Members: Amy Speace
"I kind of spilled blood all over this project," Amy Speace says of her new album The Killer In Me, which marks a quantum creative leap from the artist's 2006 breakthrough effort Songs For Bright Street. While that release won her widespread critical acclaim and a loyal international fan base, The Killer In Me finds the New York-based singer/songwriter forging into deeper, darker lyrical and musical terrain, borne largely out of relationships gone wrong, then right and wrong again. "This is the record that I needed to make," Speace states. "In many ways, it was the hardest thing I've ever done. And in some ways, it was the easiest. Writing the songs was emotionally difficult, deep and intense--it was kind of an exorcism. But in the end, the songs flowed pretty quickly. You write the things that you're afraid to say out loud."
The Killer In Me's 12 soul-baring new songs maintain the effortless melodic appeal of her prior work, while delivering complex emotional insights that give the album startling intimacy and resonance. "The Killer In Me" chronicles a strangled co-dependent relationship, while "Haven't Learned A Thing" offers absolution for the continuing struggle in the attempt to connect with another and never getting it completely right. "This Love" speaks to the hope and uncertainty that comes with the onset of a new relationship. The album covers more terrain than romantic relationships, closing with "Piece By Piece," written as a prayer to her father, wishing him peace and love after the death of his brother.
Most of the album was written in the rural isolation of a rented cabin in the Catskills after her final separation from her husband. "It was just me, some books, my journals, my guitar and the songs, with no phone and no TV," she explains. "I spent a lot of time reading and hiking and chopping wood for the stove, and wrote the songs that form the emotional center of this album." "The situation," she continues, "forced me to sit with a lot of silence, fear and confusion and make a kind of peace with them by writing songs to keep from going crazy. That's when the album started making sense to me and became a whole different thing. Something shifted when I realized what was going on in the world outside mirrored what was going on inside of me, and I wanted to write songs that bridged that divide."
Speace recorded The Killer In Me with her longtime producer and lead guitarist James Mastro, of Bongos/Health and Happiness Show fame, and her longstanding live band the Tearjerks, comprised of guitarist Rich Feridun, bassist Matt Lindsey and drummer Jagoda. The sessions took place at alt-pop legend Mitch Easter's Fidelitorium studio in North Carolina, with Easter lending his talents as engineer. Also on board is English rock icon Ian Hunter, who adds his distinctive vocals to a pair of songs.
Born in Baltimore and raised in small-town Pennsylvania, Speace initially had her sights set on a career as a playwright/actor, graduating from Amherst College and toured with the prestigious National Shakespeare Company. After moving to New York, she had roles in various off-Broadway productions and independent films, ran her own theater company, and taught Shakespeare in the New York City school system. After teaching herself to play guitar, she began setting her poetry to music, and quickly found songwriting to be the most creatively fulfilling thing she'd ever done. She soon began performing as half of the female duo Edith O. Speace made her solo debut with the 2002 release Fable, recorded with $5000 donated by fans and released on her own Twangirl label. Giving up her hard-won acting career to become a full-time musician, she hopped into her car and hit the road, booking herself into every club, cafe and college that would have her. After catching a performance at the SXSW music industry festival, Judy Collins' manager brought Speace to the attention of Collins, who signed her to her Wildflower label. Her debut for the label, Songs For Bright Street, received warm praise from critics, including those in Europe, which has enabled her to build a strong touring base there.
Reflecting on making The Killer In Me, Speace concludes, "I got into music with my eyes wide open, having already been doing something else. I knew that the kind of music I wanted to make might be outside the realm of what's on the radio, but I didn't care. I just wanted to make something that's real. I'm as proud of this album as I am anything I've ever done."
The Killer In Me - June 30, 2009
1. Dog Days - From the time I was 12 to when I left for college, I lived in a small town in the middle of Pennsylvania, nowhere near a big city, an old town with cobblestone streets and alleys, old money from the logging boom in the 1800s and farmers. Just a typical small town, where people got married right out of high school to their prom date, had kids, grew old, never left. I set it as someone at the end of their life looking back on the best of what they had there-- "Got my shoes off with the mud between my toes/don't forget to dress me in my Sunday clothes/I could count the afternoons left on my hand/let it all begin again."
