There are plenty of artists who write songs for the glitz, glamour and recognition that comes with fame. But the best artists are true songwriters — the ones who sing not to make their own voices heard, but to let the lyrics speak for them. Caroline Spence is one of those gems, a songwriter who pours her soul into creating music that says something, whether it’s tackling social inequalities or the struggle of just getting through a lonely night.
With Spades & Roses, Spence shows off an impressive ability to spin singular moments into memorable songs. The Virginia native connected with songwriting greats like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris at a young age. And it’s easy to hear how those influences still impact Spence today with her latest project.
The record’s lead single “Hotel Amarillo” brings the listener into the isolation and introspection found in a cold hotel room. It feels like a cut that would feel right at home on Ryan Adams’ Gold, thanks to the driving guitar and Spence’s lonesome lyrics.
“Yes, it was literally written in a hotel in Amarillo, Texas,” Spence tells me happily during our phone call. Sure, a quiet night in a hotel room might be a forgettable experience for most. But for writers like Spence, it’s the jumping-off point for something bigger.
In every track on Spades & Roses, Caroline’s sweet but powerful voice drives home narratives that are blunt, authentic and clever. From the painfully truthful “You Don’t Look So Good (Cocaine)” to the hesitant ballad “Slow Dancer,” she unravels the tangled feelings we all find ourselves trying to manage at one time or another.
One of the most thoughtful and important tracks on the record is “Softball,” which poignantly shows the still unequal realities of being a woman in everyday life.
“Even though it’s its own separate term to be female, there’s various implications of it that always mean ‘to be lesser,'” Spence says. “When I was little, I was really into the Baltimore Orioles and I wanted to play baseball. I remember being explained to me that I could play tee ball, then softball, but I couldn’t play baseball. My way of trying to write that song and not be angry about it was by finding a way to talk about it playfully.”
For women in the music industry, it can seem especially challenging to be taken seriously by some, no matter how gifted you may be. In a previous interview, fellow Nashville artist Michaela Anne discussed how supportive and important the local community of female musicians was to her. Spence credits their creative group as a place to find support and guidance as they maneuver through their careers.
“It’s really amazing. We know that we need each other,” she explains. “Margo [Price] had a group of girls over the winter before her record [Midwest Farmer’s Daughter] came out, and we had a little song circle. I remember that was the first time I ever played ‘Slow Dancer’ in front of anybody was in that living room. It’s a safe space for you to be appreciated and share.”
“I think the world of those girls and our little community. It could have easily gone the other way where people are competing, but we’re already competing with the world. Why would we compete with each other?”
Although East Nashville’s tightly knit fabric has helped Spence grow in new ways, her achievements are all her own. In a town where hundreds have tried to make it big, she’s managed to hit her stride by staying close to her roots.
Spades & Roses is available now.