Spencer Day Unravels ’The Mystery of You’
Since Justin Timberlake has taken a cool, smoky noir look, he doesn’t look all that much different than Spencer Day. What is different is that Day captures the charm, the class and coolness in his music that goes along with the look.
With his 2004 debut album, "Introducing Spencer Day," we knew from the beginning that this young man was recapturing the magic of an music period that we were hoping would not disappear. And with the title track from his second release "Movie of Your Life," he offered the first taste of his original material, which led him to win San Francisco’s Academy of Art University’s 2005 competition for best original song. With his grasp of the Great American Songbook, Spencer’s third album "Vagabond," 2009) was able to combine the music of America with his influences from Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison and Dusty Springfield.
But in the three years since "Vagabond," Day had a personal experience that literally changed his life and triggered a self-analysis that gave him a wiser sense of himself. Thus, "The Mystery of You" chronicles a relationship gone bad and the response to those relationship pitfalls.
Though a highly personal effort for Spencer, Day states that each listener will be able to walk away with their own personal response to each song, hopefully triggering them to take stock of some of the things in their life that they would just as well keep hidden. "The Mystery of You" is not, however, just another Taylor Swift-esque break up album, but more of a self-evolution that just happened to be triggered by a break up.
I had the privilege to chat with Spencer Day in the midst of his current tour in promotion of "The Mystery of You" which will land him at San Francisco’s Yoshi’s Jazz Club April 11, 2013 about the transparency of his new album and how this writing and recording experience has made everything about him different including his performance.
More than a Taylor Swift break-up record
BeBe: March 12 you released you latest offering ’The Mystery of You’ four years after your last full album, ’Vagabond.’ I am sure your fans are delighted to get something new from you. How has the response been so far to ’The Mystery of You?’
Spencer Day: I’ve been really happy (with it). I try not to read the reviews too often, but as far as I can tell, (both) critically and just the regular listener, it seems as if people are responding really well to it. I think people really like it, which is obviously the goal.
BeBe: Well, you have described ’The Mystery of You’ as being like an abstract painting where everyone will get a different experience from it. Even though your experiences are in the lyrics and in the mood of the collective pieces, those who listen to it will get something different from it. Do you think that may why it is being received well, that individually people are relating to this album in personal ways?
Spencer Day: Well, I hope that. That is a goal. I had a specific set of circumstances that brought me to come up with the concept and then writing it. Ultimately, I think the first thing people respond to is do they like the melody, do they like the voice? Usually for at least half of the population the lyrics are kind of a secondary concern. But, I think that is fine because you want to pull them in a really great sound scape and take them a really iconic and unique place and drop them off there. As they are enjoying the music, hopefully they pick up on lyrical things that resonate with them.
The goal for me was not to have this album be a gripping or bitter account of me singing ’baby you broke my heart’ to someone. I wanted to make it more about questioning what love actually means, and what my role in this relationship was. It really about the personal growth that my relationship triggered. That’s ultimately the place I wanted to come from and less of a Taylor Swift break-up record.
More like Adele...
BeBe: (After great laughter) ’Less of a Taylor Swift break-up record...’ It is a little more of an Adele break-up record. Because it is, as you say, more about your personal growth from the experience, and not so much about the incidents of the experience. It’s not ’baby you broke my heart’ or ’baby, why did you break my heart.’ It is more you broke my heart, now how do I handle that.
Spencer Day: It’s a huge complement to be placed into either of those ballparks with those two singer/songwriters. But I think that (what you said) is really true. That’s what I wanted to do. Now that I have come from this dark period because I really went to some really dark places and struggles with clinical depression during the time I was recovering from this and also writing music.
BeBe: So was writing his therapeutic for you? Was it first intended to be a therapy project, and then you said, ’wow this stuff is good and I want to share with folks?’ Or was the idea to use the experience as a way to come up creatively with something for an album?
