Interview: Amilia K Spicer by Sandman

Amilia K. Spicer

can be found at
IAC and

A few years ago back when was all over the Internet, I was on one of my quests listening to as much indie music as time would allow, trying to score that next great jewel that I could call my own for a few days until it was discovered and revered by the masses.

On one of those occasions I remember playing "Beat, Walk To Your Own" by Amilia K. Spicer. I don't think I've been quite the same since. I was so moved by this song and shocked that there were artists as talented as Amilia who weren't signed by a major label. That was a few years ago.

Amilia may not be a household name yet, but she is one of those musical legends of the internet as well as a dynamic live performer who can be seen on both the east and west coasts, as well as an occasional romp in Austin clubs. Her incredible voice combined with her knack for projecting vivid imagery through her songs is second to none! She stands the undisputed Queen of her turf. Other sound-alikes pale in comparison. I challenge any listener to give Amilia a few plays and see if you don't agree that she is indeed one special performer!

I got to catch Amilia right between the finishing of her third CD and much deserved down time before it all starts up again for her! Let's have some real fun and go jump inside Amilia's head for five or ten minutes and see what makes her tick. I think that you will agree after reading this that she is not just another "brick in the wall" entertainer, but a very real and special person who keeps just below her surface a sense of humor that's always ready to strike like a viper! I know, I've been bitten but live to tell this story!

I know a little bit about your childhood from reading an article about you. Did you ever think when you were taking those early piano lessons that one day you would be a performer? Is that piano teacher aware of your accomplishments today?

Here is what I was thinking about while taking piano lessons: Where is the candy? Miss Shaffer had candy in drawers and cubby holes of her house, and my sister and I would take lessons back to back to spare my mom a trip. So while she was having her lesson, I was trying to find the candy, and while I was having my lesson, I was thinking about eating the candy. I am sure I was not thinking about playing the piano when I grew up. Think I was between super hero and president at that time in my career aspirations.

A few years ago, my mom revealed a story to me that I guess was pivotal in my training. I apparently had everyone fooled about the level of my sight-reading skills, because each week I'd go in and play a piece perfectly, so they thought I was sort of evolved, you know. Until during one lesson my teacher put up something I'd never heard before, and I couldn't read it for crap. Turns out I'd been listening to my sister play the piece all week long, and learned it by memory and then just duplicated it (and never practice it myself). Such a troublemaker! I think Miss Shaffer would be quite surprised that I'm playing now.

I have had many people at IAC comment on what a sensational voice you have. At what age did you start singing, and did singing always come easy for you or did you have to put a lot of work into it? Did you ever take any singing lessons? At what age did you start public performances? Did you first start playing piano publicly or did you sing first or did they both happen at the same time?

I've never taken singing lessons to be honest with you. I'm sure I do everything wrong, but for me it needs to just stay organic. It's one of the few things I do without really analyzing. I only started singing as an adult (or some facsimile thereof) as a way to express my songwriting. I sang while I was growing up in the church choir and such, and though I had occasional solos, those were usually the beautiful sopranos whose voices could lift you out of your seat. I was more into harmonizing, the way a chord sounded with various choices of notes, and visualizing them. Different versions had different colors to me, and I liked experimenting. My parents would ask my sister and me to sing when they had friends over for dinner and we would resist and grumble, and finally begin, only to have total giggle breakdowns mid-way thru. Once you get in that territory you are in trouble. We'd start again, until someone did that little suppressed-laugh thing, like they do on Saturday Night Live sometimes, and the dam would break my friend. You would think that my parents would have stopped asking us to sing for their friends, but they never did. I have very optimistic parents.

It sure is a long road to L.A. from Pennsylvania so please tell us how that whole thing occurred. Do you go back east very often now? What do you miss most from back home? What do you like most and least about the west coast?

I moved to LA thinking I'd be a film director. It was going to be LA or NY, and I did love New York, but could not imagine being car-less, and was ready for warm weather. So I packed up my car and drove west. How very unique of me! (But what I really want to do is direct).

I go back several times a year, and for weeks at a time. There never seems to be enough time, no matter where I am, but I'm so grateful that I have this filling station, and I plan my summer touring around being back there. I have the sense of home with me at all times- the wide open spaces and green smells of spring- they all find their way into songs. Moving Mountains, Route 15 are real specific ones, but the influence of nature is everywhere in my music. It may be melancholy moodiness or landscaped textures, but it's there. I've had a love/hate thing with LA over the last few years. I spend alot of time in Texas, and hang around Austin for weeks at at a time, so that's always been an inspiring place for me, no matter which phase I'm in with Los Angeles. But I'd have to say it's pretty awesome these days. I'm working in the studio, I'm writing, I'm collaborating with other talented artists, and I feel momentum and joy. Like I'm very close to something very significant. I love going to a party and meeting all these passionate, bright people who came to LA for their DREAM. Now of course, that energy has a dichotomy all to itself, and you are just as liable see people with ghosts in their eyes, worn out from the struggle, aware of what they lost in the transaction. But light attracts light, so the better you live your own life, the more you will be surrounded by those of like minds. It will also allow you to feel compassion and grace around those who feel lost, and perhaps enable you to be helpful in some way, instead of falling in to that energy yourself.

