Interviews

In Conversation with…SPECTOR

They have won the favour of many with their latest singles ‘All the Sad Young Men’ and ‘Bad Boyfriend’, taken from the band’s recently released sophomore record ‘Moth Boys’. This record see’s a new dawning for Spector, sonically and aesthetically. The new sound focuses on refinement. ‘Moth Boys’ never careers off into overblown guitar solos but it still keeps a savvy grip on what has become their signature: songs that read as quotable keepsakes and sharply-delivered witticisms, that are indebted to today’s modern society.

I caught up with the band before they took to the stage in Manchester, to delve deeper into what makes the band tick, their lyrical savviness and why this is the best Spector we’ve seen so far.

It’s been so good to finally have Spector back in our lives, after what was quite a prolonged interlude. Now you’ve had a little time to reacquaint yourselves with your fans and the world, have you found that it’s been easy to get back into the rhythm of band life?  

Fred Macpherson: “I think it’s better than ever. I think we all know each other a lot better, we’re a lot more experienced, in terms of we work harder, we know how to rehearse better, we spend less amount of time doing better things rather than a lot of time doing not much, if that makes sense. So we’re more focussed, we’re more honed and we enjoy it more. Feels more natural, less strained. I was going to say it’s like a second pregnancy but apparently they never get any easier. It feels like, I don’t know…”

A little more refined?

Fred: “Yeah it feels more refined.”

Danny Blandy: “It’s a whole new world like Aladdin.”

Fred: “I think [for the] people who have stuck with us or have come to us now, it feels more like the real thing. It’s not this kind of theatrical, silly band, it’s kind of more genuine. So it’s so nice for it to be better and easier.”

‘Enjoy it While it Lasts’ was mainly written solely by Fred, but this time around you shared the songwriting responsibilities around much more. How did this inform the new songs?

Fred: “I think it just brought another angle, it widened our line of sight. When it comes to writing I have quite a linear way of writing which I’m only just starting to be able to break out of. Once I wrote songs like ‘Never Fade Away’ and ‘Chevy Thunder’, I basically decided that I had a formula and would stick to it, and most of ‘Enjoy it While it Lasts’ sticks to that formula, actually ‘Never Fade Away’ is one of the few that doesn’t but the songs are all similar structures. Not similar melodies but they’re kind of melodic, the melodies all come from the same family in a way. It felt like I was writing songs in a very certain style and you have to grow, you have to cross pollinate and just put more ideas in there. I think ‘Moth Boys’ has a lot more ideas as an album, maybe too many at certain points of like trying to be too many things. ‘Enjoy it While it Lasts’ is maybe a bit of a one liner and maybe if ‘Moth Boys’ has any flaws it’s that it doesn’t necessarily quite always come together as a whole. But I still think it’s a much better album and it’s a great collection of songs. I still feel like we are yet to make our ‘album’ album. If that makes sense. The album that…”

Danny: “Hangs together.”

Fred: “But I think we’re so much closer than with ‘Enjoy it While it Lasts’ which even though it’s musically similar a lot of the songs, it was a bit of a mess. This is less of a mess and now we’ve got our sound and everyone knows what they’re doing, what their role is, we can make an album where everybody fulfils their role. And I’d like to do an album where I’m worrying only about vocals and lyrics. Not in terms of writing because I’ll always write songs and still have an ability to write quickly but I would like to go to a studio and know that everyone’s worrying about their bit, you see what I mean? And I think if we can do that, we’ll be able to make albums quicker, we’ll be able to make albums that we can perform live better. Not that I’ve ever felt I’ve had to take too much responsibility, because there’s people like producers or managers kind of having to cagoule us to do certain things and I think now we’re ready to kind of all step up and show what each of us can do. And I think the next album will hopefully be the five personalities, coming together and showing something good.”

Listening to the tracks, there are some lyrical motifs that echo your previous songs, for example in ‘Don’t Make Me Try’ you sing “there’s still a chevy in the parking lot outside” which references a similar lyric in ‘Chevy Thunder’ and also similar references creep up in ‘All the Sad Young Men’ with ‘Celestine’. What is the significance behind these repeating lyrical themes?

Fred: “I like things throwing back to previous things, maybe I was inspired by instagram TBT’s but also like recurring characters in computer games or films. When directors or people making things, put characters or scenes or terminology in there that don’t necessarily need to be in there but they do it solely for fans. Like easter eggs, they put something in because they know a fan will enjoy it.”

