Anyone who has ever experienced heartbreak knows it can either shatter your confidence or make you as hard-boiled as a private detective in an old film noir. But it's rare that such emotional pain inspires you to change careers.
That's exactly what it did for Amy Speace, one of the most talked-about new singer/songwriters in years.
Want to witness the alchemy this woman performs? How she turns tormented feelings into sublime songs?
Go to Larchmont's The Watercolor Cafe this Thursday where Speace will do her musical magic act.
About that heartbreak?
"When I was in college, in the mid-90s, I was dating this guy. It was really serious and I thought we were going to get married," said Speace recently. "And he broke up with me. I was devastated. So all I did was listen to records to get me through. Stuff by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Matthew Sweet and The Replacements. And it awoke something in me. I felt so terrible, I had to get the feelings of loss out of my system. So, I started writing songs. In fact, I wrote 10 that first week!"
Speace says she'd been "musical" since she was a kid, playing piano and accompanying musicians, but never gave songwriting a thought. Not even when she started college.
"I was going to be a playwright and actress," she said. "I had done Shakespeare's plays in repertory theaters, that sort of thing. But around 1996, when the break-up happened, my career path changed. Dramatically, I'd say."
Although it would probably have been lovely to see Speace in a production of "As You Like It," theater's loss is songwriting's gain. For the last few years, you've scarcely been able to turn on an indie music station without hearing one of Speace's taut, lyrical songs songs. This Nashville-based songsmith's most recent album, entitled "Land Like A Bird," may be her best to date.
She plays "around 120" gigs a year and is looking forward to hitting The Watercolor–"I think I played there once, but I travel so much I'm not sure"–Speace's most impressive claim may be her legion of famous fans. And one in particular, who helped her career achieve solid lift-off.
"So much great stuff has happened to me because of Judy Collins," said Speace, who's still surprised the folk legend has taken such an interest in her.
"About 6 years ago, Judy came to a club I was playing, to see someone else on the bill. But she really liked my stuff. Before I knew it, I was signed to her label [Wildflower] and Judy was singing both my praises and my songs. It changed everything."
Speace's 2006 album "Songs For Bright Street" got lots of radio play and earned her a nomination for "Emerging Artist of the Year" from the North American Folk Alliance. Her next record "The Killer In Me" did even better and got her involved, musically, with yet another songwriting superstar.
"Yeah, I've also been 'adopted' by [former Mott The Hoople frontman] Ian Hunter. He sang and played on a couple of songs on 'The Killer' and had me open for him on a bunch of UK dates. He's been incredibly nice," said Amy.
"What's so funny is, Ian's a real rock and roller, so I wondered what he saw in me. Then after a show one night, he said, 'You may play a folk guitar, but you're not one of those twee birds. You've got balls.' I never heard anything better about my music, ever!"
There's also a little tune Hunter is well known for, that he let Speace play on during that tour.
"One night Ian showed me the keyboard part to 'All The Young Dudes.' And once I had it down, he let me play on the song in front of his audience. I don't know if I'll ever get over it."
Maybe she's still stunned from doing the Bowie-penned classic, Speace is soldiering forward. She's constantly on the road, gaining new fans, thinking about her next record. And even though 120 live dates seems like a hard schedule, this songbird has found a way to stay healthy out on the notoriously-difficult road.
How does she manage it?
"By being incredibly boring," Speace said with a giggle. "I don't do anything naughty. Plus, I eat well. I even have a Whole Foods app on my phone. As long as I check it to find good, healthy food places, I'll be okay. The key to the whole thing, your life and career? It's all about taking care of yourself."
Info: Amy Speace will be at The Watercolor Cafe, in Larchmont, on Thursday at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $15. For more information go to www.watercolorcafe.net or call 914-834-2213