Latest project: Vagabond [major-label debut album released on Concord, recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California] is about longing and searching for a home. It’s a reflection of my experiences in life and love thus far. Although it’s eclectic stylistically, it is my hope that it successfully pays homage to all the great music that has inspired me.
Songwriting process: I’ll generally start with a melody. I’ll hear a pattern that I’m humming over and over again. Often when I’m walking, that’s a good place for it to happen. Then I go to the piano, try to lay chords underneath it, and see what interesting contrasts I can create harmonically.
Time pressure and creativity: Deadlines are always a really good motivator for getting things done, so there were probably four or five songs that I hurried up to get finished. I had sketches of ideas, but when I knew we had studio time reserved at Fantasy, which is not cheap, it gave me motivation to get them finished.
Songwriting inspiration: I’ll listen to a record I really like and think, what about this works for me? Whether it’s Debussy or something else, what appeals to me, harmonically or rhythmically? I’ll start riffing on that, and the next thing you know, it’s morphed into something completely different.
Playing piano and singing at the same time: It’s taken a long time to get to the point where I can feel comfortable [doing both together]. Ballads were the first things I started with, because I could outline the chords, and what I was singing, with the piano. Singers who accompany themselves come up with interesting choices that an accompanist might not hear, and a unique way of framing things.
Songwriting advice: Don’t be afraid to talk about personal things. Everyone’s life is so interesting and we’ve all had so many unique experiences. We just need to feel comfortable drawing from those.
For video of Spencer playing and talking music: Visit keyboardmag.com