In Conversation with… SPECTOR

The name Spector lives on, the band has coined many great one liners and in turn has spawned many great conversations, songs like Chevy Thunder and All the Sad Young Men are conquering anthems that reflect back the fleeting permanence of youth. Since their second album ‘Moth Boys’ in 2015, the only bit of music the band has shared, has been 2018’s ‘Ex-Directory’ EP, while new music is being prepared as we speak we still remain consumed by the witty anecdotal presence of this most recent work.

Touring with the Magic Gang this September, Spector hopped on a few dates around the UK. We meet in Manchester at the Albert Hall, where later in the evening Spector will play to a vibrant crowd of fans (mainly under the age of 21). The gig gets rowdy, fast, and it’s not long before frontman Fred Macpherson has to make a swift call to cut the music and speak to his audience in earnest, “If anyone falls down, please stop and pick them up. Or else we can’t play.” A gracious thought and effective, the gig resumes. The band continues to remark on how energetic the room is, the venue has never looked so alive or equally been filled with as much passionate movement as it has on this night, for this band.

Spector’s music has a remarkable effect on live crowds, it’s hard to explain until you’ve experienced it. Maybe guitar music is just more primal than any other genre, or maybe it’s just easier to understand: the directness is engaging and the lyrics are more instantaneous. But it’s more than just a communal experience, maybe it’s something rooted in the nostalgia of these musical moments—as a long time devotee I find it’s equally a very personal feeling that arises when listening and being present at one of Spector’s shows, but maybe that’s because I’m invested in the band.

Regardless, it’s best not to over analyse these things and rather, let them be. Speaking with frontman Fred Macpherson we delve into themes of nostalgia, the band’s longevity and social media’s influence in today’s society.

What is it about the teenage years and youth that fascinates us so much?

Fred Macpherson: “That’s a very good question, I need to answer it in a way that doesn’t make it sound like I’m continually fascinated by teenage years as opposed to my own teenage years.

“What is it that satisfies us? It’s weird ‘cause I think, actually, sometimes your teenage years are quite s*** but you start to look back on them as a golden age. We often now spend a lot of time talking about things we’ve done in the past rather than our present—and I don’t think it’s always necessarily teenage years—but I think you’re always attracted to the past because you remember certain bits of it and you get to, kind of, curate your own teenage years after they’ve happened and take away the really good things or the really bad things, but all the mundane bits in between—all the exam revision and the arguing over the Xbox controller are all forgotten in the sands of time. But, I don’t know why. I think we have a romantic notion about those periods in our lives… I think everyone does.”

Well, why do think in the Arts, it’s such a popular topic?

FM: “I think it’s because pop culture, especially in the UK, has traditionally been quite youth orientated especially with music. Going back from Cliff Richard to The Beatles, to generally the biggest pop acts of any decade, are often very young themselves and they’re writing about stuff for young people. You look at the gig we played last night [in London], everyone was so young we were wondering how young they’d been when our first album came out, six years ago. And I think it’s a dialogue, especially with band music, it’s a dialogue between young artists and young fans talking about things that they have experienced and that’s what makes it popular. But I will be interested to see whether, as we keep going, whether our lyrics evolve or whether we still remain preoccupied with those things.”

Nostalgia has almost become a commercial commodity in the 2010s, with an overwhelming amount of band revivals, rewind festivals and franchise reboots swamping popular culture. What’s your take on the trend?

FM: “That’s an interesting question, we were talking a lot about tribute bands on the way up. ‘Cause our drummer said he’d played Nathan Followill in a Kings of Leon… [Fred aside to Danny: “What were they called, Danny?”] Kins of Leon tribute band! [Laughs] And I once interviewed the Antarctic Monkeys—who were the number one Arctic Monkeys tribute band—and what’s interesting to see now is this kind of instant nostalgia for things that have barely passed. I think nostalgia is just one of the most straight forward ways for us to process information, and that’s why, I think nostalgia for things is getting more and more recent, in terms of what we’re having nostalgia for, because it’s a way of separating something and making it a kind of theme or style, as opposed to something that actually happened. Things come to represent a certain time or era, and I think those will always be romanticised, so you have people reminiscing about 2015 or something that happened last summer because it’s just so easy to romanticise something once you’re separated from it. And so I think that’s the same as the teenage years thing, nostalgia is sometimes our only way to understand ourselves as it’s looking backwards.”

Tracks from ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’ continue to receive rapturous receptions in the live shows, do you still see people coming across the record for the first time nowadays?

