“There are voices that serve as a bridge from the past to the future and act as soul connectors, and as a people we need them to keep singing. These voices open hearts with this rare, one in a million quality. Amy Speace has such a voice. Just ask the legendarily discerning Judy Collins; she’ll tell you. Amy’s got it, and then some. She is a timeless artist, a time traveler. Part past, part future. And that’s a good thing, a really good thing.”
- Mary Gauthier
If you are a fan of singer-songwriter/folk/Americana music, you’ve probably heard Amy Speace’s name over the past few years trumpeted by many heralding her as a ‘torchbearer’, bridging the gap between old and new schools of folk music. In April 2013, Amy will release her latest collection of songs, How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat (WindBone Records/Tone Tree). A document to living gracefully with grief, it is a deeply honest 11 song journey that includes guest appearances by Grammy-nominated John Fullbright, Mary Gauthier and Ben Sollee. The concert wlll feature Amy’s backup band, The Storm — Josh Oliver (The Everybodyfields) on guitar and Hannah Schroeder on cello (Owl City) and will be joined by special guests The Sea The Sea, the duo of Chuck E. Costa and Mira Stanley who will open most shows and then join The Storm.
“It is the most daring, confident, ambitious and beautiful album Amy Speace has made since she began recording…she has never sung or written better,” says rock journalist Dave Marsh in the liner notes that accompany the record. “Speace’s songs hang together like a short story collection, united by a common vantage point and common predicaments…it’s a gift to hear a heart so modest even when it’s wide open.”
Speace began her artistic career in NYC as an actress, studying at The National Shakespeare Conservatory and then working with the National Shakespeare Company for a few years before picking up the guitar to write songs. Discovered by Judy Collins in 2005, Speace released two critically-acclaimed records with Collins’ owned Wildflower Records, 2006’sSongs For Bright Street, and 2009’s The Killer In Me. Collins recorded Amy’s song “The Weight of the World”, calling it one of the ‘best political songs I’ve ever heard’, and WFUV host John Platt named it as the #4 folk song of the last decade. Her songs have also been recorded by Red Molly, Memphis blues artist Sid Selvidge, jazz artist Lisa Markley, Jonathan Byrd and Doug & Telisha Williams. IanHunter brought Amy to the UK to open his 2008 Acoustic Tour and then made a rare guest appearance dueting on two songs on The Killer In Me. In 2009, Speace moved to Nashville, TN and began working on her 2011 release, Land Like A Bird (Thirty Tigers/RED), produced by Neilson Hubbard with a guest turn by Kim Richey. In 2012, she toured in Europe opening for Alejandro Escovedo and wrote the song cycle that is now How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat,teaming up again with Hubbard. She’s appeared on Mountain Stage and Acoustic Café, both NPR syndicated radio shows, The Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, Philadelphia Folk Festival, Kerrville Folk Festival, Maverick Festival (UK) and SummerTyne Americana Fest (UK).
Korby Lenker is a sneaky-good songwriter. And singer. And multi-instrumentalist.
An abbreviated list of Lenker’s achievements so far includes: a significant amount of airplay on the legendary Seattle indie rock station KEXP; a BBC 2 interview with Bob Harris, which is only about the highest honor a rootsy singer-songwriter touring the U.K. can get; opening slots for acts ranging from Willie Nelson to Ray LaMontagne, Nickel Creek, Keith Urban, Susan Tedeschi and Tristan Prettyman; a successful run with one of the hottest young West Coast bluegrass bands of the aughts; and wins in the Merlefest folk songwriting contest as well as the Kerrville Folk Festival’s elite New Folk songwriting competition.
Lenker’s composition “My Little Life” brought him the Kerrville honors this year. It doesn’t seem possible that one song could work so well in such disparate worlds, but it also proved its powers as a galvanizing piece of indie-pop, drawing a small army of likeminded, rising Nashville artists and personalities—Jeremy Lister and Katie Herzig to name two—to make lip-syncing, ukulele-strumming cameos in Lenker’s music video.
