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Spencer Ludwig: Taking Life by the Horn, Part 2
If you missed part 1 of JamFeed’s exclusive series, ‘Spencer Ludwig: Taking Life by the Horn’, you can catch up here.
It’s Sunday, June 21, and singer/songwriter/trumpeter Spencer Ludwig is spending the day with his family at Dodger Stadium, watching his father’s beloved Los Angeles Dodgers beat up on their NL West rival San Francisco Giants in a game that would eventually end in a 10-2 Dodgers victory.
In a summer that will find Spencer alternating weeks between LA and New York City, working with five different songwriters per week as he preps his forthcoming Warner Bros. debut album, he usually wouldn’t cut his cross-country plane trip this close. After all, he’s fresh off of an incredibly productive week of writing, and he’s supposed to be back in New York by now, spending time with his girlfriend and resting up for the next one.
But Sunday, June 21 is also Father’s Day, hence the reason for Spencer’s prolonged stay in his native LA. Spencer’s father, Allan Ludwig, is a Canadian born of Russian descent, and a “huuuuuge sports fan,” as Spencer puts it. “He’s the kind of guy who will watch one game on mute on the TV and be listening to another one on the radio. He grew up going to Dodger Stadium, so a Father’s Day baseball game seemed pretty perfect.”
These days, Spencer doesn’t get to see his family nearly as much as he wants to, despite staying at home during weeks of LA writing sessions. He leaves for the studio at 9 am and usually doesn’t get back until 2 am. But Allan and the rest of the family can’t knock the hustle; after all, Spencer got it from them. He puts his game face on each and every day, and unlike the ballplayers who he’s watching this Father’s Day, he doesn’t have an entire staff full of coaches, managers, and trainers to motivate him to stay in condition.
No, even though Spencer has the full support of Warner Bros. behind him, the grind necessary to complete this chaotic and jam-packed summer is all on him. Nobody is forcing him to keep such a hectic summer schedule, and it is internal passion, not outside influence, that is driving his mission.
“The outside perspective is probably, ‘Warner is really hooking Spencer up with all of these writers!’ But the schedule of writing with a different person until the end of August wasn’t a suggestion from the label. I decided to do this.”
Spencer’s manager and project manager both help him out with his day-to-day affairs, but when it comes to playing the game he’s his own coach and star player: “I do research on the person I’m working with before every session. I get to know their strengths, and I conduct and lead the session with those in mind. You have to be prepared if you want to be really efficient, and since I’m trying to finish a song that’s supposed to be better than the last one in only an eight-hour time frame, getting the ball rolling in the first few hours is really important.”
Now, because of his supreme preparedness and work ethic, the next time Spencer Ludwig steps foot in Dodger Stadium it will be to perform the National Anthem on August 11, while his whole family watches on from the field.
So yeah, being home without actually spending time with the family is bittersweet, but the Ludwig’s understand. Their boy is in the zone this summer, and he’s trying to create a classic.
I will be writing weekly segments on Spencer Ludwig’s progress, as well as documenting each writing session, from now until the end of August. This column allows Spencer to detail the making of his debut album in his own words and in his own way, as he describes his learning curve on a weekly basis. Hopefully these segments will not only capture the intricacies of creating a major label album, but also the inspiration and collaboration that drives an artist to be great. The experience is about life turning into music, turning back into life, and so on.
Read on to hear in Spencer’s own words how his first full week of songwriting sessions in Los Angeles shaped up. Welcome to Spencer Ludwig: Taking Life by the Horn, Part 2.
Monday, June 15th
Collaborator: Roger Love.
Location: Roger’s studio in Hollywood.
Spencer: “I used to go to school with Roger Love’s kid, so I just reached out to him like, ‘Roger, I know you’re the man. I would really appreciate the guidance.’ He’s been the vocal coach for The Jonas Brothers, Maroon 5, The Beach Boys, The Jacksons, Iggy Pop, Smashing Pumpkins… it just goes on and on. I feel really fortunate that I was able to spend an hour with him, because that hour was pretty life changing. He helped me discover a part of my voice that I wasn’t really using, known as your ‘middle voice’. It’s that point between your comfortable singing range and your high falsetto. He helped me discover it and strengthen it.
