In the ultra-crammed landscape of young musicians, a great origin story can carry enough muscle to leave an impression through all the noise. Take the account of how Aly Spaltro became serious about music.
When she wasn’t working 3-11 p.m. shifts at Bart & Greg’s DVD Explosion! in Brunswick, Maine, Spaltro usually stayed in the store. Soon after locking up, she would bust out a guitar and go to work. From around 11:30 p.m.-3 a.m. — and sometimes until 7 a.m. — Spaltro would dedicate her hours to writing and refining songs. That practice laid the cornerstone of everything she has built today.
Spaltro, to her credit, insists that the yarn isn’t just the germ of a good story that got blown up by the media as she has moved upward.
“It’s actually 100 percent true. If it was ever blown up, it was probably by me because it was a very important part of my beginning,” says the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based 24-year-old, who is today otherwise known as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper; a solo Indie Rock/Folk Rock project and occasional band. “I worked there full-time for four years. Not only did I work there full-time five or six days a week, but I also made music there, so I was there 16 hours a day. The entire time I would have been in college, that’s what I was doing, so to me, I would not have gotten to where I was the same way without that experience.”
As Lady Lamb, Spaltro is currently earning attention for raw, poignant tunes that glow with gusto — both as wandering, relatively skeletal acoustic-rooted numbers and feisty, forceful electric-propelled tunes. In either instance, she decorates her songs with imagistic, compellingly detailed and often innocuous lyrics about troubled relationships and scattered trepidations. Spaltro’s ultimate product isn’t a particularly distinct one — Matt Costa and Jenny Owen Youngs are just a pair of other musicians mining somewhat similar ground — but the sense of ambition germinating in Lady Lamb’s sound indicates that something special and particularly rich likely lies ahead.
Though Spaltro experienced her creative renaissance at Bart & Greg’s, she could have gotten started far earlier if the pieces of her life shifted around a bit. Spaltro is the daughter of an airman who spent years on the move; she was born in Portsmouth, N.H., but also grew up in South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Germany and Maine. Her father also happened to be a guitarist.
“If a parent pushes a kid too hard sometimes in one direction, a kid will just not do that to spite them or something, and that was definitely what I did. I was super stubborn,” she says. “When I was 6, he bought me a little kid-sized electric guitar. I was super excited about it and would walk around the house with it on and just bang on it, and I felt really cool wearing it, but I didn’t want him to teach me anything.”
The guitar popped back up in her life as she began to pursue it on her own at age 18, but along the way, several touchstones set the stage for the sound Spaltro makes in Lady Lamb. At 5, her favorites were Roy Orbison, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Otis Redding and The Beatles. Most importantly, she discovered a Neutral Milk Hotel album at 14. Along the way, the Postal Service, Muse, Bright Eyes, Of Montreal, Joanna Newsom and The Fiery Furnaces also served as notable sources of inspiration.
Post-high school Spaltro became attracted to the notion of making music, she picked up her instrument of choice and taught herself to play through reading guitar tabs online. Lady Lamb came along soon thereafter as she amassed recordings she wanted to share via her small town’s record store — one located right near the DVD place — but didn’t have the nerve to distribute under her own name. “Lady Lamb the Beekeeper” was a byproduct of frequent lucid dreams she had while first getting deep into songwriting. She decided to keep a notebook near her bed to transcribe thoughts from her dreams. One day, she woke up with that phrase scribbled in her journal with no memory of where it came from yet still found it a good fit for her music.
After several homemade releases, Spaltro’s alias began to gain traction in Brunswick, then the nearby Portland and then Boston — the latter of which houses several Lady Lamb supporters, including The Boston Globe, which named Lady Lamb “Folk Artist of the Year” in its 2010 Music Awards. As her shows graduated in size, she eventually decided to move to New York City around two-and-a-half years ago and increase the number of tours and performances she’d take on.
After a year of development, Ripely Pine — her official debut record — appeared last February, indicating her knack for incisive scene-setting and her ability to make good on diversifying the tone and feel of sounds across songs. Spaltro doesn’t self-identify as a Folk musician — she gets a little confused by the Folk comparisons, though she’s comfortable enough with the tag’s existence — and instead prefers to call her output “Collage Rock,” using a term employed by someone else to characterize her music.
“It’s a huge collage. It’s not about one thing within a song. It’s about a lot of things and sometimes that means that there’s even different musical movements,” she says, simultaneously referencing the myriad real-life situations her lyrics come from and what concepts are utilized within the music itself. “(Songwriting is) very cathartic for me. It’s very therapeutic. I always feel better when I write a song. Not that I self-sabotage my life or anything, but when something is happening in my life where I feel miserable, I also feel excited in a way — as weird as that may sound — because I know that I have a way to express (it), and I know that if I express it in that way, then it will make me feel better.”
With the rise in notability she’s experienced since she started working on music at Bart & Greg’s in 2007, Spaltro has regarded pacing as a key priority — an ideal mirrored in the sense of care that she pours into her music.
“Time has flown. It’s been six years of doing this and (I’ve) been going at a slow pace very intentionally,” she says. “I’m not trying to throw myself into any situation.”
LADY LAMB THE BEEKEEPER plays The Ballroom at the Taft Theatre Thursday with Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.