COURTESY PHOTO"Doom soul": The Canadian singer Cold Specks plays the Bottom of the Hill in The City.

COURTESY PHOTO"Doom soul": The Canadian singer Cold Specks plays the Bottom of the Hill in The City.

The covert soul of Cold Specks

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

Cold Specks
Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 18
Tickets: $12
Contact: (415) 626-4455; www.bottomofthehill.com

artsCold SpecksentertainmentmusicPop Music & Jazz

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Passengers board a BART train bound for the San Francisco Airport at Powell Street station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
BART bumps up service restoration to August 30, offers fare discounts

Rail agency breaks pandemic ridership records, prepares to welcome more passengers

Gov. Gavin Newsom, show here speaking at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April, faces a recall election due to anger on the right over his handling of the pandemic, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Why Gavin Newsom’s popularity could work against him in the recall election

Top pollster: ‘We’re not seeing the Democrats engaged in this election. And that may be a problem…’

Former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and planning consultant Walter Wong are shown here together at a Christmas Party. (Courtesy photo)
Nuru scandal: Permit expediter Walter Wong to repay SF $1.7M

Longtime permit expediter and city contractor Walter Wong has agreed to repay… Continue reading

Passengers ride the 14-Mission Muni bus on Friday, March 12, 2021. (Jordi Molina/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Transit officials fear Free Muni pilot could hurt already-strained service levels

Supporters say fare cuts could increase ridership, help low-income residents

Bartender John Jeide makes Buena Visa Cafe’s signature Irish coffees, and also works as a waiter at the iconic spot. (Donna Domino/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Favorite SF watering holes pick up business

Back inside, Buena Vista, Hidive serve more customers, look forward to more tourists

Most Read