Concert preview: Amy Speace gives voice to working-class musicians

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It's not enough to hear your own song on the radio

When your credit is far below

What they need for a loan

—Amy Speace and Neilson Hubbard, “Spent”

Last month, Amy Speace, a 40-something singer-songwriter who lives in East Nashville, got a phone call from a guy she knew during her Amherst College days — New York Times financial columnist and author Ron Lieber. He’d read a post by Speace on her Facebook wall about her struggle to find affordable housing in her increasingly gentrified neighborhood, and asked if she would be willing to write an article — and a song — for a special section of the paper he was editing (“Your Money”).

Her op-ed, “Amy Speace, a Singer-Songwriter, Just Trying to Make Do,” ran in the Times on March 25, accompanied by an original song and video (“Spent”), and she hasn’t had a moment to look back since.

“It was the craziest call I’ve ever gotten,” she said, laughing, in a recent phone interview. “I was like, ‘Are you serious? I’m a folk singer!’... I’m certainly no spokesperson for financial matters.”

But her story, in which she described the financial challenges faced by members of an emerging “artist class,” resonated with people from all walks of life. “People came out of the woodwork from my life. People called me, I got Facebook messages and emails from old professors and elementary school friends,” she said. “I found myself as sort of a spokesperson for the artist class in Nashville. It’s not what I expected, but it’s been pretty interesting.”

The timing for such publicity could not have been better, given that Speace released her sixth studio album, That Kind of Girl, in early March. The album, which was recorded live in a Nashville studio over just three days, is an emotional powerhouse of a record. Written after a painful break-up, it’s about “what it’s like to face your demons when you’re in a relationship — and that moment of change,” said Speace, who will perform Saturday at Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza.

Though one reviewer offered to give Speace a hug after listening to the album several times, she laughed and insisted she was actually in a pretty good place when she wrote the album, despite lyrics like “I don't wanna be another woman grieving for the years she's lost (“Better Than This”) and “No one could tell — my little hell — I kept it inside” (“That Kind of Girl”).

“I think it’s a little bit of a myth that the artist has to be miserable in order to make art,” Speace explained. “I’ve certainly done that in the past. I’ve written myself out of depression or heartbreak. [But when writing That Kind of Girl] I was on the other side of this heartbreak and relationship drama… That was the only way that I could look it in the face and write about it directly.”

Though her newfound name recognition happened overnight, Speace has been working hard as a full-time musician for more than a decade and has earned a loyal, if not Taylor Swiftian, following for her country and Americana-tinged folk songs.

“Some people, when you say you’re a musician, they kind of look at you, especially if you’re in your 40s, like, ‘But you’re not famous — I don’t understand.’ They figure that you try [a music career] out for a couple of years and if you don’t get famous, you quit,” she said. “We don’t really have a culture that supports the artists who aren’t famous. They don’t understand that we can do our work and make a living, and that fame can be a niche fame. There’s music everywhere.”

The internet, Speace added, has helped birth an entire “artist class” of hard-working musicians who may never see their names atop Top 40 charts, but can still make an honest wage doing what they love.

“It used to be that there was really no avenue to making a middle-class wage as a musician. You were either a rock star or you didn’t do this,” she said. “Now there’s that middle-ground. There are musicians out there making a lot of money, and there’s also me. I’m making a middle-class living.”

Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza

10 p.m. Saturday, May 2

5601 N. High St., Worthington

Also playing: Megan Palmer and Ryan Culwell