The sun’s too bright
Amber Padgett’s vivid smile and bright hair can’t dispel the darkness in her music
It is spring, and Amber Padgett’s Ireland—a dream of green hills, oily brown whiskey and thick-voiced brogue—is turning out to be a bit more real than dream. Of course, much of what we think of as “Irish” is certainly present, but the enjoyment is somehow stifled when one is homeless and sleeping on the street or, in this case, in a bus station with an acoustic guitar strapped to one’s leg, a foil against the possibility of Irish theft. One person’s means to make a meager afternoon’s living playing on street corners is another person’s quick trip to the pawnshop for a pocketful of jingling coins.
That was the story of Amber Padgett’s life for a few months at the turn of this millennium. She was literally living on the streets in Ireland, having fled Folsom for no other reason than the fact that she had grown to loathe it. It may be that the experience provided the turning point for Padgett’s life, although she doesn’t quite put it in those terms herself. Nonetheless, her experience in Ireland represented a period of time in which she relied heavily on playing her acoustic guitar and wrote what would be the first of many songs.
There’s more to the story—a brief and ruinous relationship with another Sacramento expatriate named Jacob Golden, for one—but the important point, for the time being, is Padgett’s songs. When she returned to Sacramento, she rented a room from longtime friend and studio owner Jason Sewell, owner-operator of Boogie Dungeon and member of prog-rockers Sadly Temporary. She recorded her first song with Sewell on bass and current boyfriend Sam Coe (of Low Flying Owls) on drums. Then, she wrote another and recorded that. Then another. Before long, she was fast on the way to recording an album and started thinking in terms of putting together a band.
The end result is Spider Silk Dress, a band that is a vehicle for Padgett’s songwriting (although the band is moving in more collaborative directions with its newer material). The once-solo CD project Padgett had recorded with Sewell and Coe has become the band’s first release, Tincture. Although the current band (with Sewell on bass, singer-songwriter Kevin Dockter on guitar and Sadly Temporary’s Al Martin on drums) isn’t represented on the release, it’s an interesting—if somewhat scattered—listening experience. Imagine a band of ghosts playing sad love songs in a circus. If you’d prefer a worldlier example, it’s like Tom Waits arranging Kurt Weill songs for Marianne Faithfull, with occasional blasts of noise from the Jesus and Mary Chain.
“I guess the sound I’m aiming for is a dark, sexy, circusy kind of thing,” Padgett explained. And then she added, giggling, “But then, I’m a dumb girl with bleached hair.” She has a certain youthful and artistic energy about her. It manifests itself in her clothing (a sort of thrift-store-meets-punk-rock aesthetic), her hair color (blue one week and cotton-candy pink the next) and especially her broad, infectious smile and laughter.
That laughter is masked somewhat in Spider Silk Dress’s music. Although there isn’t a lot of Irish musical influence present on Tincture, there is a sense of loneliness in the music, as if the shuddering isolation of those nights in an Irish bus station never quite left Padgett’s soul.
“So, when you see the sun,” Padgett croons on “Too Bright,” Tincture’s opening track, “go push through everyone, and tilt your head up high and say the sun’s too bright.” The line is, in some ways, a nod toward a sort of willful depression à la the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” It’s also quite effective, particularly given Padgett’s relatively upbeat vocal style.
In the end, it’s that mixture—the light and the dark—that makes the music of Spider Silk Dress so compelling. It’s a mixture well worth listening to.