An Interview with Spector
Three years after their debut album, Enjoy it Whilst it Lasts, Spector are back touring the country with their newest release, Moth Boys. As they prepare for their O2 Academy show, Helen Rabbitt sits down with frontman Fred Macpherson and discusses the growth of the band and their eagerness to follow the light to bigger and better things.
Ellipsis: I’m here with Fred Macpherson from Spector. It’s lovely to meet you. The last time we spoke was at SoundCity.
FM: Oh, who could forget it? Oh, in that little room in a cabin trailer thing.
E: The wonderful touring life! Did you enjoy your time at SoundCity?
FM: Yeah, I think it was one of the best gigs in Liverpool we’ve done. Best crowd reactions.
E: Did you have a great summer with the festivals? I saw you guys play at Glastonbury in a small tent in the sweltering heat and it was insane, did not stop the crowd one bit. There was even euphoria to the new music.
FM: I was quite glad to be in a tight, small tent because it just made it much more fun and intense. Better playing in the sweltering heat this year rather than the thunderstorms of last year. It’s so much better playing in a small space rather than a large tent worrying that nobody will turn up. You’re certain the small tent will be filled.
E: Then the pinnacle of your summer was the release of your second album Moth Boys at the end of August. I’m so glad I got the chance to interview you again because I just want to say how incredible the album is. I’m a HUGE fan of it.
FM: Oh, thank you very much. I’m glad somebody is excited about it just as much as us. That’s two definite fans of it. I think it’s good.
E: You’ve had a fantastic fan response with it all.
FM: Yeah, it feels like everybody seems to get it.
E: So what do you think of the response from the fans?
FM: I’m glad people have engaged with it emotionally and that lots of people have tweeted about how things are similar to experiences that they’ve had in the songs or that they’ve helped them. Not even helped them but sound-tracked certain points in their lives. That’s the most we can expect, that’s more important than anything else. If somebody can engage in it and let it become a part of their life as one of their favourite albums, it almost feels as if they’re with you in those difficult times like a friend. Maybe even more than a friend because albums give less shit advice than friends and they stop after forty minutes. But yeah, it’s good to see people enjoying it so much, and at the gigs it has such an impact on people which is nice.
E: It’s been three years since Enjoy it Whilst it Lasts, and it’s been well worth the wait as this album sounds much more mature. Can you tell us about the process of creating this album?
FM: I feel like it’s almost got as much writing as rolled into two albums really. We could have easily released an album a year and a half ago but it wouldn’t have been as mature. It would have been somewhere in between and as much as we love Enjoy it Whilst it Lasts we were keen to make a completely new statement. So I guess the process and the question of why it took so long is because we were very critical on ourselves, not just to write good songs; the best songs we’ve written but to create new sound, environment, space and atmosphere so it didn’t seem like we ripping off American Indie bands. We were trying to establish a more European, emotional sound which is why I think people maybe think it sounds a bit 80s in some parts as they have been inspiration from bands that are on sleeve writing. It harks back to a time of a really emotionally charged frontman.
I’m forgetting the question here…
Basically, we wanted to make an album that was as honest as possible and told as much as a story. What we respect the most from each other when we write is honesty and it feels like music that has come from an honest place rather than copying something else or trying to make something cool. In places, it’s almost as funny as it is emotional. Humour is as important with dealing with pain as anything else or dealing with any situation in life. We as a band spend a lot of time making each other laugh and I think some of the lyrics of the album, on the outside they seem miserable but they deliver as funny and hopeful sometimes.
E: My favourite tracks from the album are “Decade of Decay” and “Kyote Garden”. They are both very polished sounds. Do you have a favourite track particularly on the album?
FM: “Kyote Garden” is also one of mine, but it changes. Like sometimes it’s “Don’t Make Me Try” as it’s one of the simplest in songwriting terms, but then again “All The Sad Young Men” is one of the best songs we’ve written so when we perform that live it feels really special. We all have a different favourite so it changes quite a lot and depending. I feel the songs the most when playing them live and I feel like that’s the most appreciative. Sometimes my mind wanders and I think ‘oh this is a better song than most’ but if in a bit of a song and I see audience members check their phones and stuff I think ‘oh maybe this song isn’t as good as what we thought it was’.
E: Following on from discussing your performance live, do you have any tracks you love to play live?
FM: “All The Sad Young Men” on this tour has been the one that feels like it’s taken a place where “Never Fade Away” used to be in our set. It engages people the most and unites a crowd the most. But also I’m enjoying playing the newest songs like “West End” and I like it when I actually have to remember what the lyrics are rather than just like most of the stuff from the first album I sing while thinking about other things like what I’m going to have for dinner singing songs like “Twenty Nothing”. It is noticeable at times though because it has so many lyrics and I forget so it shows the newer songs have a lot more meaning to them as I perform them live. Songs like “Chevy Thunder”, I reel off the verses and I’m just thinking about how my hair looks rather than thinking about the meaning.
E: Because of that do you perform a lot more of the new stuff so it’s a more interesting show for you?
