Spencer Day is a very talented singer from the west coast area near Los Angeles. Though he came from humble beginnings, Spencer has worked his way up to a world class singer and has played exotic places such as the Philippines, Mallorca Spain, Australia, Japan and others. Spencer was singing and working his way through dive bars when he was asked to appear on the television show "Star Search". Much to his surprise, he made it to the finals. He found his niche with a light jazz style of singing and has performed in prestigious venues like The Hollywood Bowl and Tanglewood in Massachusetts. He regularly headlines major club venues such as: Yoshi's and The Plush Room on the west coast to The Canal Room, Town Hall and Joe's pub on the east coast. His latest album "Daybreak" has just been released and contains numerous gems on it. It also showcases Spencer's take on classic songs from the 60's. I recently caught up with Spencer.
R.V.B. - Hello Spencer this is Rob von Bernewitz from New York - how are you?
S.D. - I'm good thanks... I'm glad to hear from you.
R.V.B. - What's going on over there on the west coast?
S.D. - I was just actually writing some music in the place I live in... west L.A. Hollywood at the moment and I'm heading down to San Diego tomorrow. I'm gonna look at some houses and I'm considering moving a little bit out of the belly of the beast but still somewhere nearby. I was gone for a month and a half. I went to Europe and in the south doing some shows in Nashville, Chicago and Atlanta and Denver, Salt Lake City. I just got back and I'm kind of enjoying - not jumping on a plane for a couple of weeks.
R.V.B. - Well that sounds like an exciting little time period for you.
S.D. - It was... where on Long Island are you?
R.V.B. - I'm pretty much right in the middle of it. I'm by Port Jefferson.
S.D - Is it pretty today?
R.V.B. - Yeah it's a beautiful day and it's about 70 degrees. It's a beautiful September day for sure.
S.D. - New York in September beats Los Angeles for sure.
R.V.B. - So you've been here a few times?
S.D. - Oh yeah, I've lived in the city twice. I have a friend who lives in Sayville and another friend who just moved out to Montauk. I try to explore the surrounding areas of wherever I live pretty regularly.
R.V.B. - My daughter lives in Sayville. It's another ferry town. There's a ferry that runs to Fire Island there.
S.D. - Yeah, it's a nice town. I've taking my mom to the Sunken Forest. It's really pretty.
R.V.B. - So congratulations on your career up to this point. I understand that you have a fresh album out.
S.D. - Yeah, we just released it a couple of months ago and this is my first independent one in a while.
R.V.B. - It's called "Daybreak"... is there any meaning behind the title?
S.D. - It kind of reflected where I am at. It's been a really interesting and spiritual time for me as far as breaking old patterns and habits I've been in. I guess we're always in a new chapter but sometimes you feel it stronger than other times. I feel like I'm at a major crossroads in my life that is scary but also very exciting. So it just feels like an appropriate title for that. It's kind of a new dawning for a new me, I guess.
R.V.B. - I see... I sampled a few of your past songs and I have to say I was very impressed. You have a wonderful voice and I like the way you approach your songs. You're in full command.
S.D. - Thanks man... I sure love to do it. I was very lucky with this last record that we got into a lot of it live, which I kind of wanted to do in the past. Sometimes, financially or whatever the situation for recording is just more difficult to do but I was really happy to be playing with such good musicians that we could track the entire thing live and keep the live energy to it.
R.V.B. - That makes for a good recording.
S.D. - Yeah, we did some overdubbing like the horns for example. A couple of friends of mine play in a great big band near me called "The Budman/Levy Orchestra". They helped come up with the horn arrangements but all of the core tracking was all done live. I always feel like you can feel that in records when that happens. For certain projects like an electronic thing or even some very symphonic rock, that's not the way you want to build it but from me I still kind of come from that jazz approach because I really like the spontaneity that happens when you just get people in a room and play. Hahahaha.
R.V.B. - A lot of the major singers in the past recorded live... like Sinatra.
S.D. - Yeah. there's energy that you can feel which I really enjoy.
R.V.B. - Well you're in there with the musicians and you're all one. Sometimes when you're tracking it can get a little sterile.
