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Spencer Ludwig has been to Europe before, but not like this.
“It was an amazing feeling knowing that I didn’t have to go home after playing in Serbia with Capital Cities,” says Spencer over the phone, his voice picking up excitement as he thinks about his recent two-week Euro-trip that took him from Spain, to Serbia and then to London, where he would spend a week on his own collaborating with a different songwriter every day, sometimes two times a day. “Now that my priorities have shifted to being a solo artist it really feels like I’ve arrived onto the right path. Being in control of my music, my schedule, and my life again is extremely fulfilling. I get more excited every day that I get to write another song and do me.”
I’ve been speaking with Spencer about his songwriting experience all summer, and he has never sounded more thrilled/relieved/fulfilled/enlightened than he is now. He referred to the feeling as “internally relaxed.” After playing two shows with Capital Cities in Spain — one in Bilbao and one in Barcelona — and one show in Serbia, Spencer headed to London for possibly his best week of songwriting sessions yet.
“I knew going into London that it was going to be an insane week, so I tried to spend a lot of time alone before that. I went for walks and just reflected on how incredible it is to be in this moment, traveling and playing music because I want to, not because I have to, and pursuing my dream. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.”
However, it would be foolish to mistake Spencer’s newfound appreciation for the moment as the beginning of him “settling.” He may be enjoying his life a little more (okay, a lot more) than those of us at home, but he’s already thinking about the next step, and yes, I realize that his album isn’t even in the recording process yet.
“I hope that this album opens doors for new opportunities,” says Spencer as he seamlessly switches into businessman mode, something he often does. “I’m really interested in writing for other artists and developing other artists from the ground up. I’ll be a better businessman if I experience being a successful artist first, so I’m using this opportunity to do that.”
Once upon a time not too long ago, before dreams of writing songs in the UK’s premier studios, Spencer was just a kid exploring his home city of Los Angeles. He grew up in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of The Valley, which he describes as “flat and friendly.” He was “the kid on the block with the drum-set in the garage” who would bike for miles with his friends, getting to know the ins-and-outs of the city that raised him. As the years went by, he learned about LA through music; the music he saw, played, and taught.
“Music is the reason that I understand so many of the back roads, short cuts, and neighborhoods of LA. I’ve seen every kind of house, every kind of street. I used to go on Craigslist and look for people who needed a trumpet player, write them an email, then go to a random studio. I always said ‘yes’ to every opportunity.”
Fast forward to present day and not much has changed as far as Spencer’s thirst to explore goes. Only now he’s exploring the world, and instead of hoping for trumpet gigs with others he’s exploring his own music. The week he spent in London, which he says reminds him of a “clean New York,” was so amazing that his only regret was leaving. However, in typical Spencer fashion, he’s already planning a return trip in October.
Read on to hear about Spencer’s transformative week in the UK. In his own words.
Week of Monday, July 13 to Sunday, July 19
Collaborator: Brian Banks
Location: Elberton Manor Studios in Bristol, UK
“Imagine this: I fly from Serbia to London on Monday, July 13, and then I immediately have to figure out the route to Bristol to work with Brian Banks. It’s a two hour train ride but I have to find the train that takes me to the train first. I’m so exhausted at this point that I feel like I need to treat myself to a first class ticket and relax, so I do that.
The train ride is going great, the stewardess is coming by with complimentary tea and biscuits, and I’m just sitting back reflecting on life and the incredible fact that for the first time ever I’m able to go on my own trip, be my own person, and do my own thing all for my own solo record. In that moment I realize that I’m really living the dream. It’s a cloud nine experience through and through.
Well, I ended up enjoying myself so much that I missed the Bristol stop! Brian texted me asking where I was, and I looked at my phone and realized that I had absolutely no idea. I overshot Bristol by two stops and had to backtrack. We didn’t even start our session until 7 or 8 pm, and I had a session back in London the following day at 2 pm.
Working with Brian was really productive, we already have a great relationship. He’s my girlfriend’s uncle. He’s also a brilliant musician and he’s worked with so many of the people who have influenced me. He played synths on Thriller and worked with Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg on The Color Purple, for example. His studio is inside of his ‘manor,’ which is a fancy English word for ‘mansion.’
Working there was magical. It’s like a 13th century castle made out of giant stones with a tower, a barn with three horses, an apple orchard, and two incredible dogs. There’s secret passages, winding staircases, and artwork everywhere.
Brian is much older than me, but when it comes to music age doesn’t matter. That applies to both the creative and the listening/enjoying process. So I focused on that topic and it was a lot of fun to write about because Brian and I were connecting and the experience of writing with him was relevant to the actual writing. Unfortunately our time was split between two days at odd hours because of my train incident, but we were able to get well into a song. We stayed up until 3 am on Monday, woke up at 6 am on Tuesday, ate breakfast, and wrote again from 7 am until noon. He has a place in LA and he comes to New York all the time, so we’re bound to meet up again soon.”
