From left to right: Danny Blandy, Jed Cullen, Fred Macpherson, Tom Shickle
Having returned to release their second album ‘Moth Boys’ three years after their very successful début ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’, slick rockers Spector have been enjoying touring their new songs. We discuss the album, touring and more with lead singer Fred Macpherson at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds:
Soundsphere Magazine] Have you played at the Brudenell before?
Fred Macpherson] “A couple of times as a teenager with different bands but I’ve always wanted to play here with Spector. It’s a good venue for us.”
S] How has touring been?
FM] “This tour is going really well. Tours are always easier when the gigs go well. People come and it helps build the confidence. It’s gone better than we expected. People seem to like all the new songs and are coming to gigs, even the ones that we thought might be empty like Edinburgh which we’ve only played once before have been really busy and some of them have sold out. It’s great to see that there’s people who still want to come and watch and also that we’re playing better than we ever have before. In 2012 we were a little loose and it was more about the entertainment of the show rather than the music and now I think the gigs are music-centric.”
S] Would you say that the gigs are more music-centric because the band is more compact?
FM] “Yeah I think so, we’re closer, we’re older and now this lineup of the band with Danny [Blandy] on keyboard and Yoann [Intonti], who is very new, on drums means that everyone is in the right place and is doing the right thing. This lineup of the band feels like the best we’ve had and is a lineup where everyone’s playing the right instrument and is in there for the right reasons.”
S] Has this just been a UK tour?
FM] “This one has but we’re playing in Mexico at the end of the month as well as New York and we’ve never played either of those before. We’re going to Europe in January and I’m hoping to do more UK stuff in the spring after this tour and maybe put some more songs out early next year.”
S] It’s been two months since the album came out, how are you feeling about it?
FM] “I’m really happy, especially seeing people now like songs off the album that haven’t had videos or anything like ‘West End’, ‘Believe’ and ‘Using’. Seeing people’s reactions to songs in the flesh when we weren’t sure how they would necessarily feel about those songs was great, and we’re very happy that there’s been a good reaction.”
S] How would you describe the new album in relation to the old album?
FM] “I think the pop sensibility is there. Melodically the songwriting might be more pop than the first album. It’s slower for the most part and less indie rock and I think it’s got more depth. Perhaps it’s less fun but it has more replay value. Even though I think the first album has lots of great songs I don’t find myself listening to it end to end as much. I think this album works with repeated listens.”
S] Would you say that thematically it’s a more solemn or sombre album?
FM] “I think that the first album was a nostalgic look back at our teens and this was an album about your early 20s. Sometimes you go through a bit of a quarter-life crisis and I think this album is a soundtrack to that which is why it seems quite dark. It wasn’t meant to be dark but I think it’s just honest and being honest about that era of your life is going to mean talking about some dark stuff.”
S] Is that why you got rid of the floral shirts?
FM] “We kind of got in to those as a way to kill time in different cities, just going round finding ridiculous shirts. Then we kind of just naturally stopped and now we dress in more white and black. It’s not really a case of deciding what to wear but when you’re around people I guess you influence each other and grow together. We never said anything was just going to be a look, so I think it’ll keep changing. I used to be really in to those shirts and now I can never find an occasion to wear them! I have so many that I bought on eBay and stuff.
We definitely wanted to make this tour more about the music so in the old days the way we dressed and acted on stage might have been a distraction, and the gigs were more entertainment or variety shows whereas I think we just wanted to focus attention on the music a bit more this time, so we just decided that wearing a t-shirt instead of a suit and tie maybe makes it more about the music. It seems that it’s worked and people who come to the gigs focus on the music rather than us as personalities.”
S] The new album is more electronic than the debut, was that in order to go together with the lyrics on the album?
FM] “It’s kind of influenced by the lyrics but also what was happening in the studio. When Danny stopped drumming, he was told by doctors that he’d messed up his back and they told him not to drum. That’s when he started to move towards keyboard, so when we were making the album we had to programme beats anyway. We did have drums on the album and the producers played some of the drums but there wasn’t a drummer in the room waiting to do their bit so much. In the same way that there’s now one guitarist so there isn’t a second guitarist thinking “when am I going to play my bit?”
