Speak A Little Louder follows the pianist/singer/songwriter's extraordinary 2009 debut, Bible Belt, which opened in the Billboard Top 100 and prompted comparisons to Laura Nyro and Karen Carpenter along with glowing reviews from The New York Times, NPR, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and more. Birch, who had worked primarily as a songwriter prior to signing with S-Curve Records, honed her skills as a performer on the road supporting the album, sharing the stage with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Betty Wright and appearing on The Today Show, Letterman, Leno, Conan, Kimmel, and Ellen along the way. She would even hit the UK's Top 10 for the first time after Dagenham rapper Devlin sampled the demo version of her song 'Rewind' in his hit of the same name.
The success would soon unravel with a darker turn, however, when at the close of the Bible Belt project, Birch faced the end of a long-term relationship and embarked upon a lengthy and winding road to recovery. Then, just as the journey out of heartbreak came to its close, she received the harshest blow of all with the sudden and devastating loss of her father to cancer. "We were incredibly close and he was by far the greatest influence on me musically," Birch says of her father, a preacher who brought her and her family around the world and served as a major source of inspiration on Bible Belt. "I lost a massive force in my life."
In the wake of it all, the prospect of completing a new record felt like an impossible feat and left Birch questioning her future, both personally and artistically. "I think it's natural that when you're trying to overcome these hurdles, you're going to have to deal with some really dark periods," she reflects, "and, if you're lucky, you come out of it learning something new about yourself. To stay strong, you have to surrender a bit to the breakdown and embrace the darker parts of your psyche and circumstances, come full circle and realize that there's beauty in even those really difficult and testing times. If you can learn to do that, you can manifest a lot of great things in your life."
It was Daptones drummer Homer Steinweiss who held the key to unlocking the sounds in Birch's head. In Steinweiss's Brooklyn studio, she spent countless hours experimenting and collaborating, getting lost in rhythms, melodies and harmonies, and pushing her creative limits further than ever before. "He has this whole other side from the Sharon Jones stuff and was at a point in his career where he wanted to try new things," she says of Steinweiss, who produced the majority of the record and co-wrote several tracks. "We were both looking for a musical outlet where we could try something different, and we quickly found this magical fusion of creative energy between us. The timing was perfect and it just worked."
While much of the record came together in that Brooklyn studio with Steinweiss at the helm, Birch also hit the road for inspiration. She co-wrote and recorded first single "All The Love You Got" in the UK with Adele producer Eg White - who co-produced the track along with Roots drummer Questlove and Steve Greenberg - and was joined by Duran Duran's John Taylor on bass. In Los Angeles, she co-wrote and cut the decidedly radio-unfriendly "Unfkd" with Aqualung's Matt Hales (Lianne La Havas, Paloma Faith).
"I never really set out to work with a bunch of different people," explains Birch, "but I feel very fortunate about this shift in the plans. It worked out extremely well in the end. There are all these different facets that blend together, and my voice is the consistency and sensibility that connects all the songs."