More about: Fischerspooner
Fischerspooner's widescreen electronic masterpiece, Sir, is an immersive experience that's as heartbreaking as it is exhilarating.
Opening the cd case is like opening the pages to the most personal diaries of a man who's going through one of the toughest yet empowering periods in his life - he was going through the unravelling of numerous relationships at the time of writing.
But - as we find out in the below interview; and this is just one of the myraid complexities to this beast of an album - he manages to weave counter narratives. He weaves in a structuralist view on how human life is being impacted by shifts in technology with something as universal and as doom-laden break up songs, or an uplifting party anthem by someone rediscovering their identity and freedom.
Helping give this depth to this album is it's visual aspect. Spooner's exhibition in Vienna and select music videos correlate importantly to the narrative.
Particularly arresting is the video to lead single 'Togetherness'. It manages to question cliche's of the aesthetic in entertainment. Through broadcasting from his home as opposed to a studio it's a dramatic reminder of the shift in how people are wanting to consume their media - and Hollywood needs to catch up.
Another aspect we touch on in the interview below too is how political of an album it is. He's "outspoken about queerness to possibly help other people have something to connect to and not feel lonely and feel support and to push against the neo-conservatism of American politics."
Soundscaping this narrative is Warren Fischer's stylish beats that can appeal to a massively wide spectrum of music fans. Fans of trip-hop, industrial post-punk, electro pop, and ambient esoteric electronic music, which is more readily released on obscure indie labels, will find much to enjoy here.
This depth gives it power; he's able to use his power to make something traverse more boundaries champion the most bludgeoned voices.
Given my love of this record, it's with pleasure that we meet singer Casey Spooner, who is over in London on a press day. Sitting at an oval glass table, populated with far more water bottles than we could need and only half an hour to chat we delve into the creative process of this career highlight.
C = Cai Tefor
S = Casey Spooner
C: Hi Casey we been a while. Your last interview with Gigwise was in 2008. Wasn't me though. I was in Patagonia, picked up on your lyric in the album about there as well. Have you ever been there?
S: Yeah, I love Patagonia. I went to Torres Del Paine. Hiked up to the top to the glacial lagoon.
C: Where the sun rises and the mountain goes pink?
S: Where you can stay on the waterfall. We hiked up there and went skinny dipping in the glacial lagoon.
C: At like 6am or something?
S: No, it was like a day. We performed at Lollapalooza in Santiago and then I was writing travel stuff for the New York Times and so there was some fan who worked at the tourism bureau for Chile and there was a small hotel and a excursions company. They offered me a trip so I went to basically write about it and do this trip and I took all the dancers from the show. Me and a couple of the dancers stayed in Patagonia for about four or five days and we hiked and kayaked.
C: Was that before you started to write?
S: Yeah, that lyric is from a long time ago.
C: So you've kind of taken time between albums, does this album hinge on more recent activity in your life?
S: Ironically there wasn't that much time off because we recorded the last record in 2009. I toured that through 2011. I took a year off until 2012 and then I started writing this record in January 2013. I really only took one year off but it took about three years for us to finish the record. Basically I wrote one record then Michael Stipe got involved and threw out half the record. Then I rewrote it again. I felt like I wrote a record and a half and then the release was delayed for a year while we looked for a release partner. It was all these weird things.
C: One of the things that struck me about it - more relating to the first song - you talked about going to the beaches of Fire Island off the New York coast. Did you go out there post break-up?
S: No, my post break up summer, well I had a few breakups. In summer 2015, I went to Madrid for a month. I went to Berlin and I went to Greece. I called that my summer of recovery. I kind of took that summer, had an amazing summer in Madrid.
C: Did you record some of that and put it into the album.
S: Yeah, the song 'Stranger Strange' is about an affair in Madrid. That was that summer. I didn't end up in Fire Island until I came back from my big break up and my summer of recovery. Then I started dating a much younger guy who was super into Fire Island.
C: So you call it the summer of recovery, so was there something about nature that healing?
