It’s been a long time since anyone from Clash spoke to Fischerspooner, so it’s not without some apprehension that we wait to accept a call from frontman Casey Spooner. After all, he once famously dialled IPC Media and demanded to know whose cock he would have to suck to get on the front page of the NME…
The joke’s on Casey this time, though – we’re doing this for online, so there isn’t a cover up for grabs, and despite the sexual energy that runs through much of their work fellatio remains definitively off the table.
Which isn’t to suggest that Casey isn’t overwhelmingly charming. He is, and with new album ‘SIR’ – their first in a decade – just about to be released, the frontman is bursting with enthusiasm in our brisk, buoyant, and purely platonic phone call.
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It wasn’t always like that, though. A band driven by excess, Fischerspooner’s expensive ambitions saw them released from Capitol, while the rigors of music took it out on the duo, completely by producer Warren Fischer. 2009’s ‘Entertainment’ was followed by fallow, silent years, in which Casey Spooner did virtually everything apart from make music.
“I just was over the music business, because it didn’t seem to…” his voice trails over, before there’s an audible sigh. “It wasn’t an easy fit for us. So after ‘Entertainment’ I felt like I had learned everything I needed to learn from the music business, and I had decided to return to my original intention of working in performance and being a fine artist. So I made a feature film, that I wrote, and produced, and directed, and I did an online series of interviews about the creative process. I made two books, I was in two plays.”
It’s not as if you’ve been slacking, Clash offers.
“Well, I mean it’s been difficult for us working in the music business, and it’s not any path that I originally aimed for,” he says, with a clear trace of exasperation in his voice. “I thought I was going to have a more traditional career as a fine artist and as a performer.”
“It’s had some challenges because I work in a very unusual way. I’m not a traditional musician because I invest in the performance and the image and overseeing all the creative. And I’ve learned that I need to be working in all those things simultaneously, so I can’t just isolate and write songs, I have to be making images and performances and developing the whole creative direction all at the same time. So that took a while for me to figure out.”
New album ‘SIR’ was written with enormous freedom, with Fischerspooner able to set their own timetable. It’s been a long time coming, sure, but a lot of that has to do with the industry itself, rather than any sense of creative block on the part of the one-time electroclash darlings. It’s a definitely Fischerspooner record, but ‘SIR’ also benefits from outside voices – notably Casey’s former partner Michael Stipe, who came on board as producer.
“I thought I was done with the record by the spring of 2014,” he recalls, “and the last song I wanted to write was this track that Warren had given me called ‘Empty’. It was very difficult, kind of Brutalist, and I asked Michael to come in and help me write on it - I had several noteable people come in to try and help me, and no one could quite figure it out. And Michael came in and very quickly he found a way to write over this very difficult piece of music.”
Asked to take an official role, the former R.E.M. singer was initially reluctant, before hurling himself into the project.
“Michael threw out half the songs that I had written for the record, and we started all over again!” Casey says amid gales of laughter.
What was it like to have someone throw away all of those songs?
He voice turns slightly coy: “Oh you know… I was really thankful to have the opportunity to learn from him!” “Those songs still exist, they didn’t make sense for his vision of what this record could be. Those songs can come back and they can be on another record, or I could give them to another artist, that’s the thing… Just because it got cut doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or that it couldn’t come back one day.”
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Much of the material on ‘SIR’ is frank, and deeply personal, making it all the more remarkable that Casey Spooner would share his songwriting with someone he knew so intimately.
“I always wrote from a very personal place,” he insists. “Songs like ‘Emerge’ were very tied to specific personal and emotional times in my life. But Michael’s taste leans a little bit more towards the raw, so he wanted my vocal to be a little bit more naked, he wanted my writing to be less edited. And he kind of kept Warren and I from over-working things.”
“So a lot of times it would be Warren’s first demo and my first take that would end up as the foundation of the song, and in the past Warren and I would have gone back and forth for months and years exploring the ideas of… an icy perfection. And Michael really felt that we should let go of that iciness and let our voices be a little bit more natural.”
“To me, the writing was the same, and in a lot of ways it was easier,” he explains. “Songs like ‘Stranger Strange’… the spine of that song was done in the first take, and I kind of know that my best ideas usually come in the first three takes. And then Michael was there for me personally, so he knew what was happening in my life, so everyone involved were all really good at taking my experiences. I believe in style and I’m a formalist, so I think that this record is a perfect blend of the personal and stylish.”
The final ingredient on ‘SIR’ comes from guest producer BOOTS, who became involved alongside frequent collaborator Stuart White. The pair accentuated Michael Stipe’s urge towards raw simplicity, while adding a pop edge all of their own. The duo’s involvement peaks on ‘Have Fun Tonight’, one of the most sensual moments on a record that riffs on the pleasures of the flesh.
“He had more of a pop sensibility,” Casey says. “The original arrangement was a little bit more elongated, for it was more like Moroder, this long disco track. BOOTS wanted to start with the chorus up front, so he had a big impact on structure and the programming. He and Warren really would geek out together on the programming.”
Stuart White, meanwhile, excelled during the final mixdown. “We’re not those kind of songwriters where you write the song, play it on the record, and then the mixing happens,” the singer reveals. “It’s really… the mixing is the writing. We’d have to go through and edit out all the things we don’t need and just keep the most essential elements. So mixing is writing, for us.”
It wouldn’t be fair to describe Fischerspooner as studio boffins, however. Casey Spooner in particular views the project as a multi-dimensional arts entity, a visual and aural experience that touches on several different disciplines. The pair made their return to the stage at the tail end of last year, with a mobbed show in their old stomping ground of Brooklyn.
So, was he nervous?
“Oh God no!” exclaims Casey, with a voice that positively erupts. “Are you kidding?! No no no… I love the stage! I felt great. It was an amazing show, it felt exciting. All the elements came together, it had the right balance of sexuality and emotion and queerness and costume and lights and dancers but not the way Fischerspooner had been in the past. Which was the challenge – how to evolve the thesis of Fischerspooner, stay relevant but still move forward.”
‘SIR’ certainly moves Fischerspooner forward – their first album in a decade, it’s less a reinvention but more a stubborn advance, staying true to certainly principles while overhauling their sound and techniques. The question is, though, will fans have to wait another decade before this happens again…
“Oh boy!” he gasps. “Let’s just see how it goes. If people are nice to us then we get what we want, and maybe I’ll give you some more.”
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'SIR' is out now.
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