horrible things, you’re not welcome here. I have social media for my work, and I can tell you this firsthand, if it wasn’t so integral in what I do, I would not have it because it’s utterly toxic. However, It’s a modern necessity for any business. For those, really, the best thing you can do is block and move on; people tell me that too. I instead get all hung up about it. But my advice is stay centered.

I like that advice. That’s refreshing because most people being in the music industry myself as well, people are like toughen up, and that’s what you hear, and that makes a lot of sense.

We toughened up; the music toughens.

As artists, you’re just sensitive. That’s just the way you’re kind of wired and programmed, and if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t write the songs that you write because they come from that sensitive place. So that’s good, that’s really good advice, awesome. What else have you been doing during the pandemic to stay mentally healthy? I know you have your exercise and working out, but what else are you doing to keep from climbing up the walls since you’re not touring?

So it’s just been a really, really savior for me. It’s only been a year since I started running. Running is huge for me; it helps me stack things up a little bit better. I have a piano, and I learned to play the piano during lockdown. Actually, I was somebody who kind of fell out of love with guitar for a while because I don’t play lead—I can’t, I suck at it. So I would just play rhythm, which kind of can put you into a box of like, let’s say, seven chords. I’ve really thrown myself into playing the piano, and to me, it’s another language. Speaking of another language as, I’ve been focusing on learning British sign language; that’s been a good thing for my mental health—just learning.

That’s awesome. People have different things that they had been doing during this time with no end in sight yet. There’s hope with the vaccine and everything. Have you started working and maybe talking about some tour dates, kind of throwing things out there?

Yeah, it’s pretty hard. We’ve got a few more live stream shows; we did one interactive live stream over Christmas. The live stream stuff is fine; it’s not the same, nowhere near. So I had to cancel Australia, Europe, America, and the UK. So currently, for the first time in a decade, I have no shows booked, which is weird. The summer will be better because we can do more outside stuff, but we keep getting new variants here. I don’t know if that’s happening there [in the US] over this virus. The more variants, the less chance we have of playing shows.

I know this is like a setback, and I understand that. What do you miss most about touring? Of course, traveling and being in new cities, but what do you feel are some of the aspects you miss most?

Meeting people. My UK shows are different too. In the UK, I might play to like three and a half thousand in a night, and then when I come and play in America, I might literally play to thirteen people at a show or 150 or 300. Then I’ll go to Switzerland where the show might be slightly bigger. But what I really miss is that at each one, there’s different levels of human interaction. Actually at the smaller shows, in the countries where I’m way less known, there are these magical moments that happen. Like in Nashville, I met a waiter, and he was just like, “I’ll come see your show tonight.” I was like no, he won’t, and he turns up. I don’t know—there’s a magical moment. It’s all of the people that you get to meet who you wouldn’t necessarily get to interact with. I guess it’s that and all the bad food! [Laughs]

You’re also writing a book that is supposed to come out later in the year. Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration for writing this book?

It’s a memoir of important parts of my life and career. There were a lot of things that, even though I’ve been really transparent and open about some struggles, there are some things that I haven’t even whispered about. So I really feel that it’s time to discuss those things on a wider platform. To be liberated, but also one of the underlying messages in it is about being a woman—not just in this industry but in this world. The older I get and the more I do things with my body, which is really interesting because physicality has never been brought into my career until I started doing fitness. Now that’s discussed so much. It really covers all of that sort of stuff.

I can’t wait for that to come out. So I have a couple of fun questions. If you’re stranded on a deserted island, what’s that one record you’re going to have with you?

Oh, this is so hard.

I want to live in America eventually.

There are a lot of good ones.

I feel like it would have to be, I guess, a greatest hits album by Dolly Parton or a best of Fleetwood Mac—Rumours, actually.

From touring the US, what’s your favorite state? When you came to the states for the first time, what were some of the things that surprised you, like, “Whoa, this is really different!” I think you were eighteen, right?

