There’s a romantic notion in people’s minds of the songwriter as someone who gets struck suddenly by creative lighnting and boom: a song comes spilling out, fully formed and perfectly conceived from the get-go. It may happen like that occasionally, but songwriting is often hard work, a task that requires persistence and tenacity. The tweaks and changes a track undergoes during the recording process can be crucial, and a perfect example of this is Amy Speace’s “Nothing Good Can Come From This,” premiering on Billboard today. Listen below.
Speace’s song is a compelling piece of folk-soul. It features two guitars; one plays sharp, punctual lines, keeping time like it would on a record from Stax or Muscle Shoals, while the other adds fluid embellishments. A keyboard makes tasteful runs in the song’s open spaces. Occasionally, a second voice rises to harmonize with Speace’s lead vocal, adding to the luxurious melody.
But the track didn’t start out that way. “I wrote the song fairly quickly,” Speace tells Billboard. “I have a group of writers I meet with weekly in Nashville. We challenge each other to write a song a week and bring it to each other for critique. I hadn’t written one for the coming meeting, and that Monday afternoon I wrote the lyrics in about an hour. I was thinking about the people you meet that you are drawn to that are walking red flags, but you’re still drawn to them anyway.”
So far, so good. However, when Speace took her lyrics into the studio, it didn’t feel right. “Nothing Good Can Come From This” started out as a much faster tune. “We tried to record it a few times and it just wasn’t working,” she says. These are the moments that separate solid songwriters from great ones. What do you do when your initial inspiration hits a wall?
After knocking her head against that wall for a while, Speace had an idea. “I’d lately been on a Dusty in Memphis kick,” she remembers. For Dusty In Memphis, released in 1969, Dusty Springfield travelled to the birthplace of much of the soul music she loved, recording with musicians who had played on records from legends (Wilson Pickett, King Curtis) and singing tracks written by revered ’60s song-smiths (Bacharach & David, Goffin & King, Randy Newman). Inspired by the stately pace of those Springfield classis, Space suggested, “I know this might sound crazy, but what if we slowed it way down and just sat back with it?”
According to Speace, “what happened was magic,” and it’s hard to disagree. Look for more wizardry on Speace’s upcoming album, That Kind of Girl, due March 3.