Brittney Spencer’s ‘Sober & Skinny’ Is an Honest Look at Our Relationships With Vices, and Each Other [Listen]
Brittney Spencer likes to begin each week by brainstorming song ideas — "just so that we're not, like, always starting from scratch" in co-writing sessions, she explains.
Her new song "Sober & Skinny," released on Friday (June 18), began as one of those nuggets; in fact, she had the chorus pretty well done when she, during a Zoom-based writing session, pitched it to fellow singer-songwriters Nelly Joy and Jason Reeves, both formerly of the country quartet Gone West.
"They were like, 'Nope, [we don't need to hear any more ideas] — this is the one,'" Spencer recalls, admitting that their attachment to the work-in-progress took her a bit by surprise: "I thought it was such a quirky song ... probably too out there maybe for some folks."
"Sober & Skinny," produced by Aaron Eshuis, is sonically beautiful — light and airy in the way that forces listeners to pay full attention to its lyrics, but with swelling choruses that mask its lack of a true resolution. That metaphorical spoonful of sugar is what makes the medicine — the honesty — go down so easy.
"I don't necessarily always feel the need to have a song resolve," Spencer says. In this particular case, that means the couple in question — one-half of whom "overeat[s]," the other of whom drinks perhaps a bit too much — "swear it's gonna change," but they never do anything to overcome their vices.
Each chorus, until the final one, fantasizes about a "perfect world" in which they're sober and skinny, "liv[ing] off of more than pennies ... Keeping all our promises / We've got faith, we've got each other / We grow up and we get better." That last chorus, however, offers a look at an "honest world," in which "you're not sober, I'm not skinny / We're scraping by on borrowed pennies ... Breaking all our promises."
Still, Spencer sings, "We've got faith, we've got each other / Maybe we'll grow old together / Making up our happy ending."
"Most people, we fight change. Sometimes we take years before we even decide to do the thing we started thinking about doing five years ago, because we're human," reflects Spencer, who says the song is "not exactly autobiographical," but rather "inspired, I guess, by certain things I've experienced."
"Those two ideas [sobriety and weight loss] are metaphors for: We all got something that we need to change ...," she adds, "and I wanted to write a song that, in a loving and productive way, just laid out this idea of, if you're willing to look at the things I need to change, you gotta be willing to look at yourself, too."
Especially poignant are the first lines of the second verse: "You want me to shrink / Well, I think we should talk to one."
"That was the genius of Jason Reeves," shares Spencer, explaining that her co-writer put that idea of therapy as a tool for working through both personal and shared issues into lyrics "so effortlessly and just so brilliantly."
"I wasn't trying to make a statement with this song; I'm just talking how I talk because I think country music affords us that opportunity to say things, and I think it's important to make space for people to say things," Spencer says. "I think it should be normalized: Therapy should be normalized; mental health should be normalized; saying you're anxious, saying you're nervous, should be normalized ... I just want the freedom to be able to say some s--t."
"Sober & Skinny" follows Spencer's late-2020 EP Compassion, and hints at a full-length album that's in the works. She's already earned herself a number of high-profile fans: everyone from Ashley Monroe and Highwomen members Maren Morris and Amanda Shires, with whom she's been songwriting, to Rissi Palmer, Blanco Brown and Mickey Guyton, who've offered Spencer support and career advice (Guyton even shared some music video tips the day before Spencer shot her "Sober & Skinny" clip).
"It's so nice to have those folks around, and to be able to know that I have a listening ear, you know?" Spencer says. "If I turn anywhere around me at this point, I can get some wisdom or some perspective, and I hope to be able to pass that along to other artists as well."
It's encouragement Spencer has put to good use recently: She made her Grand Ole Opry debut in mid-May, recently performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live with Allison Russell and Brandi Carlile, and will be playing a few shows with Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit later in 2021. It's a big year for her, but her M.O. is to keep her emotions level so she can truly enjoy the special moments.
"I once heard Russell Simmons talking about not letting your highs get you too high and not letting your lows get you too low, and it really resonated with me," Spencer explains. "I want to try and live in the moment ... and I feel like, for me, it keeps me grounded. It keeps me down to earth, and it keeps me it keeps me focused on what's ahead ...
"When it's over, I'm like, 'Wow, that was awesome,'" she continues. "And I'm just like, 'What's next?'"
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