Q&A: Cold Specks' Al Spx On Bringing Her Songs Into The Public Eye And Working On Her Next Record

She may have coined the phrase "doom soul" to describe her music, but that doesn't mean Cold Specks frontwoman Al Spx is a gloomy person. "I write dark music," she points out. "I think people expect me to be some kind of tortured artist, but I'm not."

Listening to Cold Specks' debut album, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion (Arts & Crafts), it's easy to understand the confusion: Songs like "Blank Maps" and "Lay Me Down" have gripped listeners precisely because of the stark honesty with which they address difficult subjects like spiritual struggle and death. Perhaps it's only natural to imagine that Spx is dour in person, but she's actually warm, affable, and quick to laugh. Maybe that "doom soul" thing will have to go, too; quips Spx, "Morbid Motown is the theme for the next record."

Following her breakout performance on Jools Holland's BBC talk show late last year, Spx has watched Graceful Expulsion collect rave reviews in her native Canada and the UK, where she currently lives—and with a crowded tour schedule, the word of mouth for one of this year's most accomplished debuts is only growing.

As Michael Kiwanuka discovered earlier this year, it's pretty much impossible to be a black artist with an acoustic guitar and not find yourself being compared to artists you don't really have anything in common with. You've been lumped in with Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, and even Adele—is this frustrating for you?

I guess it's a natural thing to happen in this line of work. I've noticed that in the UK, there have been a lot of comparisons to black singer-songwriters who don't sound much like me, and I do find that to be a bit offensive, because they only thing we have in common is the color of our skin. I really try not to analyze it too much—dissecting all the comparisons I get would drive me insane. It's music for me; if people like it, that's great, and if they don't, that's okay too.

What's been your experience with bringing these intensely personal songs into the public eye? Has it been an adjustment learning to share your music with people who may not understand it?

It was very difficult at first, because they were so brutally honest. I was writing songs in my parents' home, and I wasn't expecting to ever make an album. Initially, I was horrified and a nervous wreck, but it's become a lot easier for me.

I've got my own personal meanings, and when people ask me what the songs are about, I'm always quite vague. I enjoy listening to people's interpretations of the songs—I find it to be incredibly interesting. Sometimes they're way off, but I can see how they came to whatever conclusion they came to.

How has your relationship to the material changed on the road?

I made a conscious decision to remove myself from the songs. When I play live, the songs were written from the perspective of a girl with a different name. I perform under a stage name, Al Spx; I've created a bit of a character, which allows me to become a bit desensitized. It made it easier for me to sing them.

It was also difficult when I was touring when on my own. I mean, it was fun because I got to see some places, but I missed my band, and I didn't really believe in the solo set I was doing. I had worked so hard on the arrangements for those songs, and to strip them completely bare was really difficult for me.

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The Glasslands Gallery

289 Kent Ave., Brooklyn, NY

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