Manchester garage-rockers Spring King aren’t your average indie hopefuls. They don’t drink, they don’t cheat and they don’t fight. They do play till they puke, though, as Jonny Ensall finds out
When Spring King play live, they play hard. So hard that sometimes frontman Tarek Musa loses his dinner to the floor. “At the 100 Club I chucked up between songs,” he recalls over a burrito in Liverpool. “And then at [London venue] Heaven. Backstage, this guy was like, ‘Yo, great set!’ and I threw up on his shoes.” Tarek is Spring King’s singer and drummer, and a “burrito encore” (“it’s always after a burrito”) is what happens when he attempts both with the same furious energy during one of the band’s sweat-drenched, 100-mile-an-hour live shows.
If on record Spring King’s songs sound like they were thrashed out in a smashed-up bathroom, it’s because many of them were. Spring King began when Tarek challenged himself to write and record a song a day in the unused privy of his family home outside Manchester. “I think I racked up about 70 of them,” he says. “If I hadn’t finished it that day, I deleted the track.” The band’s debut album ‘Tell Me If You Like To’, out June 10, is a brilliant edit of his bloodthirsty appetite for songwriting. Standout tracks ‘City’, ‘Who Are You?’ and ‘Rectifier’ are power-punch garage-pop, and so easy to sing along with they make The Stone Roses’ ‘All For One’ sound like a Radiohead B-side.
Tonight, Liverpool is the city doing the singing – but not just because Tarek and the rest of the band (Pete Darlington on lead guitar, Andy Morton on rhythm and James Green on bass) are in town. Spring King’s date at the Arts Club falls on the same evening Liverpool FC play in the Europa League final and the atmosphere in the city could be described as “pissed”. So it’s Spring King vs the football – although Tarek’s battle will likely be more akin to Man V. Food.
It’s tempting, seeing how they play, to think of Spring King as a bunch of indie hopefuls who’ll fall apart in a spectacular frenzy of drink, drugs and ill-advised tweets – but that’s not likely, reckons Pete. “To turn up hungover to a gig is kind of disrespectful,” he says. “Also, I’m short and skinny and only have one vein, so I get pissed after a single pint.”
If they have allegiance to any city it’s not Manchester but Liverpool, where Tarek studied music and where their friends, in bands such as Stealing Sheep and All We Are, hang out. “We’d never fit in with that Manchester scene,” says James, the excitable one. “Our look is too nerdy.” Style-wise they tread the fine line between grungy insouciance and plain old laziness. Tarek tried to up the fashion ante by wearing a shirt for their recent appearance on Later… With Jools Holland, but it backfired. “Elton John was there,” he says with a grimace. “He looked me up and down and said, ‘At least some of us made an effort!’”
Really, Spring King are just four nice, geeky twentysomethings. They don’t drink on tour and they don’t fall out – which is handy, because they’ve spent hours cramped together in Tarek’s mum’s Honda saloon. Early tours in support of Courtney Barnett and Slaves made them “deathly ill” says Andy, as they struggled to hold down day jobs too. While James worked at an insurance company and Pete at a bakery, Andy had a job cleaning out cages at an owl sanctuary – at least for a while. “I accidentally bashed an owl on the head with a broom and killed it,” he says. “I thought nobody would notice, but a few days later I was called into the office. They were like, ‘We’ve just found a dead barn owl with its legs sticking out of a bin bag…’” It was in June 2015 when things took a sharp turn for the better. Entirely out of the blue, Zane Lowe played ‘City’ as the first song on Apple’s Beats 1 radio station. The phones started ringing, and within months Spring King had signed with Island Records. “It’s a crazy story,” admits Pete.
Listen through once, and ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ sounds cheap, dirty and easy – in the best possible way. With Tarek producing, there’s just as much scuzz as those bathroom sessions. “I was always limited in the house, and I like that challenge,” he grins. Listen again, however, and you might detect a hint of loneliness and desperation behind the poppy front. “Tonight I just wanna be somebody else, somebody new,” Tarek wails on ‘Who Are You?’. It’s a bit like The Beach Boys, I suggest – sad songs that sound happy. “I’ll take that,” says Tarek. “I love Brian Wilson… I spent years alone, with my parents coming in and out of my life,” he goes on. “My dad’s always lived abroad. My mum followed him, trying to keep a steady relationship going. I was spending months on my own, with just Pete or Andy coming over. That’s why I connected with Brian Wilson, in a way, because he had a bit of a weird upbringing as well. But I don’t compare myself to him. The guy’s a genius.”
Three quarters of an hour before stage time at the Arts Club, Liverpool FC lose to Sevilla and the city stops drinking to celebrate and starts drinking to forget. Inside the venue, Spring King have their own processes to be getting on with – Andy and James do stretches. Pete eats a Pret sandwich he’s been saving. Tarek concentrates on not vomiting. The preparations are sober, considering the audience are definitely not.
Eventually, with the small room humming with anticipation, Spring King take the stage. Tarek launches into ‘Let’s Ride’ – the first ever Spring King song – his quiet persona deposited in the dressing room for the gig. Immediately a mosh pit appears. There’s sweat – so much sweat – dripping off the walls and ceiling. A crowd surfer rises briefly, before crashing back into the melee. It’s chaos, and it couldn’t be more exciting. And Tarek keeps the burrito down. It takes guts to be a rock’n’roll star. And he’s got them.