“I was in the middle of a big break up,” states Lucy Spraggan, matter-of-factly. “The end of a marriage is quite something, and touring a lot, and I got to the point of about six months and I’d been drinking every day. One or two glasses a show or evening, and I went out and had a really messy night and woke up the next morning and just said ‘fuck this, this is not what my life is supposed to be like’”.
It has been ten months since the singer-songwriter chose to go sober, and life has changed very much. In fact, the present day Spraggan is, in a multitude of ways, unrecognizable from the person of yesteryear. “In the middle of all the choices that I’m making, I need to be sober to have mental clarity and to know this is what I want, so I took alcohol out of the equation. I’ve been drinking my whole life, since I was twelve,” she continues. “Drinking has always been a problem for me, in that I’ve always known it’s a problem. I don’t drink the same way that other people do. I’ve got issues with moderation whether that’s food or alcohol or control, or relying on somebody else, being codependent. I do everything to the extreme, so it’s about learning to no longer do that.”
Control – both relinquishing it and taking it back – plus rediscovering oneself, is a recurring theme of the past year and Spraggan’s forthcoming album Choices. Aptly named, the songs that comprise the collection offer insight and introspection that saw her let go of alcohol, embrace exercise and a healthier lifestyle, move onwards through a divorce and find solace in its wake. Needless to say, it may have been necessary, but it was by no means easy.
“I started running in January and hardcore working out – which a lot of people do when they become sober – but at one point I was really obsessing over what I was eating and I was working out every single day,” she recalls. “I didn’t have rest days, and I had to stop and be like ‘right, you are just doing exactly the same thing with this’. Now, I’m definitely a lot easier on myself, and it takes a long time to undo all of the bad habits you gain in your life.” Spraggan realized that she had no idea these recurring thought processes were there until she went sober, “When I did I was like, ‘wow’; I feel all these things. All at once, these feelings just smacked me in the face, like I first felt what it felt like to be sad, and I felt what it felt like to lose something and what it felt like to be happy and productive.” In conclusion, “it’s really just been an enlightening thing.”
That enlightenment is palpable in the work of Choices, the sixth album of Spraggan’s career. Eight years since her journey began in hazy recollections of covers under The X Factor’s stage lights, and Spraggan’s passionate fanbase has elevated her into a sensation in her own right: the 28 year old has played Glastonbury twice, as well as being the first female headliner of Kendall Calling. Known for her affable and anecdotal songwriting style, one that earmarks often whimsical matters of the home and heart, new single ‘Flowers’ purposely leads the project to take her hardcore followers by surprise.
“I’m newly single, and I’ve never been single my whole life; I’ve always been attached to another person since I was 15. I’ve always been quite overweight and I’ve just lost three stone and I’m really conscious about my body”. Taking this new equilibrium in her stride however, has left Spraggan in a stronger stead. “It feels like a real success to look after your own self and I’ve never really put myself entirely first. After doing that, I found my new bit of confidence and with that I thought ‘I might write a bit of a sexy song!’ That’s where ‘Flowers’ came from,” she reveals. “Wanting to introduce another side of me that people haven’t seen before. People think I’m always being funny, and I wanted this to be a bit more provocative”.
‘Flowers’ is the first taste of a different sound for Spraggan, one that is moody, sultry and darkly atmospheric; a swaggering drumbeat finds a coercive yet easy rhythm, whilst ominously alluring guitar lines create a sense of seduction. It is a moment that is confident, powerful and a bold side-step for the artist. “[Choices is] gonna have depth to it,” she explains. “I want it to be an earthy, gritty sound for some songs. I spent a lot of time in America so I wanted it to represent that desert rat, mustang, driving-down-desert-roads kind of feel”.
A dedicated touring musician and an avid traveler in her own right, Spraggan has spent a lot of time in America performing her music and exploring the land with friends. “Whenever I had any time off, I’d just hire a Harley Davidson and just ride it to the desert from Nevada to California. I was just cruising along listening to old school music and it inspired a lot of the sound on this record.”
One such song is ‘I Spent a Night in the Desert’. Piano led, Spraggan’s clear vocal weaves her recollection of a simple memory, a shedding of worry and a pure appreciation for those she continues to hold dear. “I was in Vegas with two of my best friends – both who’ve had particularly rough years – and we went to stay in this tiny house in the middle of the desert with nobody else around and sat underneath the stars, and I said then, ‘this is the kind of night you write songs about’. It’s my ode to my best mate, saying when everything else is gone and when all the lights have gone out, or when I’m not married anymore or I don’t have this or I don’t have that, I still have him. He’s my constant.”
The search for a new constant is palpable in ‘Roots’ and ‘If I Had a God’, the former seeing Spraggan facing the fact that she had compromised her agency to live up to the expectations of others (“I bought a big house in the country / I live there now, does nothing for me”) and finding herself wishing that she could relinquish that aforementioned need for control to embrace the sense of peace that can come with faith in the latter.
“Realizing who you are is one of the most powerful things you can do and that’s what it is with ‘Roots’. It’s just saying that I don’t really have roots; maybe I will at some point but not for now, and off I go”. Meanwhile, touring with Christian band members introduced Spraggan to so much more about faith than she had ever understood previously. “It got to the point where I started being quite envious of this constant faith, this reliability that everything was gonna be OK and that everything that happened was not the end because there’s something better waiting for you.
“‘If I Had a God’ is me saying ‘if I had a god I’d pray every day, I’d do all the things that my god would want me to do and I’d be this person’ and I wish that I could have that, but I don’t. I admire [touring keyboardist Josh’s] radiant positivity in the really dark times and I wish that I was able to know, in my heart, what he knows. Instead I’ve found the power that’s within me; I’ve decided what I can do with my physical capabilities and my mental capability.”
Living with anxiety and depression, which saw Spraggan attempt suicide in 2014, has led her to be really open about her mental health in interviews and in her music, working with charities CALM and Alzheimer’s UK over the years due to experiences of herself and those around her. “I really care about being an advocate for positive mental health and I understand what it’s like to be so fucking low that you feel like you can’t continue anymore, but I also know now what it feels like to let go of some of that darkness and let some light in.
“In the last year I’ve developed a different attitude to the whole of life, which is that I don’t really care anymore for things that don’t need to be cared about. It’s not a darker side of me in the slightest – it’s probably lighter – but it can kind of come across like there’s no fucks given. That’s kind of what I want this record to sound like, to just make this music, do my thing.” And that’s the rub; with every album comes a different element of growth, and Choices is an introduction to a new part of Spraggan’s life.
“I’ve lasted quite a long time in this savage industry, and as a woman as well,” she concludes. “It’s kind of nice to feel confidently comfortable but still really hungry.”