Spencer Day: I had already signed with my record company (Concord Records), and I knew that in 18 months I would have release another record; then the break up happened. When I went down, I really went spiraling down, and for me it was not only a catharsis, but it was in many ways what kept me going. It gave me a place to put a lot of the feelings and the frustrations I had into songs. As I was getting better, I started to realize that I was outlining the different stages of my relationship, and that’s when I started writing with the concept to kind of document the feeling I got from each stage of that relationship.
A wiser perspective
BeBe: You have also said that you have come out of this, not only the relationship but also through the writing, having a wiser perspective of yourself. How so?
Spencer Day: Simply on the musical front this was the first time I was at the helm in terms of production. I was actively involved with everything from the arrangements from the very beginning, the songwriting to the mixing and mastering. I was involved the entire way through. I really hope that the record and the music on it is a reflection of all the work I’ve done on myself personally. I hope that is apparent. Everything is different! My performing is so different now.
One thing I really realized was I was running and not realizing I was running. For a lot of years I kept running from my demons, and I think a lot of us do that because our modern world encourages us to running from ourselves in a lot of ways. One thing that has really changed my performing is that it’s giving me more a sense of purpose because, especially for younger people who are really struggling with a feeling of low self-worth and undeservingness. I really want to be an example of someone living a good, honest and authentic life that inspire them that things do get better.
I know there are a lot of campaigns these days against bullying, and obviously, that was a really big struggle for me growing up. I came from a very unhappy childhood. My parents had a very troubling marriage. I think that a lot of that damage stays with your whole life if you don’t really address it. I think that’s really what the record is about.
You really need to think about the unpleasant parts of yourself because that’s where the healing really happens. If you keep trying to run away, you’ll seek the answer in a relationship, or in a bar, in a job or shopping. There are so many ways we try to escape that, but ultimately you really have to face that pain head on. That really changed things for me. That’s the message I’m trying to communicate when I sing. It changes everything as a singer when you are singing with a real sense of purpose.
A different place
BeBe: I think all of your fans who follow you most likely gravitated toward you because of the beauty of your voice and your lyrical phrasings, but this album is going to take your fans to a whole different place with you. It’s great to come across an artist that you can relate to. They get me as a listener because they are going through something that many of us go through. What you have gone through in your relationship and your response is not unique; but so many times we don’t see that in the people whose work we admire. We don’t get the fact that many times you are just like us. I think this album says that you are just like your fans and you are not afraid to share that.
Spencer: Thank you. I think that’s a very wonderful compliment and really the goal, to be transparent. I get really uncomfortable with any situation where someone’s trying to elevate me to something greater than they are. I feel like in a lot of situations with performers and celebrities that can really happen. If you are coming from a place where something is lacking, like growing up having an unhappy childhood because it was troubled, you can easily allow people to project that on you and allow yourself to become inflated by those projections.
But, ultimately I know all too well that none of that is real. So what I want to continually keep doing is break down that wall between performer and audience member, and really relate to them as human beings. That’s what is cathartic for me. Because on stage we help each other out. I really think of my job as therapy art very much the same way a person who does massage therapy Reiki. It’s all an energy exchange. I’m really trying to help people access their emotions and heal in the process. That’s really what I think music, in a sense, is about, as opposed to as an escape. I’m trying to remind them of something they may have forgotten in their lives instead of forgetting their lives.
Spencer Day will perform music from "The Mystery of You" at Yoshi’s San Francisco on April 11. 2013. For more information, visit Yoshi’s web site.
"The Mystery of You" Album is available on iTunes and Amazon.
Catch Spencer in performance at the following locations during the month of April: 4/12 - 13, Seal Beach, CA; 4/14, San Diego, CA; 4/18, Las Vegas, NV; 4/24, Palm Springs, CA; 4/26, Hudson, NY; 4/29, New York City, NY.
For locations and more dates, visit his website.
Watch Spencer Day perform ’The Mystery of You’: