Spector: Now or whenever

Back with their first album in six years, indie darlings Spector are a testament to hard work and not giving up.
Photo: Patrick Gunning

Back with their first album in six years, indie darlings Spector are a testament to hard work and not giving up.

Words: Alex Cabré.Photos: Patrick Gunning.

“I want our career to be like Kings Of Leon in reverse,” quips Spector’s Fred Macpherson. “We started with wanting to write ‘Use Somebody’ and ‘Sex On Fire’. Now we’re getting to our… what was the second album?”

Indeed, the London outfit – co-helmed by Jed Cullen, who joins us in the next Zoom box over – are past the stadium-smashing, everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach their name was once synonymous with. Their third long-player is ‘Now Or Whenever’, a pared-back affair whose scratchy lo-fi sound could easily be taken from ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’, if not for the cosmopolitan sheen that makes it unmistakeably Spector. 

‘Now Or Whenever’ began when the band came off tour at the end of 2019. Feeling more confident as performers than ever, Fred and Jed aimed to capture the rapturous energy of a Spector gig and channel it into recording. 

“That last tour we went on… it felt like we could finally play,” Fred recalls. “By nature of Jed and I being the last two standing in the band, he’s grown as a guitarist, and I’ve grown as a vocalist. When we started, I was belting out all the tunes, and he was belting out big power chords – bam, bam, bam. We’ve learnt a bit more restraint, and through that, it’s meant we can perform the songs in a way that I’d hope are more akin to the spirit of our live show.”

“The live shows mean quite a lot to us,” adds Jed. “They feel like a big part of Spector. But only a certain amount of people have been to our gigs and seen that.”

Producer Rich Turvey (Blossoms, Oscar Lang) acted as a guiding hand throughout the process, Fred notes. “[He] was a good influence at reminding us we were there to complete an album. That meant it was the quickest album we’ve made by a long way. That was a really good part of the process because it meant we couldn’t go away picking at it for weeks or months on end. We had to move on with our lives.”

You sense the more organic arrangements across the record. Sure, in places, the guitars still fizz like sherbet, the bass still thunders with the heft of an oncoming tube train. But where 2015’s ‘Moth Boys’ got its cool from its sterile disco-chic production, ‘Now Or Whenever’ feels warmer, more honest. ‘Do You Wanna Drive’ is a rose-tinted slow builder that invites the listener “back into ubiquity” with a moshpit-ready closing fold. ‘Norwegian Air’ and ‘Funny Way of Showing It’, meanwhile, benefit from the input of co-writer Jack Kaye of The Magic Gang. You hear his influence in the latter’s sunny, stop-start rhythm.

Perhaps the record’s biggest twist is ‘I’m Not Crying You’re Crying’. It’s an intimate vignette, a swirling cut of 70s loungecore that was penned with artist/producer M.T. Hadley, who has also worked on tracks by Metronomy and Nilüfer Yanya.

“We did a lot of experiments writing with different people,” says Jed. “Martin’s influence was what gave ‘I’m Not Crying’ a really different sound, but it still felt very much like a Spector song.”

At the other end of the scale, ‘An American Warehouse in London’ is the album’s bombastic climax. “There’s sunlight in the lens / You know how this one ends,” Fred croons on it, over noxious synthesisers. It reads like a love letter to their metropolitan roots, envisaged in glistening widescreen grandeur, but, like the best Spector songs, there’s a bitterness nestled behind its immediate sugar rush.

“I think it acts as a kind of coda to the spirit of the album,” Fred explains. “The thrust of a lot of what we write about is… a passage of time. How people change, how relationships change. Friends come and go, and you’re left with imprints or talismans of relationships, ideas based on things that have happened that somehow come to mean more to you than the real relationship. We spend so much time narrating our own lives and trying to make sense of them in some romantic fairy-tale way that when reality meets the storyline, you’re often left disappointed. When people don’t live up to your expectations of them, and you don’t live up to your expectations of other people, you can often be left with a kind of sad reality.”

If there’s something ‘Now Or Whenever’ does better than any past Spector records, it’s the one-liners. Fred has always been a pro lyricist, dicing up heartbreak and misery with puns that would make most rappers jealous. ‘Do You Wanna Drive’ opens with a real gem.

“To me, ‘midlands summer nights dream’ is the dumbest lyric on there. It’s so ridiculous in its formation of, like, mixing the two themes. That’s why we try and put those in.”

“I want our career to be like Kings Of Leon in reverse”

Fred Macpherson

“It’s like when David Blaine does clever tricks that are really simple, then he’ll do a camera trick where he flies, and everyone’s like ‘oh my god, that’s amazing!'” Jed adds. “You’re mixing in little tricks with things you’ve thought about so deeply, but those things that happen really quickly can mean so much to people. It’s great. And that is a great lyric because that puts you in a real place.” 

“With this album, we were trying to be more chill in the approach. I don’t like it when you can hear the writing in lyrics, when it seems like something’s the tenth draft,” states Fred. “I like it when something feels like it’s come naturally. You don’t wanna be the guitarist who’s solo-ing over everything. You don’t wanna be Matt Bellamy. I mean, unless you are him, then that’s great.

