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Amy Speace’s new album ‘Tucson’ is a documentation of the beginnings of the long road to recovery. Dealing with the trauma of being raped in college and then sadly losing her father, Amy checked herself into the ‘Cottonwood de Tucson’ facility for help. There she found a dusty, out of tune piano and so began this collection of raw, emotive and beautiful songs.
Hi Amy! Thanks so much for talking to me today! Your new album ‘Tucson’ goes deeper than the majority of country music storytelling in that it walks us through your recovery from the trauma of being raped in college. It can often be a freeing experience to express our emotions into our art – did you find that documenting your recovery in this way actually also helped the process?
Yeah, I mean I would say I didn’t necessarily at the time, I was just writing. I was writing myself through a lot of fear. I was feeling very out of place and I found this was the only thing that grounded me. When I found the piano I started playing then all of a sudden a song is coming then three songs are coming then five songs are coming! I kind of wrote myself through that period. I didn’t intend on the healing journey through music but I kind of did that to myself.
You managed to get the album recorded in an impressive amount of time at just under a couple of days. I can imagine the recording experience for a project like this one was very emotional – how did you feel revisiting your own powerful words and performing them all in such a small timeframe?
Well, I got back from the treatment centre I was at in September and I went into the studio the first week of October so I didn’t really have much time to process. I was still really fragile and I had sent the songs to a close friend who knew what I was going through and he was like ‘we should record these’. I didn’t think I would put this out as an album; it was more just sort of a document of the songs for me. I chose a bunch of musicians who I did the last record with who I feel comfortable with and could share with them the truth of what was going on so that they were very gentle with me. My voice was still pretty raw when I recorded that, in fact when I went back and listened I thought I was going to have to re-record all the vocals but it turns out they sounded fine for where I was. I think because it’s such a raw record I did not want to spend too much time on it, I just wanted to blow through it really quickly. My template was Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ and I think he recorded that in a day or something – so I was just like ‘let’s do it like ‘Nebraska’, I don’t want to think about it too much, let’s just sit down and put these songs down and see where they are’. So that was kind of the process.
One of the most admirable things I find about your recovery is that you checked yourself into a treatment centre – ‘Cottonwood de Tucson’ – which inspired both the name of the album and of the song ‘Cottonwood’. It can often be challenging to admit to ourselves that we need help and takes further courage to act on that. What was it that ultimately helped you decide you needed to get treatment?
My therapist! I had a really dark night, a really dark night. I have a son and if it weren’t for my son I think I might have totally checked out, the depression got really bad. I called my therapist at ten o’clock at night, thank God she called me back, and she just said ‘we need to get you someplace for this depression and trauma’. A few things had happened, first of all I had a baby which unleashed a lot of stuff, then I had postpartum depression which further unleashed it. On top of that my dad died, then right after my father died Covid happened. I just had sort of this … exponentially … situationally stuff that happened that made the trauma just churn. Then when it exploded; thank God I’ve got a great therapist who just said ‘we need to get you away’. Cottonwood de Tucson was this really well-known space that dealt with trauma, depression, anxiety and addiction issues. They had space open and they took my insurance – I think three days after that night I was on a plane.
‘If You Fall’ is an extremely powerful and emotive song and one of my favourites from the project. It can often be easy to lose faith or confidence in ourselves and this ballad proves to be an uplifting anthem of self-love. Your vocals to yourself are laced with positivity, assurance and empathy. How crucial do you think it is that when faced with adversity we are able to lift ourselves in this way?
