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“I couldn’t get off of it. I was recording vocals on it, riding all around the studio. After about 45 minutes I felt like I was born with wheels. I hope I can bring one with me on my first tour!”
Spencer Ludwig is a big fan of the latest transportation craze sweeping the world: the Enduro Board, which he affectionately refers to as “that thing.” He rode one around while recording songs with members of AWOLNATION (as evidenced by the picture from their writing session below) and I’ve honestly never heard him sound so giddy while explaining something to me.
But long before his infatuation with almost-hovercrafts, Spencer invested his last dime into a far more meaningful toy: his very first trumpet. In fact, it’s the one he still plays. The one that makes frequent appearances in his Instagram photos:
“It’s the first one that I ever had,” Spencer says proudly about the 1970s-era Bach Stradivarius trumpet that he distinctly outfitted with turquoise valve buttons. He wears the original buttons as a ring on his right hand, which his girlfriend designed for him. “I own three horns, and the other two were gifts. I appreciate the others but I’m far less attached to them. When I got my first horn it was kind of like when Harry Potter got his wand,” says Spencer fondly.
The trumpet was purchased during a high school road trip in which Spencer and a friend were checking out colleges on the east coast. He already had a store in mind to buy it from — Dillon Music in Woodbridge, New Jersey — and spent a day traveling there by himself to reach it.
“Dillon is a really famous brass store, and I knew I wanted to go there to buy a trumpet. I got there around 3 pm and they said that I could try out as many horns as I wanted until they closed at 5. The trumpet room was full of trumpets from the floor to the ceiling on three walls and I tried every single one. As I checked each one off, I would put it back on the wall, and finally as they were closing there were two left on the floor. I picked the one that felt right and it’s still my #1 horn to this day,” he explains.
Spencer never did end up applying to any of the colleges he visited, but the trumpet came home to Los Angeles with him. Eventually they would see the world together.
Now in a much more secure position both career-wise and financially, Spencer is still hard at work writing songs for his Warner Bros. Records debut solo album. Never one to refuse a helping hand, he’s also having fun assisting his friend RAC with Songs That Belong, a new SoundCloud account that aims to shed light on up-and-coming talent. When RAC explained the idea to him, Spencer was eager to “be a part of an account that curates great music.” It’s currently on its sixth volume.
“The whole point is to showcase up-and-coming musicians and give them a platform to be heard,” Spencer explains. “If there’s a song that’s not getting a lot of listens but somehow it came into our universe, we can provide a great playlist for it to belong to. I’ve been really open about the idea on social media asking my network to send me new music. If it’s dope I’ll add it to Songs That Belong.”
Perhaps one day a kid who spent all the money in their name on a new instrument will be heard on Songs That Belong. Until then, keep reading to hear about Spencer’s writing sessions with Kenny Carkeet and Isaac Carpenter of AWOLNATION, Sam Barsh, Alex Lilly, and Dysplay.
Collaborator(s): Kenny Carkeet and Isaac Carpenter of AWOLNATION
Location: Jim Kaufman Productions, Los Angeles
“AWOLNATION is a band I got to know while I was on the road with Capital Cities. For the most part, you meet other bands at festivals. When you’re on tour you’re just with your camp, but at festivals you get to know other bands personally, especially during the festival season when you continue to run into each other. I don’t remember which festival I met Kenny at, but we developed a great working relationship shortly after. He would frequently ask me to record trumpet parts on songs that he was producing. I encouraged him to keep sending me work because I love staying busy and creative when I’m on the road. I just met Isaac recently. They’re both insanely talented individuals.
We recorded at this very unique studio in LA called Jim Kaufman Productions. Kenny is one of the in-house writers and producers there. It’s your typical three-bedroom house that was converted into a fully functional studio. Each bedroom is a recording room, the dining room is the control room, and the living room is the live room.
Isaac is the drummer for AWOLNATION, and when you’re working with a live drummer you might as well record live drums. When you want to do that at Jim Kaufman there’s a whole elaborate system that goes into play. The production assistant and interns cover up every window and door with these giant pieces of foam, so the whole living room turns into a dead space to record drums. It was amazing to watch. I loved working there.