S: My identity was so tied to my relationship that I had an identity crisis where I'd imagined myself in this unit tied to this person forever. I really thought that. When that dissolved I really didn't know how to identify who I was because I didn't really know who I was outside of the relationship. I'd been in it so long. It was more like this moment of rediscovering myself.
C: Do you hear that journey over the script of the album?
S: It's not just about this one large breakup, there's many different kind of relationships in the record and that's what I'm trying to also talk about is a queerness and a different kind of relationship in relationships.
Spooner has an exhibition of photographs created Austrian modern and contemporary art museum Mumok with images he worked on with photographer Yuki James, which feature his creative partners, lovers, himself, and friends in various states of nakedness.
C: One of the thing that was interesting is you had an exhibition in Vienna, through the photographs being stood there with your friends lovers and creative partners, You seem to be questioning the ways we're taught sex can interfere with friendship.
S: Yeah, it's all about questioning heteronormative relationships in sex and intimacy and how you can have a one night stand and it can lead to a great friendship or romance or it can just be a fantastic memory. There's lots of different kind of relating to people that I think our...they're diminished by straight culture. This is an intent to talk about a wide range of relationships and how they can be a positive.
C: A lot of music now isn't particularly subversive or rebellious and upholds a lot of the values indoctrinated through school, parents. Why do you think that is?
S: It's just narratives. They're also narratives you just don't hear. There's people who are running show business or literature business and what they're financing or what the stories they're drawn to aren't necessarily always these...
C: You were described by Michael Stipe as having a fearlessness or just being truthful about your emotions because a lot of people have conflict about how they express themselves whereas you strike me as someone who doesn't have that barrier.
S: Yeah, I guess so. I don't feel like I'm fearless but maybe that's what makes me fearless is that I'm not thinking about it?
C: Perhaps you
S: Overshare? *laughs*
C: Another thing he is complimentary of is you changing the pronouns to get rid of the ambiguity of gender of people involved in your stories.
S: Yeah, that was his challenge to me on this record. It was to be more emotive and especially to make a record about queerness and sexuality that had intimacy and emotion. I think a lot of gay sex is void of emotion and intimacy. Not like that's a bad thing but it's different. The physical versus the emotional. It's hard to say because I have these experiences of people where it can be this fleeting thing but there's a lot of energy and emotion in it and it's a positive. It doesn't mean you're necessarily going to see each other again or needs to have a lengthy commitment or friendship but you can have these powerful emotional connections that are asexual.
C: Do you find it a privilege to be able to express yourself freely about your sexuality. If you were from another country - Russia for example -it would be a lot more difficult.
S: Yeah, that definitely feels very much like an important part of this album. This visibility and being outspoken about queerness to possibly help other people have something to connect to and not feel lonely and feel support and to push against the neo-conservatism of American politics.
C: Was it always in the back of your mind that you could use art and theatre to create social change?
S: No. I was more conceptual or philosophical. I felt like my role as an artist was to try and advance language. Because an artist deals with outside of prescribed modes of production, an artist has the opportunity to almost react more quickly to culture in the states of affairs. In a way, they're the pioneers of what language will be, what visual language or what it is. I had seen myself as someone who was forging new languages and trying to update narratives. I think this record is about updating narratives because we're going through so many changes in terms of technology. All of a sudden my sexuality is changing a lot because of it. I'm meeting people outside of my socioeconomic background because all of a sudden everyone has a phone and has apps and has a way of interconnecting. So I'm reflecting these new narratives that didn't exist 10 years ago.
C: Hence the journey at the beginning, you're remembering these places like Madrid and others and the connections that happen digitally.
S: Yeah, there's a lot of crazy connections now. Even the record cover was shot by 15:18 in Madrid. It wasn't a proper shoot, it wasn't a label that called a person who had a budget etc. I just ended up in Madrid and someone sent me a message on some interface and I just said yes. Then I end up with someone making an amazing image and then that ends up being the record cover.
C: Were you empowered by that? You said you had to find a release partner so you weren't under any sort of constraints.