It influences the sound because there would be two guitars and drums on the track, whereas now Jed [Cullen] will work on the guitar and Tom [Shickle] might be there to do some bass and Danny would do some synths and we’d all be programming beats but it wasn’t the sound of a band in the sense of five people playing simultaneously which I’d like our next album to be more like, now that I think we do sound good live. Even though our first album was meant to sound live I think it still sounds quite digital and our second album is very digitalised, but it suits the alienated lyrics and technology addiction that goes through it so it is apt for certain bits and it suits the title, but I think we’d like to experiment more with what we actually sound like as a band.”
S] Would you say the second album is more atmospheric than the riff-based first album?
FM] “Yeah I think that’s a good word for it, though there’s hints of it on the first album with songs like ‘Grey Shirt & Tie’ and ‘Grim Reefer’. I think we’ll see where we go next but it’s good for the live shows now to mix the energies, which means we can control the pace of the audience’s reaction.”
S] Do you feel that you’ve got any musical inspirations that have influenced the songs?
FM] “I think so but we don’t tend to agree on them! I think there’s bands that will always be in our DNA like The Strokes, who I listened to so much growing up that even on an album like this, songs like ‘Decade of Decay’ or ‘West End’ have melodies and riffs and lead guitar parts that still come through and have that vibe. With slower songs like ‘Grey Shirt and Tie’ or ‘All the Sad Young Men’ I’m not really sure where the influences have come from. I listened to a lot of 80s stuff like Art of Noise and Malcolm McLaren; artists that are a bit more synthy. My dad used to have lots of 80s compilations with Ultravox and Gary Numan, and I remember being like 8 and listening to them and thinking they were the best musicians ever so I think that has kind of permeated our tastes. I think we have a lot of that synth in there.”
S] Lots of people have linked you to The Killers. What do you think of that?
FM] “I think the Killers thing is to do with songs like ‘Chevy Thunder’ and ‘Celestine’ which sound a bit like Bruce Springsteen with added synths. I think ‘Grey Shirt and Tie’ might have a bit of ‘Human’ to it, but overall I think the first album sounds a lot more like The Killers than we do now. I like The Killers but I don’t listen to them much anymore. Then again they’re a band who I grew up listening to and I’m sure they have had an an influence even when I haven’t realised it.”
S] How do you come up with the lyrics for your songs?
FM] “I write them in bits on iPhone notes! Any single lines that come to mind I write down, often from conversations that people have, so often if I hear someone say something funny or get sent something in a text message I’ll turn those in to lyrics and then kind of piece it together using those as foundations. Sometimes the more simple lyrics like ‘If you want me/you better come and find me” from ‘Grey Shirt and Tie’ or ‘Don’t Make Me Try’ will just come out when the music’s playing and I’ll try and incorporate the rest of the lyrics around them.”
S] Do you write the lyrics first and the music after or is it a mix?
FM] “I tend to write the music first or I’ll have a lyric in mind. With ‘Chevy Thunder’ for example I wanted to write a song by that name because I saw it written on a jumper and thought “I need that as a song” and so it kind of went from there. Same thing with Celestine, which I just saw on Facebook which then became “my self-esteem is at an all-time low” and I wrote the song from there.
Sometimes with something like ‘Kyoto Garden’, all I had was the drum loop and then I just started writing to that. Same with ‘West End’, which was an arpeggio loop. The music influences the melody really, but the lyrics are kind of all about the same thing, give or take, which I don’t have a problem with so I just keep tweaking and as long as you have a muse or something that’s inspiring you the lyrics will keep coming.”
S] I remember a few years ago now I first saw you on Jools Holland, did you ever think you’d get here from there?
FM] “I’m still surprised we got on Jools Holland to be honest! That was one of those things that was so crazy. There were points where I didn’t think we’d still be around now. I didn’t think we’d make it to a second album and had we not written a second album that I thought was good enough to release I don’t think we ever would have released one. It took getting to a song like ‘All the Sad Young Men’ to decide that it really was worth doing because you shouldn’t leave a song like that on the shelf.”
