It’s probably old news to her legion of fans but for those not aware of Lucy Spraggan’s history, the singer was thrust into the UK spotlight in 2012 when she appeared on X Factor. Her audition, an original song called “Last Night (Beer Fear)”, became a viral sensation and while she didn’t win the competition, the exposure helped Spraggan get a record deal which led to touring around the world with the likes of Melissa Etheridge.
Seven years after that fateful audition, Spraggan is now five albums into a career that shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. In May, Cooking Vinyl Records released Today Was a Good Day which features the fun and engaging singer-songwriter-style songs that Spraggan is known for. The album was preceded by the release of the first single, “Lucky Stars”, the video of which finds Spraggan roaming around England in an astronaut outfit.
Spraggan gave me a call while driving between tour dates on the East Coast and we chatted about reality shows, songwriting, motorcycles and tattoos. You can catch her on Sunday night at Rumba Cafe with special guest Ohyoholos. Doors are at 7pm and tickets are $20.
When I first started watching the U.S. reality singing show competitions like American Idol, X Factor, America’s Got Talent, I truly thought it was amateurs who had only sung in front of their bedroom mirrors. Of course, I eventually found out that is not the case. How were you approached to appear on the X Factor?
I went through the audition process but I had a friend who came to watch my show in Camden and she was working for Sony at the time. She said there would be an opportunity to do an audition and I just thought, “Yeah, I think I’ll go for it.” I was speaking to Island Records at the time but they wanted me to do such drastic things like lose weight or change my name to sign to them. I thought I’d just try this avenue because I had been trying out the other avenues.
There was a local artist, Josh Krajcik, who was on the U.S. version of X Factor. He went from playing moderate-sized clubs to playing the Newport Music Hall which holds 1,800 based on his television success. It’s no slight to Josh or his music, but the X Factor seems to afforded him his 15 minutes of fame and he’s returned to playing those moderate-sized clubs around Columbus. How were you able to pick up and go and extend those 15 minutes? Do you think some of the contestants on those shows feel like once you’ve gotten the exposure, things will just fall into place without much effort?
I think it depends on what type of person you are. If you have this tenacity and honestly believe you can achieve anything that you set your mind to, whether it’s music or otherwise, but I think people who go on these shows, it’s not like they feel like it’ll be handed to them it’s just that they haven’t been playing the clubs and they haven’t been busking on the street. So, when they are faced with an 1,800 capacity venue, it might be that they don’t deliver the show that somebody who has been playing shows for 10 years would deliver. Therefore, it’s more difficult to maintain that fanbase. But, for me, this is what I’ve done for the whole of my life so I just continued to do that. I love it, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
It appears as if you’re in a cycle – write, record, tour, wash, rinse, repeat. Is that an accurate statement?
Yeah, that’s kind of the way it’s been happening.
I don’t know if you saw that Mitski just announced she’s taking a break from not only social media but from touring for a while. Has that thought ever crossed your mind?
I think it’s the cycle I’m going to keep doing. I went on my first proper tour when I was 18 so, I’m nearly 28, and it’s all that I really know. I do get time off – I spend 6 or 7 months away from home but I do get to go home. I really don’t like taking time off, I think that drives me more than not. If anything, that keeps me sane.
You’ve put out a number of albums. How do you decide on a set list each night?
When I’m touring, I have an idea of what I want to play. And then it changes with the shows. If it’s a big band show, obviously the band knows the songs. If it’s just me and my keys player, we just kind of play it by ear. I sometimes turn to him and shout a song and that’s what we play.
It seems like every show I go to, there’s somebody in the audience yelling out requests. When an artists takes whoever is available to go on tour to be their backing band, I’ve heard artists say, “We haven’t rehearsed that song. The band doesn’t know it.”
If you’ve got a band playing with you and they genuinely don’t know the song, then you can’t play it. I have mixed opinions about when people shout out because, often, the songs are already chosen. But, people have different kinds of shows.
For this tour, is it just you and your keyboard player?
It’s just me, actually. I haven’t toured like this in, like, 7 years. I’m playing about an hour, I’m excited to see how it goes.
So, while people should not be yelling out songs, in this case you can’t say, “The band doesn’t know this one.”
(laughs) I could be like, “I haven’t played that song in 7 years”. I chat with people during the set, we have back and forth with the crowd and I ask them to sing along and stuff. It’s not like I’m “don’t speak at my shows!”
Are there songs that you’ve written that, for one reason or another, you’ve never played live?
Um, I think maybe there is. I wouldn’t be able to name them. I wrote them all on my guitar or piano so, to a degree, I’ve played them all because they’ve come from the same place. I would say that, a majority of them, I have played live.
I think about that sometimes. It must be strange to put all the time and effort into writing and recording a song and then being totally done with it and never playing it in front of an audience.
There are songs that I’d swap out on the set list, the songs that I’ll have to play for the rest of my life. But when I go watch live music, there are songs that I want to see the artist play so I completely understand that. So I always play those songs. But there are songs that I prefer the audience don’t get to hear.
I’ve been interviewing artists as long as you’ve been alive and I really hate asking the dreaded “songwriting process” question but I am interested in learning what inspires your lyrics. Do you set aside time every day to work on songs, writing lyrics, etc or are you out walking around and something hits you and you write it down and come back to it later?
