How best to tag the restless, reactive folk-pop of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper? So many ways, dude: rambunctious, precocious, invigorating, probing, sweet, exasperating, quirky, self-indulgent, lunging, crackers, too sane, even. The outfit led by Brooklyn’s Aly Spaltro, 23 — named after something she scribbled on a page while stuck in a dream — ultimately embodies all of these qualities and more, though it should be noted that she’s getting better at focusing her musical attacks. New album Ripely Pine (Ba Da Bing!) is heads and tails above the run of releases the former Air Force brat has committed to digital tape since 2007, even if the experience of submitting to its songs is comparable to getting lost in a virulent Tumblr maelstrom. There’s an endearing theatricality at work in her songwriting, with mad breathlessness giving way to oases of calm and the sense that the dusky blues of “Taxidermist Taxidermist” or spritely “You Are The Apple” — where limber-digit guitar squares off against Spaltro’s uncanny, unintentional Morrissey impression — are less quick-hit bursts of sonic product than intense journeys that listeners are intended to join Lady Lamb on. The swoop and sweep of her sprawling craft somehow finds room for echoes of Half-Handed Cloud’s devotion, PJ Harvey’s vengeance, and Regina Spektor’s evocative brittleness.
What was the name of the first song you ever wrote, when did you write it, and what was it about?
The first song I ever wrote and recorded was a kind of Lady Lamb theme song called “Lamb in the Swarm.” It’s essentially about bees. I wrote it and recorded it when I was 18 years old in an eight-hour span overnight in my friends’ mom’s basement dance studio with guitar and a keyboard with built-in percussion. I was so delirious and excited when it was finished that I shook my friend awake at 5 am to make him listen. Needless to say, he thought I was completely off my rocker.
The song begins with a high-pitched, bent vocal that goes “one by one and two by two/here they come, they’re coming for you/three by three and four by four/there’s no time to shut the door/bees in my brain, bees in my knees/bees in my belly/and bees in my teeth/bees in my hair, bees from those hives/oh my god, they’re everywhere.”
Very few people have heard it, but it’s stashed away somewhere in my iTunes.
To me, those lyrics recall an Alanis Morrisette song called “The Bees of My Knees.” Did you ever hear that one?
I’ve never heard that one! The only Alanis I’m familiar with is Jagged Little Pill.
What does the title Ripely Pine mean?
Well, “Ripely” is a made-up adverb. The phrase “Ripely Pine” is taken from a lyric in the 11th track on the record, “The Nothing Part II.” The lyric is: “That you may ripely pine in the mammoth nothing of the night.” To me, it means to long for something – with a pulpy heart. The songs on Ripely Pine are just that: songs of pulpy pining.
Are you a big Smiths fan? I notice Morrissey-esque cadences cropping up frequently in your vocal performances.
You might be the fifth person in the past year to bring up Morrissey to me in relation to my music. What’s so interesting is that I’ve never been a Smiths fan.
For those Smiths fans out there, I apologize, but I couldn’t even name one Smiths song title. It seems like I must look more into them, and see if there’s a nod I’m making that I just don’t know about yet!
Could I trouble you to Google and sample two songs featuring him on lead vocal, and let me know what you think? First: Morrissey, “The More You Ignore Me.” Second: The Smiths, “This Charming Man.”
I think Morrissey certainly has a beautiful voice and both songs are catchy, but I just have trouble connecting with The Smiths. I can’t say that the musical style of 1980s British bands – and a lot of 1990s stuff, too – is really my jam. But I do think Morrissey is a great lyricist.
“Crane Your Neck” is a lively, active song at points, and in some ways it feels like you’re exhorting your audience to dance, to get physical like a personal trainer might. In a live setting, is this one of your goals? If so, does it usually work?
It is one of my biggest dreams in my career to be able to perform music that people can dance to. I actually consciously feel guilty sometimes when I perform “Crane Your Neck” because of all the mild-to-dramatic tempo changes. I honestly sometimes feel bad, throwing people off like that. I want to make dance records; “Aubergine “and “Rooftop” were my attempts at opening that door on Ripely Pine.
Of the songs on the new album, “Bird Balloons” is the one that resonated strongest with me. What inspired you to write it?
“Bird Balloons” is the one that resonates the strongest with me, too. When I released it in January, I had a long spiel that went with the link about how important of a song “Bird Balloons” was in my development as a new artist when it was written in 2008. It was inspired by personal relationships in my life at the time – namely that my ex and my best friend became best friends.