I don't suppose our viewers will be lucky enough today to hear what the k stands for in your name?

The k is silent.

A lot of fans are worried that the west coast has removed your steelers and pirates cap collection from you. Is this true or just an ugly rumor?

Rumors, just rumors! I still have and wear my Pittsburgh hats, don't you worry. I get them as gifts sometimes from fans, so there's even a backup supply. Being a Steelers fan got to be sort of hip last year, so I had new friends in bars. Being a Pirates fan has just been, well, you know. Kind of a solitary experience.

What moves you to take a thought or idea in your mind and translate it into a song? I know it's a tough question to pinpoint but I'm always curious how artists respond. Is this an easy or a more difficult process for you in taking an idea or concept and making a complete song? Do you subscribe to Picasso's statement that "A work of art is never completed, it is simply abandoned"?

I'm a pretty visual person, so I'm snapping pictures, looking at scenes no matter what I'm doing. During one of my frequent trips to Texas, I accompanied a friend to the Guadeloupe river, as it was a good day to be fishing. I took off my shoes and walked thru the water peering into the underworld of rocks and fish and I found a stick I liked particularly, and started moving it thru the water with a piece of moss attached to it. No matter how fast I tried to move the stick in these circle 8's the moss followed it languorously and could not be prompted to move faster. I watched this for awhile and wondered what that would sound like and thought of reverb. I felt as though the trail of moss behind this force was like a visual echo of some sort, and wondered if that's what reverb sounded like underwater. This led me to think about the intangible echo that follows words you wish you could take back. This led me to ponder about a possible space that exists between what you say and what you mean, which in turn led me to write "Delayed Effect". I don't think I answered your question but I can say I definitely did not write a song about moss.

Are you ever totally happy with your recordings?

Uh-oh, are you including interviews with people who I've recorded with? Ok, so let's see. I would say that I am hellbent and tenacious about getting the best I can, I am forgiving of things I love anyway, and I can hear a fly whistle on a wall somewhere in another room, and will want to go hunt down that fly and give him a little talking-to. So, I am definitely passionate about recording, and mystified by it as well. One side of me loves that mystery as to why a take is magic and why it isn't, but my analytical side wants to quantify it as much as possible. What Mic? What mic-pre? What chain was it going through? Those are things you can learn about and care about even obsess about. I try not to do the latter, though when I spend too much time on the Tape Op message boards, it starts to seep in. But you have to be willing to let all that go once it comes down to playing, and then you have to let your ear decide what's got it and what doesn't.

Neither Cd I made was easy to make, with SEAMLESS being wildly challenging. But I would like to say one thing to other artists who may be reading this--do not believe that if something was difficult to make, it can't be ultimately wonderful. I think artists believe, or are led to believe (myself included) that capturing a sound, a moment, should always be fun and enjoyable. And it's great if it is. Sometimes the best things do happen that way. But if it doesn't occur that way, don't think your work will NECESSARILY be bad because of it. The work will not be necessarily better for it either (there are those who think the"struggle" will give it good tension), it's just like anything, just do your work, and allow for the otherness of things you can't control.

Somehow I have always pictured you sitting in the middle of NYC with the city whirling around you at 500 m.p.h. and you sitting there with pad and paper calmly writing "Beat, Walk to Your Own". So go ahead and tell us how that song really came about and did it evolve much before it was recorded?

Well you pretty much have it right. I was in New York, and felt very solitary yet electric in this huge place, as though these fiber optics were running parallel to me in a high speed chase. There was also a lot of hoopla going on for me at that time with some record labels, and it was a bit dizzying- all the things they say to you when there is feeding frenzy, and how little it seemed some of them cared about my music. While out walking, I was in a weird state of mental frenzy and calm. So the two combined into this defiant anthem. I did walk on the Avenue of the Americas, and I did think- I have the whole world under my feet. And I was, still am, walking to my own beat.

Which artists do you believe have had the most influence on you over the years? If I went to Amilia's CD player right now and opened the tray, what CD would I find?

