I want to see Spector again. I don’t care that I’ve just seen them, I want to see them again. Thursday’s performance at Mercury Lounge marked the end of a short, 4-date tour of the U.S. and Mexico, with the band testing the waters of their overseas following. And if the audience’s reaction on Thursday was anything to go by, Spector will be back soon.
Before the performance, ATYPICAL SOUNDS sat down on the floor of the venue with Fred Macpherson, Tom Shickle, Jed Cullen, Danny Blandy, and Yoann Intonti to discuss music, touring, pizza, and pretty much everything else in existence.
FM: This feels like Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you’ve got anything you want to confess, I can turn the recorder off for a couple of seconds.
FM: Keep it on. I’m ready for a confession. It was 1998…It was a cold day in the autumn. It started like any other. If I’d known what I know now at the beginning of that day, I don’t think I’d ever have left the house.
We’ve all had those days.
I saw the video of you guys at Reading this summer, performing for thousands of people. Is it weird for you to go from something like that to playing a venue like Mercury Lounge (250 people)?
FM: It’s good, I think. It’s weird, but it feels kind of natural as well in a way, because throughout our career we’ve had bigger shows and smaller shows, or have been on tour with people who are really big, playing arenas and then going and playing in Scotland to about 100 people or something, so we’re kind of used to the crowd sizes fluctuating and when you come off the back of big shows like Reading and Leeds in the summer, I think it’s really important and humanizing to keep playing to all sizes of gigs because there’s always going to be new places where no one’s heard of you, and it reminds you that any kind of implied “food chain” in the music industry is all kind of bullshit anyway, and really all that matters is the interaction between your songs and the people who are there.
Sometimes at a festival, it might be thousands, but if there’s 10 people in a room, the transaction (I don’t mean financially), musically, spiritually, whatever, it’s still the exact same thing as when there’s loads of people. So I think that bands who kind of get annoyed or think it’s a step down, I think they’ve got the wrong end of the stick of how music works. I always like when a band like Mumford and Sons play to 25,000 people and then go and play at a local country jam around the corner, I think it’s good when you keep that spirit.
The other day, when we played in Mexico, on the last night I ended up in this bar where there was a covers band [the rest of the band is laughing] playing all night and these two [gestures to Tom and Danny] thought it would be a good idea to join on a cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, on instruments that neither of them play, and Googling the chords…
TS: Googling the chords to “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, looking at the keyboardist, being like, “What are the chords?” and he was going, “Look at my fingers.” and I was like, “I don’t know what that is.”
FM: He was fuming.
TS: I was just onstage, in front of about 300 people, just going “Nope, don’t know it.”
FM: They’re the sort of musicians who you’d shout any song and they could play it. And they’re like the karaoke machine.
JC: Although I thought the video/audio back would be awful, it sounded quite good, I thought.
FM: All three of them were onstage. Sorry, that’s a very long answer to a very short question.
That’s ok, it’s something I’ve often wondered about because, particularly at this [small] venue, we get so many bands from the U.K. (who are very popular in the U.K.) who come here, and I feel spoiled, but I sometimes wonder if the smaller audiences bother them.
FM: I think it’s a rite of passage as well, the U.K. is such a small place with such a big music industry, that I think it’s good for bands of whatever size in the U.K. to come and play to not many people in America, especially the first few times, and it’s such a rarity that anyone breaks America; Arctic Monkeys, look how long it took them, or Oasis never really completely…
Well, they need to come back. They’d have an audience if they came back.
FM: That’s true. Now I think it’s going to get to the point where they could see that they’ll have to do it.
FM: They were probably playing to the biggest crowds they’d ever played to. Hopefully, we’ll have a whole career of medium-sized gigs before we disappear and then get back together to ensure we can play venues of that size.
And by then, you’ll be Jarvis Cocker.
FM: With any luck, yeah.
How was your show last night at Saint Vitus?
FM: It was funny playing at a real rock bar. There’s a bar in London called Crobar that it really reminded me of. It was fun actually, again it was kind of a good in-at-the-deep-end experience. I’m glad we had that one before tonight, cause I think we learned a few things from it.
FM: Just about when playing to an audience that’s basically almost completely new, what songs to play and what set list to have. Like, we’ve been changing our set list a lot on our last tour, and it’s funny how big an impact it has both on you and your confidence and the audience, and it’s kind of something that sometimes feels quite mystical, like a lock to an ancient safe. Cause when you get the right one…I’m sure we read too much into it, but it’s one of the many stars that need to align and when it does, it does. And it can be quite nerve-racking, playing to people who don’t really know who you are and I think tonight will feel a bit more relaxed and less like “Ahhhhh”.
There can be some freedom in that, as well. It’s like “I’m never going to see these people again, I can do whatever I want.”
FM: It was quite raucous, I think it unlocked a certain energy in us, it was a bit like Dragon Ball Z, like Super Saiyan.
You have a new album now as well, so that’s going to change what you can play.
FB: Yeah, an album that we like more, and brings a variation of pace and music and style and color.
Are these performances possibly in preparation for a larger tour of the U.S.?
FM: I still think at this point if we went on tour in the U.S., really no one would come. It’s one thing playing small shows in New York, I think if we turned up in Wisconsin we’d have a crowd smaller than the band. There’s hilarious stories of bands we know from the U.K. who toured the whole of the U.S. on a sleeper bus and played to 3 people a night and spent thousands of pounds doing it, cause it’s like “the dream”.
To go to Wisconsin?
FM: I think the thing is, when people see the rest of America, with all respect…
We don’t talk about that.
FM: They kind of realize everything they’ve seen on TV and films is kind of set in 2 or 3 places, and the rest is like this weird 3rd world country made of service stations and churches.
FM: I’m not going to judge the people of America, but I think it’s such a big place and the U.K. feels big to us. Scotland seems far away from London, and for us that’s a long drive. And all of that would fit in a third of Texas which is 1/50 of the whole country, but then you only have a population 5 times the size, which means you’ve got this land mass that’s basically a different planet, but only with 5 people per one of ours which basically makes it feel, outside of cities, like an empty post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Have you had any New York City adventures while you’ve been here? Have you tried the pizza?
FM: The funny thing about the pizza is that all the Italian words that we have that reference different meats are all slightly different here, so prosciutto in England is like the finest, wafer-thin cut of ham, but then if you order it on a pizza here it’s like these cubes of like pink plastic.
JC: Ordering eggs is quite hard as well. I don’t know what over easy…
FM: Sunny side up, there’s a clue there. But then like, easy, over, under, hard over, it sounds like a cricket score or something. But the food is amazing here. Even the shit foods are better than our food.
I’ve never tried the pizza in London.
FM: There’s a restaurant called Pizza Express, which brought pizza to London in about 1965, before that there had never been pizza.
JC: Wait, there hadn’t been pizza anywhere…
FM: Nope. It had been cooked at home, but we don’t have the Italian community in the same way you would here, like over 100 years old, so pizza came late but this first pizza restaurant is still the biggest. The food is getting better in London, but what’s good about the food here is there’s always some element of surprise, like you’ll order something that you’ll find has no need for a gherkin and there will just be a massive gherkin on top, like a whole one.
JC: There’s a lot of mixing sweet and savory foods like maple syrup on bacon, cream cheese with jam.
FM: It’s surprising that New Yorkers aren’t as fat as in other states, but the food here, it’s like you eat here for 3 days and you feel like every meal is your last meal on death row. And you have gyms with ominous names like Muscle Gym, and Crunch Gym that are aspirational in terms of making people, even the kind of nerdy-looking people here are quite ripped. Which is cool, I guess.
There’s nerdy people and then there’s like, male model types who wear glasses.
FM: What, do you think they’re diluting the brand? Like they’re taking away from the real nerds? When people started wearing glasses without any prescription, I find as someone who is disabled and has to wear glasses, I started to find that a bit kind of…
JC: It’s like me walking around with crutches.
FM: It’s like when Rick Ross sits in a wheelchair in a video. But no-prescription glasses is like using a wheelchair cause you can’t be bothered to stand up. In London, everyone’s on those hoverboard things.
Those were just made illegal here.
FM: Same as in London, you’re not allowed to take them on the streets anymore.
JC: Cause it’s a vehicle, you need a license for it.
FM: Yeah, but come on, let us have our fun.
TS: I liked looking at people when they went past me, and just thinking “You have so much confidence.”
FM: And there were people on their phones doing it and not looking up.
As you may know, I interviewed your friends Swim Deep last night. They want to know who your favorite member of Swim Deep is.
DB: Should we all tell the truth, or…
TS: Let’s all tell the truth.
JC: My favorite member of Swim Deep is someone I like to call Good Will. It’s the cool ghost of music.
FM: Mine’s Cav. I’d say that to their face, but only because I spend the most time with him and he always stays at my house when he’s in London. I do love them all, but he’s my favorite. I can’t speak for the band.
JC: Did they say who their favorite members of Spector were?
I didn’t ask.
FM: Jed’s favorite is probably Zach.
JC: I like them all equally.
FM: Danny likes Higgy.
TS: Yoann likes Balmont and Ozzy
YI: They’re my best friends.
TS: Just put Cav.
YI: They come to France all the time.
FM: Do you like Swim Deep?