FM: I think so but we bring back old songs to keep the performance lively like we’ve brought back “Grey Shirt and Tie” on this tour from the first album because we’ve not performed that song in what feels like years. So when we go back to an old song, you suddenly find meaning in bits that you didn’t discover before or overly critical and think this is a bit basic or whatever but it is nice to take time away from songs so you can rebuild relationships. I can’t even believe we got to a point where we have twenty-five songs to play. That seems not like we’d play them all in one set but at the start 10 songs seemed like such a lot but I can’t imagine if we make another album how we would choose the setlist. It’s like when you go see an iconic band who’ve had ten or fifteen albums and they’re choosing from a hundred songs, it’s just crazy to think how they go about that process. It’s nice to think that we grow with songs as we continue to perform them like “Never Fade Away” and “Chevy Thunder”, we’ll be playing them forever.
E: It’s nice to see the fans’ response when you play a song they’re not expecting in the set…
FM: Absolutely, and that’s why we are trying to create different sets each night of the tour because a lot of our tours have been the same setlist every night and especially now with the internet and everybody asking each other what the setlist was, I hate the idea that somebody will come to a gig and know exactly what they are going to hear and in what order. If I google setlists for gigs that I’m going to and it’s the same I feel not annoyed but it’s probably best just not to google it but people always will so it’s nice to surprise people and ourselves.
E: Keep you on your toes…
FM: Exactly, makes it feel more alive.
E: How has the tour been so far?
FM: Overall with the fan response and the change, it’s one of the best tours we’ve done. I think most by the time people go away from the shows hopefully they will want to see us again whereas we might have done gigs in the past where we haven’t been the best versions of ourselves. People might have walked away like meh, I’m not in a rush to see them again whereas this time we want to try on put on a tour where audience members will go and tell their friends to come to the next tour. I think we’re putting a lot of physical and emotional energy into the performances and I think we can just play the songs better. We have better songs, we play for longer so it feels a lot more adult to be able to put on an hour-long show and get through it rather than put on a 40-minute show and come off and need to put on an oxygen mask and sit in a wheelchair.
E: Also on this tour you’re touring with the Liverpudlian himself, Bill Ryder-Jones in certain venues who you’ve mentioned in the past you’re a massive fan of…
FM: Yeah, I’m really excited Bill Ryder-Jones to join us. I’m really excited to be playing with him and I’m a big fan of his. I always wanted to ask him about supporting but we always thought he’d say no and then he got in contact with us and asked if he could support. I was really touched by that because he’s somebody I grew up listening to and is an amazing guitarist who is really starting to establish himself as a solo artist now. Our other support Spring King have also been amazing, it’s great having a band who A) you get along with and B) put a show on that you’ve got to reckon with rather than a support who don’t challenge you. They’ve put on a great show from the start.
E: Have you had a favourite show so far on the tour?
FM: I think Manchester was hard to beat just because there was a lot of people there and it built up. At first it felt like it could go either way and then it built up, by the end it felt really joyous and celebratory. I loved the small shows as well like Newcastle and Bristol, we sold out a venue in Bristol which we’ve never done before and it felt so good like we conquered new ground in a sense. Places like Manchester and Leeds the luck has always fallen in our favour but then places like Bristol and Brighton I feel like we still need to improve ourselves.
As you mention improving yourselves live, is there anything fans can expect then from the live shows or is it always a surprise to them?
FM: Well the thing is, like I said we change the setlist every night and we don’t even know what to expect like tonight we haven’t even made a setlist for that yet. In Glasgow last night we wanted to start with something completely different so we started with Never Fade Away which shocked us as much as it did the fans. Immediately the atmosphere in the room changed, people expect you to do a song they know, a song they don’t know, a few songs they enjoy a bit and then you build up to the songs that everybody knows and starting with Never Fade Away is the most unlikely thing we could have done. We always end the set with that. So the only thing I can say that people can expect is hopefully a unique show that is different to their city than any other and a lot of energy from us and a lot of fun. The most fun part of the tour is playing live shows and the rest is just like waiting for that moment. It’s like shaking up a bottle of prosecco for 23 hours and letting it pop. The gig is the intense experience.
E: To build the intensity, do you have any pre-show rituals?
FM: We come off our phones half an hour before the gig to come back into reality. We are trying to figure something out like last night Tom played Kanye performing Bohemian Rhapsody at Glastonbury, as you can imagine it didn’t really do the job. Another thing we do is look at each other in the eyes and make eye contact with every member so you’re aware of everybody around you. Communication is so important to us. We try and impress each other now on stage as well, it’s sort of like when you’re at school and realise that everybody started to get quite good or has been doing revision and you’ve been putting less effort in and really start to think shit I haven’t been paying attention and now I can’t speak French. That was definitely what my experience at school was like.
E: Finally, what’s next for Spector?
FM: I think we’re going to capitalise on the momentum we have going on now and it feels like we’ve reinvigorated our fans again. I don’t want to leave them in the lurch again, I want to build on that relationship whether that’s touring more, bringing out new music sooner, I think we just need to stay playing to people and getting those songs out there. It feels like these songs have a life of their own and need to kind of grow. They’ve got better, we’ve got better and we’ve even already spoke about recording some new demos before Christmas. We just need to stay creative and stay focused. Our confidence is back and we know who we are now, we have an identity.
E: Well on that positive note, it has been an absolute pleasure meeting you again and thank you very much.
FM: Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the gig tonight!
Image credit: TheGuardian
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