AWOLNATION is one of the few bands that genuinely doesn’t care at all about typical song form or genre. They just want to make powerful music. It’s really hard to apply the energy from hard rock or metal to pop music, but they do that seamlessly. The song we wrote is the kind of song that will just knock you off your feet, and that’s what I wanted from them. Aaron [Bruno, AWOLNATION’s lead singer] stopped by and gave some opinions so it was like an AWOLNATION family affair. My album is going to have a lot of variety…”
Collaborator: Sam Barsh
Location: Sam Barsh’s studio, downtown Los Angeles
“Sam Barsh and I have been friends for a long time. I met him in the LA jazz/cover-band scene, either playing sets before or after him quite frequently. Eventually, we both ended up getting in the circle of musicians that played at The Sayers Club in Hollywood. That’s where some of the most high level playing is. As an artist, you really try hard to get into that scene.
I always knew that Sam was an incredible piano player, and he recently was recognized by the Grammy’s for his work on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘i‘ and Aloe Blacc’s ‘The Man.’ His work with Aloe Blacc really made me aware of his songwriting talent as well. He’s part of a collective that works in a production house in downtown LA that’s run by DJ Khalil. Anything Khalil gets, Sam plays on it. There’s plaques on every wall over there, it’s a crazy place.
Our session was very chill, we just vibed out. We took the approach of going through a bunch of hip-hop drum breaks, and once we found one that really spoke to us we used that as the inspiration to build on. It’s fine to use a sample like that for the purpose of a demo, because I’m planning on recording all of my songs live anyway. It’s really just to inspire the feel.
We focused on building the instrumental that night. Like I’ve said before, three is my favorite number when it comes to studio sessions, and if I don’t have that third person to communicate with me about lyrical/melodic ideas then I just focus on the strength of the person I’m working with. I ended up taking that track to Siedah Garrett to write the top-line with. She wrote Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror.’ I’m very excited about the song as a whole. Both Sam and Siedah nailed it! It’s very Earth, Wind & Fire meets Sly & The Family Stone.”
Collaborator: Alex Lilly
Location: Alex’s home studio
“I’ve been a fan of Alex Lilly’s since I was about 13-years-old. She’s part of Inara George, Bird and the Bee, Marcel Camargo, and Barbara Gruska friend group (editor’s note: Spencer’s writing sessions with Inara and Marcel, as well as with Barbara were covered in part two of TLBTH). She’s also an instrumentalist in so many bands that I love: Obi Best, Touché, The Living Sisters, The Bird and the Bee. Alex Lilly is a serious bad ass.
I went over to her house to write. Our session was really great. She studied composition at music school so she really understands the fundamentals of composition and is able to use that to her advantage to create more interesting music. Her music is very… intelligent. I’m trying to think of a better word to describe it but that’s really what it is. It’s smart music. She’s so smart about how she shifts harmony and chooses melody. She hears things that I’ve never been able to hear. It’s so exquisite and beautiful. You can tell that she really tries to make her music compelling and interesting.
Because she’s such a brilliant musician, writing with Alex was very easy. We worked on three songs together that are all very clever. We worked with a lot of English idioms. There are lots of little twists and turns to the words and the music. Working with her is like working with a musical rocket scientist or something.”
Location: Dysplay’s studio
“Dysplay consists of two guys named Devin Hoffman and Eric Scullin. They went to school together at USC, and my connection to them is through Devin, who I met on the road back when he was the bass player for AWOLNATION. Devin and I connected when we realized that we had lots of mutual friends and shared growing experiences in LA, so when we ran into each other on the road it was like seeing family because he understood where I came from and vice versa. Sometimes when you’re gone from home for months at a time in all these unknown places, seeing somebody from home and being able to relate to them and their experiences is just the best.
Every time I come back to LA I make a point to work with Dysplay. They’re very easy to work with because they’re both extremely talented musicians and producers. They both do lyrics, melody, and production. They’re the whole package. It’s that triad that I love, and that I always refer to. Their chemistry with each other is so on point, it makes working with them that much better. I believe in them as producers and as artists and I think the world will know about them very soon.
Everybody should check out Dysplay’s SoundCloud page. The new stuff they’re getting ready to release is really amazing, and they do it all themselves, which is huge. All of my friends are cooler than me and that’s why this album is going to be great. One of the best parts about this experience for me is being able to reach out to the amazing musicians who have come into my life over the years. It’s so fun to be able to reconnect with everyone through music.”