When Bethany Spiers played at Millsaps College last year, she pulled a reverse March on the crowd: in like a lamb, out like a lion. The lead singer of The Feverfew moved to the front of the room with an unassuming head down, pulled her guitar in close and started singing softly. By the second song, "Selby," the crowd had stilled. Her narrative songs—characterized by fresh lines that literally hook the crowd—entranced the listeners after only a few minutes. By the end of her 30-minute set, she had set her new fanbase: liberal-arts college kids ready to taste the beauty of her album. She played the concert without the other half of her band (John Linaberry is in other bands and sometimes doesn't tour with Spiers), but nothing about her performance hinted at any lack.
When I saw Spiers again, in Brooklyn earlier this year, there was nothing shy about her. All punk rock in spirit (with plug-earrings to match her animation), Spiers seemed little like the reserved singer at Millsaps. Turns out she had been out too late in New Orleans the night before when she played in Jackson, but the part-quiet part-punk aspect of Spiers is pretty accurate. Before becoming a solo songstress, Spiers had been a member of an all-girl hardcore band. Oddly juxtaposed as these two attitudes are, Spiers puts them to work together perfectly on her latest album "Apparitions."
Spiers' record is out on Eyeball Records, a label that usually signs punk or hardcore bands. Spiers' hardcore band had been signed to Eyeball before it "blew up," and the label told her they'd put out a solo record for her if she ever wanted to produce one. Though the songs on "Apparitions" are melodic departures from her early days as a hardcore girl, the mentality of punk and hardcore resonates within Spiers.
"I grew up in that hardcore punk scene, but it's more the spirit of the community than the music itself that shows up in my work," she explains. "It has made me a better player, that's for sure. The mentality influences my lyrics."
As captivating as her voice is, "Apparitions" makes clear that Spiers is not just a singer. In fact, her voice may be secondary to her lyrics. What's particularly interesting is that Spiers' songs aren't all self-focused; many of them delve into elaborate, captivating narratives. Standout track "Selby" was inspired by the retelling of serial-killer Aileen Wuornos's relationship with her lover "Selby" in "Monster." Though the song isn't a direct re-telling, it does vividly describe two desperate lovers who run into some trouble. This sort of entrancing story keeps "Apparitions" fresh.
"I try not to write about myself too directly because it gets boring," Spiers says. "It's a whole bunch of ghost stories. 'Last Call' is about a girl whose dad is a heroin addict. He's a kind of a ghost."
The lyrics on "Apparitions" also point to a clear use of themes. Almost all of the songs mention light—from lovers under streetlights to a lover falling towards the sun to "shifting shape under florescent light." In fact, one of the definitions, Spiers points out, of the word apparition deals with a sudden exposure of light.
"It wasn't conscious, but then I realized light is a theme," she says. Unconsciously again, much of her new material refers to the sea—perhaps a result of her latest tour in California.
Touring the country has done more than increase her references to the sea, though. Spiers says: "I definitely see a huge difference in the maturity of my performance since I have to do it every night. I've gotten a lot better at masking my apprehension when the show isn't what I expected."
Bethany Spiers plays at W.C. Don's Thursday night at 10 p.m. with goodman-COUNTY and David Schultz.
I just finished reading Ms. Casey's article. How delightful to see young and new talent in the media field. I am a aviad reader of Ms. Casey's kepp up the good work. I think she is one of the best writers you have on the staff of the Free Press. Keep up the good work
she aint all that
Yes, she is, you bad boy. ;-D
You better be nice to her; she's going to be editing you soon, you know.
thanks troyce, hush skipp. you know we're best friends