Don’t be fooled by the stage name Lady Lamb: Singer-songwriter Aly Spaltro is anything but meek. Her gutsy, guitar-driven style evokes the emotional rawness of Feist paired with vocal prowess on par with Lucius.
Spaltro started making music at age 18, recording after-hours in the basement of the video store in Maine where she worked. After being approached by Ba Da Bing! Records, she recorded and released Ripely Pine to critical acclaim in 2013. She later moved to Mom & Pop Records for her latest full-length, After, released in March. The indie-rock sophomore effort fully exploits youthful angst but balances it out with a few delicate, intimate tracks.
Now 26 and based in Brooklyn, Spaltro spoke to City Pages in anticipation of opening for The Tallest Man on Earth at First Avenue on Saturday.
City Pages: You’re a film enthusiast who used to work at a video store. How did that interest influence your music?
Lady Lamb: I worked there for four years. I was really into film so I would spend all day renting and recommending movies and we always had one on in the background. The cinematography was inspiring me to write music that was visual and descriptive and imaginative. I think there was a subconscious thing happening with watching so many movies.
CP: Was there a particular genre that you were drawn to?
LL: I was into anything and everything. I watched a lot of foreign films, indie films, and documentaries.
CP: What inspired you to start making music when you did?
LL: I got into school in Chicago and I deferred for a year. My plan was that I was going to live in Guatemala for a year. That fell through financially at the last minute so I was faced with being in Maine for the year while all my friends went off to school. That upset me. Being a pretty productive kid, I didn’t want to sit around and not be focused on something.
I had all this poetry and an unspoken feeling that if I taught myself to play an instrument, and put my words to music, that it would be cathartic. It opened up everything for me and made me really happy. That’s when I decided to commit to it full-time and not go off to school.
CP: An adjective the press often associates with your music is “loud.” Do you think that would even come up if you were a male musician?
LL: I feel like, unfortunately, there sometimes needs to be subtext when people talk to women who make music, an extra attempt to describe yourself to people as “not twee,” which is what you get pigeonholed as quite a lot. I guess “loud” is another way of saying I play electric guitar and use distortion. It’s one little word that’s trying to say I don’t play folk music, which is what people assume I do.
CP: You fit a lot of lyrics into your songs. Do those take priority when making music?
LL: Lyrics have always been important to me and they come first. I compile a lot of lyrics on tour and the music comes later on when I’ve pieced things together lyrically. As a listener of music, I’ve always looked at lyrics. Music, to me, is a vehicle for that.CP: Family seems to be a recurring theme in your songs, especially on “After." What kind of family did you come from and how did they inform your songwriting?
LL: I feel like with this album, I wanted to talk more about personal things, so my family obviously crops up quite a bit. Growing up, my mom was a teacher and my dad was in the Air Force. He’s from a big Italian family and my mom’s from a small family where she was adopted. I have a brother and sister.
My dad’s a musician, so he played a lot of guitar and bass and drums in our household growing up. I feel like that had quite an influence on me even though I didn’t come to it until I was an adult. Both my parents love listening to music and they like a lot of genres. There was constant music playing in our house, so subconsciously I think it drew me to do what I do now.
CP: You used to be known as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. When and why did you decide to drop “the Beekeeper” part of your stage name?
LL: This year. It was silly timing because I put out this album under “the Beekeeper” and decided to commit [to the change] two months into the campaign so all the early press and even the spine of the first pressing of the album say “the Beekeeper.” That was something I wanted to do for a lot of years but I felt like I couldn’t get away with it. The moniker was too ingrained. I was beginning to resent the name, so I chopped it in half and committed to it.
CP: Some musicians’ stage names become personas. Do you feel that way with Lady Lamb or are you two the same?
LL: I feel like I’m exactly the same person, but I see how it’s an extension of my personality. I’m very introverted and reserved, quiet and introspective, someone who is shy and does not want attention. It’s interesting that as Lady Lamb, I love to play music for people and share that. That’s the side of me that’s extroverted and outgoing and confident and open. It’s a facet of me that I don’t delve into too much unless I’m onstage performing.
CP: In “Billions of Eyes” you sing, “Some days I can only see into my suitcase / It's got everything I need / Plus some superstitious things I may also need.” What might those superstitious things be?
LL: Little, silly things like a T-shirt, a hat, cut-outs that I’ve tapped to the inside of my suitcase. If someone gives me a trinket on tour, that becomes a thing that I carry with me for the rest of tour. I’m sure people who leave home a lot do this — keep little things that comfort.
With: Tallest Man on Earth.
When: 8 p.m. Sat., Aug. 29.
Where: First Avenue.
Tickets: $30; 18+. More info here.