S.D. - Sometimes if you're reacting to someone and you're singing it live, it definitely can wear you out. We recorded five songs each day. We did the whole thing in just two days which was ambitious but as a singer you can't give fifty percent because you're feeling tired. The band is gonna react to how you sing it so if you sing it in a lackadaisical way, that's how they are gonna accompany you too. So it definitely takes a lot of focus and energy. There's something the way things reverberate when you're doing it live as opposed to the band playing it and imagining what you would sound like. It's a very different thing.
R.V.B. - I understand you picked a lot of 60's material other then the songs that you wrote. How did you go about choosing the songs? Were they just songs that you liked to sing?
S.D. - They were songs that we liked. There were a couple of songs that we didn't get to because we just didn't have time. We'll probably do a follow up to it. I had a great version of "Sealed with a Kiss" by Bobby Vinton. A track that we did a cool little trip hop groove underneath... "Suspicion" by Terry Stafford. We worked out a great version for that. I just thought that there's a lot of gems that kind of aren't really treated as standards, that I feel could be entered into "The Great American Songbook". I think melodically they hold up. During the day it just ended up being whatever the guys started playing along to and came together and was fun in the moment. Hahaha. I think it was a process of whatever came together easiest in that, It's always hard recording when there's things that you don't get to... where you have to circle back to.
R.V.B. - Well it's always good to have some in the can, so to speak.
S.D. - The Bad moon rising one... I just started singing in a more bluesy version of that. We hadn't rehearsed that at all or hadn't planned on doing it. Then the guys started playing along with it. I said "Wow, that's pretty cool, Let's hit record". It just came together very easily. Sometimes I would just take that as a sign that something just comes together very effortlessly.
R.V.B. - How did you end up choosing the jazz genre when there was so much to choose from in the world with pop and rock and country. What led you to the jazzier style of singing?
S.D. - Well I never thought of myself as a jazz vocalist per say. What I found myself doing was just singing along to things that just suited my voice. I'll sing some pop songs. I'll sing songs by Jeff Buckley or by Fiona Apple or Rufas Wainright. I just always sound like myself and maybe when I was younger I would listen to Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald growing up. That kind of creeped into the back of my head but I never consciously said "I'm gonna sing jazz" and I still to this day don't consider myself a jazz artist. I think I'm very jazz inspired... jazz flavored but for me I think it was just whatever felt good with my voice. You can't pick the voice you're born with. When I would sing along with things... that would just seem to me the sensible thing to work. It was never consciously thought out.
R.V.B. - Well your voice matches perfectly to the music that you're playing. You mentioned Rufas Wainright... I happened to see him a couple of months ago at the Clearwater Festival up in New York.
S.D. - Oh that's the one Seeger started. I've been there before.
R.V.B. - I love his music and of course he comes from a very musical family. Did you take formal music lessons?
S.D. - Since I've been playing professionally, I've had a lesson here and there from this really great pianist named Larry Goldings. I've really learned on the bandstand by asking a lot of questions and having the musicians that I play with show me things. Music was a very happy and fortuitous accident for me. I started playing around nineteen. I kinda came into it very late. I was kind of a troubled young guy at that time and the music just gave me an outlet for all these dark feelings I had and it gave me a place to express all of the abundance of emotions I had. Hahaha. So I just started playing what felt good to me but I didn't really have any training... I wish I had. My mom sang opera and she always wanted to give me lessons growing up but being a defiant teenager, you never do what your parents want you to do. I never let her give me any which now I wish I had.
R.V.B. - Did she sing in theaters?
S.D. - Yeah, my family is Mormon so she went to B.Y.U. and she would sing there. She taught a couple of show choir's while we were growing up. I was in one for one year but at that time I was a really shy kid. My older brother has a fantastic opera voice. He would do a lot of the singing and I would kind of hang out in the shadows because I never had a voice that I thought was that good. I had a very breathy voice. I didn't associate that with being a voice that anyone wanted to hear until I discovered a lot of torch singers like Chet Baker and Julie London and even Marilyn Monroe when I watched old MGM Musicals. I was like "They all sound pretty good. They're singing pretty quiet" hahaha. I just kind of stumbled into it.