I like them a lot. I had seen them at this venue in 2013 and I had just had my wisdom teeth removed and I thought I was going to die.
DB: And you thought that was painful.
I have to ask. You guys opened for Suede a few years ago. How was that?
FM: Yeah, at one of their comeback shows. It was funny because it was our ex guitarist’s last show, so for us we were thinking more about how it was his last gig rather than Suede. I mean, I never listened to Suede much growing up, but when we got the gig, everyone was like “Wow, you’re supporting Suede!”
DB: We did another show in Romania where they were headlining, and then [singer Brett Anderson] came into the dressing room and you called him Brad.
FM: What’s his name?
FM: I made a joke onstage, and said “When we got offered this show, we weren’t sure about it, I guess we were easily Suede.”
TS: It was a great gag. It was 1,000 people going “ugh.”
FM: Brett Anderson came in to thank us for the gig, I said “Did you hear the joke?” and he just like, looked at the floor. So that was the only thing I was really interested in. But then I went to a baby shower this year and he was there, lo and behold, Brett in the corner, and I was like is one of us going to say something, or am I going to go up and be like, “Remember when we supported you, and then you came and said ‘thanks’ in that Romanian dressing room?” But I didn’t, and he just kind of looked at the floor and we were there for an hour, and then he left, so I can’t say we’re friends, but I’m glad we got the gig and actually looking back it was a good gig to get. I don’t know if we played it to the best of our capacity, but I think it was great fun. And their audience were actually pretty forgiving. And then I met a girl recently who said “I saw you supporting Suede.” and I was just thinking “Why did you buy tickets for Suede?”, but they’re a brilliant band.
There are actually some similarities between [the Suede song] “The Beautiful Ones” and “All The Sad Young Men”. When I put the “We’re all beautiful now/like they were beautiful then”, just in that lyric, that was kind of a nod to the Suede lyric, because their songs in the 90s were quite nostalgic and had this…I felt like he was…they had this kind of throwback between the 70s and the 90s in the lyrics and I think that was a kind of slight nod to that.
Brit pop is actually more popular here than you would think.
FM: Really. It’s a bit of an embarrassment, I think. Obviously, the bands are great but I think it would be the equivalent of like that “all-American sound”, like Lynyrd Skynyrd and stuff like that being popular and some of it is so self consciously British, especially when you have the points where people were posing in front of Union Jacks. I guess it was a different time, more exciting in the run up to Tony Blair getting elected, I guess there was more excitement about what it meant to be British than there is now, so maybe that’s what allowed for a style that could go hand in hand with flag waving, etc. Now, doing anything with a Union Jack, unless you’re Morrissey, I think would be a little bit…
It’s so good to dance to, though.
DB: Some of the songs from that are amazing.
FM: The bands are great, it’s just the culture. And Blur are amazing, and Oasis are amazing.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Feeling Gloomy party. It’s one that started in London and it’s here now as well, and you had written about that White Heat party for Noisey. Are there any club nights or clubs that are still going on in London that you think are particularly good, or that you would recommend?
FM: No, not really. Not for hearing guitar music anyway. In London, there’s not a culture for that. Half the clubs are closed down. White Heat still technically goes on on a Friday, but it’s not the same thing. There was a time about 10 years ago where there were so many good indie clubs and right now I guess just the culture moved, and the sound we’re all listening to, all the stuff. Clubs at the moment are electronic.
DB: There’s a lot of grime stuff, which is really good music and I think that’s good that it’s found its place in club culture in England, I think that’s really cool.
Are there any London-based bands that might be less known that you like and would recommend?
FM: There’s a band called The Magic Gang, who have been on tour with Swim Deep. They’re actually from Brighton but I really like them. Spring King, who are based in Manchester, but they’re a really great new band who I’m sure will be here again soon.
JC: There’s a band called The Rhythm Method.
FM: They’re a London band.
JC: They’re a really small London band who are really good.
How are you guys celebrating Christmas this year?
FM: The same as basically every Christmas we’ve ever had in London.
Eating Brussels sprouts and wearing a paper crown?
JC: I really like the paper crown thing, I just, I love it.
FM: I have mine on from about 11am to about 11pm. I always come prepared with jokes that are better than the crackers.
JC: Sometimes the crown, you can feel it on your head until epiphany. It stays there for 12 nights.
TS: When it’s gone it’s still there, isn’t it?
JC: You take it off and it’s still there. You can wash your hair, dry it.
TS: It’s like if you’re going swimming and there’s a wave machine. When you go to sleep you can still feel like you’re in waves. If you take the paper crown off, it’s still there. It’s very odd.
Any last words before you go on tonight?
JC: ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE?