Discovery: Cold Specks

Published August 1, 2012

ABOVE: AL SPX. IMAGE COURTESY OF JIM ANDERSON

Al Spx does little in the way of crafting elaborate backstories and carefully layered personas. “I guess the ‘Spx’ is short for ‘Specks,’ ” she says, chuckling, in explaining her stage name. “[It’s] the only name I’m willing to give out because it’s absolutely ridiculous.” As Cold Specks, the Canadian songstress allows the music to speak for itself. Whether on stage or in the studio, her otherworldly choruses dazzle with ferocity and understated elegance.

In conversation, Ms. Spx is refreshingly unpredictable; disarmingly coy one minute and gleefully mischievous the next. And yet, our talk never manages to stray too far from the music—after all, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, released earlier this year, cost Ms. Spx her Ontario home, a college degree, and up until very recently, a relationship with her parents. “There was a lot of pressure for me to become a doctor, or lawyer,” she admits. Today, they stand on good terms with one another: “[My parents] come to shows every now and then,” Ms. Spx explains. “It’s all good in the hood.”

Ms. Spx answers our phone call from a couch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where we discuss thrift stores, old photos, traveling, eating foie gras, and almost meeting Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum.

AGE: 24

HOMETOWN: Etobicoke, Ontario

LOCATION AT TIME OF INTERVIEW: I’m staying at a friend’s place in Greenpoint. It’s a nice loft. [I’m] watching trashy TV.

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES: I dropped out [of school], I just hadn’t told my parents yet. I was secretly working at a call center, and they were under the impression that I was leaving the house to go to school, attend more classes. Working at call centers, and then partying with my friends at night. Lots of studying for imaginary exams. Around that time, I handed a collection of songs to a friend of mine. He then passed it on to his brother, who happened to be a record producer. It wasn’t until he considered phoning me up that I even considered recording an album, let alone traveling to the UK and forming a band.

WORKING AT A CALL CENTER: I did market research for the most part. Which, basically what I did was I followed up with people who didn’t want to be phoned, and asked them questions they didn’t care about. For the most part, it was government surveys. Call centers… I always say it’s the worst job in the world. It’s just hell.

THE HONEST TRUTH: I think when I do joke around in interviews, it’s quite obvious. It usually has to do with backup dancers and synths, or something. Something that seems ridiculous. If you read something about me and it seems ridiculous, it’s probably me lying for some reason or another. I’m not doing it now.

VISITING NEW ORLEANS: It was great. I recently went on tour with a band, Great Lake Swimmers. After one of the shows, their friend J. Holland gave me a tour of the city. I put my hands in the Mississippi River, went down to Pirate’s Alley, and then he took me to Preservation Hall. I didn’t know what it was before entering the building. Afterward, my jaw literally hit the ground. I was so happy.

EATING FOIE GRAS: When I was in France, I was a complete asshole and ordered foie gras, which is just horrible, but really tasty. I think it’s when they force a duck’s liver to become massive and tasty. [chuckles] It’s like a pâté kind of thing. I don’t get it, but I fucking love it. Snails are good as well.

PICTURE PERFECT: I recently discovered a box of photos in Dallas, and I don’t really think about the story behind the photo. I don’t really think about the people, or the lives that they led. I just find the images to be striking. I guess I’m just obsessed with faces. There’s this one photo. It’s this old guy, probably 19th century, and it’s just a profile shot of him. I just… [pauses] I just fell in love with it completely. Nobody goes out and does that anymore. Nobody goes out and takes a portrait, a big profile shot of themselves, and hangs it up.

THE COOLEST THING ABOUT DALLAS: The Deep Ellum part of Dallas is surprising. I wasn’t expecting it to be as cool as it was. There was this great thrift shop, and the guy who owned it had been collecting things for decades and decades and decades. Endless mounds of… so many photos of people. Instruments. And lunch boxes! He had an incredible collection of lunch boxes as well.

BEING ON THE SAME LABEL AS BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: I remember listening to You Forgot It in People as a teenager, when I was really getting into music. It’s nice being on the same label as Broken Social Scene. [sings] “Looks just like the sun, looks just like you…” [laughs]

FIRST SHOW: My first show was at this place called The Art Bar in the Gladstone Hotel. I played there when I was 16. At the time, I was performing under the [stage name] “Hotel Ghost.” I was playing with a broken Casio keyboard that I was given by my mother. I didn’t know how to play it. [laughs]

ALMOST MEETING JEFF MANGUM: I saw [Jeff Mangum] play two days ago. I just waved at him sheepishly, and ran away.

THE FUTURE: I’ve been really obsessed with people, memories… for the next record, [the artwork] should be photos of other people. I’m considering recording in New Orleans at some point. A beautiful studio in the country.

I PREDICT A GRACEFUL EXPULSION IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND COLD SPECKS PLAYS GLASSLANDS TONIGHT IN BROOKLYN. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HER WEBSITE.