2. The Killer In Me - I wrote this song in late December 2007 in about a half hour while stuck in the snow in my Shandaken cabin. I'd written down the phrase "The killer in me loves the killer I see in you" a while ago in one of my notebooks and my songwriter friend Erik Balkey had emailed me asking if I was working on anything and I pulled out these lyrics and we wrote the song fairly quickly by email, recording parts, sending them back and forth. I think of it as a love song--that we're all looking for that mirror in our lovers, but sometimes what we see are the dark shadows of our own natures, and that's what we're attracted to. It was the last song I'd written for the album and the minute we wrote that song, I knew I wanted to make it the title track to the album.
3. Better - I was driving through Alabama on a tour a while ago, listening to nothing but pop-country radio. I joked to my drummer, "I want to write a song for Shania Twain to sing" and wrote the chorus while humming along to the radio. I'd tried to record this for the last record "Songs For Bright Street" but I wasn't happy with the version. It always seemed too treacly. I didn't think I'd actually find a way to arrange or record this, until we were in the studio at Mitch's, listening to The Faces, when James said, THAT"S IT! And the band just went in and tried to emulate the sloppy rock feel of "Ooh La La"
4. Blue Horizon - The oldest song on this album, written more as a poem when I'd lost touch with one of my best friends, was breaking up with someone, and felt really out of place in my tiny apartment in NYC. I wanted this song to feel a bit impressionistic, rather than realistic, and we brought in the horns to take it outside the realm of the direct.
5. This Love - Love that seems, at least "on paper" like it shouldn't work, but does anyway, damn the gossip, damn the torpedos.
6. Haven't Learned A Thing - Maybe my most straightforward song. Mary Gautier and I were talking at one point and she said something about how writing the truth hurts but it's the best place to write from. I felt like she'd charged me to dig as deeply as I could go, and as opposed to trying to make poetry out of the truth, I thought I'd just write down exactly what I was feeling, get as real I could. Write the thing I was most afraid to say outloud.
7. Storm Warning - Inspired by Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and a dream I had that combined an old breakup that took too long to get over ("This is gonna hurt") and The Wizard of Oz's first scene where Dorothy and Aunty Em are preparing for the Tornado that's coming in the distance. Seemingly very random things that seemed to work together in this story. The ending was spontaneous. The band was recording this live in the same room together and when the lyrics of the song ended, we just kept playing. It felt like the rising of the storm and so we kept it in the record, like the end of Side One of the vinyl.
8. Something More Than Rain I was moving from my apartment in Jersey City, my things in boxes, alone and it started pouring rain and I stopped packing for a while and picked up the guitar.
9. Would I Lie - Written in a hotel room in Nashville the day Johnny Cash died, which was a few days after the 2nd anniversary of 9/11.
10. Dirty Little Secret - Written with my friends, singer-songwriters Tom Prasada-Rao and Cary Cooper and my drummer Jagoda, in Tom and Cary's kitchen in Dallas, Texas. We were all sharing stories of our relationships and someone told their story and I laughed and said, "We all have the same dirty little secrets, don't we?" and Tom grabbed a guitar and we wrote this song very quickly that night, demo'd it at 3am, and I sent the demo to James Mastro, my producer who demanded I put the song on the record.
11. I Met My Love - I wrote this in Santa Fe at my friend's house I was using as a writing retreat. An old love I'd lost track of had recently shown up at one of my shows in Colorado and it had shaken me. I think I wrote this song for him as a kind of final goodbye. I remember him saying to me, when he heard the song, "I wanted you to write me into your life, not out of it". Originally, it was more of a traditional folk-style song.
12. Piece By Piece - I wrote this song for my father after his older brother died suddenly. He'd called to tell me the news very stoically and I wanted to ask him how he was doing, but he cut the conversation short. I wrote the song that night. Just last week, my Dad's identical twin died suddenly and the line "My father, staring right into the face of that hurricane tide, I'm right here beside" has taken on totally new meaning for me.
13. The Weight of the World - The song was originally written as part of an assignment for a songwriting class I was teaching -- writing a song from someone else's story (the original story was a man who's older brother went to Vietnam, but I wanted to update it, and then turned it into a little girl, and the story of the song now bears little resemblance to the original). I sent it in rough form to my songwriter friend Jud Caswell, a folk singer from Maine, who sent me back a few changes that I incorporated. A few months later I was in Nashville writing with Jon Vezner and played for him the song and he had a few comments, which I incorporated, so this was a three way co-write between 2 of my friends who'd never met before.