Unlike some bands who pray for the day when they’ll be shortlisted for the BBC’s ‘Sound of…’ accolade, or mentioned in the same breath as New York indie stalwarts The Strokes, London quintet Spector have already been crowned with these two honours – and all before the band’s debut album, Enjoy It While It Lasts, was released. But Spector frontman Fred Macpherson is sceptical about all the media hype.
“With those buzz things, there are positive vibes,” Macpherson reveals. “But with them comes negativity as well. When you get media attention in the first place, it makes people feel suspicious or dubious about bands, which can be helpful for us about raising awareness so early in the year. But I think it can be a negative thing because people judge you not based on the music they know, but judge you based on an idea. But really we just tried to ignore it and not rush to get our album out to respond to that media attention earlier in the year. Overall it’s been positive, but it doesn’t make an artist at all.”
Although Spector are a relatively new indie pop rock band, Macpherson isn’t new to the scene. After stints with Les Incompétents and Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man, he decided to play around with new material without any intention of releasing it until friend-turned-Spector-guitarist Christopher Burman coaxed him to start a band with him. “It started from recording songs at home and recording demos in my bedroom and didn’t really have a plan,” he says. “And then our guitarist Chris who was working in a technology architecture think tank at the time, was my friend from school, and he convinced me to start a band. We’ve been in bands before, but he convinced me it might be fun. He was right.”
Soon after bassist Thomas Shickle, synth player and guitarist Jed Cullen and drummer Danny Blandy joined. Now that the group was complete, they needed a name. While some may think that legendary hit maker and producer Phil Spector inspired the moniker, Macpherson is quick to correct that mistake. “It wasn’t named after him actually. I was just a word or a name that I really wanted to spell the other way like ‘er’ [at the end] like an ominous negative feeling or a ghost,” he states. “Then we had to print our first single up, the first track we recorded, and we were told that name was taken. So then we changed it from ‘er’ to ‘or.’ It was just a word we liked.”
Although there’s an anthemic and dancey feel to Spector’s sound, their music gets pretty heavy on ‘Grim Reefer’ and ‘No Adventure,’ songs which were inspired by a recent heartache. “There were a couple that were in the end of the writing process where everything I was feeling was particularly down, where I recorded a few demos in the basement of my parents’ house. [I] went back and was going through a relatively difficult breakup [that happened] last year. I went and recorded these songs to kind of search the depths of how I felt about things. Two songs came out of that – one called ‘Grim Reefer’ and one called ‘No Adventure,’ which I felt were the most soulful and most honest tracks on the album.”
But not all the songs were inspired by dark moments. Without going into too much detail, ‘Never Fade Way’ was a song that seemed to appear out of thin air. “It was just written so quickly,” he states. “It just came into existence fully formed in one setting, and it almost felt like there was a certain rightness to the song because I didn’t have to try too hard. It felt like it was already in me so it came out fully formed.”
He continued, “‘Never Fade Away’ was trying to use as little music as possible to push myself to try something melodically that’s interesting. Or try to make something as pure or honest as possible, like using two fingers – one on the keyboard and one of the drum machine. That’s how the song started.”
As the band’s main songwriter, Macpherson’s songwriting process is a solo effort, with the band then later building the tracks into “big pop songs.” “The process has started off quite experimentally with all around laptops, a sound player and drum machine,” he describes. “A lot of the music came out by trying to work out how to use it and to write and how to push the equipment to the limit. The songs started as solo jams, and then the lyrics were off-the-cuff kinds of things – just saying what I was feeling at the time and writing it down as soon as possible, I guess.”
Similar to Macpherson’s spontaneous approach to writing lyrics, Spector’s music videos follow the same vein. When the band needed to film the video for ‘Celestine,’ they decided on a setting that so many other acts have used in the past. “The story behind it was that it was like other videos,” he explains. “We were trying to film the video before we left England to go play Coachella, and then we were kind of running out of time. So we had a day off in America and had a load of ideas for the video. We decided to do it between the two weekends of Coachella when we were on our way to San Francisco from Los Angeles, and we stopped in the desert. And just in a day pissed about, I guess, in the desert. We got the lights and smoke machine out and tried to make an epic desert video but also one that was taking a piss out of all the cliché videos that get made in the desert all the time. The quote in the beginning is kind of showing the number of videos made in the desert. And coming from a cold and dark place like England and London where it rains all the time, it was nothing glamorous and quite fun to make a desert video.”
Coachella isn’t the only major gig the band has gotten a chance to be part of. They have also joined Florence & the Machine as well as Kaiser Chiefs on the road as tour openers. While they have yet to embark on a major headline tour, Spector welcome the opportunities to play onstage.
“It’s good actually,” he says. “It’s been the making of us. Even outside London and [going] around England, there are so many amazing cities like Leeds and Manchester and Birmingham that make us feel as at home as in London and Sheffield as well, which is where our drummer is from. So London is definitely not the most important city to us. It’s where we’re from, but it has equal importance with so many other places. Actually spending much of this year touring paid off, and we have a genuine fan base rather than people who just respond to hyped articles. I think we’ve met a lot of our fans, and we always do our best to speak to them afterwards. Going around Europe with Florence + the Machine in the beginning of the year, which we’re going to again at the end of the year, was just such a great opportunity – to play so many cities that wouldn’t necessarily get the chance to go to on a headline tour. We get to play to a couple thousand people, who are her fans, which has been an honour. We love touring even when it gets difficult.”
And if you’ve had the chance to catch Spector live, they throw themselves into every performance. “We see every show as an extension of the idea of what Spector is and fulfil the song’s potential, which is why we throw ourselves into it performance-wise. To build up the audience’s energy as well, you need to give them something so they can give you back something. It’s almost like making an electric circuit or something between you and the audience. You have to meet in the middle. We enjoy performing a lot so we just throw ourselves into it. Every so often there are bad shows where we’re not moving around as much or enjoying it. But usually when we’re onstage we like having a good time where we muster up all the energy, which makes it more tiring. It’s such an intense experience with an hour or 45 minutes [of performing]. Then you come off stage and feel like you’ve been at the gym or something. It’s good because it means that each show has this kind of very certain intense experience, and I think live shows should be.”
With everyone’s economic woes in mind, Macpherson wants to make sure that each fan gets what they paid for – if not more. “The shows I’ve enjoyed the most were the ones that are loud and full of energy and emotion and intensity I guess, and we try to make it fun and want people to have fun, especially at a time when people don’t have much money to go to shows,” he conveys. “It’s expensive and a bit of let down if the band you love and you go to see end up just going through the motions and singing the songs. It’s important to us that anyone who’s come to see us gets on the Spector train.”
Enjoy It While It Lasts is available now, and Spector plan to take the music on the road playing “38 dates between October and November.” And after that? “Maybe by the end of that, I may feel that I’ve had it all and might take my own life in the back of the bus,” he joked. “But I’ll take it as it comes.”