He was very hands on, literally. He grabbed my throat and as I sang up my Adam’s apple would go up and then he would push it down with his hands. Keeping your Adam’s apple down as you sing higher gives your voice more strength and clarity. It actually worked, too, because his physical aid kept it down and I was reaching notes that were higher than I’ve ever reached before.
There’s a few obvious differences between writing in LA as opposed to New York, and it starts with driving places. I like that culture of driving from place to place. I do a lot of planning when I’m in the car, and it also allows me to make phone calls, which I don’t have the time for in New York using public transit. Roger gave me a CD of our voice lesson, which was really organized and really clear, and every day after the lesson I was practicing in the car. It’s a great time to practice because I can just belt it out.
Roger wanted me to improve in that one-hour lesson, and I actually did improve. I feel like my voice is getting into really good shape. I feel like a well-oiled machine right now.”
Tuesday, June 16th
Writer(s): Sam Sugarman, Matt Powell, and The Belle Brigade’s Ethan Gruska.
Location: Sam and Matt’s garage studio in LA, “Brunswick Studios.”
Spencer: “Sam Sugarman and Ethan Gruska are high school friends of mine. I met Matt Powell in college, through Sam, because Sam and I used to play in a wedding band that Matt would play bass for sometimes. Now Sam and Matt live in a house together with another one of my high school friends, Chris Hartz, who is the musical director for Childish Gambino and Passion Pit. Ethan lives close.
Sam’s wedding band is the best sounding and hardest working wedding band in all of Los Angeles. It was called Licorice when I was in it, I’m not sure what the name is now, but they have since been signed to West Coast Music, which is the most legit event booking company on the west (Editor’s note: I was able to find a Facebook page for Licorice that hasn’t been in use since early 2012, but nothing since). When I finished high school, I literally begged Sam to let me into the band. He was two grades above me in school, so he had never heard me play trumpet before. I started playing my senior year when he was already gone. It took a little convincing, but he finally let me join.
I credit my stage presence to playing with Licorice. In order for me to prove to Sam that his really awesome wedding band needed a trumpet player, I needed to be more than a trumpet player. That’s where I came up with my wild performance style. I was taking solos over songs by Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Prince; any time there was a bridge I would get up on someone’s table or on the bar for my solo, just being super Ron Burgundy about it. It became something that everybody really came to love. That’s where I learned how to create this dynamic between learning the trumpet parts in the song and improvising to put on a show. And that’s the mentality I had when Capital Cities asked me to play shows with them.
One of the most important things about writing music is chemistry. The first hour of a session sometimes is just talking and getting to know each other’s vibe. But these guys are my best friends from high school, so I just knew that great music would be made if I wrote with them, and I was totally right. The good thing about being in a wedding band is you have to study the best music from all of the best eras. So these guys are coming from a really deep understanding of the music that I love, and that I’m inspired by. I’ll be doing a lot more with them. It doesn’t matter what your credits are, it only matters if you’re able to make good music with somebody, and I’ll be doing a lot more with them.”
Wednesday, June 17th
Location: DJ Mr. Best’s home studio in Hollywood Hills.
Spencer: “RAD Stereo is Ryan Best (DJ Mr. Best) and Dustin Que. They’re known for their remixes, which always chart really high on the hypem charts. They’re two of the coolest, nicest, most open-hearted and genuine dudes out there, who are also extremely talented. I really like them as people, so I just knew that writing music with them would be fun.
I met Daphne Willis a long time ago when I was hired to record trumpet on one of her tracks. She’s from Nashville, and I’ve stayed in touch with her because she’s a really talented writer. She’s signed to Sony/ATV as a writer now, and has recently written stuff with Meghan Trainor. She’s very melodic and a great lyricist. I thought that partnering Daphne with a strong production team like RAD Stereo would result in a really strong pop song, so I brought the two worlds together and everyone got along great.”