It’s the culture; I want to live in America eventually. I always said that, but the culture is so different here. It kind of feels like everybody’s door is open and creatively, there’s so much support from people. Like, “Oh, you’re coming to my state, and you’ve come all the way from England, so I’m going to come and watch you.” We don’t really have that here. We’re more like, “Well, how good are you? We will come and watch you if you can prove it.” I feel like the music—people love music in America—and I feel they’re ready to give you a chance. All I ever need is one tiny chance. I traveled thirty-two states in the three months that I was in America. I ran out of money after about three weeks.

I think the music scene here in the US is very supportive. People try to help support the people’s arts. I know we’re definitely looking forward to having you back in the states because; it will incredible. Your live performances on YouTube and your streaming shows are great. The albums are great, but to me, getting to see you live is that experience—that one night only. What do you think the music industry is going to be like on the other end of this virus?

I think it will be for a while, bigger than ever because people haven’t been able to watch enough live music. I know I haven’t because I’ve always had my head stuck in my own shows. I know I’m going to make time to watch live music. I’ve been lucky because I look over the last few years and think there is nothing more I could have done in terms of adventure and in terms of touring. Then we got wiped out by this pandemic. I know there’s a lot of people who will be looking back, saying I’ve done nothing, and now I can’t do anything. So I think a lot of those people are going to be like, “You know what? I’m going to go and watch my favorite person that I’ve listened to on Spotify or seeing on a YouTube ad, this person that I’m listening to is playing in town. I think it’s going to go crazy.

I agree with that. I think that’s definitely going to be something that’s going to be interesting to see how it all unfolds. I’m sure you’ll probably be touring for two years straight when things get back going. We know you love being on the road and recording. Is there anything new and exciting happening that has unraveled in the last couple of weeks that nobody knows about yet?

There will be a few more live streams, and the list of countries that our last one was streamed from was amazing. Places I’ve never even been to, so that was really exciting. I’d love to see some more Americans on there, but in general, thank you to anybody who is streaming or who has pre-ordered or even just dropped me a comment or a follow on social media because at the moment, all of that stuff helps me so much. I’m just very, very grateful. So that’s my message to everybody.

Do you have any advice for young musicians trying to get started in the industry?

Find somebody who really believes in you, and it’s not always going to be your parents. My parents didn’t really come to my shows. Mine was a guy at an acoustic night in a pub who was in his fifties who just has a love for what you do. He died, but he was the one who took me to a local radio station. He got me my first show. Look for the good people because in this world, and in this industry, everyone’s going to give you their opinion, and when it comes to creating, you don’t need to listen to what somebody thinks of your music. All you need to listen to is if somebody really truly is invested in you as a human being and support—that’s what you need, support.

Thank you. That’s wonderful advice. Thank you so much, Lucy, for being with us. We’d love to have you back when your book comes out or at some point in the near future because you’re a lot of fun to talk to. We’re looking forward to all that you’re doing, and we wish you nothing but the best of success.

Thank you so much for having me, and I will definitely see you in Atlanta sometime. Bye.

Lucy Spraggan – Choices

1. Flowers
2. Roots
3. Sober
4. Run to the Hills
5. Heartbreak Suits
6. If I Had a God
7. I Spent a Night in the Desert
8. You’ve Let Yourself Down
9. Animal
10. Wild
11. Run
12. Choices (Don’t Be Afraid)
13. Why Don’t We Start from Here

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Born and Raised in Miami, FL, Vanessa started playing music at a young age. Progressing through high school, Vanessa was playing and performing on multiple instruments including guitar, piano and trumpet. She was awarded a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. During her time there, she studied the guitar playing of such influences as Pat Martino, Slash, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Eric Johnson and many others. After graduating with a degree in Music Business, she went on to work with such artists as Pat Metheny and Christian McBride. After years in the business end of the industry, she decided to pursue her own performing career and moved to Atlanta, GA. Once in Atlanta, she was playing with several groups, and doing recording sessions.  A year later, she was chosen as a finalist by Beyonce to audition for her all-girl backup band. Vanessa has traveled the world playing guitar, visiting countries such as France, Germany, Egypt, Italy, Japan, South America and the Caribbean. She has performed on the bill with such renown artists as Darius Rucker, LA Sno, KISS, Skid Row and Paramore. She is currently recording and performing as the front woman for rock trio, BAST.