Laurie Spector is a creative force on the current D.C. punk/indie rock scene, playing in, it seems, half the bands we love in the city. Her unconventional, rhythmic, and catchy guitar lines light up bands like Gauche, and she’s recently stepped out on her own to record a tape of jangly, effervescent pop songs with her solo project Hothead. We had the chance to chat with Laurie about her deep and familial musical history, home recording, the power of Kiwi pop, and the musicians she loves in the current fertile D.C. DIY world.
Hothead is available now on Sister Polygon Records. Stream “Inner Loop” below, and read on for our interview with Laurie:
Can you tell us a bit about your musical history? How did you get started with music?
Laurie: I started playing music when I was a kid, playing around with a keyboard at home. At some point one of my family members showed me how to play Chopsticks. Played trumpet for the school band in 4th grade, then eventually guitar lessons when I got to middle school. My grandparents loved to sing and the whole family loved to watch movie musicals so, looking back, I realize even when I never dreamed of playing music professionally, music was such a huge part of my childhood, my family’s identity. My dad’s dad had his own jazz band in Pittsburgh, The Morry Spector Band. His father played trumpet in the Russian Army. Music was all around all the time. I recorded an album in high school under the name Lapis Lazuli and burned it onto CD for only my closest friends. But it was all for fun, or to keep my mind occupied. After college I got a job at a record store and befriended another employee, Sean, who about a year later invited me to join his band Foul Swoops. So that was the first band I was in that took itself seriously, actually had songs and performed in public. I tend to think all of it, playing music, happened by some fortuitous chance, an accident, but of course I set myself up for that to happen. I could just never admit that what I wanted more than anything was to be a musician. The reality is that I spent my entire life preparing to be one. Bands I’ve played in are: Foul Swoops, Chain & the Gang, Dudes, Cool People, Peoples Drug and Gauche.
You played all of the instruments on the s/t tape and recorded it yourself. Do you have a home studio? How did you learn to record? What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn to record but feels intimidated?
I would not call it a home studio by any means, but I do have a bedroom and a computer. I guess those are the essentials for making an album. For the most part I recorded bass direct in, miked my guitar amp and played a MIDI keyboard live for drum tracks, recorded and mixed it all on GarageBand. My knowledge of recording has accrued over a very long period of time, and mostly from hands on experimentation. I got an 8-track digital recorder in high school and played around with that. I also took an audio engineering course after college, which gave me a good theoretical grasp of some basic concepts. But I don’t consider myself an engineer by any means, I just did what I had to do and used the tools I had available to me to get these songs recorded. I did it in my bedroom because that setup afforded me the most time and control over shaping these songs. You learn by trouble shooting problems, having to think on your feet, and also just getting an understanding of things like the way a guitar will sound different depending on how far away you place a mic, what direction it’s pointing in, etc. Here’s some advice though: start small, learn, and build your tools according to need. Do not think a good recording is directly dependent on the kind of gear you use, or that you need this or that in order to get something that sounds good. People who know a lot about recording music have just been doing it for a long time. Limiting the tools you have will teach you how to get more out of them. As soon as you start talking to someone who makes any kind of value judgement over your style of recording or the tools you’re using, tune them out immediately because they have nothing useful to contribute.
What was behind your impulse to work by yourself completely for this project? (This isn’t a value judgment at all—I’ve been working on a solo project of my own, and I think the dynamic is just completely different and am curious about your insights here.)
After a few years of playing in a handful of bands, I realized that I didn’t even know what my musical “identity” or “voice” was. In my relationships and in music, I realized I was always too quick to try and best serve someone else’s vision or needs. So I was always finding myself playing some role, whatever I thought would best facilitate the music or the emotional harmony of the band, without actually looking for the ideal way to express myself. I was also just tired of the schlep out to practice spaces, collective decision making… I was tired of compromising. I wanted the space to be entirely self-serving and self-interested, and I don’t really know how to do that responsibly with others yet, so I’m practicing in a vacuum. It’s been very liberating, very difficult and very therapeutic. With the freedom also comes the burden, though, with no division of labor. On stage I’m responsible for performing, the lyrics, the singing, the guitar playing, pre-programming backing tracks or teaching the songs to other musicians, negotiating the business end. It is a lot more work but I’m still enjoying the challenge. It reminds me of the experience traveling alone… character-building but not quite fun. Still totally worthwhile.
Your tape is a really intimate and refreshing take on C86 – what drew you to that particular style? Who are some of yr favorite bands from the genre?
I guess honestly on some of these songs I was really more inspired by the ’80s New Zealand jangle pop sound. I was, and still am, in transition in many areas of my life, and there’s something so idyllic and simple and beautiful about the perfect pop song. It keeps me grounded amidst existential complexities. I just wanted to feel happy and perform that feeling. I wanted to make simple traditionally-structured songs that people could just enjoy, effortlessly, and dance or sing along. Something fundamental, relatable. But at the time I think I had recently discovered The Chills’ “Kaleidoscope World”, which is one of the most impressive albums I’ve ever listened to, both because it is a bit unusual but also because it is so catchy and accessible. There’s a great breadth of feeling across the record, I find it exhilarating. The Feelies are another favorite.
There’s a lot happening in DC these days, which makes my old hometown heart feel full. Who are some of your favorite local fellow artists?
Eva Silverman, I’ve seen her perform once as Default Handshake, which is this pretty astounding poetry set to beats. It just blew me away. Eva Moolchan, who is Sneaks, I guess she lives in Baltimore now but she used to consider herself a D.C. artist. Sneaks is genius. Luke Reddick, another prodigy. His main project these days is called Bless but he’s always trying something new and different and just launched a rap music video under the name AquaReef. He’s a nut. Priests, obviously. My old band Foul Swoops, they’re still going with a new drummer. Puff Pieces. Oh and then another band I’m in, Gauche. I’m not afraid to say it, mostly because the creative directors behind Gauche are two of my best friends, Mary Regalado and Daniele Yandel. But Gauche is incredible.