Initially, Brunswick native Aly Spaltro – a.k.a. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – was going to record her first real album by herself, in her bedroom. The six EPs and collections she’s recorded were all bedroom recordings, raw and stripped down, the better to showcase the two most important things about her, as a musician: her incendiary vocals and guitar work, and her poetic lyrics.
In the fall of 2011, however, plans changed. She and her friends in fellow Maine band the Milkman’s Union recorded a cover of Cher’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want To Do” in the Brooklyn, NY studio of producer Nadim Issa, as part of an ongoing project with the website Brooklyn Based. Issa, like so many that see Spaltro in action, was captivated by her, and offered to record her album. “Ripely Pine,” released last week on Ba Da Bing Records, is the intense, sprawling, gorgeous result. In the past
“It was the two of us there for every second of the record. It took a whole year,” said Spaltro, now 23. “It was the day after Thanksgiving 2011 that we started, and I got the master records while I was on tour exactly a year later. It was just an amazing experience, to be there for all of it and see it come to life.”
While most of the songs on “Ripely Pine” have been heard by Lady Lamb fan as solo songs in one form or another over the past five years, you can rest assured that other than the basic structure of the songs, they sound completely different. “Aubergine,” formerly a solo slow-burner, is now decked out with jaunty horns and a finger-snapping, syncopated rhythm. Mini-epic “Crane Your Neck” starts simple with solo electric and voice, but ends with an exhortation to dance. Both “You Are the Apple” and “Rooftop” have a moody kind of alternative-indie feel, as if Jeff Buckley, R.E.M. and Belle and Sebastian collaborated on some impossible supergroup album. “Bird Balloons,” is a bona fide rocker – but “Regarding Ascending the Stairs” is a banjo ballad.
“Your relationship to your music changes as you get older, so what used to feel very real when I performed them now involves accessing that memory and finding a new way to connect to it,” said Spaltro. “And then in arranging them for the album, they do change drastically, and it really has allowed me to hear from differently. These songs are not tired to me. In working on them during the recording process I felt like they were new to me. They are reborn.”
Spaltro felt a little anxiety, initially, in reworking and recording her songs – would her fans like them, since they’d only ever seen them performed solo? Part of the reason she decided to work with producer Issa was that she felt that she’d have the freedom to do it right.
“I knew in my heart there were right ways and wrong ways to go about doing this, and the right was to take my time and really nurture the songs,” she said. “If that wasn’t in place, it wasn’t going to work. I didn’t want to muck up the songs with too much orchestration. It had to be honest. I got very lucky with Nadim. He cares as much about the music as I do.”
With “Ripely Pine” now released into the wild, and an eastern U.S. tour set for the spring, Spaltro is finding herself in the unique, slightly surreal position of being poised on the brink of indie rock stardom; glowing early reviews from Pitchfork Media, Spin, eMusic and CMJ are already generating buzz for the album. A selection of songs from the album was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” just this week.
“I’ve been waiting for this to come out for months, and I went into it with zero expectations,” she said. “Mostly, I’m just so proud of it. Everything else is just extra and incredible. And it’s also such a blessing to be able to represent Maine music, and hopefully turn more people onto Maine bands and artists that I love, like the Milkman’s Union and Wesley Hartley and Jacob Augustine and Sontiago and Dilly Dilly. I hope I am able to do that, to support the scene that I love so much.”
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper will play a Maine record release concert with a full band at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 2 at the Space Gallery in Portland, with guests Xenia Rubinos and Cuddle Magic; tickets are $10, $12 day of show. Lady Lamb’s spring 2013 tour, in which she will play solo electric, will kick off on Thursday, May 9 at Brighton Music Hall in Boston, and finish up at Black Cat Backstage in Washington, DC on Monday, May 20.
Watch the strange, beautiful video for “The Nothing, Part II,” directed by Portland filmmaker David Meiklejohn.