interview by Michael McCarthy
Lucy Spraggan hails from the UK and she’s one of the most talented songwriters I’ve ever come to know. In all honesty, her lyrics are brilliant and I can’t think of another artist whose lyrics I like more. She’s truly gifted in that department, her songs often telling stories about real people, although she doesn’t shy away from tackling social issues as well. Whatever sort of song she’s writing, you’d better believe that it will have substance. Lucy Spraggan doesn’t write fluff. Her songs are very, very catchy, but they always pack a story or message that makes you think. Call it intellectual music. That’s what I’d call her amazing new album, Today Was A Good Day, which drops on May 3 via Cooking Vinyl Records. Songs like “Don’t Play This On The Radio” and “Stick the Kettle On,” which features Scouting for Girls, could be played on the radio and even be hits. They’re instantly addictive earworms. However, if you listen to the lyrics, they cut a lot deeper than much of what’s on contemporary radio these days. “I know how strong you are / the front door’s open if you’re broken / let’s talk the night away / sometimes we get it wrong / stick the kettle on,” she sings on “Stick the Kettle On,” her vocals gliding along a solid pop beat. If you’d prefer something more sentimental, check out “The Waiting Room.” “I’d wait forever in this waiting room / Because I know I can’t leave here without you,” she sings with sorrow in her voice, as if she’s on the verge of tears. Believe it or not, the song is about losing her pet dog. If you listened to it without knowing that, you’d think it was about a person until she mentions a collar near the end. I actually missed that and only found out when she told me during the interview you’re about to read. Check it out…
MM: I understand you’re in New York this week. Are you just doing press or are you doing any shows?
LS: I’m not doing a show, unfortunately. I was in Vegas and I thought I was wasting precious time, so I thought I’d better come up to New York and do some business, really.
MM: When do you anticipate touring in the U.S.?
LS: Our last tour was in September so I suppose there’s another one due in a few months. I’m just winding up what’s going to be happening over the summer so that’s really exciting.
MM: Do you have a Boston story or memory you could share with us since we’re based out of the Boston area?
LS: Well, I’ve been coming to Boston – well, more specifically, just outside in Georgetown – since I was a kid. And I met my first Boston Terrier in Boston where my aunt and uncle live and I now have a Boston Terrier named Steve because I’m obsessed with Boston Terriers from coming to Boston as a child. I don’t know if that’s a good enough Boston story. I have stories about being in Boston.
MM: If you’d like to tell us one of those, that would be great.
LS: I played at City Winery last time I was there. It was a really good show. I had a really good turnout. We went to visit some of the famous drag bars after and my keys player is very sort of a straight-laced guy and he found out rapidly how straight up Boston people are. Very different to England.
MM: Your new album, Today Was A Good Day, comes out on May 3rd. Is it your first with Cooking Vinyl or were you already signed with them?
LS: This is gonna be my first with Cooking Vinyl and actually, it’s also gonna be my first hard release in the States. I’ve got four albums in the UK and I’ve never really done much here at all. So, it’s really exciting to be signed to those guys here as well as in the UK, but, yeah, this is the first album I’ve done with Cooking Vinyl.
MM: Did you make the album first then look for a deal or did you get signed first?
LS: No, actually, I got the deal with those guys with the idea of writing a new album. They said, have you got any ideas for it? And have I got any songs. I signed the deal and then I started the record.
MM: The new album was produced by Jon Maguire. How did you connect with him?
LS: Jon Maguire did my last album, but I connected with him initially through a songwriting session. He is an exceptional writer. He’s written with Callum Scott, Kodaline,
and he’s been really successful. We’re just really good friends, which was nice after the last record. I couldn’t think of anyone better to do the album with.
MM: Was it through him that you came to have Scouting for Girls on one of your tracks?