Gary Jules- Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets Grant Lee Phillips- Mobilize Jai Uttal- Mondo Rama Daniel Lanois, Jane Siberry et al..- Soundtrack from"Until the End of The World" (Lanois is one my heros and Jane Siberry's "Calling all Angels"is just transcendental. This is one moody and wonderful soundtrack) Michelle Shocked- Captain Swing

Do you really have to be "Seamless" to have it all?

Yes. Unless you aren't.

Is it a lot more pressure to perform alone than with your backing band? Do you prefer one to the other? I know which one pays better! HaHa!

I love doing both. If I've been doing a lot of one, say touring solo for a month, then I will want the other. I do miss my band on the road, but most of the time it doesn't make sense to take them.

It's easier to wing it when you are solo. No confused looks from stage when you start a song no one expected. In that arena, the only preassure I feel is to have a set with the band that make sense dynamically. That usually is just a vibe for me at the moment, which just comes down to logistics. At a club date in LA, I'll hand my band a set list with a note at the top saying this or that song is to be ignored completely. My drummer Christopher (Allis) will toss it in the air as soon as I give it to him, knowing I will call an audible. I trust them alot and know they can hang with that.

Paul McCartney used to say he often got sick at his stomach right before he went on stage. Do you or did you ever get nervous at all? Did you ever have any degree of stagefright?

Well I'm spared the queasy stuff, and I guess I'd say I don't really get nervous. I do sometimes get quiet and withdrawn right before a big show--and when in that place I wonder how I'm going to rally, but I suspect that's something vital to the process. Like you are gathering all your forces to come forth and shine. All shows are important, but some are more high profile than others. Last summer at the Kennedy Center was absolutely packed, and the bar set from the first 2 years I played there was very high. But I was lucky enough to just feel joy that day.

If Amilia were attending a concert tonight, who might she be going to see?

I don't go to alot of big shows per se. But for intimate happenings- Jon Brion, Grant Lee Phillips at Largo come to mind. I did recently see Brian Wilson's Smile tour at Disney Hall, which was amazing. Most of the shows I go to are of my pals and compatriots in LA, and I'm so proud to know so many great artists, so the list would be too long. But the two most recent were Steve McCormick (who I'm currently working with in the studio), and Tim O'Gara (sang on his record).

If Amilia were attending a movie tonight, what might she be going to see?

I'm so far behind in my movie-going! The last movie I saw was "The Incredibles", which I loved. Since I'm in the studio and on tour both, that's likely to be it for awhile.

If you weren't a songwriter and performer today, what might you have ended up doing say if you had stayed in Pennsylvania?

A hooligan. oh wait...

Where do you see your musical ideas taking you in five years? Are there some other styles or something you really would like to do musically that you haven't done yet?

I'm certain my two worlds of cinema and music are going to collide with a wonderful bang someday. Whether that occurs by making my own film and doing the music for it, or collaborating with someone in the film world, I don't yet know. I've been on several soundtracks (I get an unbelievable amount of fan mail about a Roger Corman movie)- but the next step is being involved in both the sight and sound of it. I have a few projects up my sleeve as we speak, but I can't talk about them.

Are you a news informed person? That is, do you spent any amount of time watching or listening to the news? Are there certain issues in the world that concern or worry you?

I am a total news junkie, though I have to say after the last election I had to regroup, as I found it too depressing. But I get up early Sunday mornings to watch all the pundits scowl and bark, until Harry Shearer's show on KCRW. There are many issues that concern me- environmental issues, civil liberties, the woman's right to choose, the quagmire that is Iraq, Stem cell research...well I'll stop there I guess. Despite all that- I don't write political songs.

If Amilia were a movie star, she would be most like (any time period)?

Tallulah Bankhead. Wish I had been around when she was--think we could have had some large nights on the town. I would not have let her drive though. Every account of her describes her as passionate and full of life. As many unkind choices as she may have made for her liver and lungs, she was caring and loving to children and animals, so you know, a good heart underneath all the scruffiness.

Oh yeah, and I'd like to just have one hair flip-second as Farrah Fawcett. Just to know what that's about.

Oh, and now the either/or quiz

Coke or Pepsi?- Neither
Coffee or Tea?- Strong coffee, jasmine tea
Light or dark chocolate? Neither
Spring or Fall? Spring
Baseball or Football? Come on, I don't have to choose. There are seasons designated for both!
Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Add Led Zeppelin and I'm in for that party.
Sedan, SUV, or sport coupe? Hybrid SUV to get to the gig, sportscar to drive up the coast after the gig. Sedan is a Christmas present to my folks.
Steak or Salad? Salad with albacore sashimi draped across it.
Yankees or Dodgers? Yankees
Vanilla or chocolate? Vanilla.