Interview: Talking Texas with GRADY SPENCER & THE WORK

“Everything’s gonna be alright, man. I think I would say that to anybody."

Grady Spencer is from Paducah, Texas. He works full time as a sheet metal mechanic, building HVAC systems inside of commercial structures. He has two young children and a wife named Kaci. He also somehow manages to play songs that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up.

Grady is a do-it-yourself kinda guy. And in my interview with him, I could just tell – well before he explained things in detail – how much trust he places in hard work and family. These are the sources of his moving lyrics. “The majority of inspiration comes from my family, and my wife and kids, and love,” he says. You can tell he’s thankful, too. “Some of the heavy stuff... I’ve been able to take some stories that I’ve heard from friends and put them through the lens of what I think these people might be feeling. Hopefully they have hope at the end of the deal.”

It should come as no shock that Spencer’s life has not necessarily been peaches and cream. His home town Paducah is just outside of Lubbock. But a few years ago, Spencer uprooted and hit the road, bound for Fort Worth. In a popularly circulated Facebook post from 2017 that was meant to address the widespread acclaim of his hit song, “Things to Do,” Spencer explained how he “was a bum for [his] first three weeks as a Fort Worth resident,” genuinely fearful that he might not find work. And though “Things to Do” was “never intended to be the song that got [his band] noticed,” it is archetypal of Spencer and his life experiences.

Via introspective critical analysis, Spencer’s post synchronizes explanations of his feelings about he and his wife’s big move to Fort Worth with the actual lyrics from “Things to Do.” Spencer recounts tearing across northern Texas’s Tornado Alley in a rattling U-Haul, reeling in the highway air. So come the words, “the truck is poking at the clouds/ and the storm is trying to get away/ I don’t want to sing about the rain.” In the second verse of the song, Spencer draws inspiration from his wife. For the first three weeks in his new home, “it looked like [he] might never work again.” Kaci placated him by suggesting he perceive the situation as a glass half full, and recommending that he enjoy his time off. So come the words, “the work is gonna come again, boy/ the work is gonna make you old.” Finally, Spencer showcases his weariness of the get-rich-quick schemes that notoriously pervade the music industry. In his post, he warns against these “shady schemes” and characters, before counting his lucky stars that he’s managed to avoid such pitfalls thus far. So come the words, “‘cause the places that you wanna go now, I can make them all come true/ No sir, I don’t trust in you.”

Though Spencer’s work does not fit neatly into the “country” bracket, the musician plays his strengths by sticking to the good stuff. There is little to no experimentation on Sleep, and The Line Between’s best tracks are also inherently traditional, all of them rooted in blues, southern rock, and country rock. And what could be better for a man who avers allegiance to the blue collar sect, “making blue collar music, for a blue collar world?” I asked Grady what he’d tell all of those blue collar folks, given a chance to address them head-on. “I think I’d tell them that everything’s gonna be alright, man. I think I would say that to anybody.” As part of the same response, however, Spencer qualified those words, adding that “a lot of times, people want to do stuff, and they kind of expect it to happen. You have to get out there and grind it out.”

These ingredients infiltrate both of his records. On Sleep, tracks like “Things to Do” and “Best I Can” are saturated with hopeful muse. (“Don’t you worry none – I’ll be with you/ Can’t you see the things we’re gonna do?”) But as he rounds out Sleep, “Anatomy of a Sinner” periscopes Spencer’s oft-melancholy outlook on life with lyrics like, “take it with a grain of salt, ‘cause lord knows it’s probably all my fault.” The Line Between, released in 2016, incorporates some heavier guitar pieces, opening with the hearty “Winning Wrong,” and closing with the dusty country rock ballad, “Home Remedy.” But the band has maintained its integrity by balancing profound lyrics with sophisticated instrumental quality. That balance is key, says Spencer. “The band hang[s] [their] hat on that.” For most artists, “it’s either one or the other: super focused on songwriting, and not really caring what their guitar sounds like, or the other way around – they only care about their sound or their tone, and the song writing’s not quite there. For us, it’s about having a song that’s saying something, but is also super tasteful, and has a mature sound.” Listen to “Same Place,” and you can feel both of those values conflate in tandem. The bone-chilling chorus rings out as if recited by some urban sage disguised as a beggar: “Mister, could you go and spare some change?/ A storm is brewing and it’s gonna rain/ All I want to do is pull my weight. I’m down and out, but I’ve got a plan/ I’m out of work, but I’m still a man/ You and me are in the same damned place.” The songs rich guitar chords pound deep against your sternum, booming like claps of thunder, only to be whisked away by a flourish of loftier notes that precede the return of Spencer’s chalky hum.

If Spencer and his band continue to master this yin and yang dyad, there is no telling what they can accomplish. Excitingly enough, Grady told The Deeper Dig that he’s got some new material prepared. Indeed, the band is in the pre production stage for a new album. Best of all, they’ll be recording at a studio in Fort Worth called Niles City Sound – the same studio that “found Leon (Bridges) several years ago and did his album, kind of got him the deals that he got.” The band is rehearsing every week, with their goal being “to find a partnership with a management company or a record label and see what happens.” In classic fashion, mister D-I-Y himself – a.k.a. Spencer – has been taking care of everything thus far – from booking to management to press coordination. “I think I’ve pretty much reached my limit. I don’t know how to do anything else,” laughs the HVAC construction worker. “If we want to reach the next step – and I think we all do – then we’re gonna need some help from the outside.” We all want you to reach the next step, too, Grady – trust us when we say so.


©2018 by The Deeper Dig