Like what Taylor Swift does with her lyric booklets.

Fred: “Oh right, what does she have in there?”

She puts secret messages in there. The capital letters make up a message in every song.

Fred: “Clever. Very clever. Yeah exactly and to me it also helps connect the albums, I’ve never wanted to be one of those bands who when you an album that sounds a bit different, you’re like ‘oh this is our new sound. Forget the old sound’. I like the idea that people might come to ‘Moth Boys’ and love it and then have to go back to ‘Enjoy it While it Lasts’ and kind of maybe struggle with it, slightly because that’s what growing up musically is. There is dirty linen that you have to wash, and you have to get through certain things. It’s not to say I think every album now is going to self-consciously have a lyric that references the previous album, I don’t want people to expect it.

But with ‘All the Sad Young Men’ I didn’t even know, it was just in my vocabulary. Like the word miserable appears in about 4/5 of our songs and misery is such an attractive, preposterous idea and one that you can really indulge in as an experience or as a writer. And when we wrote ‘we’re all beautiful now, like they were beautiful then’ I had completely forgotten the middle eight of ‘Celestine’. So I think it was subconscious because for my money, the middle eight on ‘Celestine’ is one of the best lyrics on the first album and one that kind of defines what that whole album is about.

I don’t think that is a continuing theme, not necessarily nostalgia because it’s not a yearning for the past, it’s that you’d like to be able to comfort yourself in the past. My mum has this fridge magnet, she’s a psychologist, that says ‘it’s never too late to have a happy childhood’ which is about helping people deal with experiences they’ve had as a child years later and I see sometimes the songwriting is reaching back in time to your 18 year old self, even 21 year old self and being like ‘don’t worry about the present that you exist in because this is the future and all those things become clearer’ and what better message for the people listening. Not that is necessarily that everything will be okay, but more that what you don’t understand now, you will come to understand to some extent in the future and that’s a great thing.”

Kind of like a metaphorical hug.

Fred: “Yeah exactly. Like a hug through time. Like the end of Interstellar but less shit.”

The record paints a portrait of misery and loneliness in the modern age. Yet I still see ‘Moth Boys’ as a joyful record.

Fred: “Good.”

Even though it holds a darker meaning, it’s uplifting. There’s freedom in honesty. Why do you think you are drawn to these feelings in particular?

Fred: “I think you answered your own question maybe. There is a freedom in honesty and some things you have to say aloud to realise. Like I never thought phones and social networking and all that stuff was a problem, I thought it was a fun element of modern life and now I do believe it is a problem. And I think over the next 10 years we’re going to see it turn into a potentially dangerous problem, like it is in Japan, when people die in their armchair playing a computer game, because they physically won’t go to eat and their body will be found on a computer.

I know now that I sit in bed on my phone, checking nothing, refreshing everything and it freaks me out, it’s like a physical horrible sensation. You’re there looking for information that isn’t there, twitter, instagram, website, twitter, instagram and it’s like I wanna literally throw my phone against a wall, and yet I still pay for the privilege to have like the f*cking expensive, new i-Phone, this much a month. It’s like a weird fear, like we’re going to start de-evolving. It’s happening now and we’re only just on the cusp of people talking about it and realising it, but I only started to write about that in funny things ‘one socket left, I’ll let you charge your phone’ it’s like a light-hearted lyric.

When we go into a hotel room and there’s one socket left, it’s like a f*cking stampede out of Jumanji, trying to get it. It’s like you’re angry and you’re angry if someone gets to charge their phone first, you believe you have the right to have your phone fully charged first because this precious, meaningless information has to stream into your life constantly. It’s a really appalling scary idea and I only realised on this tour, that the only time of the day when I don’t have my phone next to me is when I’m on stage. Which makes me think it would be nice to play longer gigs, because it’s the only release. Like some people go swimming or play football.”

Danny: “You don’t do that.”

Fred: “I don’t do that. Even when I jog I have my phone, I check twitter while I jog.”

Danny: “No you don’t…”

Fred: “I do! I’ll listen to stuff, if I get an email, I’ll do it while I jog.”

That’s a hazard waiting to happen.

