After, the sophomore album by Aly Spaltro, known professionally as Lady Lamb, is an exuberant, surreal journey by a songwriter who acknowledges no constraints—not by song structure, and certainly not by genre. It’s not unusual to encounter the landmarks of several musical worlds in one song. (Listen to “Violet Clementine” for a mind-blowing example of this genre exploration.) The album is largely a product of her own imagination and vision. She co-produced the album with Nadim Issa, and tracked vocals, guitar, bass, keys and banjo herself, bringing in other musicians to add layers afterwards.
We talked about “Billions of Eyes,” the second song on the album. It has more of a pop feel than most of her previous work, and she says that was her intention.
“I wanted to write melodies that were more accessible and hookier. I knew I wanted it to have a drum intro, I knew that I wanted the chorus to be just a sort of melodic hook, not lyrics. But in keeping with just my usual way of writing, it’s very wordy and meanders quite a bit. And I think that there are a few songs on the record like that. They have some sort of pop sensibilities but with a lot of lyrics, and maybe not so many choruses.”
When she says “a lot of lyrics” she’s not kidding. The song departs from a typical pop song in a big way lyrically. The imagery-dense lyrics are dropped like a free verse poem on top of this “pop” song. They follow their own rhythm. If you read them without the music, you wouldn’t be able to guess where they’d fit into the meter of the song, and that’s one of the ear-catching, addictive things about “Billions of Eyes.” There’s an element of surprise to the phrasing, to which words are emphasized.
When gravity’s a palm pushing down on your head
Like the devil’s got a paw dug in your shoulder
And the other one is rubbing your back
But the kitchen in the new place has a window
Yeah you can grow basil on the sill
Maybe you can call your neighbors by name now
Berries on the dash is the sweetest kind of living
Still this feels like eating the meat of the mountain
It’s all grit and gristle I can’t chew and swallow
I’m gnawing my way back home
The clouds look a lot like wool gone through the wash
I check my phone for the time but I still wear my watch
Yeah I’m confused about how I’m supposed to connect to anything now
The kind of high I like is when I barely make the train
And the people with a seat smile big at me cause they know the feeling
And for a millisecond we share a look like a family does
Like we have inside jokes
Like we could call each other by little nicknames
And I could tell the story of how
My great grandmother’s sister was deemed a saint
How they exhumed her body after years of being buried
And they found she hadn’t even begun to sully
So they moved her again, straight into the Vatican
I think of all the billions of eyes
All looking at something different at the same time
And I feel nauseous
Some days I can only see into my suitcase
It’s got everything I need
Plus some superstitious things I may also need
“music soothes the savage beast”
the pilot says to me and he asks me to sing
but now is not the time
I just want to fall into a pile of warm laundry
I just wanna keep very very quiet yeah
It’s June where you sleep, July where I land
Thought I saw you on the platform of Amsterdam
And I nearly missed my train
And I felt so defeated til I jumped on to see all the warm smiles were for me
I made my train and it made me so happy
I made my train and it made me forget everything
It made me forget, made me forget made me forget made me forget everything
It made me forget made me forget made me forget made me forget everything
The thrust of the song is the yearning for connection, especially in the context of a touring musician’s life, where she’s often away from the people she’s close to, and finds herself feeling like a face in the crowd.
“The song came out of thinking about what it’s like to be away from home and missing home and being comforted by home,” she says. “It’s sort of about the duality of wanting to connect with people and wanting to be introspective and quiet. Wanting to be out in the world and also wanting to be home in your own space.
“I think sometimes, maybe especially living in a big city like New York, but also, I would assume, with people anywhere, sometimes you can go about your day and be so into your routine that you don’t really talk to strangers. You don’t really interact with people you don’t know. And it can be sort of an uncomfortable thought or feeling, if you’re not an extremely extroverted person. And so parts of the song came from that, from being inspired by remembering that meeting new people and talking to new people is actually really what I would say is good on the soul. Sometimes I’ll be sitting on the train in New York and I’ll share a word or two with someone beside me for whatever reason and then we might strike up a short conversation and I end up leaving the train feeling so much happier than when I got on it. And I really think that’s just from asking someone you didn’t know questions and getting to know them for a brief moment.”
In the third verse, Aly writes about one of those brief moments of connection, where she barely makes a train and the other passengers share a smile of commiseration with her. She relates that brief moment of connection to the way it feels to be in a family, the knowing looks, inside jokes, little nicknames and shared stories.
I ask her about the story she mentions in that verse, the one about her great grandmother’s sister being deemed a saint.
“That’s a true story. That’s a story from the Italian side of my family, on my dad’s side. She died when she was a little girl. They had to exhume her body, and some others, from where she was buried, and move them, and they found she was entirely intact when they exhumed her. And they were shocked and they made a note of it. They checked her again because they believe in that kind of thing–the incorruptibility of bodies to mean holiness or saintliness. And the next time they exhumed her they found that she still hadn’t decomposed so they ending up deeming her a saint and burying her in the Vatican.”
The second verse contains some of the most vivid imagery of the song–berries on the dash, clouds looking like “wool gone through the wash,” eating the “meat of the mountain,” which is “all grit and gristle.”
“Essentially it’s a verse about a tour that I was on that was really difficult, like I was sick and I was homesick, and tired, and it was just very exhausting. ‘Berries on the dash is the sweetest kind of living’– that came to me while I was looking in the van and there were blackberries we had just gotten at this farm stand in the middle of nowhere. And it’s beautiful. So I was looking at that and thinking to myself ‘this is so wonderful, being in this vehicle and touring around, this is just magical,’ but then also the line following it: ‘this feels like eating the meat of the mountain.’ That’s another way I was trying to say driving farther from home and driving up in these mountains is so challenging. I’m getting farther from home. It’s like ‘all grit and gristle.’ I use that to mean like these mountains are impossible to get through. And I’m not on my way back home. I’m trying my best to push through this landscape to get back home, yet I’m going farther from it.”
One of the many strengths of Aly’s writing is how she juxtaposes big stories, like that of her great grandmother’s sister, with little stories, like a shared look on a train, or blackberries from a farm stand, to tell an even bigger story—that we are all family to each other, and that maybe all of our stories belong to all of us.
Photos by Shervin Lainez