By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Mar 05, 2003 at 5:23 AM

Her local rock icon father died when she was only nine years old. Her grandma bought her a guitar at a flea market. She has lived and traveled all over the country. All of this said, it seems inevitable that Heidi Spencer became an artist, specifically, a musician.

Recently, the quirky and likable Spencer, 28, released her first album, "Matches and Valentines," a collection of acoustic-based songs that are as lovely as the title. Ranging in mood from the beautiful, melancholy "Daydreams" to the upbeat "Trouble," Spencer's phenomenal voice is the one constant, providing a layer of soulful emotion, both dark and light.

Her lyrics, like her voice, has an incredible range, from tradition love pinings like, "I remember the love in the cold north night/I remember the love in the motel light," to the offbeat and humorous "I stayed up all night/avoiding TV/I tried out/mental telepathy."

Spencer's words also remind us that we are continually coming of age. She talks about wanting to feel needed, reckoning with patience and wishing dreams could be exchanged for reality.

Recently, we interviewed Milwaukee's Heidi Spencer and learned some pretty interesting insights about both her professional and private life.

OMC: Did you grow up in Milwaukee?

HS: Yes. I was born and raised in Milwaukee. I lived on Cramer Street until I was nine in an East Side flat with my mom and sister, sometimes my dad. My dad had an apartment on State Street. I remember books. A lot of dusty books. Then we moved to Shorewood in March of 1983, a couple of months later my dad died in July; three days after my 9th birthday. But I lived in Shorewood through high school.

OMC: Wasn't your dad a famous local musician?

HS: My dad, (the late) Jim Spencer, had several albums. People from Milwaukee tell me more about him than I actually know, or remember. I have a huge amount of articles about him from after he died, some say he was legendary in the Milwaukee scene, but the people I meet who knew him just stress that he was so good of a man, creative and crazy. And for me, and my sister's sake, it simply sucks that he died. No father figure, no musical mentor in our adult lives.

OMC: Any other musicians in your family?

HS: My sister. And family has Kentucky roots, which influenced us musically. My dad's mom and her brother taught my dad guitar, giving him some country blues in his music, giving me whatever that odd twang is I sometimes have.

OMC: So were you into music as a child?

HS: I twiddled with my dad's guitar young, until he died and it got put away, so to speak. I always sang, but found his guitar again when I was 17 I think, and my grandma bought me and my sister our first shared guitar at a flea market when I was 18.

OMC: Who inspired you when you first started playing guitar?

HS: As a child, I loved, loved, loved Dolly. When I was 18, it was Edie Brickell and Joni Mitchell. Also, I loved Cyndi Lauper.

OMC: Who are your musical inspirations today?

HS: Still Dolly, Joni Mitchell, Edie Brickell, Tom Petty, Radiohead, Cat Power, Sinead O'Conner, Will Oldham, my sister, my dad's records, a lot of people. I like raw musicians, who give emotions. And that's a lot of people. Anybody who's really giving something.

OMC: Did you study music at school or are you self-taught?

HS: I am self-taught. I am still in school now. After dropping in and out for so many years, I'm in it again, studying film. The reason I first wanted to go to film school was because I felt my music best fit in a movie soundtrack. I thought I could just put my own songs in my own movies, but discovered they were separate arts completely for me, so that dream of a song in a movie still hangs .

OMC: Sigmund Snopek played flute on your song "Daydreams," and I heard your family has a history playing with him. Is this true?

HS: Yes. Sigmund was a friend of my dad's. I was not there during his recording on my record, but Bill Curtis, the engineer, described it to me like awe. I guess he played it once through, Bill didn't know what to say because he was so blown away, so he said, "What do you want to do?" And Sigmund said, "Let's do it again," and they kept that second track.

OMC: Didn't you perform on one of Snopek's albums, too?

HS: Yes, me and Llysa (my sister) sang the chorus of a poem my dad had written called "Symphony of Man" on Sig's "Trinity Seas Seize Sees." Working with him that day was funny, because we were way too slow for his genius approaches.

OMC: How did you start gigging out?