FM: “Yeah, especially on this tour. Most of the messages we’ve had are from people who’ve never seen us before, there’s a lot of people in the crowd that know the songs but then people who don’t. And it’s fun playing both albums and EP tracks alongside each other and having people like both, and them sitting together. It’s nice, we haven’t done a support tour for a while so it’s good to get a chance to play to some people who aren’t there to see us.”

What’s your most nostalgic memory from the ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’ period?

FM: “I think that’s a good example of that instant nostalgia, we were almost living the nostalgia of it, experiencing it in the past because it was music about something fleeting and we knew that the energy around it would be fleeting. And then especially, Chris—who was in the band then—when he left, it kind of sealed that period as basically two years, 2011 and 2012. There’s a lot of different nostalgic things but… one of our first proper London gigs at this Snooker club called Efes, we thought that was a moment that was an instantly… it turned into a kind of talisman, it represented something and almost when that was over… each time we did things, certain things were over and they, kind of, became markers of growing older. ‘Chevy Thunder’: making the video to that and releasing that, ‘Celestine,’ all the singles and the energy around them. It was funny… the main thing is how much we laughed the whole time, like, a lot of jokes and a lot of taking the piss, and that was always the most fun part.”

When you play older songs like ‘Chevy Thunder’ and ‘Never Fade Away’, how does it feel from your perspective? Can you still find new meaning within those songs?

FM: “Sometimes. I think sometimes with ‘Chevy Thunder’ I don’t necessarily listen to the lyrics as I sing them, as much as perform them. But, in the middle eight especially “There’s only so many ways to wake up,” usually even when we’re just absolutely going through it, or just having fun, that always draws me back to a certain thing and seeing people’s reactions to it. Same as ‘Never Fade Away,’ it sometimes feels like it’s the audience almost performing it and we’re responding to them, because the emotion comes from the audience, really, and people’s own experiences and feelings about things.”

As a creative person, how do you navigate through periods of fluctuating productivity?

FM: “Really. Good. Question. I think you just have to be honest with yourself and know that it doesn’t always come easy, and if you force it, it won’t necessarily be good. And also allow the music and the journey to be a, kind of, recording of your own personal journey in a way. We all do other things and other music and stuff, so, we’re not meeting up and doing this every day together but it means when we do meet up, or do go on tours like this, it elicits a certain vein of creativity. But we don’t beat ourselves up too much if we don’t make loads of songs within a month, or something, but we just want to try and let the really good stuff float to the surface—and occasionally you’ll get an ‘All the Sad Young Men’ or a ‘Never Fade Away,’ or whatever.”

So, have you been working on new material since you released the EP?

FM: “Yeah we’ve got another EP coming out that we’re just trying to finish, and ideally we’ll have it out before the end of the year so we can do more shows as well.”

Each member of Spector has other passion projects outside of the band, Fred you recently started a project with Cav McCarthy of Swim Deep, called Low Spirits—do you think it’s important to find other outlets for self-expression when so much of your time is invested in one particular job?

FM: “Yeah, I think the more the merrier. And often with things that begin as an outlet turn into something else. Whenever a band’s most busy they’re usually getting to create the least because they’re playing the same songs for a long time, or doing lots of interviews, and not creating necessarily. I think it’s important for everyone, even people who don’t see themselves as creative, to have those outlets, maybe even more so, because I think self-identifying creative people are already involved in some dialogue with the world whereas a lot of people, I think, bottle things up because they don’t believe they’re creative and I think it’s probably even more important that those people get a chance to express themselves or attempt to, to help deal with the internalised angst and pain that comes with everything else.”

Recently a fake Instagram account was discovered in your name—is everything sorted now? Did the account get closed down?

FM: “I did report it. I need to check to see if it is. Like, that’s the sort of thing that used to happen a bit, but I was just so surprised, that now—you know it’s not like we’re a huge band—it just didn’t seem like something worth anyone doing… but I did enjoy reading lots of the screen grabs of the conversations. Turned out that the person was in Utah—and one of the people he was speaking to was my old next door neighbour who, kind of, lead him down a bit of a path before saying, ‘Ahh, I actually used to live next to Fred. What are you doing?’ So that was quite amusing, but. I was trying not to get too worried about it, hopefully people didn’t fall for him because he was in Utah. Hopefully he couldn’t do much damage, unless we have any fans in Utah, which is unlikely.”

What is Spector to you—what does the band mean to you?