S.D. - Yeah, the first couple of years I was just being a kinda crazy party kick... like an Amish kid in Fort Lauderdale on spring break.
R.V.B. - Well that's normal activity for a young teenager.
S.D. - Well the first couple of years I was getting a little carried away. I was coming from a very small rural area in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I'm really glad music came along not long after that because if it hadn't I probably would have gone down a very self destructive path. It gave me something to focus on... it gave me a purpose and it really changed my entire life. One of my friends heard me sing in the shower when I was about twenty and bought me my first Casio keyboard and that kind of got me started playing. I started playing dive bars or piano bars when I was about twenty two or twenty three. I don't imagine that I was very good. I played everything in C. I learned "A Lush Life" in C Major which is actually a harder key to play it in than the key it's written in but I had a really good ear. I couldn't site read. One semester I did go to Cal Arts, which is a very good arts school. I don't know how I got in. I has faking and trying to make my way through "Rhapsody in Blue" and the teacher stopped me and said "You're not reading any of this are you?". Hahaha, so I was learning the notes by ear and just writing the notes like every good little boy does fine. Now thanks to all these great musicians I play with... I'm not the world's best sight reader but I think it was really my ear that kinda got me through because I had a knack for only hearing a songs once and being able to play it back to people. In a piano bar setting, it's a very helpful skill.
R.V.B. - Right... How did you wind up going on star Search?
S.D. - One of the Piano bars that I played at in San Francisco called "The Lush Lounge", which is a fun dive bar... one of the owners who really liked me, and I used to make $35 a night paying for tips and free martini's... he signed me up as a joke. So I got a call from them saying "Please come down... we'd love to audition you". At the time I didn't think anything of it and I went down. I was like "Ok... very funny. I'll audition". I wasn't really nervous at all because I didn't really think I would ever get on. Then they called me back, (hahaha) a month later and I got on the show and all of a sudden it wasn't joke anymore. I had never been so nervous and had such stage fright in my life. For some reason the judges didn't really care for me too much because I don't really do that American Idol kind of singing but the home audiences kept voting me back on. The people could call and vote you on to the next round so I became a finalist on that. Once again it was a happy accident. What's been great about the last five years is that I've really taken the reigns and said "This is what my life is for better or for worse and this is how I want it to be". Before that I was kind of getting dragged along by all these happy accidents that happened and Star Search was definitely one of those. When the show was done, people started fan clubs in the mid-west for me and I just went right back to playing the same dive bars and nothing had changed. Slowly but surely, one thing led to another and I started playing nicer gigs and got introduced to various people... got signed to a couple of different record labels. It's been a really great steady climb which I feel really good about. Prior to that I didn't have the confidence or the experience behind me and if I had got catapulted to a certain level, I think like a lot of young people, I wouldn't have known what to do with it or how to handle it very well.
R.V.B. - It's kind of a good thing working your way up in a street smart way and having it come together.
S.D. - I think so. The failing and succeeding and you can't have success without a lot of failures. That's how you find out how you are and what you stand for and what doesn't work for you. If you're catapulted to the top, there could be people whispering in your ear what you outta do and who you are.
R.V.B. - A lot of artists that had that experience aren't around anymore. I've noticed that you have played some very nice rooms and festivals... for example "The Hollywood Bowl"
S.D. - Yeah, that was a cool one for sure.
R.V.B. - You also went overseas to play in Manila?
S.D. - Yeah, That was a very big benefit for the typhoon victims. It was a huge concert arena show. This year alone I played Mexico twice for work, I've been to the Philippines, I've been to Europe two times, New York maybe five or six. Now when I get home, all I look forward to doing is laundry and hahaha reading a book.
R.V.B. - Hahaha. When you do travel abroad, do you get a little down time when you get to see the sites?