LS: Actually, I kept playing festivals with them. Me and Scouting for Girls had this running joke that any festival that I play, they’d be there. For some reason we kept getting booked for the same things. And in conversation I mentioned that I know Jon as well. And I just asked Roy for his number at a festival and I just did that forward thing. Rather than going through managers, I just sent him a text and said you have to do a duet. Like that organic way of doing things.
MM: So, you knew that Jon had worked with them before at the time?
LS: Yeah. Yeah. That’s how I started the conversation. I said, oh, you know Jon Maguire. Jon’s a pretty fancy guy so I know that anyone who’s worked with him is definitely a pretty sound person.
MM: What is your songwriting process like? Do you start with the music or do lyrics ever come first – how does the magic happen?
LS: Mine is always lyrics first. I would say that I am lyric-based songwriter primarily. The melodies come with the lyrics most of the time so you just think of something interesting. Like, oh, maybe that would be good. For me, that’s the most common thing and then I add instrumentation to it later on. I’ve been doing a lot of writing since I’ve been here, actually.
MM: Sweet. It seems like you’re very prolific.
LS: I just try to keep writing. I think if the fire ever goes out then it’s gonna go out for a long time so you’ve just gotta keep that candle burning and write. Creativity is really important.
MM: Is that how you avoid writer’s block?
LS: Oh, I had a long phase of writer’s block for a long time. So, I try my best to avoid going through that again. And I believe that you have to keep moving. Like physically and mentally. You’ve just gotta keep traveling, keep moving, keep the engine going. I think the inspiration comes then.
MM: Your new album is called Today Was A Good Day, which is obviously a very upbeat title. Would you describe yourself as an optimist?
LS: I would describe myself, actually, as an ever-growing optimist. I’m somewhere between a realist and an optimist. Like my last couple of records could be viewed as even pessimistic at times. So, I’m just trying to make that change. This album is probably one of the most upbeat albums I’ve written. That kind of reflects where I am in life at the moment.
MM: On “Lightning” you sing about wanting to have your funeral before you die, which is something more and more people are actually doing nowadays. Have you thought about doing that yourself?
MM: Yes. Do you think you’d consider doing that yourself?
LS: Well, that lyric came from the fact that I keep going to people’s funerals, unfortunately. No one ever wants to go to a funeral, but every time I’m there I see these people’s friends. People you only see on your wedding day or your bloody funeral. To me, it’s a massive waste. I feel like we should be living – not even as a nation, like the UK, the whole world – should be living so much more in the present. But, yeah, if I had the unfortunate news that things were going to end sooner than I thought that’s absolutely something I would consider.
MM: I love “Don’t Play This On The Radio” and I also love the fact that artists like you can do music professionally without being on heavy rotation on top 40 radio all the time. So, I was wondering, are you happy with your current level of success and popularity or are you secretly hoping that you’ll end up all over radio?
LS: I think that song is a sign of the fact that I’m not interested in that side of things anymore. I fought for so long. I was writing songs just for the radio and trying my best because that’s all I was after. Now I just kind of think, whatever. I was talking about it yesterday, that success is completely relative to how you feel. I used to think it was based on album sales or ticket sales, but, actually, now I think that this music has taken me all the way here. Like walking in New York. I think that sort of success is really important. If the radio stuff comes, that would be amazing. You know, despite the way that they’ve treated me in the past, I would take it with open arms and I would always be polite and grateful, but, yeah, I’m happy at where I’m at now. If I could have the level of success globally like I do in the UK I would be a very happy person without the radio.
MM: How popular are you over in the UK?
LS: Um, well, single-wise, the only people that are getting top 10 singles are those people that are like A list in the rotation. But I’ve had four top 40 albums. The last one was number 12. That was my release on my own label. I’m really hoping that Cooking Vinyl will push stuff up with regards to that.
MM: I actually just interviewed Lou Rhodes from the duo Lamb and they’re new to Cooking Vinyl, too.
LS: I feel like for the last ten years indie has been the way forward anyway. You’ve got that personal thing going on. It’s really important.
