The wonderfully strange, wholly beguiling music of Aly Spaltro is something you hear for the first time and quickly wonder if you’re the only person not in on a secret. Based, until recently, in Portland, Maine, she’s the essence of DIY determination.
The wonderfully strange, wholly beguiling music of Aly Spaltro is something you hear for the first time and quickly wonder if you’re the only person not in on a secret.
The plucky Spaltro, who’s all of 21 and records and performs as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, is a fast-rising presence, having just copped a Boston Music Award as Folk Artist of the Year, and she’s getting plenty of national notices, too.
Based, until recently, in Portland, Maine, she’s the essence of DIY determination. Spaltro’s catalog, much of it recorded on her own digital 8-track, is a collection of demos and self-made albums, ranging from 2007’s “The Tingly Circus” through 2008’s “Someday We Will Levitate” and last year’s “Mammoth Swoon.”
All reveal in Spaltro an experimental streak and a love of textured music –– layered instruments, guitar and banjo and plenty of others, haunting narratives –– that might be categorized as folk (the BMAs certainly thought so), but is at times a lot closer to indie pop of a recent vintage: Feist, say, or a more chameleonic musician like St. Vincent.
It seems odd that Spaltro developed such rich and nuanced music with little more than a few nuggets of inspiration, but that’s how it was, she said.
“It all started on a whim,” she said. “My dad is a musician, so I grew up with a lot of music in the household, and looking back, I was very influenced without really realizing it. I was stubborn as a kid, but I really wouldn’t let him teach me because I wanted to teach myself. I would try it on my own and get frustrated because I didn’t have guidance. But there were a lot of instruments in the house and my dad’s favorite thing to do in his free time was to make his own CDs, layer drums and bass and just make, and love, the end result.”
Getting her recording efforts moving was no long planned-out process. When Spaltro graduated from high school, she had planned to go to the Art Institute of Chicago to study photography, but ended up deferring admission to go on a yearlong service trip to Guatemala. But the funding for that trip, Spaltro remembers, fell through at the last minute, and with the deferral already processed, “I was stuck in limbo at home for a year,” she said.
She bought the 8-track recorder –– a “really simple gadget,” she said –– and began an extended process of trial and error. For weeks, Spaltro said, she sang into an onboard mic and taught herself what worked and what didn’t, coaxing out early Lady Lamb the Beekeeper songs and finishing them as best she could.
“I began to sing –– really, for the first time –– and that also had a place,” she said. “It made me feel really good and very therapeutic.”
Local buzz built quickly, and as she became established in Portland, Spaltro began to expand her circle beyond Maine, picking up her first few gigs in Boston. It was at a show at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in April 2009 when Spaltro met Billy Ruane, the late promoter who became one of her most lucrative Boston contacts.
“I was playing to 15 students ... and Billy was there, and he kind of walked up to me afterward and he was a little off-putting,” Spaltro said. “He’s so eccentric and all up in your face, and I’d never seen him before, and he introduced himself to me as my biggest fan in Boston, and I said, ‘OK, great, thank you!’”
Spaltro and Ruane didn’t cross paths again for a few months, but the impression had been made. Spaltro said she isn’t quite sure how Ruane first came across her music.
“He’d just kind of found me on the Internet through some other musicians he liked, I think,” she said.
But Ruane contacted her months later about appearing at the Lizard Lounge as part of a benefit featuring a number of local musicians Ruane was high on.
“This is going to sound crazy and silly because he became a really good friend of mine, but I thought he was a little threatening,” Spaltro said. “What swayed me to give it a chance was his music taste. The night I met him, he gave me this CD of (Martha’s Vineyard-based musician) Nina Violet. I put this CD in, thinking, ‘I wonder what kind of music this guy likes,’ and it was so beautiful. He had really good taste in music, and I couldn’t argue with it. I went and played and he and I became good friends, and we talked on the phone for hours and hours a week. He ran up my phone bill. I saw him every time I came to town and he introduced me to a lot of people I now consider to be really good friends in Boston.”
Ruane died Oct. 26. Coincidentally, Spaltro had her first headlining show in the Boston area that same night.
As word got around about Ruane’s death, there was an impromptu vigil next door, Spaltro recalled. T.T. manager Kevin Patey and singer Mary Lou Lord went to urge the gathered mourners to come next door and hear one of Ruane’s recent favorites.
Spaltro later appeared as a headliner at the Billy Ruane Memorial Birthday Bash in November, at Lord’s behest. Her performance of “Beluga,” which was Ruane’s reported Lady Lamb favorite, was one of the evening’s many highlights.
“He was waiting for me to headline and fill a room and have a draw without being a support act. It’s priceless what he gave me,” Spaltro said of Ruane. “He helped me hear music in a different way. At shows, he was always giving me a handful of CDs he wanted me to listen to … When I got home, I always had an e-mail asking me what I thought. He was a good one.”
Spaltro’s parents are from Maine, and she was born in New Hampshire. Her father was in the Air Force, which meant plenty of relocation: from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Arizona to Las Vegas to Germany and then a return to Maine –– New Brunswick to be exact –– for her freshman year of high school. She’d since been living in Portland.
Now, feeling she’d wrung all she could out of the buzz and the local music scene, she sold all non-essential possessions and has since been living on the road, crashing with friends here, picking up house-sitting gigs there and loving the freedom that being so mobile affords her.
“It’s interesting because it means I can go where opportunities arrive right now and don’t have to commit to one space,” she said.
That said, Spaltro would like to record her next album in Maine and rent out a little space, she said, where she can be really loud at all hours of the night, if she wants, and finish recordings on her schedule.
“I’m going to make this myself on a little computer,” she said. “I’ll send it out to be professionally mixed and that, but there’s only a couple pieces of gear I need. I only started making music to record it. I love to perform, but my first love is actually producing and making a record and layering it out.”