The best songwriters draw from a personal perspective. Amy Speace clearly adhered to that premise with her remarkable new album, There Used To Be Horses Here, a set of songs that reference a period of time between the passing of her father, who grew up on a small farm in Maryland, and the birth of her son a few months later. It made for an emotional journey that she found herself on. The results are touching and tender, offering not only the kind of beautiful and insightful melodies Speace has consistently come up with throughout her career, but also a series of descriptive stories that tug at the heartstrings and share sentiments that have become commonplace in a year marked by distance and disappointment.
It’s ironic in a way how the record materialized, given the fact that Speace says she didn’t set out to write an album of an autobiographical nature. “The truth is, I didn’t decide to document that time,” she confesses. “I just write songs, and I was writing songs about the experience I was having. I simply hit upon a song that told me, ‘I think I have an album here.’ I wrote the first one ‘One Year,’ which was literally me sitting on my porch, really quickly. It was everything I was actually looking at. I didn’t put much thought into it. And then once I wrote that, I looked back at some songs I had written already. I wrote ‘Father’s Day’ for my father on Father’s Day, knowing it would be his last. At that point, I had a couple of songs.”
Speace was further inspired after a visit with another artist who also happened to be a new mom herself and off the road due to the pandemic. “We were hanging and asking ourselves, ‘How do we fucking do this?,’” she recalls saying. ‘Are we going to be able to do this? We have to do this, right?’”
Another friend suggested that her vocal would really suit itself to a bigger “Nelson Riddle-type production piece,” and as a result, she turned to producer Neilson Hubbard and his band, the Orphan Brigade, with whom she had worked before. ”It literally struck me like lightning,” Speace recalls. “Oh my God. This album needs the Orphan Brigade as my band, so I called Neilson and said, ‘This is gonna sound strange, but can Orphan Brigade supply the orchestration?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘I need to write songs with the Orphan Brigade.’ And that’s when it hit. That’s when it started, and so Orphan Brigade and I sat and wrote the song ‘Down the Trail’ in like, half an hour. And once I had those two songs, I knew I was onto something. Then, while I was on tour, and in the dressing room before a concert, I wrote ‘There Used to Be Horses Here,’ and then I played it that night at the show. So many people came up to me afterwards and asked ‘What record is that on?’ So later, I called Neilson, and I said, ‘I think I just wrote the title track, and now I know what this record is about.’”
While Hubbard and company were at least partially responsible for the album’s atmospheric ambiance, Spence said she was still determined to be involved in the arrangements as well. “I had already produced four records myself in the years prior,” she says. “So I was like, I know what I want on this record. I’ve learned a lot from Nielson, and so his stamp is on it, too. I think it took a little bit of a different turn because I had the collaboration of those guys.”
Looking back at the results, Speace says that all the pieces seemed to click. “I can tell when you do a take and it’s at the right pace,” she explains. “If you’re recording live with everybody, there is another partner in the room. And that’s what I call the universal spirit. And when that shows up, everybody has chills. There’s like an energy that’s vibrating, and you finish the take and everybody looks at each other, like, ‘Holy shit, where did we just go?’ I think it’s spiritual. I think it’s like you go to church, and I’m telling you, it’s such a drug. That’s why I love recording. Some people don’t like recording, they get nervous. I’m like, bring it on. I’ve learned to not try to get it perfect, but just to get it right.”
Speace says that what matters most is being able to share her emotions and hope that the experience resonates with others, and that they, in turn, can relate those thoughts and sentiments to their own lives.
“It’s my job,” she insists. “It’s what I love most about this work. My goal is to write and perform from a place of vulnerable truth—not pretty vulnerability, but just true vulnerability—cut to the bone vulnerability. That’s what I respond to most in other people’s art. I remember reading what Lucinda Williams once said, that you’ve got to drop some blood on the page. I’ve always thought about that. I don’t find it scary because I go into the studio with people who have my back.”
As a result, Speace’s confidence is clear.
“I have a net underneath me,” she reflects. “Once I record the material, and I hear the way it sounds, it’s like, ‘Okay, that sounds true.’ Then, when I put it out into the universe, it’s beyond me. I can’t control what happens with it after that. But it doesn’t matter to me what happens with it after that, because what’s important was that I made something that to me, was honest and true. And that’s when I’ve done my job.”