S.D. - It really depends. I've really been lucky this last time in Europe... I played in Mallorca in May and both of those times the people taking us around had us scheduled in so that we could see some of the sites. Sometimes when you get into Paris or London you literally run into the venue... do the show and then take off but I always to do that if I can. It still doesn't feel like a vacation though because every time I know I have to do a show... that's the main priority so you kind of gotta watch what you eat and make sure you're not expending to much energy so that when the evening comes... even when you have your entire day free and you can do whatever you want. It's still a different thing from going on vacation. I feel like what I've done in the last ten years or so is compiled a very long list of places I'd love to go back to when I'm not working.
S.D. - Oh God it's so beautiful up there. That may be one of my favorite places I've played? That was very special also because I got to sit in with Marion McPartland before she passed away. It was a birthday celebration for her and I also got to meet Mulgrew Miller who has also since passed away and just a ton of great people. That's just one place that I would love to get back to sooner, rather than later.
R.V.B. - When you do perform these days... what size band do you perform with as a road band?
S.D. - It varies a lot... in Los Angeles I'm playing with this big band "The Budman/Levy Orchestra" and they have eighteen pieces but usually when I go out on the road, I bring bass, drums and guitar and I play piano. In some situations if I can I'll also bring another guitarist who sings as well. A lot of the stuff we're doing... even though it's jazz inspired and 60's inspired... it's very guitar driven stuff. In an Ideal situation, I usually bring two guitarists.
R.V.B. - Nice... I wanted to talk about the "Until You Come to Me" song. Were you happy about the success of the song?
S.D. - I was incredibly happy about it. I was definitely not expecting that at all. I remember the first time I heard it on the radio. I was driving and I pulled over and called my mom because I was so excited that they were playing it. When I wrote it with my friend Cliff, who is a fantastic Nashville Lyricist... we got together and did the Lyrics together and then I did the music. We were just trying to create a film noire kinda landscape and it kinda felt good. I would have never thought how that song would fit into any genre because I don't think it does. The fact that it was a number one, especially for instrumental charts... it's the first time a vocal spot stayed up there for that long. It was a surprise to my record label and everyone. People would call me and say "I don't know how to describe it? It's kinda got a middle eastern thing? It's kind of Michael Buble' but it's not?" and it took off in a very organic way. I was incredibly touched. I still don't know to call what I'm doing but it's nice to know that there's people who appreciate it. It was really, really cool. Hopefully it's not the last time I have a happy accident.
R.V.B. - Do you have any particular place where you write your songs or can ideas come up to anywhere?
S.D. - Ideas definitely can pop in your head anywhere which makes it bad, like at a dinner party where I'm always going off writing something down... hahaha but anytime I put myself in nature which is what I love to do. One of my favorite places to go to be creative is upstate in New York. I have a friend who has a great place up in the town of Hudson. It's a fantastic town and I love to go there. Last summer my friend had a place on Fire Island so I was able to go out there and do some writing. So anytime I can put myself around the elements... I feel the city is a great place to take in ideas but if I want to execute those ideas and put them into practice going out somewhere in nature is where it happens. The east coast in the summertime and the fall... if I could split my time and be in California the rest of the year I'd be a happy guy.
R.V.B. - Yeah, New York is beautiful and California must be nice also. My wife and I there are going upstate to the Woodstock area next week. Have you ever been there?
S.D. - Yeah, I was gonna rent a place up there. I love it up there. Love it, love it, love it. I actually hung out in that little mill stream... the little rocks that are in the town center and just hung out there for hours writing lyrics.
R.V.B. - Yeah, it really is a beautiful place. Another song of yours that I really enjoyed or yours is "Mystery of You".
S.D. - Thanks. I wrote that for the last James Bond movie because I knew they were looking for a song for that and then of course they went with Adele. I kinda wrote it to sound like a James Bond song. Hahaha
R.V.B. - Oh ok. Congratulations once again on your career... things are looking real good for you in the future. Keep up all the good work and good writing
S.D. - Thanks so much Rob, it was good to talk to you.
R.V.B. - Have a nice day.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any part of form.
For further information on Spencer Day visit his website www.spencerday.com
To order CD's or Movies click the Amazon tab upper right
for any information on this interview contact email@example.com