A Speace odyssey
Folk songwriter Amy Speace delves into life and love's deepest emotions with songs that start with fairy tales and sometimes end with cold reality.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful young singer-songwriter named Amy. One day, Prince Charming rode up on a white horse to rescue Amy and promised to make her a princess in his castle. "I'll call you," said the prince in the morning, but, as with so many of the real world's Prince Charmings, he was not a one-damsel guy and he never called.
That was a mistake in Amy's case, because rather than a poor orphan girl sweeping up cinders from the hearth, Amy is Amy Speace, a real musician with a gift for nailing emotions like heartache and fury. Okay, maybe there was never really a prince on a horse, and that's really the point of her song "The Morning After the Ball," a kind of metaphorical masterpiece that uses the Cinderella story as a way of ripping the heart out of girlish fantasies of fairy-tale romance.
|Amy Speace (vocals, guitar)|
John Abbey (guitar, bass, keyboard, vocals)
John Ginty (organ)
James Mastro (guitar, mandolin)
Matt Lindsay (guitar)
Jenny Bruce (vocals)
Karen Jacobsen (vocals).
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| AUDIO |
Don't be too attached to things
like glass and strings
That's all love is.
Place no weight on what he says when you're in bed.
Just keep your heart from tying itself into knots.
Nothing lasts past 12 o'clock.
The song (hear it on RealAudio or MP3), which is a favorite among some of her fans and unsettles others, is also "the one I was afraid to put on the album," she says.
"I know what that song is about, and when I play it, it's like I'm naked on stage, she explains. "[But] because it's disguised with the Cinderella theme, people have their own reactions to it."
The intense, mostly spoken lyrics came to Speace as just a writing fragment inspired by the language in Shakespeare and "The Duchess of Malfi." She remembers reciting the lines for her husband.
"I said to him, 'I think this is just a snippet,' " she remembers. "And he said, 'Oh, I hate that song. I really don't like it.' "
Then she played it for her drummer, who liked it. "He turned on a tape recorder and said, 'Play it again,' " she says. "So I played it, and he said, 'Stop that song is done.' "
Another (gentler) song that takes a roundabout approach toward personal subjects like childhood innocence and romantic foolishness is "Cows" (hear it on MP3), which begins with the intriguing line "If cows could talk . . ." Again, it starts out sounding almost like a children's storybook, before getting into issues of ideals and reality, trust and mistrust, contentment and restlessness.
If cows could talk,|
"Well, you know,
You've built yourself a large white palace
And then you go around the block for more."
. . . And there you go again destroying
All the pieces of my mind that I'd restored
By letting go of me.
And there I go again erasing
All decisions I made yesterday without you.
I'm left still wanting you.
Speace sees "Cows" as a typical kind of song for her, in which she approaches a serious subject by seeming to talk about something else. It's an approach that lends a poetic ambience to some of her songs, but it's also a personal choice that makes it easier to tiptoe up to serious emotions without the songwriter or the listener getting scared away.
"In 'Cows,' I was trying to write about a relationship but I was having a hard time writing directly about the relationship," she explains. "Somebody said I write kind of like a pointilist painting I write around the subject."
After growing up in Baltimore, Minneapolis and Pennsylvania and then graduating from Amherst College, Speace landed in New York to pursue theater, never thinking about a musical career until recent years.
"I think my parents would have freaked out if I had said, 'I'm going to Juilliard,' " she says. And yet, fate gradually pulled her toward music, starting in the year after college when her boyfriend from school was in an indie rock band.
"I was working in a bakery, and all I really wanted to do was be with him, so I learned to play guitar from watching him," she says.
"We had a really, really terrible breakup," which was the beginning of her plunge into songwriting, she says. "I just started writing music and all the songs really sucked. They were all like Tori Amos wannabes."
Now, after eight years in theater and several years as half of the folk duo Edith O., Speace's burgeoning musical career keeps her busy 150 nights a week, with regular appearances in New York and tour dates nationwide.
"I quit my day job a year ago and I decided I want to make a living at music," she says. She plays about two shows a month in the city one with her band and one solo (including release party for her new CD "Fable" on Wed., Feb. 20, at the Cutting Room). But the out-of-town gigs, where crowds are less aloof and come up to the stage to talk and stock up on her CDs, are in some ways more important for gaining an audience.
"My music I see who it's reaching," Speace says. "It's reaching 15-year-old girls and 50-year-old men and grandparents."
|FEBRUARY 14, 2002|
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