Anthony da Costa

RETRO: Quick Q and A with Amy Speace

I took the wayback machine to 2008 to when I interviewed Amy Speace.  I had just discovered her music back then and I can say with all sincerity that my admiration for this woman has increased tenfold since then. Not only has she recorded some outstanding records but she has become a mom and has come face to face with past traumas and she is not afraid to tell the world about it. Amy Speace is a warrior; she’s tenacious to a fault and her words and music strike chords deep inside every person who listens.

Amy’s newest single “Cottonwood” from her upcoming April release, Tucson, is an example of her deeply personal songs. It brings to light her experiences with sexual abuse and evokes the vulnerability of being a victim. Yes, Speace writes and sings about a stark and scary situation but ultimately shows that she’s a survivor with great strength and courage. It’s a rare artist who displays such raw and honest bravery.

Speace’s last couple of albums were critically acclaimed. There Used to Be Horses Here was written during a tumultuous time in her life—giving birth to her son and losing her father. The songs that she recorded with the Orphan Brigade (Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover, and Joshua Britt) capture the wide range of emotions that vividly tell her story.  Folk Radio UK gave her album Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne high praise by calling it “a masterpiece—songs about the clash between dreams and reality, of trials and triumphs and trying to make sense of life with its swings and roundabouts.” I, for one, am most grateful that musicians like Amy Speace exist in my world. She shines her light brightly with hope and optimism as she helps us all navigate these difficult times.

You can learn even more about Amy on her website and purchase her recordings.

Interview from 2008

Amy’s Speace’s name has been on my radar for a long time now but it wasn’t until last fall when I got to see and hear and experience Amy and the Tearjerks at the NERFA conference that I became a fan. Her latest CD, Songs for Bright Street is a wonderful recording on Judy Collins’ label, Wildflower. In fact, Amy participated in a Judy Collins tribute CD called Born to the Breed which will be available later this year. Other musicians who cover Judy songs are Joan Baez, Shawn Colvin, Rufus Wainwright, Arlo Guthrie, and Leonard Cohen. Amy is in some pretty heady company with these folks!

Amy Speace and Kate Klim will be swapping songs in a streaming concert presented by Harbortown Music and on Tuesday, March 22 at 7:30 pm ET / 6:30 pm CT.

Do you feel that in the long run, the category your music fits into is a viable subject, or do you think such labels (country as opposed to folk or singer/songwriter) really mean something to fans?

I think labels suit the industry, places like radio formatting, the correct bin to put your CD into in a CD store. This need we have to categorize things to place things in boxes — which I get, I mean, aren’t we always categorizing, defining, trying to figure out where things fit so we can understand ourselves and our tastes and beliefs in relation to the comfort of category and conformity? — and I don’t mind as long as the boxes have “soft” sides and can expand and grow. I’m a singer who writes songs. What is the category “singer-songwriter”? Doesn’t make sense to me. Josh Ritter is a singer-songwriter but so are Bono and Debbie Harry. Country? Carrie Underwood and Merle Haggard are both considered country artists but man, do they just come from completely different stylistic places and what is the common denominator? An acoustic guitar and perhaps a lap or a pedal steel? The Jayhawks have that and they’re not considered country. Pop? Gwen Stefani is pop but then so is Josh Groban. Folk? So, at some point it’s just a silly conversation. When I’m asked, I say Americana, because it’s a good umbrella term for music that sits on the edge of the fence — The Jayhawks, Ryan Adams, Lucinda, Kathleen Edwards. But really, when I play solo acoustic you can call me a folk singer and when I play with my band you can call us a rock band. I sort of don’t care what you call it, as long as you like it.

Tell us what your tour with Ian Hunter was like?

Amazing in so many ways. It’s always a daunting task to open for an icon (I’ve opened for Judy Collins and felt the same trepidation), because you’re dealing with someone who’s got a very loyal, long-standing relationship with their fans who come to love their music and have come for them. And don’t expect you. And don’t know you, have never heard of you, etc. And you’ve got 30 minutes and 5 or 6 songs to win them over. And it’s just you, alone up there with your guitar. Kind of naked. So, it’s both terrifying and at the same time a total rush. The shows were all sold-out and the first 2 rows were filled with the same people every show, people that had traveled miles and miles to follow the tour, and that was fun because they started calling out requests, singing along, saying ”Hey Amy!” when I walked out on stage. And Ian invited me to sing backup on “All the Young Dudes” every night with the band, which was a thrill. Plus, just traveling the UK with Ian Hunter and his entourage was a complete education in rock history, as I was a very eager listener to all of his stories about the 60s and 70s, meeting Bowie, hanging with Jagger, etc. And he and his band and crew became friends, so in the end, they were all like family and I can’t wait to go out with them again. Ian was really supportive of me, listened to my shows and in the end, we got him to come sing 2 duets on my new album!