MM: On “Connie’s Bar,” which you’ve said is about a real woman you met, you kind of touch on the immigration issues that we’re having here in the States right now. What are your thoughts on that matter?
LS: I feel that any issues with immigration are absolutely ridiculous. We’re having the same issues, obviously, with Brexit in the UK. I don’t know. I seem to only speak to liberal people about this because I only really have liberal friends. But I think the idea of boundaries and borders is ridiculous. That’s why I just put it in that song like that. [Connie] told me she couldn’t go back and see her son that was dying because she’s not supposed to be in this country. I find that absolutely ridiculous.
MM: And she’d probably been here for years and years and everything, right?
LS: Oh, yeah. She was Caribbean, but there was nothing Caribbean about her, not even her accent. She was American, man.
MM: “The Waiting Room” is one of the most beautiful ballads I’ve ever heard, but, obviously, it’s a sad song. Is it based on personal experience or just that general situation that people find themselves in?
LS: So, that song is about a dog. I had a dog – we got the dog when I was two and he died when I was eighteen. Honestly, it was like losing a sibling. It was awful. And loads of people have spoken to me in the past about how people don’t really take pets dying as seriously as maybe they should. Because they’re like the ultimate companions. I wrote that song and I put the twist at the end. It says that’s when the vet walked in and told me it was time and it talks about loosening the collar. I don’t know, I love my animals more than I love some humans.
MM: Oh, me, too.
LS: I really wanted to like put that out in a song. And maybe let people know that it absolutely is OK to be absolutely distraught when you loose a pet because in most respects they’re better than humans, aren’t they?
MM: Yeah, yeah. I much prefer cats over people most of the time.
LS: Me, too. [Both laugh]
MM: That being said, though, since a lot of the song could be taken in different ways, I was wondering if you’ve considered trying to license “The Waiting Room” to any of the medical shows on television?
LS: Yeah. Well, we have a licensing department at Cooking Vinyl and the Orchard, who is the distributor for Cooking Vinyl. And we also have a private licensing guy. But, yeah, everything’s being licensed to the right places. To be honest, it is the first time that things have been licensed properly in my career so I’m looking forward to seeing what the result of that is.
MM: On “As The Saying Goes,” you kind of do some spoken word. Was that the plan when you first wrote the song or did that come about later?
LS: It wasn’t, actually. I had a lot of trouble with that song. I wrote the chorus and just sat with the chorus for so long and I just couldn’t think of what I wanted to say. Because my last album was so topical. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. But, yeah, I like doing a bit of spoken word. That’s kind of where I come from. My whole first album was kind of mainly spoken word. Rhythm and spoken word.
MM: Your songs have a very literary quality about them like they’re little short stories. Have you ever considered writing a book?
LS: I have considered writing a book. My mum’s actually an author and it’s something that I’ve definitely thought about but I don’t really have much concentration. Not enough to be writing a full book anyways.
MM: What is the name that your mother publishes under?
LS: She’s Anstey Harris. [https://www.ansteyharris.com/]
Visit CALM at: https://www.thecalmzone.net/
MM: Last year you released “Stick the Kettle On,” the first track from the new album, in support of CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably. What can you tell us about that project?
LS: CALM is what it says, really. They’re a bunch of people that feel that it’s completely natural to be feeling awful, which it is, but you shouldn’t spend your life stuck in that rut. And we were all so inspired by that campaign and it was something that me and Roy [Stride] got as well when we were writing the track. It’s something we’re both passionate about. Especially for men. You know, men really have a hard time with the way they should look, and the way they should feel, and the way they should speak, and that was something that we wanted to portray in our song.
MM: I can hear a lot of your songs being covered by country artists –
LS: – I’ve meant to write country music for so long in the U.S.! That would be my ideal job.
MM: Have you written any songs for other artists?
LS: Um, only a couple. I wrote a song called “Diamonds” for The Dunwells, which is a band from Leeds in the UK. But it’s something that I really want to explore this year. I’ve just been so busy. It’s something that I would really like to get involved with more.
