Cold Specks, AKA Al Spx, returns with her second, bold-sounding album Neuroplasticity on 25 August. The Canadian singer-songwriter explains how boredom, the Somerset countryside, playfulness and more inspired her "creative rewiring".
How the devil are you? I’m good thank you. I’m pretty excited, I started recording this album two years ago so I’m pretty happy to finally have it out there for people to listen to. I just want to go on tour again!
You played a lot of shows for your first record, when did you get a chance to start thinking about this record? There was a period in December two years ago when we weren’t doing anything so I wrote a bunch of songs in that time. I was just eager to make new music because the first record was written years before it was actually recorded so I’d become pretty bored with it all.
You seem to have pushed the sound on quite a way from 2012's I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, was that a conscious decision? As I toured more and more I became incredibly bored with the sparseness of the first record. So I made a conscious decision to have a fuller sound. Thematically the record is still fairly dark.
So revolution and evolution? I guess! [laughs]
You escaped to the countryside to write and work on the songs, why? I was finding it difficult to be productive in London, it’s wildly expensive for a musician to have a base to create in on a regular basis. And again it was general boredom with everything, so I left.
So you cut off yourself off from the outside world in Somerset? It was a place called Wick, on a farm just, outside of Glastonbury. It was like Withnail And I! It was an hour walk into town over the tor, it was frustrating at times but productive. Jim [Anderson] who I work with came with me so we set up a studio space and we created.
Did all the open countryside play into the song writing at all? A little bit. Glastonbury is a really strange town. You can’t find any socks in the town centre but you can find cauldrons, witches hats, potions and crystals. It’s a weird sort corporate witch town! I guess it’s only natural for surroundings to seep into songwriting but I try not to analyse it too much.
How many crystals did you acquire over the course of the sessions? I avoided crystals at all costs! [laughs]
When did you get a sense that you had an album coming together? I had a couple of songs before the cottage and then I wrote Old Knives, Formal Invitation and Absisto there. It was a case of getting ideas together and shaping the record, creating a concept for it, but we recorded in a studio in Montreal called Hotel2Tango. So some of it was born in Glastonbury but they were finished in Canada.
"I think I started out wanting to make a playful record and realised during the process I’m not exactly the most playful person"
Was the bigger sound you have for this record inspired by your travels? I think the fuller sound just comes from complete and utter frustration. Those songs [from the first album] are about a very particular time in my life, but by the time I started touring that time had passed and felt a little bit like a bad actress. I wanted to have a playful sound. I failed on the playfulness when it comes to the lyrics, it’s still a little morbid on that side.
What would you say the concept of the record is then? It’s not about anything in particular, there’s no main concept, but there’s some kind of emotional cohesiveness with the songs. I don’t know what they’re about really. [laughs]
Despite the larger sound, you have maintained a fragility and personality within the songs. How easy was it to keep that in? I’m not sure. The first lyric on the record is “Dance darling don’t shuffle” and the last line on it is “I’ve got an unrelenting desire to fall apart”, so emotionally it is sometimes all over the place. I think I started out wanting to make a playful record and realised during the process I’m not exactly the most playful person. [laughs] The last song on the record, Season of Doubt, is probably the best example of that emotion. It’s very gloomy.
Yet a song like Exit Plan, for example, has very raw sections but also some more anthemic passages. Exit Plan is a funny song in that the verses are quite deeply personal and then the chorus comes in and it’s something like “Hung, drawn quartered, does the weight ease at all”. I guess I got the playfulness in at certain times.
You collaborated quite a bit on other people’s records before making your own and it seems you’ve called some favours for your sessions. Yeah. My friend Ambrose Akinmusire is a trumpet player and I sang on his record that came out this year. So in exchange he played trumpet on mine. I did a similar exchange with Michael [Gira] from Swans, I sang on his record and he sang on mine which was pretty cool.
Proper horse-trading? Yeah, it was great! Everyone was quite up for it. I played a show with Ambrose and was going to ask him to play for me but he asked me first! That worked out really well. Trade offs are fun. I always enjoy collaborating with people I respect so it was a wonderful experience for me.
You’ve called the album Neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain can rewire itself due external experience and forces. What inspired that? It implies an aesthetic change. It refers to a creative rewiring process of sorts. Change and growth. I just thought it was a fitting title.
Looking ahead, you have a UK tour in September. What have you got planned? We’re just going to try to give you a good show!
A few more lights? I’m hoping to have an orb! It’s top secret for now, but I’m working on it... [laughs]
Anything from the album you’re looking forward to playing live? Absisto, was the first single, it’s not really a typical single song, but it was the first one I was writing and the last one I finished, so I think it demonstrates the record the best. I always enjoying playing Old Knives too, because the outro is kind of mad. But I’m dreading A Season Of Doubt to be honest with you.
Why? I don’t know, it’s a little grim. I just want people to dance, I don’t want to make them shed a tear or two! [laughs] Paul Stokes @Stokesie
For more head to Coldspecks.com.