S: I find that when we first started working creatively on this project, we would make a song, a performance, a photograph, a costume, a film. So all these things would grow simultaneously beating off of each other. Then once that creation was done, the internet took off and we had this whole world that was built for the internet so Napster just absorbed and the internet just took years of image making and all of a sudden it was an idea built for this new digital era. Then once we partnered with more traditional music business, it didn't make sense because of the way they structure...you know, it's music so I had to spend two years focused only on songs and I wasn't doing film or performance or photography so I couldn't really deliver the depth of visual language.
C: So would you say that the first record and this record are two of the most fulfilling records?
S: Well I'd say the second record was challenging because I didn't realise what my process was until my process fell apart. Then I knew I had to develop image and performance and film and photography simultaneously. I did that on Entertainment, so that was really a return - taking everything I learnt from the challenges of Odyssey and applying that to Entertainment but then we had difficulty on that release because of the economic collapse in 2008. So that really stunted that album. This one is different because Michael [Stipe] is the biggest difference. He had a lot of influence over the songwriting in the way you hear my voice and the way storytelling comes through.
C: You said he made you sing through two or three times before he would call it, so he was trying to take out the robotics of it.
S: That's a very different kind of process. On Odyssey, on 'Never Win', it's very difficult for me to get through the second verse because it's edited in such a way that there's nowhere for me to breathe. I love style and Warren [Fischer] is like the king of style and so style and structure is getting through to something real formal. Michael is coming from a different perspective where it's about performance and emotion and humanity. The merging of Warren's sense of style and Michael's sense of humanity.
C: So there was you Warren, Michael, and another guy involved in the writing?
S: Michael works a lot with Andy LeMaster. So then Michael, Andy and I wrote a lot of the songs together.
C: So was that down in Michael's house?
S: In Georgia, yeah. I started writing in New York and then we went through a period of doing a lot of songwriting in Georgia and then we did the final push of songwriting in New York.
C: So you were stuck together like family then for a bit.
S: Yeah, that's normal though. When I go into a new creative cycle, you build a new creative family and work with that group for a period of time.
C: Did it feel like a collaboration long overdue, because you'd known him for so long? [Michael Stipe was Casey Spooner’s first boyfriend - they met in 1988]
S: No, we were so different. I didn't think we'd connect in a way. His sound and style were so different to mine. He came into work on one song and that was at the end of the record. Then he started giving me notes. He accidentally ended up
C: Becoming a fan of what you'd initially written or?
S: I think he liked being able to work on music and he'd missed it. It's something he'd worked on for a really long time and he walked away from it. I think he liked working on it through me because it freed him from his history so he could share his knowledge and experience and me a mentor. I also think that he started writing as me, for me, through me? So I became a mask for him. That was interesting. I have a lot of experience as a performer, so it was almost like he was a director and I was an actor and he was working as like a scriptwriter? So he's writing a script for a character that's co-developing but based on my real life?
C: Would you have long conversations and you'd draw from that?
S: Oh yeah, he would want to know everything that was going on in my life. We'd have these long "what happened? Who'd you fuck? Where did you go?"
C: And he's like your editor?
S: Yeah, yeah. Then I would share all my experiences. He wouldn't really talk, he wouldn't say "this song is going to be about this". We just spent a lot of time together. Also I needed him because I was going through a lot emotionally. To go to Georgia was a way for me to go and hide.
C: I suppose when you first went there you went there on a downer. You said you wanted to go to art college?
S: Oh shit yeah. I ended up in Athens by accident. I tried to go to Coopers Union and didn't get in. When I was 18 I went there as a sort of failed artist.
C: Then Michael helped you out of a hole again?
S: Well that was a whole different thing. I was 18 and wasn't gay yet. I wasn't into R.E.M at that point. I was more into Grace Jones and we ended up meeting, connecting and having an affair. That was amazing, crazy and tumultuous.
C: So one of the things you talked about was changing the thesis of Fischerspooner to be relevant. You said a lot of the ideas you talked about had become ubiquitous, so do you feel the new Fischerspooner has more to say?
S: There aren't a lot of older gay men speaking openly about emotion and sex and queer narrative. Just being myself seems unusual in popular entertainment. I just couldn't do crazy costumes and tons of make up. The avant pop thing had passed, so it was trying to find a new persona - this older sexual man.
