In his 30 years of songwriting, with influences ranging from Townes Van Zandt to Nick Drake, Rick Spreitzer has quietly carved his own corner in a scene illuminated by iconic local songwriters like David Childers.
"Rick Spreitzer is a beautiful guy; gentle but strong and clear-sighted about the human condition." Childers says, "He writes about regular people in a way that reaches all of us, if we take the time to listen."
Louis Beeler, whose Tiny Stage Concerts have showcased a host of Charlotte songwriter talent, was equally effusive in his praise of Spreitzer.
"Rick Spreitzer takes heartfelt poetry and weaves it with music to create songs that take you on an emotional journey and leave you in a higher place," Beeler says.
From working-class stock, Spreitzer's father was a meat cutter while his mother stayed home to raise their six kids. Born in Queens, New York, Spreitzer moved to South Florida when he was 11. He moved to North Carolina shortly after graduating from the University of Florida in 1992.
For over 25 years, he has worked with adults who deal with severe mental illness and addiction challenges, a career path that profoundly influenced him as a man and a songwriter.
Spreitzer will perform as part of a showcase of Charlotte veteran songwriters at the Evening Muse on August 15, along with Bill Noonan and Christopher Chandek Peace.
Creative Loafing had the pleasure of sitting down with Spreitzer recently to discuss the Queen City scene and his work as a mental health counselor.
Creative Loafing: What does a city like Charlotte in these weird times offer in regards to a singer/songwriter community?
Rick Spreitzer: I would be reticent to speak about the nature of the community or even consider there being one. I know several area songwriters — good ones. I visit a scant few pockets of songwriting venues. Catawba Coffee is one hidden jewel. But there is a seeming lack of effort or interest in what could be a stronger community.
What would you like to see more of?
More involvement from the Charlotte Folk Society, and more opportunities from local coffee shops and small bars. Why is the Charlotte Folk Society not more involved with local showcases? With pairing local openers with [established] traveling acts? Or more Nashville Songwriter Association events? I have friends who are involved in both. Good folks. But where are the events, the venues? Where is the community?
Are younger songwriters and audiences adding to the tradition? Has anything been lost?
The songwriter showcases I do attend have some young ears in the audience. That's a start. But I think you're asking about something beyond my sense of scope. (laughs)
I feel like a watch repairman in a dusty shop in a tiny town. I guess I don't see or feel the culture much. I think it all takes a village — artists, venues, listeners. The Evening Muse used to host events for songwriters, but sees — and understandably — more viability and money in the form of younger bands.
Where does local Americana live? On WSGE [Gaston College radio]? Where else? I honestly don't know. Where could it in this town? With Charlotte Folk Society and in coffee shops. Where else could it?
Since the music business seems to have moved toward a more live show-centric model, does it affect the writing in a noticeable way to you?
The biz has not changed my writing. Life and life's changes have, though. Getting divorced has. Losing furry kids, and a home. Getting more spiritually fit. Meeting a good woman who has children. Getting un-miserable. These things have really impacted my process.
I jokingly tell my girlfriend that she has ruined my songwriting. (laughs) It's just a coy joke though.
What's the thing you love the most about what you're doing now?
I love my band, the Antique Babies. We are all close. We love each other. We are like a live cooking show. I bring the bones of these songs. And we stir stuff in until we get the soup about right. No hard and fast rules and little effort toward consistency. We seek an in-the-moment state of levitation within each song.
How has working as a mental health and addiction counselor influenced the songs?
Oh, Lord, 25 years working with severely mentally ill adults? Heartbreaking stuff. Beautiful and humble moments of grace. You can't work with broken and beautiful souls in want of redemption like that and be unaffected and unchanged.
What else inspires you when you write?
I want my songs to be listened to more than I want their author highlighted, but the ethereal force that sparks songs — I call it the Muse — and the desire to write are everywhere. I am mostly happy and mostly at peace today, so my personal climate has changed considerably. The writing has followed suit.
I aspire to write emotionally based intimate vignettes and character studies. My tunes are about sympathetic and basically decent flawed folks. It's me trying to work through them. I try to artfully describe and humanize broken or fallen people, and it's sometimes very healing to my own brokenness.
I have a song, "One Last Look," about a guy staring at a crib at the baby mama's place. It's his ex, his kid, and he decides to not step forward and rouse the baby. "Take one last look at her now... before you leave." His impression is the baby will be better off without his touch, his contact. I try to poetically humanize him as a self-described fuck up.
To write songs like that is at once healing in an odd way, and emotionally exhausting — to fall into that kind of character and sing through them. I love it though.