Fred: “I almost tripped over a sausage dog into the canal. My mum tells me because it’s like Christmas day, you know the ghost comes out of the kitchen and I’m on my phone. I deleted my facebook and that was the first step.”

Danny: “And that was ages ago.”

Fred: “That was ages ago but twitter and instagram, I can’t delete. If someone says ‘you lose your little finger or twitter and instagram’ I’d probably say take my little finger. A time will come when we’re all going to have to be in therapy. Look at like 3 year olds, the way they look at iPads.”

Danny: “It’s crazy.”

Fred: “And I don’t even care that much, don’t get me wrong this isn’t my battle. I’m not going around telling mums ‘oh, don’t let your kids read your iPad’ because I don’t care enough. I’m just talking about 2015, this is a basic now, this isn’t even the subject matter anymore. This is just around the subject and that’s kind of what you’re talking about misery and all this stuff, I don’t think any era is anymore miserable than another, expect maybe periods of world war. The 20th Century was quite tough for that or if you’re in countries that suffer from things like war, but all we can do is try and sing about things, not that are modern, just in a modern way. And refer to experiences that we have and I think that’s all we try and do. On one hand we’ve got the heartbreak, love stories and on the other hand, we’ve got the increasingly dystopian, interconnected, big society and it’s just those two things coming together with a few boozy bits. That’s kind of a theme.”

Do you see it as quite a cathartic record?

Fred: “Yes. It’s fully cathartic. There’s things I worry about less because they’re on the album and there’s experiences I no longer think about because they’ve been sung about. And that was deliberate because if you can say ‘oh this was a really shit thing’ freeze it in a song. The best analogy I can think of is in Harry Potter where they take the thought out of the brain and put it in the thing and they can see it swirling around and then they can re-experience it, that’s the best analogy for songwriting I think. Not that it was an analogy for songwriting but that’s how it feels.”

Your lyrics are very quotable and memorable, I find I’m always taken aback every time I hear a Spector song for the first time, you just have a way of delivering such zinger lines. What’s your favourite lyric that you’ve written so far?

Fred: “It changes all the time but one I love on this album is ‘My battery’s 10 percent, lets generate content’. And what you’re talking about the quotable lyrics, that’s completely inspired by twitter because everyone is boiling down witticisms to try and save as few characters as possible and a lot of our lyrics are one-liners. And that has been inspired by twitter and individual twitter accounts that I find hilarious where they just try and say something meaningful or funny in a line and that has been a massive help. I didn’t have twitter when writing the first album, that wasn’t a thing and it has definitely been a big influence on writing. And the whole culture of it, of information being cut down and it used to be a thing in philosophy called aphorisms, where people would try and say something in one line basically, which kind of died out a bit but I think twitter has brought that back. There’s a twitter account called @NeinQuarterly, he’s a professor with a PhD in Linguistics and he’s obsessed with this idea that this type of thinking has been brought back by twitter and the quotable one-liner and I think that’s been a great influence on our lyrics.”

Charles Cave is great at it too.

Fred: “Charles Cave is good, yeah. He’s very good at it. So he should start writing his lyrics like he writes his tweets, I would say that to him. I think the lyrics will be better as a result of him having that medium.”

You have a new live show and there have been a few role changes since the last tour. How has everyone adjusted to the new live set up?

Fred: “Really well I think, it took a second last summer…”

Danny: “That’s one of the reasons it took so long because it took a long time to prepare. But now I think that it’s the best shows we’ve ever had. Musically, we spent a long time getting them ready..”

Fred: “Everyone’s doing the thing they wanna be doing.”

Danny: “Exactly. And that’s been the best thing and now I think everyone has a very much set role. And that’s what’s made it much easier. A great new drummer, Shickle now just on bass, you know there was a point when Shickle was playing guitar and we had an extra bassist, there was 6 of us, so it was a bit of a mess. It took a long while to eek out. But also when Chris quit or whatever, it was Jed that had to be the only guitarist, we even had my friend Patrick playing for a bit, there was a lot of different stuff happening. But now this is the final line up, I think forever. As long as everyone wants to carry on, but that’s how I would think of it, as the final one.”

Fred: “And it makes my life easier because everyone else’s roles are now so distinct, that I don’t need to…it’s not a show about me. It doesn’t need to be lots of talking and stuff.”

Danny: “It can still be about you but we’re all, it’s like reliable at the back.”

