After a decade in NYC, acclaimed local musician Lady Lamb returns home to Maine.
Warm afternoon light streams through an off-camera window as musician Aly Spaltro, known by her stage name “Lady Lamb,” settles herself in front of her computer. With thick-squared-off glasses and a blue flannel button-down, Spaltro looks like she could have popped out of an L.L. Bean catalog. “I’m wearing my State Theater shirt right now!”she laughs, a serendipitous reminder of how fundamental the Maine community was to her beginnings as a musician. It’s a connection further evidenced by her work to make the socially distant summer of 2020 more bearable for her fellow Mainers.
This past spring, Spaltro had just settled into her new Midcoast Maine property when the state went into lockdown. With touring out of the question, she turned to making her new space into a home.
As Spaltro stripped logs in her backyard, built a firepit, and re-painted her house, an idea began to take hold. She wanted to share her space, and after months away from music and performing, the urge to connect with others through her work began to grow. When she happened across a free vintage movie theater marquee on a drive home, Spaltro began to seriously consider hosting shows in her backyard.
“I sat on the idea for another seven or eight weeks because, psychologically, it didn’t feel like quite the right time,” she shares. “June still felt early for people to come. We needed to see what was going to happen with cases. Finally, I realized, ‘Okay, if I don’t do this now, I won’t be able to do it this season.’”
Her shows, marketed as “Live from the Hive” (a callback to her first stage name “Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper”), offered a small, entirely outdoors, socially distanced respite where people (no more than 50 at a time) could come (masks required) and enjoy a few hours of live music away from the world, accompanied by sanitization stations.
A clip of Spaltro performing one of her Live from the Hive shows is posted on YouTube. Banjo in hand, strings of lights twinkling above her, Spaltro stands in front of a microphone on a small stage in her backyard. Drowning out the drone of crickets, her distinct vibrato tones and the twang of the banjo strings fill the warm summer night as she begins the first few lines of her song “We Are Nobody Else.” It’s a poignant and popular track from her 2016 album Tender Warriors Club. Spaltro’s lyrics ebb and flow like a ribbon twining itself around vivid image after image, as she moves into the second verse:
“There’s nothing holier than the laughter of our friends
There’s nothing more I need, I have everything
I’ve got the gold in your hair, the sun in your hair
I’ve got the honey in your hair
And my hands in your hair, night into day.”
Not many musicians would offer up their backyards to strangers, especially during a pandemic, but for Spaltro these shows were not only a safe way to do her job, but also a way to give back to the community that made her.
“Performing this year has been even more meaningful than I could have imagined . . . It’s really made us all understand how much we value and need the arts and venues. We need togetherness through music. I think regardless of what happens next year . . . I know that I’d like to keep doing these Hive shows. It’s really fun and special to have people come out here.”
For Spaltro, moving back to Maine was a meaningful, triumphant, and long-awaited return. “I longed my whole life for a family history,” she says. “My whole childhood, I was getting stories of Maine. My grandparents were here, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and then stories from both my parents of their childhoods. [Maine] is where my family’s history is. As an Air Force kid, a lot of us long for a solid family home or history. I have that here . . . Coming to Maine was actually the first time I really felt at home.”
Spaltro’s music career began in her early teens when, as a budding poet, she found herself drawn to songwriting as a means of coping with her parents’ divorce. “I was very emotional and wanted an outlet for it. I wrote a song when I was 14 and I sang it for my sister, and it made her cry.”However, Spaltro says her younger sister had difficulty articulating her thoughts about Spaltro’s vocal performance, and her warbling imitations did not leave Spaltro feeling confident.
“At the time I was horrified, like, ‘Oh my God, she thinks I’m singing like a goat? What does that even mean?’ She was 12 years old, and now as adults we’ve talked about it, and I realized she meant vibrato! But at the time I was horrified, and I didn’t sing again for four years, I was so mortified.”
After graduating from high school, Spaltro found herself drawn back to songwriting as a way to cope with the loss of her gap-year plans due to the 2008 economic crisis. She began to perform regularly at open-mic nights and became more involved with the local music scene.“I realized that music was my passion,”says Spaltro. This realization led her to set aside plans for college and move further south along the coast to Portland, Maine, in an effort to fully commit herself to her work.
After over a year of building her audience and gaining positive attention from local press, Spaltro decided the time was right to test her abilities on the stages of New York City. “I just felt like I needed even more of a challenge,” Spaltro says, an earnest smile breaking across her face.
Despite being a self-described introvert, Spaltro says that the seemingly endless streets of N.Y.C. helped facilitate her creative process.
“When I’m in the city, there’s so much to see and so many different people to observe and streets to walk down and time to think when you’re out moving. Often when I’m in motion is when I do my best thinking. I’m constantly writing down little phrases and collecting them until I sit down and piece them together into a cohesive thought.”
Spaltro says that her magpie-like collecting process comes to fruition when she is able to carve out chunks of time and space to write, describing it as a sort of hibernation process where she is able to synthesize her thoughts.
“Every song I’ve written has come from a real emotional place. I’m not the type to sit around and kind of twiddle on my instrument and write often. I let it build in me until it has to come out, and so there’s a sense of urgency in a lot of my music and it’s coming from that place. . . When I’m writing, I’mvery, very present and emotional, and oftentimes, even if the song isn’t sad, I’ll end up crying while I’m writing it. To me, that’s the physical feeling of a volcano erupting.”
As outdoor shows could now pose a hypothermia hazard, Spaltro’s new projects include convincing her city-savvy girlfriend to fall in love with Maine, corralling her cats, and building her new music studio out of an old greenhouse that sits on her property. Her face glowing in the golden lamplight, Spaltro states that as soon as her studio has been completed, she will begin to work on a new album.
“It’s a little different obviously. I’m surrounded by woods here. It’s a more steady, quiet thought process. . . There’s fewer stimuli. I’m excited to write a record for the first time that’s a little more deliberate, where I actually sit down and carve out time to be like, ‘Okay, I’m going to see what I can do today,’ as opposed to running to the studio and having it pour out.”
Over the course of her career, Spaltro has released five albums, each a step in the evolutionary process of developing herself as a musician. She followed her introductory album Ripely Pine and her sophomore indie-pop inspired album After with her entirely acoustic and deeply intimate third album, Tender Warriors Club. Her fourth and most recent album, Even in the Tremor, poses philosophical musings about the seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life. Spaltro has taken on each album as a welcome challenge, and her newest concept is no different.
“There’s been more or less a theme, or an idea of something I’m trying to accomplish with every record. Usually, I write from my own perspective. My next record . . . I’m going to try to write from other people’s perspectives and see what that pulls out of me.”
Through combining her passions for music and film, Spaltro says she hopes to explore the reaches of her creativity by writing from the perspectives of characters in films that are important to her. “I want to see what kind of empathy I can have in trying to get into the head and the heart of someone else, but also see what that pulls out of my own past and experience.”
As the last vestiges of sunlight fade away, Spaltro describes how moving back to Maine and laying down roots not only inspired her new creative endeavor, but also serves as a point of pride. It is a tangible reflection of her success in an industry that has been known to take more often than give. “I think that there are people in the industry who care more about making money,”she says.“They would prefer that you be different than who you are.”Throughout her career, Spaltro says that she has worked to remain steadfast in maintaining her authenticity.
“I’m not in this business to become wildly successful through changing who I am,” says Spaltro. “I would much rather have my integrity. I have felt successful my whole career because I’m making the most honest choices for myself. That to me is real, true success. The fact that I have found a way to make a living with my art and still be able to hide out in the woods and do my thing is exactly what I want.”