The song—which is on the Heart of Gold EP he co-produced with A-list keyboardist Tim Lauer this year—itself points to the uncommon mixture of abilities Lenker has honed. It’s imminently accessible and effortlessly tuneful, plus the lyrics express a familiar idea in playfully unexpected ways while pointing to thoughtfulness just beneath the surface. You can tell the guy’s well-read, but he never comes off as too clever for his own good.
“I like it simple,” says Lenker. “I just do. As soon as there’s a weird chord, I’m like, ‘Why? That’s all been done. Who cares?’ What’s really hard is to hit people in the heart and to reach them. That’s what I’m trying to do: make music that’s easily likeable, but with a kind of secret sophistication. I’m always trying to write a song that you can hum along with on the first listen. You’re like, ‘Yeah, I’d like to hear that again.’ Then maybe you hear it 20 times and you’re like, ‘Damn, that’s actually something I’m going to think about now.’”
But there’s a lot more than that to his instinctual, unorthodox journey from being brought up as a mortician’s son in rural Idaho to being recognized as one of the more innovative voices in Nashville’s current music scene.
Back in high school, Lenker had a cover band that enabled him to try on various alt-rock identities. “We covered ‘Under the Bridge,’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers,” he says, “and I didn’t know this at the time, but I listened to it recently and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s Korby trying to sing like Anthony Keidis. And this is Korby trying to sing like Trent Reznor.’”
After that, he got really into transcribing Trey Anastasio guitar solos as part of his music theory studies at Western Washington University. He also spent a semester in West Virginia with only his Martin D-18 acoustic guitar for company.
Here’s a bit of insight into the spontaneous spirit that makes Lenker’s music so interesting: He picked up a bargain bin copy of the journalistic snake handling memoir Salvation on Sand Mountain, and, with that alone to go on, decided to drive until he found one of the mountain churches mentioned in the book.
Lenker got new perspective, and a song about a snake-handling preacher, from the experience. “I ended up going home with one of the families,” he says. “We rode home with the snake in the box in the backseat. And I got to be friends with this kid who was my age—I was 23 at the time, and he was 23. We couldn’t have had more different backgrounds. He had an 8th grade education. But we somehow also had a lot in common. We ended up trading letters back and forth for years.”
Lenker returned to the Pacific Northwest inspired by his Appalachian adventures and fully immersed himself in the region’s bluegrass scene, forming a band called The Barbed Wire Cutters that proved to be an immediate hit in those parts. And he found ways to apply his pop-honed sensibilities to that tradition.
“I like it tight,” he offers about his experience fronting the 5 piece bluegrass outfit, which SPIN magazine called “The Young Riders of the bluegrass revolt”. “I like the solos short and I like harmonies in tune…it was all song-driven for me.”
All this time, Lenker was also making solo albums, and that became his primary focus with the folk-leaning Bellingham, which went over wonderfully in the U.K. and landed him on Bob Harris’s BBC Radio 4 show. After a move to Seattle, he got the urge to plug in again, hooked up with Candlebox drummer Scott Mercado and made a nimble modern rock record called King of Hearts that got lots of spins on KEXP and a 4 star review in UK mainstay MOJO magazine.
Toward the end of the last decade, Lenker followed his muse down to his present home of Nashville where he’s not only continued to hone his own unique artistic voice, but launched a stripped-down series of performance videos dubbed Wigby, spotlighting kindred musical spirits he’s found.
“I love those videos,” he says, “because it’s just people being great. It’s not production—it’s just, ‘Can you sing? Can you write a great song? Can you play your instrument well?’”
Deep down, Lenker is drawn both to the sort of unadorned expression the discerning folkie crowd treasures and to the sort of playful pop embellishment and electronic textures that may land one of his tracks in a primetime T.V. show or film any day now.
And there’s nothing at all wrong with having it both ways musically when it comes this naturally. “I can’t abandon either one of them,” Lenker says, “because they’re both so me. One of my favorite musicians in the world, bassist and composer Edgar Meyer once said in an interview ‘The boundaries of music have been and always should be limitless.’ I couldn’t agree more.”