“One thing I’ve realised is how prudish we are in a lot of our lyrics,” he tangents. “You listen to Pulp, how much sex there is in everything. Which is the reality of being a teenager. You listen to Spector songs, it’s almost implied that teenage relationships are some Shakespearean thing full of honour in a sexless universe. It shows that everyone has things that they’re comfortable with or not.”

“That’s what indie music sounds like,” Jed points out. “It sounds like people who’ve never had sex.”

For the twosome, ‘Now Or Whenever’ marks a decade of creating music together. As such, it finds them navel-gazing deeper than ever before, as much about the band itself as the events that inform it.

“Have you seen the Marvel Loki series?” Fred asks. “No spoilers, but it’s written to kind of explain the notion of different timelines. In a similar way, I do believe there are simultaneous versions of Spector that went on to be the biggest band in the world or went on to break up after a few gigs without a first album. Our version of reality is somewhere between the two. Probably closer to the band that broke up than to the biggest band in the world. It’s strange making music ten years after writing your first songs, and it still existing alongside.”

Back when Spector began, they were hyped to no end with the suggestion that chart success and world fame were soon to follow. For the most part, they didn’t. It doesn’t take a genius to see that being in the band all this time has been a hell of a rollercoaster. Have there ever been conversations about packing it all in?

“Well, a lot of members have packed it in!” Fred laughs. “Being a touring musician, getting paid very little or trying to maintain a career, it’s not for everyone. It just so happens that, for whatever reason, we’re still here. I don’t think Jed and I have had a discussion like ‘shall we end it?’ It’s more ‘shall we do it?’, you know what I mean?”

“I remember having a text conversation with Fred, trying to figure out what music even means to [us],” Jed starts. “I hold music in such a high place. It’s mystical. When I was growing up, it was almost like a religious thing. I still don’t quite understand it. It’s almost like being together and writing a good song is this release. It’s this feeling of touching the infinite or something. It’s really great to have this space to be able to do it with Fred. Without any form to it, it could kind of drive you crazy, trying to grab this thing which you believe is magical, ectoplasm of music. I don’t know,” he trails off.

“I’m glad for once it’s not me talking the most shit!” Fred chirps.

During that 2019 tour, Spector played in London to a sold-out Oval Space. It was a raucous evening of wet walls and sad bangers. During the set, Fred commented on the trajectory of the band. He noted how to that point, they’d been playing smaller and smaller venues, but now it felt like they were on the way up again. It was a touching and candid moment, validation of the connection between the band and their deeply devoted fanbase.

“Often bands break up when they go to play and people don’t care, but we go out and see so many people that this means such a lot to,” Fred says now. “When that’s reflected back at you, you’re like, fuck, this is a privilege. We’re definitely not gonna get that forever, so while there are people who can engage with this as deeply as they do, I feel duty-bound to maintain that connection and experience.”

The Zoom call times out. He pops back up a minute later. “I was just thinking of a quote for you: Spector is what happens when a band doesn’t break up.”

“Spector is what happens when a band doesn’t break up”

Fred Macpherson

Life has changed for Fred and Jed since their adolescent days of combed-back hair and smarmy, semi-ironic music videos (find the ‘Friday Night…’ clip on YouTube, it’s a corker). They’re in their 30s, calmer and “definitely less arrogant” than back then. The biggest change for Fred is soon to come, though: he mentioned recently on Twitter that he and his girlfriend are expecting.

“Yes, it is my baby,” he smiles. 

There are a couple of references to burgeoning fatherhood on ‘Now Or Whenever’, if you listen closely. “Pregnancy test in the recycling / Avocados ripening,” he near whispers on the folky penultimate ‘This Time Next Year’.

“That song is one I’m most proud of as an exercise in doing something we haven’t done before. I said to Jed, I want to write a song that is just guitar and vocal. Jed said that if it’s just guitar and vocal, the guitar and vocal have to be really good. That one was like, you sit down, and you don’t have a song idea in mind… you just write the first things that come into your head. It’s a nice one that has a bit of real-life [in it].” 

“I think a Spector album about family would be as enjoyable as a Spector album about sex, but we will see how these things influence us moving forward,” he says, his tone turning more serious. “I definitely don’t know what being a parent is like. Five years ago, if someone had told me that might be something happening in my life, I probably would have tried to run away as far as possible. But much like not being in the biggest band in the world, these are things we get used to as we get older.

“You have to live life for the music to stay interesting,” he surmises.

For now, domesticity can wait. Jed, Fred and the rest of the gang are due to head out on a UK and European tour in a few weeks, with a night at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on the calendar for November.

“It would be good to do Shepherds Bush and grow from there,” Jed says, on the topic of aspirations. “I mean, that might not happen. Like Fred says, things ebb and flow. We played Shepherds Bush after the first album, and that was the point where we started to shrink. Now we’ve got it booked [again], it’d be great to sell a lot of tickets and continue where we left off”.

“It’s almost like we’re back to the biggest point in England we were at then,” Fred adds, optimism in his tone.

“It’s not like there’s a pot of gold at the end of Shepherds Bush…” starts Jed.

Fred cuts him off: “We left it backstage last time!”

Taken from the October 2021 edition of Dork. Spector’s album ‘Now Or Whenever’ is out 7th January.

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