Early in my KXLU DJ’ing days the graveyard shifts often had me aimlessly exploring the towers of CDs that loomed over the radio booth. Throughout my search for the next tunes of my set, I came across Spellling’s 2019 album Mazy Fly. The experimental vocals layered amongst buggy synth drones and orchestral additions gave her sound this sci-fi feel with a whimsical, woodsy touch—-grand, yet mysterious. Spellling’s recent work The Turning Wheel was an ambitious, refreshing listen and something truly special, as it features an ensemble of 31 collaborating musicians! With an upcoming performance in Los Angeles, I reached out to Spellling eager to learn more about her and the unique music she creates. Read the full interview below~
1) Where did the name “SPELLLING” come from?
“I got the idea for the name SPELLLING after reading an Erykah Badu tweet that said ‘Write it down on real paper with a real pencil with real intent and watch it get real . Spelling is a Spell’ I really resonated with the play on words she was using and the message that sound and words are pure magic. The concept of magic and enchantment flows consistently throughout my work and I use this as a way to invite the listener in to deeply consider and delight in the mysteries of being alive.”
2) You’ve got such a whimsical, unique aesthetic–it’s so awesome! What inspires you aesthetically and creatively?
“Thank you! It’s been such a joy to come to recognize the ebbs and flows of my creative process and the way my inspirations come out in the music. I think that my songs function a lot like parables on matters of creativity, incarnation and world building, so naturally I am very drawn to the esoteric, including tarot, ancient myths and religious texts and philosophy. A friend of mine recently showed me a painting titled The Q symphony by Leonora Carrington and the aesthetic has been inspiring my visions for new music. The painting shows a gathering of mysterious figures, howling dogs and other animal spirits cloaked in a midnight blue starry night, making music with various instruments.”
3) Your music features such a rich range of acoustic sounds. What is the creative process like with the use of so many instruments?
“I utilized a large range of instruments for the first time with ‘The Turning Wheel’ and the process was so transformative! I think I’ve really expanded my intelligence as a songwriter by getting to know the sound of so many instruments for the first time while working on the album. Previously I had never even heard a french horn, trumpet, harp, bassoon or clarinet intimately so getting to work with people who play these instruments fluidly was such a joy to experience. I learned a ton and just grew my palette of creative options tenfold. I am very excited to discover how this new vocabulary will carry into the new work I am making.”
4) Earlier this year you released the album The Turning Wheel—How would you say this project differs from your previous releases?
“With Mazy Fly and Pantheon I was literally just figuring out how to even create music with the materials that I had access to, and I had very limited knowledge and ZERO expectations that the music would really reach anyone. The Turning Wheel was made much more intentionally and is evidence of me defining my true sound for the first time and growing confidence as an artist. I also pushed myself and took a ton of risks with The Turning Wheel such as training my vocals to be able to sing how i wanted out of my comfortable range.”
5) What is the overall theme of The Turning Wheel?
“The album has a lot of subjects and the overall theme is hard to synthesize, but I love that it’s that way. I think one of the major themes of the album is incarnation, the embodying of the spirit in flesh. This has actually been an ongoing theme throughout all of my music. Most directly, The Turning Wheel references the wheel of karma and the Wheel of Fortune tarot card. The Wheel of Fortune in tarot speaks to the idea of embracing and understanding the constant transformation of reality, and the beginning and closing of cycles. It is one of the more enigmatic cards in the deck and one that kept calling to me as I began studying tarot alongside writing material for The Turning Wheel. “
6) I remember a couple years ago discovering your 2019 album Mazy Fly and being so intrigued with the album cover. Who’s idea was it for an ethereal photoshoot featuring the cows?
“My collaborator and I at the time created the vision together. I felt really compelled to create this image that has a mood of a seance or the scene of a strange alien visitation. We thought there was a cow in the background which ties into the song Mazy Fly when I sing of a ‘little wonder cow’ but when we went to shoot the photo the cows ended up all gathering in that semicircle around me. “
7) If you ever experience a creative block, what helps you come out of it?
“I have gone through periods of creative block and I’ve found that the harder you try and chase your idea the farther away it gets from you. I try to just let things escape me and exist in that space and empty my mind through some new physical task. Distracting the mind from trying to force things has always been successful for me. I like to go on hikes in the Berkeley hills or Oakland redwoods. Driving to my hometown Sacramento has been the ultimate way to refresh my brain because I get inspired by visiting old places and driving tricks my mind into a meditative place.”
8) What are your favorite instruments to play?
“I write most of my songs on piano first so I think piano is my first favorite. Over quarantine I learned how to play the Dilruba, which is a string instrument played with a bow that originated in India. The word means ‘heart-thief which makes sense because the sound is so captivating and haunting.”
9) You are preparing for a series of upcoming shows! Any shows you’re looking forward to the most?
I am not currently on a full tour but I will be playing a few really exciting shows this year including headlining my only East Coast show of the year at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York October 23rd and Desert Daze Music Festival on November 14th. I will be playing with a full band for the first time ever which is just such an amazing experience for someone that used to pretty much play solo. We’ve been working really hard to bring these songs to the stage in a unique and dynamic way. They sound a lot different than the album recordings and I’m stoked about it!
10) If you had the chance to collaborate with any artist, who would it be and why?
“I’m kind of stumped by this question at the moment to be honest. I think it would be an awesome full circle experience to be able to collaborate with Erykah Badu. I idolize her so much and it would be a dream come true to be able to perform with her or create something someday. She taught me so much about music as a child and to this day I listen to her for comfort and direction when I’m feeling down.”
Spellling is truly one of the most imaginative artists I’ve come across, and I’m always thankful I came across her music when I did. Spellling’s music is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp, and keep up with her on Instagram and Facebook. My personal favorite tracks include “Boys at School”, “Turning Wheel”, and “Under the Sun”. She will also be performing live in Los Angeles at Pico Union Project November 13th and at Desert Daze on the 14th.
Interview By: Alexa Terry