BY Ross von Metzke
March 22 2010 6:50 PM ET
Spencer Day is nervous. Not because he’s about to spend a half hour talking to The Advocate about growing up Mormon, life in Utah, and making a go of it in the music biz as an out gay man. And it’s not because in an hour and a half he’ll take the stage at Los Angeles's Upright Cabaret on Vermont for his second of four solo shows.
Spencer Day is nervous because he cares so much about each word that comes out of his mouth that he doesn’t want to mess anything up.
He doesn’t mess anything up. In fact, almost without trying, he’s equal parts eloquent and thoughtful. And when the words escape him, he sings — to illustrate a point he doesn’t have words for or simply to describe various styles of music. And the minute he does sing, the nerves fall away — the second he opens his mouth and the notes come out, Day is calm, cool, and completely in the moment.
A sort of John Mayer–Michael Bublé hybrid — though that's a loose comparison considering Day does everything from standards to rock to Broadway — Day seems as excited to talk about his new album, Vagabond, as he is his newfound platform: an attempt to create a dialogue between Mormons and gays. In May he’ll perform at the sixth annual Human Rights Campaign dinner in Utah — a chance, he says, to return to Utah a successful, out man and act as a positive role model. And his philanthropy goes beyond gay causes. He’s also a spokesman for Feeding America, the country’s leading hunger relief agency, feeding more than 37 million low-income people yearly.
Whether singing, speaking, or simply plunking away at the piano as he warms up for a show, everything Spencer Day does, he does with passion — and after spending a few minutes in his presence, it’s infectious.
The Advocate: What is your first memory of music?
Spencer Day: My mom sang opera — she was really good. My dad, kind of in typical Mormon fashion, was not so keen on the woman making more money than he did, so she got regimented at canning tomatoes and baking. But, she could sing the Queen of the Night aria [from Mozart's The Magic Flute] — she would sing it around the house. I think I was 4 or 5, and she was in an opera called Amahl and the Night Visitors, and she plays a thief and there’s a part where she gets caught and this guy grabs her, and I remember crying, “Don’t hurt my mommy.” [Laughs] And we were always watching the MGM musicals — a lot of the Judy Garland, Gene Kelly ones. South Pacific. Anything that took me away from Utah.
When did you first leave Utah?
I left Utah when I was about 10 years old — my mom took us kids and kind of ran away from my dad, which was a good thing. And then I lived with my grandparents in an all-Mormon town in Arizona ... until after high school. I was debating going on my Mormon mission ... and a friend invited me to come out to California for one weekend, and I was like, “Fuck it. Why not?”
And you wrote a song about it.
Yeah. Part of that is me and part of it I wanted to make a universal experience, because I think it’s kind of a common story.
Was music your escape growing up?
Oh, yeah. I was not a happy kid; it was not a happy household either. But that that’s the thing ... if you go to Bali Ha'i in South Pacific, it was always sunny. And when you’re a kid, your imagination is so strong. You can make a couple pillows from the couch an Arabian castle [laughs]. But yeah, we’d play records, a lot of classical music, a lot of country music. Any music was all about escapism. And I don’t think that really changes for adults — you still want to be taken somewhere, whether it’s a show or a performance. You want some kind of transformation.