Jamie Speiss Tells All

The truth hurts, but it’s essential to the music of Husbands, Love Your Wives.

The first time I saw Jamie Speiss, the singer-songwriter behind Husbands, Love Your Wives, she was strumming her guitar at Q Cafe in front of the quietest, most reverent audience I've ever encountered. Backed by upright bassist (and SW contributor) Erik Neumann and former Throw Me the Statue drummer Joe Syversen, Speiss sang songs about friends who'd died and about burying the hatchet with past lovers. Her music aches with loss and longing, but her uplifting melodies and sweet sparrow's voice are the silver lining of a cloudy life. Speiss has endured a lot of tragedy for a 23-year-old pastry student. She's been jerked around by cheating boyfriends and locked in a basement by nutcases in Germany. In the past year, three friends from her hometown of Woodland, Wash., have committed suicide; five others died in car accidents or other horrible mishaps. She's also something of an insomniac, the kind of person who can stay awake for five days straight. In person, though, there's little trace of the melancholy that makes her music so compelling; she's actually warm and welcoming. Even though Speiss is just one of many folksingers in Seattle, the raw, emotive nature of her music sets her apart from the pretentious posers who write about feelings they don't have. Despite having picked up a guitar for the first time at 18, and not having released any records yet, she's gathered a small, loving following, because the music she creates is the unfiltered channeling of raw emotion. "When I write a song, I sit down, and I'll feel something, hit 'record,' and just record it as it's coming out," she says. "I don't sit down and write lyrics or anything. And I don't really change anything later." In fact, she adds, "I can barely play my instrument. It's not about the music to me as much as it's about the stories. I can't even tell you the names of the chords I use." Her writing style makes her songs as personal as journal entries, like picking up a diary on the side of the road and flipping to a random page. One song, "Jamie All Your Moons," is about the fear that hardship and death will continue to plague her, countered by friends' reassurances that things will get better—to be more specific, that all of her "moons" will eventually align in her favor. For someone who doesn't revise what she writes, Speiss' on-the-spot lyrics are both rife with symbolism and surprisingly clean, especially in "Put the Hatchet Down": "Do you think that if I put my baby down/In a walnut shell/It would calm her down/Do you think that if I put the hatchet down deep into the ground it could change things now/Do you think if I had a milk-white dove/For each man I loved/And I set them free/He'd come back to me." Even if Speiss claims she can barely play guitar, she certainly plays well enough to make pretty, lo-fi folk songs in the vein of Mount Eerie, the Microphones, and early Iron & Wine. "I'm kind of a sucker for really paring down and conveying the thing on its own without the full band," she says. "Even though playing with the full band is awesome." If you visit Speiss's HLYW MySpace page, you'll hear Damien Jurado covering "Put the Hatchet Down." It makes sense that Jurado, a champion of the same stripped-down, bare-bones approach, would enjoy HLYW. But he's not just a fan. "My favorite musicians I am lucky enough to have as my friends," Speiss explains. "I had been a fan of [Jurado's] for years. I really connect with his music. But actually he found my music on MySpace and e-mailed me first. That's how our friendship started." (Aside from recording covers of her songs, Jurado occasionally plays in her backing band). Though that friendship may lend credence to a folk singer in a town saturated with them, it's the complete lack of artifice in Speiss' music that draws listeners in. She plans to record her first album this winter on the Baskerville Hill label, the original home of Throw Me the Statue. It's pertinent to note that Secretly Canadian signed Throw Me the Statue after the band released its first record, Moonbeams, on Baskerville Hill. Secretly Canadian also happens to be Jurado's label. So hurry up and knock out that record, Speiss: Your moons may align sooner than you think. sbrickner@seattleweekly.com

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