Landing like a bird: A chat with Amy Speace

Amy Speace

After moving to Nashville from New Jersey last year, Amy Speace wrote and recorded her new record, Land Like A Bird, using the stories and lessons learned in love and life. We caught up with her last month to discuss the songs, production and hopes for this year.

Q: The new record, Land Like A Bird, seems to be have a mellower sound in comparison to your last album, The Killer In Me. Where did the songs from from?

A: I wrote most of Land Like a Bird in Nashville. And actually, I had written The Killer in Me – some of those songs I wrote when I was at the cabins, and a lot of the songs I’d written over a couple years, really. And it was kind of like I was sort of working through the stuff that was going on in my personal life, and then when I decided to put the – and then I had taken myself off to the woods to kind of really look at all the material that I had and see what was – see what I really – like, what hit me strongly.

So I think I put the record together in my head before I recorded it, but in terms of the writing of that record, it was a couple-year process, whereas Land Like a Bird I wrote just this summer. The first song I had written off that record was “Manila Street,” and I wrote that in October or November, last year. And then I had a couple other songs that I had worked on over the course of the winter, and then when Neilson Hubbard and I decided to do the record together we did the majority of the writing. We wrote the songs in a real short period of time.

Q: And the sound?

A; I stopped working with the Tearjerks and I did that on purpose. And I love those guys and have a great relationship with them, but I really wanted to go in a different direction. I wanted to go more lyrical and I really wanted the music to be heard kind of above the band.

Whereas for the two albums I did with the Tearjerks, it was really kind of a collaborative effort to not only showcase the songs and what I was doing, but also the band and kind of the vibe that we created together as a unit, whereas this record is really just a songwriter record.

[With this record] I was able to really dig in deep with kind of the emotion of the songs and the poetry of the lyrics, and then Neilson is the perfect producer for that kind of material. And together we kind of got the vision of this record, and maybe having less people in the mix made it more intimate.

Q: How did the musical relationship between you and your producer, Neilson Hubbard begin?

A: I have a really funny story about Neilson. I was booked to play a television show in Arkansas right after I released Fable. And I was flown out to Arkansas for one day, to shoot this television show with other songwriters. And of the people on that gig – it was three other writers – I only remember Neilson.

He was booked there as a songwriter, ’cause he’s also a great singer-songwriter, and we barely spoke words to each other, but I remember loving his music, and there was something about him; I just felt really connected to him. I didn’t keep in touch with him, but I would see his name pop up from time to time as a producer on records that I loved. I got Garrison Starr’s record, and I loved it and saw that Neilson produced it, or I would get Matthew Ryan’s record and love that and find out that he’d been working with Neilson, or Kim Richey – and I’d see Neilson’s name.

It just kept popping up, and there would be people who would say to me, “You know, if you ever wanted to change the direction of what you’re doing or change sounds, Neilson Hubbard would be a really great producer for you.” And it was always, like, in the back of my head.

When I moved to Nashville, my manager, David – one of the people that works at his office is Neilson’s longtime girlfriend. And I happened to be going out to hear some music with David, and he said, “Oh, Nancy and Neilson are gonna join us,” and I said, “Neilson, like Neilson Hubbard?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “I know Neilson Hubbard.” And Neilson walked into the room, and we both, like, looked at each other, and we were like, “Man, we’ve been looking for each other for years.”

David, my manager and I were throwing around names of possible producers for this new record, because I’d written about three or four of the songs, and Neilson’s name came up. So I talked to Neilson, and he said, “Well, why don’t I come over one morning and we’ll see if we can write a song together?” That day we wrote three songs.

And by that weekend, we were in the studio recording all of those songs, and even though David, my manager, was still thinking that we were gonna be looking around – Neilson and I knew that we were already making the record. So we were just laughing “We’re making the record, whether he likes it or not. He’ll figure it out.” And then when we finally presented the label with the material, they were like, “Oh, yeah, of course.”

And we were like, “Yeah, we knew” – ’cause we just had – I don’t know; Neilson and I have a real – like, a real musical connection. So it was really funny. Like, I – in my liner notes, I thanked him ___ my lost and found bin. I feel like it was just sort of kismet that we’d meet back up again.

Q: On this record, there’s a few geographical locations like “Manila Street” and “Galbraith Street,” how are the places important to the story?

A: If the record were a novel, it would be the story of somebody who leaves one place and lands someplace else. And it starts with “Drive All Night,” which is getting out; getting outta town, kind of – but it’s a kind of a seduction song, and I think it’s that something is drawing you elsewhere. And then at the end piece of the record is “Real Love Song,” which to me is just like – and I wrote that with Neilson, and that’s like – that’s what this is: the whole record is a journey, and the journey is filled with, like, joy but also pain, and that’s kinda what life is, so that that’s what a real – that’s what real love is, like when you get your hands dirty, but you continue to work through it.

And so Manila Street was a street that was near where I lived in Jersey City, and I always joke that that’s my goodbye song to Jersey, but it’s also dealing with an uncertainty in a love situation, but that’s where I lived in New Jersey, so that’s part of Jersey. And “Galbraith Street” is a Ron Sexsmith song, and it really – I just loved that song, and I love the idea of going back to your childhood home and the images that that brings up.

And in another song of mine, I talk about Baltimore, which is a song about my grandmother, and where I was born. So I think it’s just like all of these place markers of where you – places that you leave or places that you go back to.

Q: You were also talking about “Real Love Song,” and that’s such an honest song. But I’m curious, do you have any favorite love songs that aren’t yours?

A: My favorite love song of all is “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” It’s totally sad, but I love that song.

Q: There’s a list of your ten best things from last year on your blog, but what are some of your hopes for this year? It’s still kind of New Year’s-ish.

A: You know what? I hate resolutions, because I hate having concrete things that you’re shooting for, because I think it always sets you up for failure. Like, if you say, “I wanna lose 20 pounds,” and if you didn’t lose the 20 pounds, then you’d feel like you failed.

So, what do I want from this year? I don’t know. I love having this life where I’m able to make a living doing the thing that I love and that I feel like I’m surrounded by really good friends and also business associates. The people who work with me – I trust them and I love them, and I feel like we’re all kind of part of a team. And I just want more of that.

And I want people to hear the record. I mean, I love The Killer In Me, but there were a lot of problems with the release of that record which were frustrating for me, and I really feel confident with Thirty Tigers, the people that are putting out this record – I feel confident that it’s gonna get out there. And that’s all I want – is a chance to be heard.

Q: Is there anything that people should kind of go into listening to the record with, or things that you would want people to notice in particular?

A: Whenever anybody’s heard the record, they seem to have the same response that I have to it. It’s a really emotional record, but not a dark record. I think The Killer in Me was a little bit challenging because it was dark; it was about a breakup. So there’s a lot of pain in that record. Land Like a Bird is even more emotional, but lighter.

I wrote a love letter. I want someone to be able to feel all the things that they feel about all of the different aspects of life and love and hopes and dreams and possibilities and all that stuff. I try to just come at stuff with my eyes wide open, but also with a hopeful heart. So I know that sounds sort of cheesy, but it’s kinda how I had to go into this record, I don’t wanna be bitter and angry and jaded; I just wanna be truthful.

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