So the song is lyrically dealing with the phases one might go through when one deals with heartbreak and confusion: indifference, regret, sadness, denial, nostalgia, longing, anger, and even vengeance. It really encapsulates what it was like going through it at the time, and I think the music follows its emotional peaks and valleys as well. It was also written at a time when I was able to begin learning how to use my voice and guitar paired with no volume or time constraints; I wrote it in the basement of the DVD rental store I worked at after hours. I could be as loud as I pleased, so I was just that: very, very loud.
Did your boss care that you were recording there?
My boss at the video store was beyond supportive. There were only seven of us that worked there, so we were a kind of little family. Bart – of Bart & Greg’s DVD Explosion –
encouraged me like a parent. He was actually the first person I gave a set of recordings to and he gave such constructive criticisms, telling me they were a little heavy-handed but impressive and to work on simplifying them and bringing out melodies. I loved the movies he recommended, so his opinion really mattered to me all around artistically. It started out as me just really trying to make something he would approve of, and then if he did, in my mind I’d know it was good.
Reading past interviews, it seems as though you’ve lived in quite a few places over the years. What effect would you say that that’s had on you in terms of musical artistry, lyrical storytelling, and your own personal growth?
My dad was in the Air Force, so I did do a fair amount of moving, which taught me how to adapt well to my surroundings. It is interesting to look back on how I coped with moving. A few things in particular came into play: I was able to reset well and make my new surroundings my own, and I also found a way to feel comfortable with new places by having my sentimental knickknacks and posters at the ready to make sure I felt like an individual in my new space.
These experiences have made it easy for me to tour, to focus on the city I’m in, get the most out of my experience in each new place, and adapt and stay grounded at the same time. I am really grateful for my upbringing in that way, but of course, naturally I yearn to feel what it must have been like for other kids who grew up in the same town or house and went to the same school with the same friends all throughout childhood. I am fascinated by that kind of upbringing to this day, and I love learning people’s family histories or childhood experiences that were so different than my own. I think it adds to a sense of longing in my music, to be accepted and to belong.
Sensuality, religious, and the supernatural all have a place in your songwriting – often, they overlap. If there were a Lady Lamb the Beekeeper Required Reading List, what would be on it?
Uh-oh! The Shining, by Stephen King; Mysterious Skin, by Scott Heim; Kafka On The Shore, by Haruki Murakami; How We Are Hungry, by Dave Eggers; The Moment, by Larry Smith; and The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Your previous records were self-releases. How did you connect with Ba Da Bing Records, and what has the pre-release cycle been like?
I met the man behind Ba Da Bing, Ben Goldberg, through playing with artists he managed when I first moved to New York a couple years ago. I had the good fortune of going on tour with Beirut two springs ago and Ben went on the tour, too. We got to know each other on the road, and I discovered pretty quickly that we had similar ideas and mindsets about music and the industry, as well as similar senses of passion and priority about it.
We kept in touch, but never discussed working together. I knew before even recording as well as during the entire year process that I wanted to give it to Ba Da Bing first. I really didn’t have concrete plans past that; I was banking on Ba Da Bing wanting it, and I’m very lucky they did.
On Super Bowl Sunday, you Tweeted “Good thing the power outage wasn’t during Beyoncé – I would have punched the tv and eaten it,” which may be the best Beyoncé Tweet I’ve ever read. There was a weird, kind of combative anti-Beyoncé sentiment happening in the run-up to the halftime show – this reductive, small-minded attitude that called her sincerity and “realness” into question without placing the significance of her pop-culture success into a larger, progressive context.
Ohhh, don’t even get me started on Beyoncé. The fact that anyone could question her sincerity is completely preposterous to me. As a performer and lover of music, I – like many people – are able to pretty easily tell when it’s real, and when it’s not. I really believe that Beyoncé is the real-deal and tremendously humble and graceful. That’s what I get from her. What can I say? She’s an inspiration.
What did you think of the performance overall?
I thought the Super Bowl performance was flawless. I remember thinking to myself, “her full band, the floor lights, and the Destiny’s Child members are really bringing it home right now, but I don’t think I would mind or even *notice* if Beyoncé was up there literally all alone doing her thing.”
Can you remember how and when you first became aware of her?
My introduction to Beyoncé was in 1999 with The Writing’s On The Wall. I remember being obsessed with the first track, “So Good,” and trying to sing it with all the vocal runs like Beyoncé.
I also used to call my friends with the album playing in the background trying to convince them, with an elaborate story, that Destiny’s Child were putting on a live show at my house.
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper plays the Knitting Factory on Saturday, February 23.