Fred: “I think it’s about us, and that’s why I talk less in between the songs and stuff.”

You’ve seen a lot of the world over the course of being in this band. What’s stood out to you the most about other cultures and countries?

Fred: “I think what’s stood out in terms of the places we’ve seen is how westernised everywhere is, for the most part. Even when we went to some of the furthest places, Singapore and Malaysia seemed like caricatures, if like Blue Water was a city kind of thing. And I think it just highlights the difference between the developing world and the supposedly developed world because we haven’t been to all the places which I’d imagine still have a bit of their culture left. Weirdly going through Japan and a bit of the East, America, England; there are still bits of Europe that have a nice culture to them, like we went to places in Germany and the Netherlands were we saw weird local markets and parades and shows. And these odd traditions that are very quintessentially European and I like that Europe is proud of its traditions, maybe more than England is because the only thing I’ve really seen in England that I feel does that is a thing called Jack in the Green in Hastings. Which is like very Wicker Man, folk traditions where they burn they a big thing at the end and there is a lot of weird folk traditions in the UK and people sadly associate UK traditions with a kind of red flag UKIP English-ness and actually there’s so much great folk tradition that’s been kind of lost as a result.”

Is there a city or a place that defines Spector as a band?

Fred: “Well obviously we’re from London, I don’t think it defines us because Danny’s from Sheffield and Yoann, our drummer who is now becoming more and more of a real member is French. But growing up in London and having lived there my whole life, I think the songs are set in the UK. It comes from a vaguely London perspective.”

For the last few years you have been creating, what I’d like to think is now infamous – the Spector calendar. Surely it’s something to tick off the bucket list?

Fred: “What having done that?”

Yeah.

Fred: “It was something when we had the idea that we never thought we’d do and in doing it once, it was like ticking it off the bucket list. Doing it three times, even more so. I think the challenge is to keep it interesting every year because however serious our music gets, I never want to take ourselves too seriously. I’ll show you the new bit of merch [shows me the newly designed mug]. We always just wanna try doing things that people wouldn’t expect because it should be fun and the same with our merch. We’re trying to do more things that are fun and interesting.”

How are the photoshoots for the calendar – they look like they must be a lot of fun?

Fred: “They’re really fun because also we always do them all in one day, all in the same place at our friend’s studio and we only ever have about half of it planned. E.g. on last year’s one, when there’s the surfboard and swimsuits, we just said ‘what can we get in a day?’ and our tour manager was like ‘well I’ve got a surfboard and two swimsuits’. We just shot them in front of a green screen, put the beach in. This year, Danny in the shower in October, with a knife in front of him, we just ran out of ideas and I was like ‘well let’s try and re-create Psycho’. It’s like The Apprentice or something, it forces you to think on your feet all day, which is good.”

Spector soundtracked my uni years and I will forever consider you as a defining band for my life at that time and since.

Fred: “Oh excellent, that’s very kind of you.”

I related probably too much at times to what you were singing about. Who were the bands you were listening to back at that stage in your life?

Fred: “The key bands for me were The Strokes, The Clash, The Coral, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The White Stripes. Those are the bands I was listening to growing up, like indie bands and then later Roxy Music and the last few years, I’ve wrote lots of break-up songs and the break-up albums for me have been the first two Drake albums and more recently Kayne West, that’s the kind of thing I listen to more now.”

If you had to sum up what you’ve learnt over the past few years of your career, what would that be?

Fred: “That being yourself is so more of a challenge than just repeating the mantra of ‘be yourself’. It takes some real living to learn how to be yourself. You can’t just wake up one morning and be yourself because we’re conditioned so much to feel like we have to be certain things and fulfil certain things. And in certain situations you do, but I think personality-wise, life is always better when you just can be yourself and I think that is easier said than done. But to try and get rid of all the bullshit, you have to be true to yourself and I think the challenge with Spector is having learnt how to be that even with all the cynicism, the jokes, the kind of self-referential, self-aware stuff, to within all that to then find an honest version of ourselves has been a real challenge but a very fun one. And I feel it will continue to be.”

‘Moth Boys’ is out now. Spector are touring throughout the UK, ending in London on 29th October. For a full list of dates head here.

Spector Links: Website . Facebook . Twitter

Charlotte Holroyd
A lover of music and cinema. Constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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