S] There was a lot of excitement to see what you would come up with next after the success of the first album, and there was roughly a three year gap in between. Was that for a particular reason?
FM] “It took us a while to develop a sound. We had songs like ‘Reeperbahn’ and ‘Decade of Decay’ that kind of came in between which we were never quite sure what to do with and I didn’t just want to make another indie rock album.”
S] Was it a slower process overall than the first album?
FM] “The writing was more drawn out, definitely along with the recording process, which was for the good of the album. The first album was quite condensed, we didn’t necessarily have that long to think it all through and decide how it fitted together but this album I think makes a lot more sense because we analysed it and went over and over it.”
S] With the first album was it a case of having to find somewhere to record it and not being quite sure?
FM] “Kind of yeah, along with not being quite sure exactly who to work with. By that point we’d already spent half the budget whereas this is more our album, we weren’t being pulled in lots of different directions.”
S] What would you like to do next?
FM] “Another album I think. For speed’s sake we’d like to get something new out in the first half of next year, whether that’s a single or an EP. I know we want to record our third album next year. We’re writing at the moment and just trying to develop the sound we’ve got up to now.”
S] And will it be a development of this album?
FM] “I think so. I think I’d like to do something that has elements of both. I’d like to bring some of the energy of the first album back because at live shows we get a great reaction to some of those songs and I’d like to write some songs that are faster than anything on this album and maybe even faster than anything from the first, just because I think people would expect us to make another atmospheric synth album and I wouldn’t want us to repeat ourselves.”
S] Lyrically would it be a continuation also?
FM] “Yeah, it just depends on who inspires them since they’re inspired by real life situations. I would hope that I’ll be inspired by some things about getting older and maturing, for want of a better word, the way in which we write about things. I would like the lyrics to be a bit more poetic, maybe a bit less clear, to try and make you feel or think things in a way that’s different from just knowing exactly what the lyrics mean but almost feeling more from not knowing what they mean. I feel that’s something we haven’t explored yet and something we could go in to in future.
I don’t want to be singing about the sun and “oh, I’m high and it’s fire” or that sort of thing but I’m reading a lot more poetry and I think that will hopefully influence my writing and help me write about stuff that matters emotionally more than about particular subject matter.”
S] What have been so far the defining experiences for you as a band?
FM] “There was a lot on the first album like playing Jools Holland, playing Coachella, selling out Shepherd’s Bush Empire. On the second album it was writing and recording ‘All the Sad Young Men’ which felt like the best song we had ever done and it felt like such a big step creatively. Releasing the album itself, which I didn’t think would happen, and Reading and Leeds festival this year which were really special for us and just playing to that many people and seeing that there were so many people that want to come watch us.
This tour has been great as well, and we’ve been lucky that even having taken a bit of time to work on this album it seems like people haven’t given up on us. We have a strong core fanbase that we can build on. Meeting our fans on this tour has been great, they seem like really good people who understand the music in a good way and that’s important to us. I think on the first album there were a lot of people there just wanting to have a good time and dance around and now people are engaging emotionally and singing every lyric and that’s amazing.”
S] And finally, what do the words Moth Boys mean, if you don’t mind us asking?
FM] “It goes back to what I was saying earlier, it’s a slightly abstract title but one I’ve always wanted to use. It’s kind of just talking about the fragility of a moth and how they fly towards light and light bulbs and burn up, but keep returning to this temptation that they have no need for and are just there blinding them and drawing them in and I just thought that was a good metaphor for what it’s like growing up in the UK, or anywhere really, when you’re trying to keep on some vague path and there’s always temptations that ultimately that don’t really help you out, and draw you in like a moth to a flame. A lot of the lyrics on this album are about human weakness and as you grow older, realising you’re no longer invincible. That transition from boy to man as you start to realise that you’re not infallible and life is short and full of pain!”
Spector’s new album ‘Moth Boys’ is available now. The band will play a couple of shows in the USA in December, tickets for which are available here. They will return to tour Europe and the UK next year.