MM: Your press release states that you’ve gone through some incredibly dark times and struggled with anxiety and paranoia, which I have, too – I’m bipolar – so I was wondering how you cope when you’re depressed?
LS: As much as it sounds easy when I say it now – but it’s really, really difficult to do when I’m in that place – I just have to get around people. And, for me, working. I have to keep working. And sometimes the depression is the result of the amount that I work maybe. For me, you have to keep that perpetual cycle going. I have to remind myself that there is no other option. Like I had a suicide attempt in 2014, and I got that low that I realized that, yeah, that is not an option. It’s not viable. That’s the last time I’m gonna feel like that.
MM: I’m sorry that you were that depressed.
LS: Hey, I mean, man, it’s the most natural thing in the human brain. That is how we work. And more people should see it. And they don’t.
MM: Can you name a few albums that you like to listen to when you’re going through a dark period?
LS: Yeah, so, Macklemore, the Heist, really awesome album. Anything by Don McLean. That guy is like, if you listen to his lyrics like over the years, or even pick up a greatest hits by Don McLean, he can sing depression. I know sometimes it’s not good to listen to depressing songs when you’re depressed, but he has a way with words. But one to make me happy is Cardboard Castles by Watsky.
MM: I understand you chose to wear the astronaut suit in your video for “Lucky Stars” to show how you feel when you’re anxious. Did you wear it because you wish you could have a barrier like that between you and the world when you feel that way or did you wear it to show how you feel trapped inside something – like your own head – when you feel that way? Or for some other reason entirely?
LS: It’s actually a mixture of both. The helmet is the fact that I put on this facade but the suit itself is what we all put on. We all have a space suit that we put on when we go outside. Regardless of how confident people are, everybody has a persona. For me, that’s what that suit is. And the way people looked at me in that suit is often my paranoia. That’s how I feel people look at me all the time.
MM: One of your accomplishments is playing Glastonbury. Were you in a state of panic before you went on stage?
LS: [Laughs] Yeah, I was petrified. It’s such a big deal to play a festival like that and, yeah, it scared me to death. But doing those things are like milestone, bucket list things so it was amazing.
MM: What do you do to pass time when you’re on tour and have long rides?
LS: I try and go and see as much as possible. I read a lot of books. If I ever get the chance, I go fishing. It’s very rare, but that’s my rest for my soul. Fishing.
MM: On another note, I understand you’ve fostered 14 children. What’s the most children you’ve fostered at the same time?
LS: Two at the same time. An eighteen month old and a two year old.
MM: How did you get into fostering?
LS: Did you say why?
MM: Well, why or how.
LS: Yeah, me and my wife saw that a lot of Syrian refugees were being dropped off around Manchester. We just figured if we could help in any way then we will. So, we went down and inquired and it turned out there were all these children at any given time who needed a house. Not just from Syria, but from the UK. We just thought, we should do that. We’ve got the space. We don’t necessarily have a lot of time, but if everybody just tried a little bit harder maybe the world might get a little bit better.
MM: Well, I admire you for doing that.
LS: Thank you very much.
MM: Next week I believe you’re going to be playing on Melissa Etheridge’s cruise? [Ed note: The cruise has already departed, but you can read about it here: http://www.themelissaetheridgecruise.com/]
LS: Yeah, that’s this weekend, actually. She’s one of the most amazing artists that I’ve ever met. She’s been really championing my music and given me a lot of opportunities and that’s something that she doesn’t need to do. So, it’s great.
MM: How long is the cruise?
LS: It’s a week.
MM: Nice. Where does it go to?
LS: It goes from Tampa to the Cayman Islands.
MM: Sweet. So, you were the most Googled musician in 2012. How did that come about?
LS: It was the year I was on The X Factor. I think I was just different from what a lot of people had seen on the TV because I was the first person to do their own songs on the show. I don’t know. I disappeared pretty quickly from there. I left the show and I think a lot of people had wondered where I’d gone. I was just writing a record.
