I empty the fridge, you empty the bottle / We’re stacking up a mountain of hard pills we’ll have to swallow / It’s strange how we point out flaws in one another / We both got different vices and they lead us to each other, Brittney Spencer begins gently to open her new song, “Sober & Skinny.”
“The song is not entirely autobiographical,” the Baltimore-native tells American Songwriter over the phone, disclosing her life-long struggle with her weight. “I’m the songwriter that likes to tell stories. This one is about a couple where each of them wants to change something about the other. It’s easy to project and fixate on others’ issues if it means not focusing on your own.”
“Sober & Skinny” began as a loose concept sitting on her bed—where most of her songs start. Spencer thought the idea might be “too quirky.” Yet, she pitched the idea to co-writers Nelly Joy and Jason Reeves over a Zoom session, with just the chorus crafted. Much to her surprise, they were sold.
Produced by Aaron Eshuis, the song expands beyond the bounds of these interpersonal issues. By comparing these two vices, the lyrics provide perspective to help spread understanding across the community of those struggling.
“These are two huge issues, but on a spectrum,” says Spencer. “There is a difference between needing rehab and needing to drink two or three fewer beers. Same goes on the other side, is the doctor telling you to lose weight for health reasons or because you saw a picture in a magazine and now you feel bad. I think it grabs ahold of people in different ways. But that’s the beauty of art, you never know how people will interpret or relate to it.”
Compassion, released in 2020, captured her vantage point on the state of the things. Spencer checks in on the status of humanity, humbly offering constructive criticism.
This collection, she says, is “less about how I see the world, but how I see myself or how the world sees me, or the character I’m playing in the song. That’s storytelling, that’s compassion.”
By stepping into the fictional shoes of the subject, Spencer finds both creative satisfaction and a renewed sense of empathy.
“I’m proud of myself for constantly wanting to make it my goal to write and sings songs that will reach people,” says Spencer. “I make songs for people who think a lot about the world and how they fit in it. I busked for two summers, wrote songs on my college dorm room bed, and at the core, I’m still that person and I’m proud that’s still my goal.”
Spencer recently announced she will join Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit on the road this fall, opening for him for a few tour dates. Though absolutely thrilled to get back in front of an audience, she is also nervous. Having (successfully) released her first project during a global pandemic, the artist has only felt the love through her various screens within the comfort of her home.
“I guess you could say I am looking forward to that terror,” she laughs. “Everything will feel different. Some of my biggest moments happened from behind my phone, so sometimes it doesn’t feel real or as tangible. So it will be some reassurance, and so fun to be around people again.”
The release of her debut EP garnered rave reviews from the likes of Maren Morris and Amanda Shires. Morris even went so far as to name-check Spencer as an artist to watch during her 2020 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year acceptance speech.
On Isbell, she adds, “He and Amanda [Shires] have really taken me under their wings, answered so many of my questions, let me know I’m not the only one feeling this way. He’s so talented and revered and [I] don’t take it lightly that he’s taking me out there with him, even though he’s a friend. [I’m] so grateful. I look forward to watching him in action. The way he’s able to captivate an audience, in-person or online, is so engaging. He’s mastered the idea of finding your people and building a thing together by inviting people onto his journey.”
Listen to “Sober & Skinny” by Brittney Spencer below.
Photo by Nicki Fletcher