HS: I worked waitressing with Sheila Spargur at the old Sheila's Cafe in the Plaza Hotel, and she was so creative and interesting and funny and kind as well as a poet. She hosted the old open mic at Hotel Wisconsin, the name of the room now escapes me (Café Melange - ed.). But she got me to go there, then proceeded to get me a show with Amy Rohan, when she -- I think -- was still in High School, at the old coffee shop Actwerks on Hampshire. Actually, those were the 2nd and 3rd shows. The first one was at UWM. I went by myself, I remember now. I didn't want anyone to know I was going, except my sister, who dropped me off and picked me up.

OMC: Are you happy with your new record?

HS: Yes, I'm happy with the record, (but it didn't happen overnight.) I once went to Nashville about three years ago to record with a really nice man who I didn't know. We recorded four songs in three weeks. They brought in studio musicians from the city, and they were just so polished, too clean, too perfect. Not raw, really. I never released those songs. They are songs I'd like to redo if I have another album, which I am nowhere near. That's why it was so important for me to use Milwaukee musicians only. People I knew, people I knew better after this experience.

OMC: Why did you name the record "Matches and Velentines?"

HS: Good question. I knew I didn't want the title of the CD to come from the title of a song. For sure. So when I was playing one night, my friend Chelsea was there listening, and she suggested it with a great deal of character. She's the sweetest. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. I collect matchboxes and antique valentines. And I just like the image of those words "matches and valentines." It could mean many things and it could mean nothing at all. I guess it means that batch of songs.

OMC: In a couple of your songs, especially "Daydreams," your voice sounds a little like Tori Amos'. Is Tory an influence? What about Paula Cole or Kate Bush, who clearly influenced Tori?

HS: I of course love Tori Amos, but don't know much, if any Kate Bush or Paula Cole. But I have to reiterate, it was Edie Brickell and Joni Mitchell I emulated at 18, and I honestly don't think I picked up any heavy influences since.

OMC: Your voice has a definite dramatic quality. Are you a dramatic person in general?

HS: Dramatic? Not really, and that's what pisses me off! I'd rather make people laugh. I think I'm pretty funny once I'm comfortable. I wonder if you were to ask people if I was more dramatic or funny if they'd say funny.

OMC: When and where do you write?

HS: I wish I could write like Tom Petty. He's deep, but does it so smoothly ... I write lines a lot, whenever, wherever, in the journal in my purse. But it's in my kitchen in the evening, nearing later at night when I get somewhere with the writing. I also like to drive and sing. I call myself an "artyst" as a joke really, to justify my sometimes odd personality and my social behavior.

OMC: Can you give an example of your "odd personality and social behavior?"

HS: A couple of years ago, when I was moving to California to be with my boyfriend Kevin -- he lived out there for two years touring with a band called Ignite -- I was so nervous about the move, and interacting with those fast-paced pretty boys and girls. So I came up with a plan: When anybody came over, I'd go to the garage and make noise with hammers, and blenders and whatever else. And eventually, when people would ask him about me, and what I was doing, he could say I was an inventor, and that would justify my awkward social behaviors.


OMC: Do you plan to stay in Milwaukee for a while?

HS: After living in South Carolina, Colorado, Yellowstone, Wickenberg, AZ, Portland, Austin and brief stints in North Carolina, California and New Mexico, I have decided to stay in Milwaukee until there is reason to move. My life has been one long road narrative, and I'm no Jack Kerouac.

OMC: Is Milwaukee a good place for female, solo, acoustic musicians like yourself?

HS: I don't know if it's a good place for solo artists, I think it could be. I like melaniejane and Mike Hoffman's life, where they set up little tours all the time, get out of town, play music, have home base and play here, too. That's lucky.

OMC: melaniejane played cello on your album, and the two of you -- with Stephanie Dosen and Madison's Sara Pace -- recently played a show together. The four of you seem to have similar philosophies. How did you find each other?

HS: It's all melaniejane. She found those amazing ladies and booked that show at Linneman's. The night was amazing, and so are all of them. I was proud to be there.

OMC: Is your CD officially released now? Where can someone pick one up?

HS: I guess the CD is officially released, because I have boxes and boxes of them in my closet, but I never had a release party. I wonder when it would be too late? They are available at Linneman's Riverwest Inn, Atomic Records, and for out-of-towners, at

To hear tracks from "Matches and Valentines" go to

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.