Meet The Young, Old Soul with a Powerful Voice
Cold Specks’ weighty debut album I Predict a Graceful Expulsion isn’t for the faint-of-heart. Inspired by the American south, soul, gospel, folk and even chain gang music, Canadian singer/songwriter Al Spx lays everything on with an extra inch of emotional thickness that moves you from the inside out. Despite the snail-paced acoustic folk-hymnal tempos and dark keys, “sad” doesn’t cut it. Spiritual (in the vibe, at least), inspirational, introspective and chilling is more like it, aided by Spx’s unbelievable voice. The album isn’t an upper, but it’s undoubtedly one of the must-hears of 2012 so far — just proceed with caution.
I spoke to the new, quite shy artist about her recent US tour, working with producer Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi), an emotional encounter with a fan, and the mistake that led everyone to call her music ‘doom soul.’
Where are you?
I’m on a train on my way to Boston.
How far along are you in the tour?
We’ve played four weeks now. We’re into our fourth week.
How you feeling?
Exhausted. And relieved that it’s almost over.
Were there any places that surprised you?
Asheville, North Carolina. I didn’t expect it to be such a hippie town! And New Orleans was great, this man gave me a tour of all of the French Quarter, and made me put my hands in the Mississippi. We also went to Preservation Hall. So there are great cities but there’s also a shit-ton of shit.
What’s it like to work with Rob Ellis on this album?
Well he’s one of the best drummers I know. His son came to the studio and recorded guitar, his 15 year old son recorded on a song called “Heavy Hands.” He played distorted electric guitar on “Steady.” It was just a wonderful wonderful experience.
Why the migration from Canada to London?
I left initially in April of 2010, came west again, came back to Toronto in October, was in Toronto for 6 or 7 months. Then I went back to London. It’s been on and off for two years.
What inspired the move?
Jim, my manager was a producer and he had access to a studio. And I had some songs that I wanted to record, so he asked if I’d like to come to the studio and work with him.
Watch Cold Specks’ video for “Holland”
You’ve been shy in the past about releasing your music to the public…do you feel a little better now or do you still get butterflies about bearing your soul?
I came to the realization very quickly that you have to remove yourself from the songs, so I don’t mind putting them out there anymore, because they don’t belong t me anymore because. I have no attachment to songs anymore. I’ve desensitized myself. I don’t want to Play every night to have people criticize, I’d rather not have that, so I have no attachment.
But the reception has been outstanding.
I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just that conscious decision to separate yourself as much as possible, because the songs are very…it comes from a very real place, and being on tour for four weeks, singing your songs day in and day out, you have to force yourself to separate yourself.
I don’t mean it as an insult, but you seems like a pretty shy person in general too. But it takes so much gumption to get on stage. Is there something that takes over? Is there a detachment there too?
I’m not sure why. I used to be stupidly shy on stage. With anything, it just took time.
Your songs are in part influenced by chain gang music. Having toured the South would you say you felt a bigger connection to the history here?
Yeah . now that I went to new Orleans, and I left just talking about it a lot to everyone. I’m sure i came across as some kind of hyperbolic asshole! But I really enjoyed it. I’d met some nice people who gave me a tour of New Orleans. We went to Preservation Hall. I’d told my new friends that I had never seen the Mississippi river. And so, we ran. When we got there, Jay told me I had to put my hands in it. I didn’t question it. I guess that’s what I mean by ‘hyperbolic asshole’. It is a city filled with history and I wanted every moment.
And how did the south find its way into your music?
When I got into writing songs, I was listening to soul and gospel music, and it entered my songwriting.
I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, what does it mean?
It’s just a lyric in a song on the album called “Elephant Head.” It stuck out to me, so I named the album that. I liked the pairing of the words ‘graceful’ and ‘expulsion,’ they’re two very contrasting themes. i liked the idea of having two contrasting themes.
You’re opening for Ana Calvi? Have you met her?
Yea, she came to my show once. But, if I’m shy, she’s even shyer. I didn’t have enough time to break her.
What’s inspiring your music nowadays?
Recently I’ve been reading selected letters from authors, and I’m also collecting photographs. I’ve become obsessed with other people. I’d like to start writing songs about other peoples lives.
What kind of selected letters?
Virginia Woolf recently, and a collection of essays, and James Joyce’s erotic letters. They’re great. I’m not sure. I’ve just been oddly consumed by the lives of other people.
Did you come from a musical family at all? Wanted you to be a lawyer but … did you get it from blood?
My dad. He’s a singer, and he played guitar and uh, he hadn’t done it for years. He stopped when I was a kid though. I continued.
Did you have voice lessons?
No, I was in a choir when I was in school, when I was a kid. But that was mandatory and i could sing back then anyway.
Do you have any folk 60s influences? There’s a bit of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen in there.
From the 60s, I’d say my influences are closer to the likes of James Carr, a soul singer, Neil young, and Leonard Cohen I guess, yeah.
Has anyone ever told you a particularly touching story about how your music moved them?
Yeah I met a caretaker in a church in Calgary, and he was crying during my show. He took me outside and phoned his wife who’s a recovering alcoholic, and he read a poem that he’s written for her. We both cried. It was very touching.
Did you think you’d have that affect on people?
Naa. I always apologize when I see it happening. I always say ‘I didn’t mean it I’m sorry!’
Do you find that your audience is pretty varied?
Yeah, I noticed that teenagers come to the show, grandparents come as well. It’s all very different and I never know what to expect. You’ve got the cool kids, the teenagers, the grandparents, and the suburban housewives.
So, everyone is saying you’re play ‘doom soul.’ How do you feel about that?
That was a stupid joke that I completely regret. It’s my own fault. I did this to myself. I updated a Facebook page and it seems to have stuck. I guess it makes sense to people and I guess it does, there are soulful elements of the songs, there are also dark elements of the songs. I understand why it makes sense to people, but I can understand why it’s completely ridiculous.