The charade was difficult to maintain, says the Canadian artist who assumes the name Al Spx (in honor of her punk idol, the late X-Ray Spex bandleader Poly Styrene) and performs as Cold Specks.
Wanting the best for her, Spx’s Somalian born parents pushed her into college, hoping she would graduate with a law degree. But in 2009, she quit school to pursue songwriting, and pretended to attend courses into the next semester – all for her folks’ benefit.
For a while, the ruse worked. The singer, who appears at Bottom of the Hill today and recently released the spooky, soulful debut “I Predict a Graceful Expulsion,” left the house every weekday morning, then killed class-length time at malls in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. She even got a job at one point.
“I dropped out and just faked it, but it’s just not that easy to keep that kind of a secret,” she says. “But I understand that my parents just wanted the best for me, and they didn’t necessarily see music as being the best for me at that time.”
But Spx had a plan. As a kid, she began playing guitar in the seclusion of the family’s huge walk-in closet. By 15, she penned her first song, “Lay Me Down”; a revamped version is on “Expulsion.”
Inspired by Sam Cooke’s early gospel-fervent work with the Soul Stirrers, she started crooning, recording some early originals as the Hotel Ghost, performing others as Basket of Figs.
Eventually, she completed a 12-cut demo, one of which found its way to British-based producer Jim Anderson.
When he invited her to record overseas, the university jig was up.
Spx spent her tuition money on a flight to London, initially telling her family she was on vacation. “I had a return flight scheduled, but when I didn’t get on that flight, my dropping out became, errr, somewhat obvious,” she says. “So questions were asked, and I just answered them honestly. My parents were as disappointed as any parents could be – that their child had not only left school, but moved to a completely different country.”
Anderson became Spx’s manager, and – with old P.J. Harvey alum Rob Ellis – retreated to a rustic studio in Wales, where they stripped to their essence sepulchral studies like “Holland,” “Blank Maps” and “Winter Solstice.”
The sound, which Spx calls “Doom soul,” wowed her mom and dad, who regularly catch her shows. “They’re really cool with it,” she says. “So it’s all good in the hood!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 18
Contact: (415) 626-4455; www.bottomofthehill.com