BWW Interview: Spraggan Is Anything But An Overnight Success
Midway through her opening song on June 23 at the Rumba Café in Columbus, singer/songwriter Lucy Spraggan's eyes widened in surprise as the audience picked up the chorus of "In a State."
While she is starting to make a name for herself after her appearance on The X Factor in 2012, Spraggan remains surprised when anyone knows her music in the United States.
"In England, I get recognized quite a lot, but I've been recognized maybe twice here in America," Spraggan said with an easy laugh. "For some people, being recognized means they're successful; for me, that doesn't mean success. It means I can't get drunk and do stupid things anymore.
"The TV thing was massive. It really is a phenomenon, this overnight fame thing. It was like waking up in a different reality."
Spraggan stood out immediately in her television debut. Against the advice of The X Factor producers, she became the first contestant to sing an original song. "Last Night," a boozy ballad about bad decisions made after drinking, won over the crowd and moved up to 70th on the British charts and was second on iTunes sales. TV officials told the singer all contestants were prohibited from selling previously recorded music because it might give someone an unfair advantage in the competition.
Spraggan said she almost avoided competing on the reality show all together.
"A friend said you should try out for The X Factor. I told her there was no reason I'd do that unless I was going to be playing my own songs," she said. "The TV people were quite against it because no one had done it before. There was a lot of pushback. I've always been quite cheeky, so I got away with it."
Spraggan moved through the competition, singing "Moves like Jagger" as part of a group presentation and performing her song, "Tea and Toast" in the solo performance to advance out of the bootcamp stage and used another original song, "Mountains," to reach the elimination stage. Her versions of "Gold Digger" and "Titanium" carried her into the fourth week of the competition. However, Spraggan was too ill to compete in Week 4 and withdrew from the competition the following week.
The business of reality TV was a real eyeopener for Spraggan.
"It's interesting they have TV shows (about how musicians make music). Music and TV don't correlate whatsoever," she said. "Music is something that is live and it's happening right now. In TV, the end product is not what happened at all. It has been chopped and edited. It's very contrived. They spin people however they want. Luckily, I was very nice to the production people.
"I had been writing songs since I was 12 and I appeared on The X Factor when I was 20, so I had eight years of playing pubs. For a lot of the people who go on a show like that, they hit a plateau and there's nothing to stop that freefall. They don't know how to do a show in a bar. That's why a lot of them disappear."
Spraggan giggled when she was called an "overnight sensation ... eight years in the making." In the eight years before her appearance on The X Factor, Spraggan tooled and toiled with crafting songs on her guitar. To support herself, she worked a series of odd jobs, laboring as a plumber, a member of a demolition crew, and a magician. She had been training to be a firefighter when she broke her leg. When she was asked on the reality show what she did for a living, Spraggan joked, "I am the person with a clipboard in the street that you try to avoid. I sell baby photos for 99 pence."
After reading off her resume, Spraggan broke into a laugh.
"It sounds really silly when I say these things out loud. It was like 'What was I thinking?'" she said. "Magic was probably the hardest. People challenge you, even though they have no idea what they're talking about.
"Every experience helps you write. You have to be in the moment to write songs like that."
Like her heroes, Spraggan is a storyteller. Her musical influences include Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers as well as the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac. "The common thread is storytelling," she explained.
During her Columbus performance, Spraggan told the story behind "Tea and Toast." She was walking past an elderly couple holding hands when she heard one of them scream for help. She ran back to see the woman had collapsed. As the ambulance arrived, the old man couldn't let go of her hands. Later at her flat, she penned, He puts his arm around her side as she falls to the ground. He hears her breathing and that's the only sound. Her body on the floor attracts a worried crowd. Tears roll off his face as he says, 'Don't let go, now.'
Hearing a reaction of 90 people to such a personal song is a much different dynamic than playing it in front of 3,000 people. When she performs in England, Spraggan plays with a six-piece band and the show is punctuated by confetti cannons and pyrotechnics.
Performances like the one in Columbus remind her of a three-month journey she took across America with just her guitar and a backpack.
"(Acoustic shows) have a totally different dynamic," she said. "It's a completely different kettle of fish. The songs take on a different life when it's just an acoustic set. It gives me security knowing that I have that different (side to performing)."