Wired Women: Shay Spence

3:15 PM

Wired Women profiles successful women with ties to Boston who are pursuing their passions. These women serve as an inspiration not only to myself, but to women and girls everywhere who are eager to make waves in their field. Meet Shay Spence, one of my oldest and dearest friends. Shay attended Berklee College of Music before she dropped out, briefly moved to LA, and finally settled in NYC with her Vassals bandmates to create her own pathway through life. Read more about Shay below...

Style Wire: You've been making music for as long as I can remember, when did you know it was something you wanted to pursue beyond a hobby? 
Shay Spence: I did fall in love with music at a young age, but I didn’t really consider it as a career path until around high school. That was when I started going to those sweaty all-ages jangly/punk/hardcore shows that were sometimes pseudochristian but were totally inspiring to this future college dropout. And around that time, someone introduced me to the indie label/blog rock world and blew my dumb little teenage mind. 

SW: How has your music evolved over the last decade? 
SS: I think in the past decade I've gotten more comfy with direct language in lyrics. I used to make huge metaphorical somersaults around thoughts and ideas, now I actively edit down to find what I'm really trying to express. I’ve also been embracing the ephemeral nature of music, trying to capture moments rather than big aching thesises (thesi? Plural of thesis? I just looked it up and it’s “theses”). 

SW: How do you stay inspired creatively? 
SS: So in addition to my own band, I play bass for Magana and Stunt Casting: two other female-fronted NYC bands that couldn’t be more different from each other or from Vassals. It’s so inspiring to work with songwriters I revere, and immersing myself in their composition and writing styles often gives me cool new perspective of my own work. Outside of music, I make a living in the prop department of various TV and film productions. There’s always new and interesting things to learn in my field, and sometimes it leaks into my music. Like on this last job, I had to learn some basic principles of neurology and crocheting. I’m terrible at both, but wouldn’t be surprised if some of that makes its way into future lyrics or something. 

SW: You also draw in addition to playing the guitar and singing, when did you tap into that talent? 
SS: Drawing was my first true passion; I started when I was 3 and pretty much did it compulsively until I picked up a guitar. I think it was a misstep in my childhood to not dually pursue art and music – like my doodle muscles have atrophied for it. I still get to draw from time to time though, usually using upcoming shows as an excuse to make elaborately designed posters. I’ve done all the artwork for our band so far, I sometimes get self-conscious about my skills but my bandmates seem to like my work. 

SW: What has been the biggest obstacle when it comes to making music? 
SS: Time management has been a big obstacle for me in creating music. I have a lot of friends that subscribe to the idea of setting an hour aside daily to work on their craft. I think it’s a lovely notion, but my work/life schedule is often absurd and leaves little room for a dedicated writing hour. Also, being really good at excuses often gets in the way of making music, as this paragraph illustrates. 

SW: What's been your proudest musical accomplishment to date? 
SS: That’s a tough one! I’m very proud of the music we’ve been making in Vassals; our new EP has the most live-band sounding songs I’ve ever recorded. Like our first album, we did all of the arranging, engineering, and mixing ourselves (I say “we” but really all the engineering/mixing were Jon and Jeff, haha). It’s way more focused than our first record, partially because I’m understanding more how to write for a band and not just for my bedroom. 

SW: When do you feel most creative and inspired? 
SS: At night, definitely. Sometimes I’ll go through the day softly working out new ideas in my head, but it’s always in the evening when I start to sort things out and “compose”. I’m sure this comes from the way I manage my time, but the late hours are always more calm and free of distraction. Also, wine. 

SW: Has there ever been a time when you thought, "screw it, I'm done with music," and if so, how did you combat that negativity? 
SS: Oh all the time, and especially when writing. Like most people doing creative things, I hit blocks now and then that shake my confidence in my ability. I usually try to switch gears when that happens, focus on some non-musical project instead. Lately I’ve been constantly overbooked (easy to ignore life’s problems when you’re busy), juggling film work and graphic work and playing for other people’s projects. I can’t always count on it, but often in the busyness of other things I can stumble upon some musical inspiration. I write down everything I can and, once I have a moment, sit down with all the glints of ideas and try to further realize them. 

SW: What are you most excited for this year? 
SS: Vassals is releasing a new EP called Halogen Days this spring; I’m pretty psyched about that! This release has been sorta a long-time-coming thing, so I’m excited for being able to share it and also moving on to the next project. We’re making plans to start recording our second full-length this summer, so that’s pretty exciting too. 

SW: What does a typical day look like for you? 
SS: In my line of work, each day can be wildly different from the next. Some start before sunrise, some go straight through the night. Typically though, I can count on wearing my (so stylish) fanny pack for 12+ hours, drinking lots of coffee, trying not to eat cake for lunch every day, and being in a part of New York that I might not otherwise think to visit. I’m still relatively fresh to the film world, so the novelty of each day and its particular props isn’t lost on me yet. Then after work, I’ll often rush straight to a practice space for one of three band rehearsals. After some music and wine (or beer or bourbon, depends which band) it’s home to my dog Whisky and the messy bedroom that I swear I’m going to straighten, maybe this weekend...

Check out Vassals on BandCamp and Facebook, or follow along with Shay on Instagram

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