MM: Are you currently binge-watching anything?
LS: I am not right now, but what did I just finish? The Umbrella Academy on Netflix.
MM: Oh, I loved that!
LS: Yeah, really good. I’m a big fan of sort of supernatural [stories]. So, yeah, it was great.
MM: Who are some of the artists you listened to when you were in high school?
LS: Joni Mitchell. Biggie. Dolly Parton. And Blackalicious.
MM: How old were you when you first started asking people for music for gifts?
LS: [Laughs] Probably like four.
MM: Do you remember what some of the first things you asked for were?
LS: I asked for a glockenspiel. I had one of those before I had a guitar.
MM: Do you still know how to play it? Or did you ever learn how to actually play it?
LS: Yeah, it’s just like a piano, really. So, I can give it a go.
MM: If you could have any instrument on earth, what would you pick?
LS: A grand piano. I have an upright piano, but I’d love a grand.
MM: Vinyl has made quite a comeback over recent years. Were you surprised by that and are you a vinyl fan?
LS: I’m a fan of the sound of vinyl. The vinyl I had when I was younger didn’t make it with me to where I am now. [Both laugh] But, no, I love that. I’ve always been a fan of actual hard copies because I love the artwork and the lyric booklet and that sort of thing. I love the return of vinyl. I think it’s a really progressive thing. It really shows that people are getting a little more sentimental, which I think is really important.
MM: If you could go back in time and change something about one of your albums or songs, would you? And if so, what would you change?
LS: I like to think I wouldn’t change anything in my life because everything brings you to the exact moment that you are at. But I guess with me I would just tell myself to stop listening to the bullshit. To be my own me. Because this year is probably the first year I’ve stopped listening to the bullshit and it feels great.
MM: If you were going to record a song in a foreign language, which language would it be?
LS: I mean, I am useless. I don’t speak any foreign languages. But I’d love to do a song in sign language.
MM: That would be neat.
LS: Yeah, it would be really interesting.
MM: Do you remember where you were the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
LS: [Laughs] Yeah, I do, actually. I was in the car going around a roundabout and we just cranked it up and we were screaming.
MM: What was the worst day job you’ve ever had?
LS: You know, I haven’t had bad day jobs. I used to be a magician. I was a plumber. I worked in demolitions for a while, but probably the worst one was [when] I worked in a cake factory putting – I think you call them maraschino cherries but we call them glacier cherries – on top of cake. That was my job and it was hell on earth.
MM: If you could have one wish come true and you couldn’t wish for more wishes or money, what would you ask for?
LS: Happiness. For everyone.
MM: Who are your favorite lyricists?
LS: Kenny Rogers and Sting.
MM: Nice. I love Kenny Rogers.
LS: Yeah, me, too. And Don McLean as well.
MM: If I was looking at your contract rider, what might I be surprised to find there?
LS: Just water, chewing gum and some make up wipes.
MM: How long do you have to be on the road before you start getting homesick?
LS: About ten minutes.
LS: Yeah. It’s good to feel homesick. I love that feeling.
MM: What was the last movie you saw at the cinema?
LS: I watched Could You Ever Forgive Me followed by Green Book in the same day because I’m a bit of a cinema buff.
MM: What’s Could You Ever Forgive Me about?
LS: It’s about a lady who forged a lot of letters from famous authors. Melissa McCarthy is in it. She’s doing a more serious role. It’s a really interesting film. It’s pretty great.
MM: I’ll have to check that out.
LS: Yeah, you’ll like it, I think.
MM: Final question. Do you prefer to listen to new music or music that makes you feel nostalgic?
LS: Yeah, nostalgic music for sure. But sometimes there’s new music that you hear that is nostalgic, but it’s different.
Special thanks to Lucy for taking the time to speak with us and to Rey Roldan of Reybee Inc. for setting it up!
Official Site: http://lucyspraggan.com/