Collaborators: The Invisible Men
Location: Hammersmith, London
“I was able to work with the Invisible Men on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. They are the production trio that co-wrote and produced Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” What’s great about them is that the music they make always sounds like their music and nobody else’s. They really push hard to make innovative pop music, and their strength is in creating outstanding instrumentals.
When “Fancy” first came on the radio I was like, ‘what is this track?!’ The instrumental is so compelling. They think about composing in a very clean and big sounding way. They really allow the space to be the music, and they’re so good at the minimalist production style.
Whoever told them about me said that I was in the vein of Prince meets Earth, Wind & Fire, so they put some things together that they thought would fit that vibe. They played me snippets of ideas and let me pick one to build on. I felt like a kid in a candy store with a bunch of No. 1 single options (laughs). It went so well that I picked a couple, and we booked two additional days to work, and we’ve also arranged to spend more time together in LA in August.
The Invisible Men continuously pushed me until they felt like they were hearing something that they hadn’t heard in my demos. Their mission was to get me out of my comfort zone. They pushed me to sing in my lowest register and it ended up sounding so good and different and new that I’ve been incorporating that voice into my writing process again and again since. It was a very similar experience to discovering my falsetto earlier this summer while working with LP.
The style is a very low ‘Sly & The Family Stone’ kind of sound. It’s awkward, it’s like ‘why would you do that?’ But when you figure out how to make it work then you’re like, ‘there’s no reason not to give this a shot!’ Because I’m such a new artist — at least in terms of singing — I haven’t explored all of the dynamics of the instrument that is my voice, so I’m up for anything. Finding out what I can and can’t do is so exciting.”
Collaborator: Greg Alexander
Location: Tileyard Studios, Kings Cross, London
“Both sessions with Greg this time around were late night sessions — on Wednesday and Saturday night — which are always a bit shorter. I didn’t finish the lyrics on the song I wrote with Brian Banks so I decided to be as efficient as possible and work on it with Greg. The goal is to make finished songs, and that is Greg’s specialty — he really knows how to finish a song strongly.
He loved this song, so he helped me fine-tune the melody and finish it over the course of these two sessions. He was the perfect person to do it. Music is always a youthful experience. We’re all doing it because we started loving it around the same age, which is childhood. We’re all connected to that version of ourselves to some degree, so we all kind of meet there when we make music.
They have a really unique food delivery service in London called Deliverancy. It was our saving grace, since we didn’t have time for dinner during these shorter sessions. The menu is super diverse, like Thai, Indian, American gourmet.”
Collaborator: Paul Carter aka Benbrick
Location: Tileyard Studios, Kings Cross, London
“I wanted to have my own space to operate in London, so Paul was nice enough to rent out a studio to me Tuesday through Saturday. It was crucial for me to have a little space to review tracks while I was there.
Paul and I are the same age, 25. It’s unique for me to be writing with somebody my own age. Everyone I’ve written with so far has been older, even if it’s by a couple years. It was refreshing to meet someone like Paul in London because we could connect in the same way I do with my high school buddies.
It’s really confusing that Paul (his real first name) and Ben (the first half of his alias) are such normal names, and I still refer to him by both (laughs), but I think it’s a brilliant idea to separate his artist identity from his personal one. He hung out in the lounge during the nights I was writing with Greg, so during food breaks we got a chance to socialize and that was great because when it came time to write we could just jump right into the session.
When you’re working with a friend it’s so easy to make music. You can talk about existential things, sensitive things, or just laugh, and the process doesn’t even seem like work. It’s just play. We were supposed to only work on Thursday, but that’s not what ended up happening. We would start one idea, then one of us would step out and the other one would begin a new idea. So many ideas were flowing that I emailed my manager like, ‘We need to cancel everything tomorrow. Every idea is a hit, we need more time!’ So we canceled Friday, and the same thing happened again. I emailed my manager again on Friday and we canceled my Saturday schedule too.
The energy was so positive and open, we were literally making music out of nothing. You could’ve ripped a piece of paper and Paul would’ve said, ‘record that,’ and a song would be made. For instance, he had a Rhodes piano with the cover of the strings removed and a tambourine laying on top. I hit the keys and the inside of the piano smacked against the strings, which vibrated against the tambourine, and we recorded this incredible weird vibration sound and made a beat out of that. No idea is bad, it’s all about the follow through. Paul’s ability to follow through with the production and songwriting is incredible and unlike anything I’ve seen in person.
We eventually got everything down to three ideas, finished one of them, and halfway finished the other two. I walked away with almost three complete songs with one person, and they’re all different. One is a ballot, one is a straight up dance track, and another one is like… its own genre.
I feel like I will always have a place in London to create now because of Paul. A lot of people in the industry are specialists, but he’s good at everything, plus he’s super humble and chill. He has this little wall in the studio that all the artists sign and I left him with: everything is possible.