FM: “That’s a great question. I think for a certain type of song, if I write it I’ll know it’s a Spector song, and it’s a certain channelling of a certain energy that’s, kind of, an outlet for the most slightly irreverent or, maybe like, cheeky energy that comes out. It’s a kind of spirit that is amongst us and when we get together or when… writing is just a certain outlet for a certain type of feeling that I don’t get anywhere else, and, well, also it’s the back-and-forth between us and the people coming to our gigs, which is always, to this day, still amazing.”

The worlds of the performer, artist, and human being are completely different but each informs the other. Is it vital for there to be some kind of differentiation between the private and public self?

FM: “Interesting question. I think there’s more performance in today’s society than there ever has been, through social media and the internet. We all have these avatars, and these masks, and these versions of our self that we get to put across, which means—I think—performance is more a part of daily society than it probably has been. And we live in this, kind of, like, masked ball in a way, of like, the fake versions of our self—who we want people to think we are.

“But I think the best, most interesting people are the people who tell you the truth, even when it’s a messy truth. Whether it’s anyone from Katy Price in Hello Magazine, to Kayne on Twitter. People who are really just like, ‘This is exactly what’s happening. This is how I feel.’ I think that’s more important than girls on Instagram, or guys, with heavily photoshopped images of this ideal life on a tropical island talking about their vegan diet and their yoga, or whatever.

“I would rather see someone messy, or upset, or honest. And for that, sometimes, I think the good side of social media is giving disenfranchised people hope through people they can see and feel similarities with. The bad side is making everyone else feel inadequate through false ideas.”

On this run of tour dates, Spector is the opening act—a running order which we don’t see very often. How did the offer first come about?

FM: “We’ve known the Magic Gang for quite a few years, they’ve supported us before, only once, I think. We have wanted to do more support slots but there’s not many bands around that either, we love or love us—that felt like the right thing to do—and for a while we thought, ‘Oh it would be good to go out with someone and not headline and play to some people who probably don’t know us.’ And this was the kind of tour that when it was announced… Playing a big venue in Manchester—we usually play Gorilla—so to get to come play here [at the Albert Hall], double the size nearly, is a great thing. So when we saw it, we thought, ‘That could be good.’ I didn’t think we were in the running for it, I don’t even know if we’d even asked, but then they asked. So it felt like a very serendipitous thing that they wanted to do something that we wanted to do, so we were all quite happy about that.”

Has your attitude changed to the kind of gigs you’ll accept now?

FM: “We’ve actually turned down very few gigs. There’s been periods where we’re less busy and more busy but as long as we can afford to do it and the fee can make it work, we’re generally quite up for doing it. So I don’t think it’s changed too much, I think it’s probably more, now, you have to be a bit more creative in what you pick because the UK is just not big enough to tour it, the whole time. So unless you have a bigger international presence—which we don’t necessarily—then you can only do so much gigging in the UK ‘cause it’s just not quite big enough.”

When choosing what to play, how do you decide?

FM: “That’s a good question. It usually depends on set length. This set, being half an hour, is the shortest set we’ve done in a long time because our festival gig is usually forty, forty five minutes and our gigs of our own, are over an hour. So this, we just decided to do a, kind of, greatest hits. Most of the songs are singles, or have a video, and we’ve got one new one, which is ‘Tenner’—which we’ve been playing for over a year, anyway.”

If you were to describe the past year in one definitive emotion, what would that be?

FM: “I’m definitely happy.

“In terms of happy, yeah I think I’m happier than when I was younger, and I feel like life, in some ways, gets easier—not for everyone—but when you stop worrying about your own place in the world, or your achievements, or success. Growing past that stage of worry, has left more positive feeling.”

What do you think it is about this band that has given it endurance?

FM: “Good question. The songs are kind of better than the band, in a way. I’ve always thought that, like, there’s been points were we couldn’t even play the songs as well as they should be played. But I think they just have a certain energy and it’s not super stylistic in any one particular type of style, and I think if you’re never that cool then you can, kind of, last longer. I didn’t necessarily think we would still be playing this far in, but now we’re in this far we still will be in a while, so I don’t think it’s anything particularly magical. If you’ve got a willingness to turn up, and you’re in the band, and anyone in the audience has a willingness to turn up it’s kind of the best you can hope for. Ideally more than one person, but we’ve played to four people once in Carlisle so, that was still a good gig.”

Spector’s ‘Ex-Directory’ EP is out now – available to Stream/Purchase here.

Find Spector on Facebook and Twitter.

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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