Does he still wear the shades like he did when he was in Mott the Hoople?

Yes. Day and night.

How did that pairing come about?

James Mastro who plays guitar in my band and produced Songs For Bright Street and the new album is Ian Hunter’s guitar player as well. A few years ago, I was playing at The Bitter End in NYC and Jim brought Ian to come hear me. And Mick, Ian’s European Booking Agent and Tour Manager had become a fan of mine and when they booked this tour, which was an Acoustic Tour, Mick thought of me. I’m sure Jim was also prodding them as well. Ian’s a great songwriter and a killer singer and on this tour he did a lot of “B” side material from his back catalogue and I was immersed in these amazing songs. Plus, he’s a restless artist, a really current writer, not laying back on his “golden days”, just playing the big hits. He’s really an honest, wildly intelligent songwriter. His newest album is just a brilliant album.

Your blog is a wonderful insight into your touring and recording and all things “working musician.” I was interested to read about your playing with the wonderful Sally Spring and Ted Lyons. Aren’t they something? Their showcase at Folk Alliance was a real highlight for me. How long have you known Sally and Ted and had you ever played together before?

Thank you for reading the blog! I really enjoy writing it.

I’m such a huge Sally Spring fan. I met Sally and Ted through James Mastro (my life seems to be “6 degrees of James Mastro”). Ted and James have been friends for years, back to the days when Jim was playing with The Bongos and recording with Chris Stamey and the dB’s and the whole early 80’s North Carolina scene. James gave me Sally’s CD and I was blown away by her songwriting. Rich Feridun, my other guitar player, had played on her record. So, we just have a bunch of friends in common and similar tastes in music. Last June, my band joined Sally and Ted for a weekend of shows in North Carolina and we had so much fun and the music just matched up. We played in Winston-Salem, NC at The Garage and Ted had called up his old friend Mitch Easter to come see the show. Mitch is a rock legend, a great player, who also produced and recorded R.E.M.’s early albums as well as a bunch of other phenomenal records I own, and I’m a big fan of Mitch’s. Mitch loved our show and invited us to come by his studio the next day and my band and I spent about 3 minutes inside before I said, “that’s it. I want to do my next record here.” So, Ted and Sally were completely instrumental in my next record and they came and sang and played and were our tour guides throughout the recording process. I’m doing a few shows with them in May in the Northeast and we will do many more together, I’m sure.

Did I hear that you recorded something with Anthony da Costa too? You do have terrific taste in talent.

Thanks! Well, it’s easy when you’ve got amazingly talented friends to just ask them to come by and sing on a track or two (or in Anthony’s case, 4 or 5). I think he’s amazing. The new album also has co-writes with some of my best friends who are also crazy talented. Tom Prasado-Rao, Cary Cooper, Jon Vezner, Jud Caswell, Erik Balkey.

If you could bring one CD with you to your desert island (equipped with electricity and a stereo, of course), what would it be?

I hate this question because you’re looking for that one album that would a) get you through eternity and not bore you after a while b) define you and your tastes in one album or c) make you look cool.

So, I’m just gonna choose Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits because I’d be on a beach and I’d want to dance. And I’m hoping that along with the delivery of the electricity comes a blender filled with Margarita mix.

And knowing that you’re a voracious reader, what book would you bring?

The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

What are your plans for the rest of 2008?

I’m finishing up this record right now as I’m writing to you and that will be released early this coming Fall. That’s been the big project of 2008. We recorded it in 7 days with Mitch and James and we’re almost finishing mixing it. Then I’ve got more shows, I’ll be doing some teaching this summer, spending some time with my family, maybe doing some hiking this summer. And I’m learning to play mandolin so I’d like to get some lessons in or at least some time off tour to just fool around with it!

Are you hitting the festival circuit this summer or going out on a tour?

I’ll be doing both. I’m teaching this summer at The Kerrville Folk Festival Song School and the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Song School. As well, I’ll be playing Woody Fest and some other festivals, doing some tours with the band, heading back to the UK for a week of dates in June/July. And the CD Release Tour will probably start in September in the US and in January 2009 in Europe.