We have a lot of very talented musicians in Maine — that’s a given — and more than a few of them have received national acclaim. Once such artist is our very own Spencer Albee, who will appear, along with The Boneheads, at Castonguay Square as part of the second annual Waterville Rocks! concert series on Friday, Aug. 18. As a member of Rustic Overtones, Albee was recognized as a key figure in that popular Maine act; in his subsequent bands, he was called by Rolling Stone magazine a “21st Century master in the lost art of Beatlesque hooks.” Accurate and well-deserved praise, indeed.

Having chatted with him many times in the past, I was interested in reconnecting and discovering what he has been up to recently. He was more than happy to enlighten me when he called from his Portland home to chat candidly about that very topic.

Q: You’ve had some pretty cool bands in the past, so what are you doing now? Are you between groups?

Albee: No, I’ve got a great band right now. So, over the past few years I had Space versus Speed and a few others. But I have honestly had kind of a hard time mustering the energy to wrangle a group together. You know, all the players are great but if you don’t have that vibe, well, it either clicks or it doesn’t, you know?

Q: Yup, I certainly do.

Albee: Well, this time I have a couple people playing with me that have played with me for a while: McCrae Hathaway (bass, keys, vocals) and Blythe Armitage (vocals, percussion). They were with me on the last couple of album cycles. Andrew Hodgkins, the drummer from “As Fast As” (also vocals, glockenspiel), moved back to Portland from Brooklyn and joined the group, which is awesome because he and I have played thousands of shows together. Then we added Scott Mohler (guitar, keys, vocals), formerly of Dominic & The Lucid, and Renee Coolbrith (vocals, percussion) who’s kind of a girl-about-town. But the six of us just have that unexplained thing where it just works. Everything makes sense. Nothing’s taken personally. Everyone has their eyes on the same prize. They have a great work ethic, and all are great players. It just feels right; it feels great. So I have an awesome band right now. I can remove myself from the situation and say objectively, “They are awesome!”

Q: Do you have anything out now that you and the band are supporting with this Waterville gig?

Albee: Uh-huh, I just released my 20th album.

Q: Good grief!

Albee: It’s called “Relentlessly Yours.”

Q: Was it recorded with your new band?

Albee: No, I recorded it on my own. I recorded, wrote, produced and mixed it all in my home studio. We released it on vinyl, CD and download — I didn’t do tapes, but whatever. Anyway, the first month-and-a-half the band rehearsed at my house. I rehearsed with them individually, playing acoustically, and then we’d keep adding people until everyone was there. We then had to take it to the actual practice space, but we really know these songs inside and out. Everyone’s made them their own, and my plan now is to make the next record with them. Usually, if I’m in a songwriting phase I’ll get an idea, open up the studio and just crank it out, but now I’m specifically not doing that because I want to come to them with a song, and I want to do it with them. As a micromanager it takes a lot to, like, trust people, you know? Over the years I’ve learned how to play drums, guitar, bass and even front a band. I mean, it was never my plan to be a frontman — ever.

Q: Really?

Albee: No, I was totally happy with Rustic being the harmony guy, the noise wizard/producer guy. I was totally comfortable in that role, but things just went the way they went and here I am, the reluctant frontman (laughter): “Fine, I’ll do it.” It took me a while to learn how to sing properly in front of a band. I don’t know how good I am at fronting a band just yet, but I’m trying.

Q: Well, I personally loved Rocktopus. I like all of the bands you’ve put together, but Rocktopus is my favorite group of yours.

Albee: Well, that’s where I learned to cut my teeth. At the beginning of Rocktopus, I’d lose my voice at the beginning of every show because I just didn’t know how to use the muscle right. And now it’s like, “Let’s just do this!” I’m not as much of a performer as I am a musician doing his thing, you know?

Q: Yes, I think I do. Now, what you’re doing in Waterville — will this be a band version of your new solo album?

Albee: Yeah, there’ll be a lot of that because it’s the new thing, obviously, but we also have gone back and learned a lot of the material in our four months of preparation to roll this thing out. I wanted to be in a band; I wanted to be part of a band that could go play anywhere, in any configuration and for pretty much any period of time.

Q: Do you know how much time you’ll have to perform?

Albee: I’m not sure how long our set is. I reckon it’ll probably be, I don’t know, 75 or 90 minutes; you know, like a full set. I tend to like shorter shows myself because of my own attention span. But our goal, as a band, is every time we play, no matter where we play, we want everyone to be like, “That was a really good, fun show!” That is our goal.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article about your Waterville Rocks! appearance?

Albee: I guess if I wanted to convey anything it’s that we are, like, pumped to play this show. We’ve got a similar one in Biddeford, too. We did the Port City Music Hall, and I love it. A great venue. I can’t wait to play it again, which we will in December, and we’re opening for Guster at Thomas Point. But it’s these shows, like going to Biddeford and going to Waterville and playing for the people of Waterville, are the shows that we’re the most excited about. We’re really pumped about playing that show.

Lucky Clark has spent 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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