I DON'T KNOW what to say about Al Spx. She may not either. "I'm not sure," she told me, over and over again. "I'm actually not sure."
There are the facts, of course—or what they appear to be. Al Spx is the moniker of a black, female, Canadian-born, England-dwelling singer/songwriter. She has a tremendous voice, velvety and smoky, influenced by tragic, breathy folk and chilling American blues. Her band is called Cold Specks. Her chosen name "Al Spx" is to deflect attention from her family, a devout bunch who wish she'd chosen traditional study instead of a life in music.
I found Cold Specks in a video. It was a stunning live performance. Spx has the kind of born-in talent—a vocal instrument with a haunting timbre—that makes the hair on your neck stand up, whether you know what she's saying or not.
Cold Specks' record, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, released earlier this year, however, is missing something. There are moments approaching that live magnetism, but they are fleeting.
As she told me—and I gathered from other interviews when she seemed more engaged—Spx wrote the songs on Graceful Expulsion years ago. It was a heavy time. She was wrestling with, and losing, her faith—the one so important to her family. On the record, that much is clear. To me, it plays out like a soundtrack to losing one's virginity, and somewhat fearfully.
Spx says she recorded the songs years ago, never planning for them to be properly released. Thanks to a chance connection, the songs were re-recorded in a proper studio, orchestrated, and often scrubbed and overstuffed. The time between the songs' original inspiration and today seems to have dulled Spx's connection.
"I just kind of play a character on stage," she says. "You have to remove yourself to enjoy it, if that makes any sense."
Spx says she hates doing interviews. And though she has spoken of the intense anxiety she feels before going on stage, which at times causes her to vomit, she says there are indeed worthwhile parts of this newfound life in music.
"Ahh, shit," she says. "I do like playing shows and I do like it when the crowd enjoys it." Yet she cannot help herself. "There are certain songs that I'm completely bored of at this point"—in particular, "Lay Me Down," the live performance that first piqued my interest.
Which all makes me wonder: How much does Spx want to be a part of this, a life in music and entertainment? Was her voice pushed in directions it didn't really want to go?
I'm not sure. But I know if Spx's artistic voice can take more control of her physical voice, if it discovers where it wants to go next, and that it wants to share, the future is promising. She's just got to find the missing piece.