I wrote that for somebody else actually who was at treatment with me. He was having a really rough time and he was considering leaving and we were like ‘no, you can’t leave!’ So, I wrote it for him, his name is Michael, but then I realized it’s to myself. I think to say it would be critical for us to know how to lift ourselves up would be really beautiful but how many of us know that? People say ‘Oh just buck up, everything’s great!’ and you’re like ‘you don’t understand depression!’ It’s a fog, it's not like you can just take a nap and it goes away or take a pill and it’s cured. I think I’ve run across people in my life that when I got back thought ‘oh you’re better!’ – Well I don’t want to kill myself but I now know the work that’s laid out for me. We don’t choose the events in our life that lead up to trauma and then anxiety and depression and a breakdown, so it’s a lifetime of work, so with that song although I wrote it for Michael, now I see it’s for me and it was like the shadow side of me saying ‘I got you’. The language I like to use around it, and this is from traumatic work, is that it’s the little girl in me that’s terrified; it’s not adult Amy and so in a way it’s adult Amy singing to the terrified little girl saying ‘no matter what, I got you’. When things get tougher, as they do, we need reminding and so I have people in my life that say that to me. I’m lucky enough that I’m a songwriter, or any kind of writer, so that I can put that into words so that someone else can hear it and feel like they’re not alone. I think to say that we each individually need to learn that strength inside of ourselves – I can’t even imagine. You learn tools along the way that you can do that for yourself hopefully.
I like how you haven’t overproduced this project – textures and accompaniment are kept minimalistic and not only does it let the lyrics and your voice shine through but it also adds to the whole atmospheric feel of the album. I’ve read that when writing your songs you were limited in that you only really had the use of an out of tune piano – was this style in the songs a result of this or was it something you decided on when pulling the project together?
I think it’s both. The songs were written really intimately and the subject matter is intimate and confessional. To add too much on top of it would just feel overdone. That’s why I say Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ was really my template because there’s an intimacy and immediacy to that record that I wanted to capture, so that it feels like I’m whispering in the ear of the listener. Considering the emotions that went into this album and the inspiration behind it, were you nervous about releasing it? Yeah! I didn’t think I was going to and then when I was encouraged to put it out I realised that I wasn’t going to have to talk about it, but to contextualise the record it would be better if I was pretty open and honest. I had to walk through a lot of fear and a lot of shame and then I just thought that I’ve been on this planet long enough and I know that there’s enough other people who have suffered similar situations who have gotten through, or haven’t, and it would be helpful to just say ‘me too!’ There’s that old phrase; ‘you can’t judge someone’s insides from their outsides’ – it can all look really pretty on the outside and really underneath there's turmoil and mess and it’s nice to know when somebody else says ‘me too’. There was a lot of nervousness about the conversation that would be around this but I have enough support around me, business wise and friends, and my support network were like ‘you have to release this and we are right behind you!’
I’ve read that you’re involved in a Creative Writing Program and have had the chance to read a couple of your pieces. What inspired you to take this up, and how do you find the creative outlet to be affecting your mental health?
I always had this urge to go back to school and when Covid happened and the world shut down I thought ‘I’ve got the time now’ and the only thing that I’d want to go back to study is creative writing. I’ve always written poetry, I’m considered a lyricist but I didn’t know if I was a poet or not. I thought I’d apply in contemporary non-fiction which is more like memoirs and essays because I do that a lot too, and I ended up getting accepted into both genres, so I thought ‘well I’m gonna try poetry!’ It’s been amazing, it’s a different art form than song writing and it stretches a whole different part of my brain, but I feel freer in the subject matter that I can write about in poetry. Just the idea of syntactically and structurally I’m much freer with it, it’s not like verse, chorus, verse, chorus. I think it’ll make me a better songwriter as well, and I think being a songwriter has made me a better poet so it kind of goes hand in hand. I’ve really been loving it although it’s kind of exhausting and a whole lot of reading!
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the past, so now onto the future! What are your plans in terms of performing and potentially new music?
I’ve got shows here and there, it’s slow coming because of the pandemic. I’m playing in Mississippi then have a few things scattered over the Summer. We are looking to do a UK tour in the fall, or it might be January, they’re working on it right now. I have a ton of new songs I’m trying to figure out the direction I want to go – if I want to take a total left turn and do a pop record or do another quiet singer-songwriter record, so I’m just trying to gather those songs together.
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name a top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
1. Blue – Joni Mitchell
2. Shotgun Down the Avalanche – Shawn Colvin
3. Orange Sky – Alexi Murdoch
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