C: This new persona invites people into the house too. In order to share how open you're being, the video was filmed in your house?
S: Yeah, 'Togetherness' is filmed in my apartment. I was looking for a location and character. A lot of Fischerspooner style had been about style and subverting the fantasy of production. It was about stage and sound and photo studios. I did a shoot in my apartment with this photographer Uki James and he asked me to shoot nude. Taking clothes away, taking the stage away and shooting in a personal space, all of a sudden felt like the beginning of a new way of presenting something that was about intimate, sexual culture and what's public. Fischerspooner always been about attacking the clichés of entertainment and entertainment is no longer sound stages, it's peoples apartments. I'm watching people perform themselves in private stages all the time.
C: Through Instagram?
S: Yeah, exactly.
C: By doing that, you're not mirroring it. You're subverting it?
S: I'm not sure. That's the danger. When are you reflecting and when are you participating.
C: In pop music, it's commonly said that if you write in a universal way people will connect with it. But I feel more connection because of the honesty that you make it very personal. But I know you've expressed issues with the idea of sincerity before.
S: I have issues with the constructs of sincerity. What is it? I'm a formalist and I love style and presentation. Just because you're talking about something personal in a simple way, doesn't mean it's good. It doesn't mean people will connect so it does need to have balance between the formal and the emotive. That's the thing that's difficult to strike. You can easily slip into a terrible singer songwriter with a guitar talking about a personal experience and it's excruciating.
C: You think that idea of 'real music' has had a downer on a lot of art?
S: You get into trouble when you start talking about sincerity and authenticity because in aesthetic purity is an authenticity. It can be like Eve Kline Blue, do you call that? What is that? That has a resonance to it, that has an energy to it. Or like a Rothco, it's abstract but it has a lot of power. I think people sometimes talk about authenticity and they think that's in the first person telling a story in a very linear way. That's not necessarily the case. That's where I think Michael is a magician. He has a way of putting the intense energy in it and it doesn't have to be first person or singular in narrative. One of the songs that has the most emotion is 'Butterscotch Goddamn' and when we working on it I don't really know what he means by a lot of the words he wrote. Somehow I as a performer, I know how to create connections to abstraction that allows me to put real emotion into it. That's when you get something cool.
C: You've lost me. You create an abstraction?
S: It's like when you do a play and learn a script, there's words and you have to...when we use language there's what the words say and what we're saying. There's an underneath intention. Acting is knowing and connecting with the words but writing a mental subtext to it that colour those words.
For example, this is the way it works for me and it's how I connect to Michael's writing and singing. I was in a production of Hamlet and I had to do a monologue about Laertes when he discovers that Ophelia’s drowned. I had a really hard time because I wasn't trained with traditional acting technique, but I had a breakthrough when I started delivering...you can go down the sappy sad monologue thing. What I realised after doing the play for a while is I was thinking about the sister and father and you realise the mother is never talked about in Hamlet. Then I got into this weird thing about "oh shit, there was a history of mental illness in the family". When she dies he's not only upset of her death, he's terrified that he has inherited mental illness. There's not just sadness, it's also fear. When I connect to Michael's writing, I'm insinuating a lot of subtext into words through other things that are personal but without saying them.
C: I want to ask about the decision of stripping the reverb back and everything, bringing rawness through. Does this help make it more emotive?
S: I do think Michael told Warren to stay out of the songwriting. I think Warren in the past had a different way. When Michael made a boundary where Warren wasn't allowed to edit any of the vocals, it gave me a lot of freedom to invest more. In the past I'd invest and make a lot of time and thought into lyrics that Warren would change and throw out. After a lot of time it felt diminishing and I had a lot of time investing when I knew it would be edited to 4 lines and changed and pitch shifted. It became difficult for me to be invested in the lyrics. Michael created this boundary where I had control over the lyrics. It gave me the motivation to be more invested. I think I always wrote the same, but now the writing is surviving the process.
It's sounding great. Thanks for your time.
More about: Fischerspooner