Spencer Day: Building A Mystery
Breaking up is hard to do, as the old song goes, but crooner Spencer Day let the demise of a relationship fuel the personal, openhearted songs that make up his sweeping new album, The Mystery Of You. No longer boxed into the jazz-pop category, Day’s old-soul voice wraps around music that somehow effortlessly combines everything from folk to blues to country, with some spaghetti Western twists and ’60s pop-rock turns thrown in for good measure.
The Mystery Of You is a concept album that spans a relationship from beginning to end. The world at large really needs to embrace the Roy Orbison-esque “Somewhere On The Other Side,” because it’s truly a beautiful song.
Thank you. I kind of describe this record as a breakup/breakdown/breakthrough kind of record for me. And that was the track I wrote in the depths of it. It’s actually my favorite on there, too, but it’s also the one that the record company was always trying to get me to cut.
Which songs were the most difficult to record, emotionally?
There’s a track called “I Don’t Want To Know.” That’s all live, that one. My pitch gets a little wonky because I was starting to cry when I was singing it. If I do a live show, sometimes I’ll knock out a really silly comedic song, and I really do have a sense of humor that people get to see when they see us live. But regardless of whether the other gentleman hears it, I really wanted this [album] to be a love letter to that relationship.
What would you say is the journey listeners can expect to go on with these songs?
One thing that happened to me is that I had a complete nervous breakdown after this record. I think that years of so many demons were revealed to me after this breakup. And there were a lot of demons I didn’t even recognize that I had. For me, [the album is] a realjourney about going home—and hopefully this doesn’t sound trite—to love myself, because so often we lose ourselves in love.
That statement lends itself to a double meaning for the title The Mystery Of You.
I really wanted to call the record The Mystery Of You because, to this day, I’m not really sure who I was in love with, and I don’t know if I ever will. I think very often we fall in love with an idea. Really what the record is about is those illusions being shattered for me.
One of your best-known songs is “Movie Of Your Life,” and even this album has a lot of cinematic flourishes. What are some films that have influenced your music?
When I was a kid, I grew up in a small town in Utah and was given the access to an exclusively G-rated culture. I opted for every MGM musical that there was. My siblings would be out playing in some imaginary war, and I would be singing with Gene Kelly! I wanted to marry Judy Garland at 5 years old, which is probably when all the trouble began. [Laughs] I think I was always really into movies that really transport you somewhere. I had a troubled childhood, and I guess as a kid I didn’t think there was anything more comforting than the sights and the sounds of another world. Obviously, as you can probably tell from the artwork [on The Mystery Of You]—I was very involved in the font lettering—I was like, “Check out Double Indemnity,” because I’m a film noir fan, too.
I read a review of a show you did in Los Angeles earlier this year, where you touched on Jodie Foster’s coming-out speech at the Golden Globes.
Yes. I was saying that when I was growing up, it felt like everyone else was speaking a different language emotionally, and I lacked the vocabulary to describe what I was feeling. And then I joked and said it was kind of like Jodie Foster had rewritten everyone’s lines and was saying them at the Golden Globes. Not to knock on Jodie Foster at all. She’s coming from another era. I think it’s very easy for us to forget that for some [closeted] people who are a little bit older, they’re in that [awkward] position now because the world has changed so much in the last 10 years.
It all comes back to those demons we carry from an early age, which you mentioned.
I think one reason that I’m out is that I feel like the damage from not being able to express a very important part of yourself is very real. I certainly had to deal with it, and in some ways that hurt will always be with me. For me, it’s flattering if you should ever be in a position to be called a gay role model, but I think ultimately, when it’s all said and done, I’d like to be thought of as a person who lived a transparent and authentic life. I feel like if I can inspire young people, in some tiny way, I feel like my whole life will be a success.
Obviously you have an appreciation for jazz and standards and contemporary pop. So what are some guilty-pleasure songs or artists lurking in your music collection?
Oh, this is such a good question, because I’m always trying to figure out what qualifies them as guilty. I was so much more guilty as a youth. I’m more out and proud now with my guilty pleasures! For me, growing up, I was right in the Vanilla Ice/Milli Vanilli time period. And, of course, I have those tapes, because you were supposed to; that was what all the cool kids were listening to, at least in my town— which was not a very cool town. But what I was secretly listening to was Julie London, Marilyn Monroe’s greatest hits and Ella Fitzgerald. People say, “You must have listened to Harry Connick Jr. a lot or Frank Sinatra.” And I’m always like, “No.” I modeled it after these breathy ’50s female singers. And Chet Baker. But when I first heard him, I thought he was a woman, anyway.
The Mystery Of You is out now. For more info and tour dates, visit spencerday.com