Years in the making, Spencer Albee’s solo debut a smart, melodic pop treat

Get Spencer Albee started on a particular topic he’s passionate about — songwriting, the Maine music scene, “Star Trek,” Dr. Who — and he’ll talk, eloquently, until the topic moves elsewhere.

Albee, the keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter formerly of bands including Rustic Overtones, As Fast As and Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia, has a lot of opinions, a lot of talents and a lot of things to say. He says many of those things with his trademark pop sensibility on his first solo album, “Spencer.” Its official release is set for Saturday, July 20, with a dual record release party with Portland three-piece rock band Brenda set for Port City Music Hall.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Albee, now 37. “It just felt like this was the right time to put out a solo album. This was something where I was saying what I wanted to say, writing what I wanted to write, play what I wanted to play. It was liberating.”

It’s his first album in more than three years, though “Spencer” comes from a guy who, for the 15 years prior, consistently put out an album each year. After his last band, Space Versus Speed, fell apart in 2010, the normally prolific Albee fell into a creative lull. His urge to write the smart, melodically complex indie pop he’d become so well known for had all but disappeared.

“I guess I got burnt out,” he said. “I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be a musician anymore. I just sat quietly in Portland, and thought about what I wanted to do. I thought about wandering around the desert, doing peyote. I didn’t do that, but I thought about it.”

For almost two years, Albee didn’t play any shows or write any songs. Brenda band member and fellow musician Josh Loring gave Albee some good advice during that dry period.

“He said, ‘You just have to keep writing crap until something good comes along.’ Jon Wyman, the great Portland producer, told me, ‘You have to get the bad ideas out to make room for good ideas,’” said Albee. “It was so frustrating … but then I woke up one day with a song in my head, and I sat down and wrote ‘California’s Calling.’”

“California’s Calling” is one of 10 songs that are part of “Spencer,” as concise and as entertaining an album as Albee’s ever released. The cover art, featuring a squinting, scraggly Albee bundled up in a winter coat, immediately proclaims that this is an album written and conceived entirely by the songwriter himself. His perennial influences — Paul McCartney, Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson, David Bowie — remain as firmly entrenched as ever, as do his catchy, piano-driven choruses. It’s overlaid with a confident indie rock edge and lyrical punch reminiscent of everyone from Guided By Voices to Spoon to Wilco.

He recorded it with producer Steve Drown, and with a band that includes longtime musician friends, including Sean Morin and Chuck Gagne and a host of guests, including members of the Fogcutters Big Band, Dan Capaldi, Dominic Lavoie, Kenya Hall, Ian Riley, Amanda Gervasi and Kyle Gervais. Albee launched a successful online crowdfunding campaign last year on Pledge Music to fund the recording and release, and last month released the album on CD at Bull Moose Music locations, and online on iTunes and on
Spotify.

“Though the heart of the record is a band, it was a really different process for me, because I felt like I could do whatever I wanted,” said Albee. “They all told me, ‘You write what you want to write, and we’ll help you make it happen.’ It was a really great experience.”

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a UMaine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.