Spencer Albee talks Zach Jones, making choices, and his career retrospective


Super-musician and all around good guy Zach Jones is in town for the week and he will be joining Spencer Albee for a show at Port City Music Hall tonight. The event, The Gang’s All Here, will feature a selection of Jones’ music, Albee’s music and a collection of the songs the two have preformed together over the years.

Albee also just released a career retrospective called Signature Half-Step (available on iTunes and soon to be available at Bull Moose Music). It is comprised of 20 of Albee’s songs from his 15 year career as a band leader and solo musician.

I talked with Albee about the retrospective, his musical relationship with Zach Jones, and how he decides upon the projects he takes on.

Warning: There are some swear words, but they’re classy swear words.

Talk a bit about the event at Port City.

Tonight Zach Jones and I will be playing together. He will play a set and then I will play a set and it will then morph into everything that Zach and I have done together in the past 10 years. It will morph into our stuff with As Fast As and School Spirit Mafia. It is not an opener or a closer thing, it is a show and the thing will pop the whole time.

At the risk of sounding like a huge hippie, which I am guess I am fine with, it’s going to be a great vibe. It’s a celebration of a lot of great work done by a lot of people. Even though Zach has struck out on his own, he has done some amazing work and I have done some work that was the best I could do. Even though we are not playing in each others music now, we get intertwined in what each other are doing.

Why is Zach important to you?

Some people are just met to play and sing together and that is Zach and me. He is such a great person. He is the definition of benevolence. We started playing together because I knew that he was cut from the same cloth that I was. He came from the same place that I did, York, Maine, and we hung out with the same people. I knew that he was a good musician so when it came time to put a band together, there was no audition. He was in.

You also have Signature Half-Step, this collection of music—an anthology of your music to date—that just came out. Is this a “Best Of” album?

I am calling it a retrospective. It looks at 2000 to 20014. When you’re Hootie and the Blow Fish, you can have a Best Of.

Or the Steve Miller Band.

Yes, bands that have sold millions of records can have Best Of collections. I have a suggested list songs that I feel like I did a good job on.

I have known you at this point for more than 15 years, and I found it interesting that musically, you establish a new sound and identity every handful of years. In that case, how do you decide what should appear on a retrospective.

That’s a good question. It was a struggle, which initially got me down to 56 songs before finally paring it down to simply the best from the records. I put the new song first because that is what I am offering now and then put the songs in order from each respective record starting at The Popsicko and carrying through Rocktopus, As Fast As, School Spirit Mafia, Space Versus Speed up to today. It was pretty clear which songs were the best from each, and sometimes it wasn’t the singles.

It is also interesting to me that while you have been doing this for about 15 years now, you are still remembered by many in the context of Rustic Overtones.

I was thinking about this the other day. In my time with that band, we did some really cool shit together. We did some amazing shit together. At the band’s peak, of which we had about 5, we were amazing band. Since Rustic, I have achieved higher personal goals and grown way more as a person. Rustic takes up 6 years of a 20 year career. In Portland, a lot of people will say, “Hey, you were in Rustic Overtones.” I am never going to say, “Fuck that shit” because I love Rustic Overtones. We were a unit and I still have an affinity for that.

The first time I saw you play solo, you covered Lola, which itself felt like a pretty substantial note of departure from where you were coming from at that point.

That was at the Keystone Theater in 2000. The first two singles that I owned were Lola and Walk on the Wild Side.

Right, so you were nodding at this old, great pop song about a transvestite. At that time, both in the context of post-Rustic Overtones, and in the context of the popular music of the late 90s / early 2000s, which was essentially Limp Bizkit, introspective pop music was a pretty radical alternative. It was a radical departure for you too.

What makes you select the various paths that you end up taking? Is it what resonates the most in your heart, or what resonates the most aesthetically?

I make decisions based solely upon what I want right now. That’s it. In listening to this retrospective, hearing my words from 2000 to 2014, I can hear that no choice was made on aesthetic, it was all on heart. It is just what I want to do, when I want to do it, and how I want it to sound. If it works together, it will be an album. What am I going to do? Wait for a radio programmer to tell me that something is going to be a hit? Who gives a shit. Don’t cater to anything. You have to do what you want to do.

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Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.