Spencer on why the picture for this session is so great, and why all of Spencer’s pictures are great: “I attach a GoPro somewhere and put it on a time lapse, so I’m able to sift through and find a really good action shot. I don’t ever want [my pictures] to be a pose. The viewer should feel like they’re a fly on the wall.”
Thursday, June 18th
Location: Spencer’s home studio in LA.
Spencer: “I’ve known Marcel Camargo since I was 16-years-old. He’s from Sao Paolo, Brazil. He used to play guitar in Ethan Gruska’s sister’s band, and he’s currently Michael Buble’s guitar player. I’ve watched him play with many different bands in LA growing up. He’s one of the most incredible guitar players alive today; prolific, talented, and diverse, plus a next-level arranger.
Inara George is the singer/songwriter of The Bird and The Bee. When their first record came out (self-titled as The Bird and The Bee) I was in high school, and it totally changed my life and my perception of what pop is and could be. It was so innovative and lush with harmony. The song forms were unique and her voice is unbelievably angelic, I was infatuated with the record and with her.
Thanks to Marcel, Inara was able to come. I hit him up first about adding strings, flutes, and horns to my music because I want that level of arrangement on my album. I’m making a really BIG sounding album. You’re going to hear everything. He said, ‘Yeah Spencer, I’d love to do that! Regarding orchestration, here’s an example of an orchestra performing The Bird and The Bee songs sung by Inara George’. I was like, ‘It would be crazy if Inara could come over’, and he was like, ‘that’s a good idea, I’ll ask her’. So he sent her my demos, she said yes, and next thing I know she’s standing in my mom’s living room! That was so cool to me.
We wrote one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It was such a great experience because I’ve wanted to write a song that will excite the people of Brazil — and of South America, for that matter — and since Marcel is from Sao Paolo, I said ‘let’s try to write a pop song with Brazilian influence’. The combination of the two made it happen. No matter what happens with that song, whether it’s on the album or not, it will forever be one of the most special songs to me in the world.
Friday, June 19th
Writer: Dennis Herring.
Location: Herring’s home studio in downtown LA, aka DTLA Studios.
Spencer: “Kenny Carkeet of AWOLNATION has been in my corner for a long time. Every so often he’ll reach out to me and ask, ‘Hey man, I’m working on something for a band, can you put trumpet on it?’ And I always do. One day, when I was on the road with Capital Cities, he said, ‘I’m working on a song with a really big producer named Dennis Herring, it would be great if you could play trumpet on this song’. So I ended up recording trumpet for some song for somebody who Dennis was producing. Kenny was like, ‘I’m so glad you were able to connect with Dennis, he’s a really big deal’. I didn’t even know who he was, but I trust Kenny.
When I was setting up these writing sessions, I remembered that name. It turns out that Dennis Herring is a two-time Grammy winning producer. He’s produced for The Hives, Modest Mouse, Buddy Guy, Counting Crows, The Waves, Twin Shadow, and many more. So I just hit him up like, ‘Hey man, do you remember me? I sent you trumpet stuff, would you like to write?’ I sent him my demos and he said, ‘Let’s do it’.
I pulled up to a giant warehouse in downtown LA like, ‘this is interesting’. It was the coolest house I’ve ever been to in my life. He purchased an entire warehouse building with super high ceilings and divided it. One half is an epic, wide open living space with multiple ‘rooms’, but no walls. And in the center is a giant, humongous tropical palm tree that’s fully grown and covered in lights. This is the part of the warehouse that he lives in. Then there’s one wall that splits the building, and behind that wall is an equally giant space that’s the most next level recording studio. Everything he writes and produces is done there.
I had an amazing day working on a really fun, uptempo, funky track that I’m super excited about. He was writing songs with Katy Perry and Chris Brown earlier in the week, and then it was me. I was like, ‘Dang, I’m glad I called you’ (laughs).”