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“What’s up with all of these Throwback Thursday pictures,” I ask Spencer Ludwig during our latest phone call. I’m talking, of course, about the sudden influx of amazing childhood photos that Spencer has been blessing his social media followers with in the past month. He has such a great array of pictures to choose from, it’s as if he knew he was going to be a star the whole time, and was simply preparing for the right moment to unleash them into the world.
“My style of social media and my general personality is to be very transparent,” he responds matter-of-factly. “I want people to feel like they already know me when the music comes out. I don’t want to be a cryptic, mysterious artist. So I called my mom and asked her to be in charge of #tbt, and now she emails me a childhood picture every Wednesday. I don’t really have a choice here, she’s the one picking all of them” (laughs).
As I sit back and contemplate Spencer’s words, I feel somewhat silly for even asking the question. What I should have said instead is, “How come you haven’t been doing this the whole time?” Of course Spencer has an arsenal of adorable childhood pictures for his fans to eat up. After all, the whole point of Taking Life by the Horn is to give the rising solo star an outlet to be exactly what he is: transparent.
Spencer’s approach to music and life is to share; with family, with friends, with fans, with fellow musicians, with the world. He understands a basic principle of living, which is that sharing is learning. Every session that he describes to me is a learning experience for him, and every collaborator he works with is both his teacher and his student. He feeds off the energy of others, opening himself up to collaboration, and thus to growth.
Spencer is just as focused now as he was at the beginning of the summer, when he began his songwriting journey for his Warner Bros. debut solo album. The only difference is, now he knows exactly how to make his music great. After sharing studios with world class musicians for three months — not to mention continually studying his favorite music — Spencer seems to have learned what he wants out of himself.
“I have a low Sly and the Family Stone kind of tone, a gentle and emotional Michael Jackson tone, and a super high Earth, Wind & Fire influenced falsetto now. I’ve started incorporating all three tones into one song, and that came from listening to Earth, Wind & Fire. These different voices come into their music all the time, and it’s very specifically arranged to create different tension and release. The dynamics are all very layered, and you can tell that they put so much effort into trying to make the best music in the world,” Spencer explains passionately about his favorite band.
He is a selfless musical aficionado, always expounding and experimenting. Now he is figuring out how to share his voice with himself, and I am even more excited for his album to come out than I was before. Read on to hear about four more amazing sessions, as Spencer Ludwig’s quest to make a classic continues.
Oh, and here’s another #tbt for good measure.
Collaborator(s): Dan Nigro & Tom Peyton
Location: Dan’s home studio in Los Angeles
“This one was a very exciting session for a lot of reasons. For one, Dan Nigro co-produced and co-wrote “You’re Not The One” for Sky Ferreira. The first time I ever heard that song I was like, ‘I love this artist because of this song.’ Years later one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to find the guy who wrote it and work with him.
Dan came in with the foundation of an idea for us to build on. He really thought about how to make something that’s going to stand out and be different, but that everybody would still love.
As for Tom Peyton, I had no idea that he was coming over, or that he was even a songwriter. I’ve known him for years as one of the drummers for the band Wallpaper, so when he walked in the house I turned my head like, ‘Tom?’ (laughs) I really connected with Wallpaper while I was on the road with Capital Cities, and I’m still friends with them today.
Tom brought a completely different element to the song. Wallpaper is a hip-hop influenced band, so he brought a swagger that was exactly what it needed in order for us to create something really fresh. It was a great combination of three, which, as I always say, is my favorite number for songwriting. It’s a strong energy when you have three people.”
Collaborator: Maceo Paisley
Location: Billy Mohler’s studio in Los Angeles
“I could talk about Maceo Paisley for hours. He’s one of the coolest, most interesting, thought-provoking, creative people on the planet. He’s a poet, activist, thinker, educator, student, rapper, singer, dancer, sock designer… it just goes on and on. I really encourage everybody to check out his website. He’s a fully realized artist, and I’m sure we will be working together in many different ways throughout my life.
Maceo and I met during the ‘Safe & Sound’ video shoot, which he was a featured dancer for. At the time I was bored on the road and was thinking about how to be more engaged with my social media followers, so I created this thing called Spencer Sock Sunday. How it worked was, if you did a random act of kindness and sent it to me you had the chance to win a pair of really funky socks, which I was known for wearing onstage. I thought that Maceo would be the perfect person to partner with for this giveaway, and it really worked out well. Every winner would be sent a code for his website to pick out a pair of socks. I’ll be re-introducing Spencer Sock Sunday when the album comes out.
Anyways, the track that we worked on together was already done, but I felt one of the sections totally had the space for a rapper. Maceo came through, listened to the beat, and freestyled over it about a dozen times. We felt that one of those times was perfect. He never punched in because we wanted to give you that raw dynamic from start to finish. We really wanted all of the emotion to be felt.”
Collaborator: Charles Jones
Location: Brunswick Studios
“Charles Jones is another one of those people who I could talk about forever. I believe that he is either an angel or a saint from Heaven living on Earth. He’s by far one of the most talented piano players I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing, yet alone collaborating with, and he also happens to have a voice straight from God. I met him at The Sayers Club in LA, the same way that I met LP. He was singing ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley and the owner of the club, Jason Scoppa, gave me the nod to jump onstage for a horn solo. Charles and I have been friends ever since.
This session was a great opportunity for me to call somebody who I’ve looked up to since the day that we met. The songs we wrote are all piano-centric, and on another level of musicality. They are majorly inspired by gospel church vibes.
Charles sets the bar for musicality as far as my demos go. When you write a song with somebody who also has the skill level of a virtuoso in jazz and gospel music, your demo automatically sounds like it’s from another planet.”
Location: EB’s Studio
“This session was originally supposed to just be myself and EB Sollis, who is a songwriter and producer from New York who now works in LA. I met EB at Coachella last year, and I was really excited to work with him. He texted me right before the session started like, ‘I’m here with my friend Jesus, he really wants to come with me.’ Jesus is the bass player in Lettuce, so of course I wanted him there. Then I thought we might as well bring Nick from St. Lucia too if Jesus is gonna be there.
It turned out to be the perfect fit. The session could not have gone any smoother. It was a ridiculously funky, soulful jam. EB worked on the lyrics, Nick was co-producing and playing keys, Jesus was on the bass, and I was co-producing with Nick and writing the melodies. It was the kind of thing where everybody was high-fiving each other afterwards.
To me this session was really about Jesus. We got funky and dirty and just let him do his thing. I wanted to work around his awesomeness. Jesus has no ego. He’s an amazing bassist, and I’m so happy this session came out the way it did.”