It’s more like that. If I sat down to write a song, you can believe that in 10 minutes I would be on my Playstation or on my phone. If I were to tell myself, “You’re going to sit down and write a song now,” there’s absolutely no way I would write any songs. It just doesn’t work that way for me. Songs will just appear, usually a lyric first and then I sort them all out.
Are you inspired by every day life, by TV, by movies, by books?
Honestly, everything really, everything that I come across. There will be certain things that make me feel certain ways or certain people that make me feel a certain way. It’s like people write journals and diaries, I just write songs. It just happens.
What do you think has been the most unusual inspiration for lyrics?
(laughs) Oooh, I don’t know. I wrote a song about when the postman comes. I was touring, in the back seat of the van, and I saw a post box and I started thinking about how I love that people used to send letters and it’s so much more meaningful to receive a letter than to receive a text message or email. I thought about that and wrote a song, “Postman”. They just come out of nowhere, they are all sort of bizarre.
In trying to understand who you are and what you’re all about, I was watching some of the tour videos you posted on YouTube. Is that something that you decided to do or was it part of some sort of marketing/social media strategy to keep content fresh?
I bought a camera and thought, “Maybe I’ll start doing vlog stuff.” I thought it could be quite fun. To be honest with you, when somebody tells me to do something, that’s the time I’m most likely not to do it.
I appreciated the behind-the-scenes look into touring through your eyes – from playing shows, to eating, to traveling between gigs, to the down time around gigs. I started going to shows way before the internet was around and never would have imagined that I’d get to see an artist when they weren’t performing or, even crazier to the 18-year-old me, having a “relationship” with an artist who likes or comments on my social media posts. Do you, as an artist, ever feel like there’s some times where you don’t want people to know everything about you?
I feel like if you’re an artist – I have two sides to this. If you put yourself out there a lot and people want to know more about you, that’s part of it. People decide how much they bare to people. People will ask, not like if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile but, I’ve always been quite open. I’m trying to do that a little bit less.
Have you had the encounters where artists you are a fan of have become a fan of yours or communicated with you via social media?
Definitely. Sometimes, I’m like, “For real?” The rapper Blackalicious follows me on Twitter and I was like, “What the hell? I love that guy!” I’ve made friends with a lot of people after something like that has happened. It’s really cool and it’s a good way for people to meet.
Even though I’ve interviewed and met hundreds of bands, I still get a thrill when I see an artist has liked one of my tweets. Like, the teenage me is flipping out that Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats has liked a tweet or two of mine and even commented when I said I couldn’t believe that he interacted with me on Twitter.
That’s so cool, I love that. Social media is so fickle that when you do get that, it can be quite rewarding.
Borrowing a Third Eye Blind title, you’ve led a semi-charmed kind of life. You’re playing everything from coffee houses to festival stages. Do you have a preference or do you say, “I give every show my all regardless of how many people are watching or what size stage I’m on”?
That is it. I can be playing to 30 people in a bar somewhere or 3,000 people in my hometown. Every night you have to give it what you’ve got and see what happens.
Scrolling through your Instagram feed, looks like two of your hobbies or passions are motorcycles and tattoos.
And fishing as well. I love bikes and I love tattoos.
How did you get into motorcycles?
I started riding when I was quite young. I lived in a town that was in the middle of nowhere and I wanted to get out so the first thing I could do was ride my friend’s motorbike so we just rode around together. It was only like last year that I decided I wanted a big bike. You have to do a legitimate test. I didn’t think I’d be that taken by it but it’s the best therapy. It’s an amazing feeling to be on a motorbike and I just love it.
The weather in Ohio is pretty typical midwest weather. A friend of mine thinks any day over 35 degrees is “motorcycle weather”, he doesn’t want to waste a “good day”.
I don’t have a choice in England, it’s unfortunate as every day seems rainy.
Do you listen to music while riding and, if so, do you have a special playlist?
Yeah, I do. I have a mostly rock playlist. I have to be really careful what I listen to because, when I listen to Prodigy, I do more dangerous things when I’m listening to harder music.
Besides Prodigy, what else is on the playlist?
“Born to Be Wild”. There’s a song, “The Worst is Yet to Come” that’s on the playlist – it’s all guitar. “Venus”. There’s some newer stuff like Knife Party which is really hardcore dance music which is not what I would listen to, at all, normally.
Let’s talk tattoos. What was the first tattoo you got and is it something you regret and were you scared when you got it?
It depends on who you ask. If you ask my mum, then I don’t regret that first tattoo. But, if you ask me honestly, then, yeah, it was a bit of a mistake. It says “Proud” on the back of my neck. I don’t know why I got that but I did. I was 15, I think. My mum was not happy at all, as a matter of fact, my mum said when I was younger that there was two things we weren’t allowed to do – ride motorbikes and get tattoos. Me and my brother are both covered in tattoos and we both ride motorbikes.
I don’t know about your tour history, have you played in Columbus?
I don’t think so, I don’t think I’ve played in Ohio before. It’s going to be good.
Well, just to let you know, right across the street from where you’re playing is a tattoo place so if you’re so inspired …
Ohhhh, nice. I might have to get an Ohio tattoo!