Caroline Spence On The Stories Behind Her Beautiful New Record 'Spades & Roses' : All Songs Considered Caroline Spence explains the stories behind each song — concern for a friend, a hotel in Amarillo — of her beautiful sophomore record.
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Spades and Roses

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Caroline Spence On The Stories Behind Her Beautiful New Record 'Spades & Roses'

Caroline Spence On The Stories Behind Her Beautiful New Record 'Spades & Roses'

Caroline Spence. Laura E. Partain/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Laura E. Partain/Courtesy of the artist

Caroline Spence.

Laura E. Partain/Courtesy of the artist

Caroline Spence is hungry for more out of life and love — but hunger, as she explores in the deceptively unassuming Spades & Roses, comes with consequence. Praised by Miranda Lambert and having just gone on tour with John Moreland, Spence occupies that Nashville sound equally at home in honky-tonks (the hard twang of "Hotel Amarillo" and easygoing paisley-country of "Wishing Well") and bedrooms (the dreamy two-step "Heart Of Somebody" and the slow-burning personal ballad "Southern Accident"). Spence has made a record that reaches across the Nashville identity.

Spence spends most her time in the space where a gentle breeze becomes a tornado. "All The Beds I've Made," in particular, ruminates on acoustic guitar and sparse piano, percussion and brief flourishes of electric guitar and cello, recalling some of John Paul White's most dramatic performances, with the climax lurking underneath — always there, waiting to hit your own experience at just the right moment. The sweeping "Slow Dancer" is less ambiguous in its movement, crescendoing into a starry-eyed waltz that channels Hollywood romance of yesteryear, allowing Spence's raw and delicate soprano to overcome a guarded heart: "Found that part of my heart that won't take no for an answer / You turned me into a slow dancer."

From setting the album's tone of "dissatisfaction and hunger" to allowing herself to write a song about coming from a divorced family to a playful song about gender inequality that "trick[s] people into thinking it's really about sports," Spence shares her thoughts and stories behind Spades & Roses with NPR.

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Caroline Spence, 'Spades and Roses'

01Heart of Somebody

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"This was the first song recorded on day one of making this record. It really felt like it set the tone for the sessions and set the tone for the record, both sonically and narratively. This song is equally about dissatisfaction and hunger. It's about knowing you aren't doing your best and knowing that you want to do better. This album is an exploration of those moments when we aren't doing our best, when we are experiencing the best we've ever had, and when we simply recognize we are doing the best you can and that is enough."

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02Hotel Amarillo

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"This song happened because this song actually happened. The first draft was written in a hotel room in Amarillo, Texas. The co-writer a bottle of white wine."

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03All the Beds I've Made

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"This is one I carried around for a while. I had the first verse done plus the chorus melody but half the chorus lyrics. Usually, I am really precious about bringing partially written songs to another person to help with, but I trust and admire Stephanie Lambring more than most people, so I brought it to her. She helped me break through whatever block I had and brought this song back to life. It is exactly what I had hoped it would be and exactly what I wanted it to say. I know this song wouldn't have been anything without her help."

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04You Don't Look so Good (Cocaine)

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"It's hard to tell people things they don't want to hear. It's hard to make someone see the affects of their actions when the consequences aren't immediate. This song comes out of not knowing how to talk to someone about their choices and your concerns about those choices. It's the voice of a concerned friend."

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05Southern Accident

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    Southern Accident
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"I've never given myself this sort of permission as a writer before. I put my whole self into this song. I'm equally afraid and relieved to put it out into the world. It's about my family, but it's mainly about me and the walls I built as a result of coming from a divorced family, walls I didn't notice for a long time but that I know can be knocked down."

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06Slow Dancer

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"It's fitting that this comes after 'Southern Accident' because I sort of see it as the narration of first attempt to step over those aforementioned walls and fully give yourself to someone. Or rather, the first time you feel yourself falling against your own will or better judgement, the first time you lose yourself in 'the heart of somebody' and about the dance — the push and pull, the resistance and submission — that comes with all of that."

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07Softball

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"This song is my way of shining a light on the way in which we, as a society, have constructed an entirely different vocabulary to discuss the actions, troubles and successes of women. Rather than writing an angry song, I tried to be playful and observant, with moments of poignancy. And, you know, trick people into thinking it's really about sports."

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08To Go Down

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"My friend Pete Lindberg wrote this. This is the first time I've ever recorded a song that I did not write. After hearing Pete play this I could not get it out of my head — I made him send me a voice memo of it. I listened over and over. I wanted to live inside that melody. This was around the time we were deciding on tracks for the record and his song was speaking to me louder than a lot of my own songs, so I asked him if I could record it. After years of hoping people might record my music, I finally understand the feeling that someone needs to have in order to do so. When I sing this, I feel it so deeply that I feel like it's my own. I am very thankful Pete let me record this. It was the missing piece to the story of this record."

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09Wishing Well

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"We had fun with this one. It's way more lyrically quirky and playful than the rest of the record. We wanted that Traveling Wilburys-style guitar riffs and tones to keep it fun. This is the first male harmony that you hear on the record too. It's sort of a dual narrative in that way."

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10I Can't Complain

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"I wrote this on New Year's Eve of 2014. It made me late to a party. I finished it on New Year's Day. It's a song that really means a lot to me — a lot of time, it is the last song of a set and I really do feel grateful and lucky when I sing it. I really can't complain."

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11Goodbye Bygones

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"This was written with Danny Mitchell, who plays piano on this track as well as the keys on the whole album. He and I recorded it live and together, with no metronome or guidance, just the feel of it guiding us. I think we did two takes total. It was a definite 'moment' in the studio. The title of the record (Spades & Roses) comes from a line in this song: 'Let it be / Don't you know / You cannot call a spade a rose.' This lyric sums up what a lot of these songs are about — this record is about recognizing things for what they are, the good and bad, and telling the truth."

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