"We need to listen to women, and we need to believe women"
With two albums already under their belt, London fivepiece Spector today release their new EP ‘Ex-Directory’. NME speaks to lead singer Fred Macpherson about the new record, mental health, Trump, Brexit, and how to combat sexual abuse in the music industry.
How has your music has progressed in this new EP?
“It’s starting to feel more natural. We worry about it a bit less in a way… rather than trying to sound cool, like we did in our second album, or try to sound uncool like we did in our first album. We feel more relaxed in ourselves, older and the lyrics have come quite naturally. This EP was [about] trying to regain a bit of fun and naivety and just not thinking about things too much.
“It was from playing gigs last year. We played a gig in China. We hadn’t played in a while, and it felt like we were just slowing it down a lot. Then suddenly we played this show and we were like, ‘Oh, this is such a rare sensation to be able to have the privilege and opportunity to go on stage and piss around and to actually people enjoy it and have a emotionally relevant thing’. It’s good because it’s fun and a way of engaging our emotions and engaging other people. It feels like a catharsis, a release.”
What musical influences can we hear on this EP?
“I think some kind of ’80s stuff. I don’t know what I listened to when I wrote these songs because they were about a year ago or more.
“It’s probably stuff that I’ve heard subconsciously rather than a set ‘oh we want to sound like this band’. We definitely want to sound more like a band – more like people in a room. So, I think, it was listening to more bits of post-punk and even old bands that are way too old. I’m not that into rock music, but occasionally I hear a song and I’m like, ‘Wow, who’s this?’ and it’s something like Kiss.”
Ex-Directory, an album by Spector on Spotify
What about the lyrics?
“I like how in rap music people just say exactly what they think, which in guitar or in bands – pop music, [that] kind of thing – people seem to do less so. It’s more like lyrics have to follow a certain template of what traditional song lyrics are. I’m trying to be more honest and just try to find the root to the subconscious.”
Your music often seems to address the issue of men’s mental health. Does that also come across in your new EP?
“It’s funny, that was never something that I set out to do, but I think, through honesty and using music for to try and deal with personal issues, it’s naturally become that. I’ve learnt more about our lyrics through people coming to our gigs and how people have felt [about] them – not necessarily helping them deal with stuff – but potentially helping them address or put words to sensations or feelings they’ve had as well.”
“My mum’s a psychologist so I’m quite lucky and unlucky in that I’ve always had someone there analysing and attempting to understand my feelings before I know them myself, or teaching me about that kind of thing whether I want to hear it or not.
“But I don’t think we ever set out to [write about] male mental health. Obviously we are male identifying and music is such a great outlet for people – men and women – but often I find that younger men are less keen to talk about their feelings. I know I was. I hope that that’s changing… How it connects to mental health is [that] I’d say things in our lyrics that I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to my friends or family.”
When will you be releasing more music?
“We’re just trying to find ways at the moment to get music out more often. One of the reasons we’re doing an EP is so we can then have another EP later in the year. Basically, we’re putting out the same amount of tracks but we don’t have to wait until we’ve recorded a new album. We’re going to see how that goes and hopefully that will keep us active, because when we’re not active it’s easy to get distracted because we all do other stuff as well.”
What do you think of the current political climate in the UK?
“It’s a really interesting time. It’s definitely a lot more exciting than five years ago, and not just for the obvious reasons. I wrote an article for Q Magazine before the Ed Miliband and David Cameron election about the importance of voting. Even at that time there were a lot less young people engaged, it feels a lot longer than five years ago, it feels like a completely other time. The fact that there are politicians now, not just on the left, that are engaging young people across the political spectrum, for better or for worse, it feels like suddenly that discussion is happening in the cultural places. Even in stuff like guitar music, which for many years was completely ambivalent and quite self involved and not very plugged in.
“When you look at people like Ezra [Koenig] from Vampire Weekend, who was involved in the Bernie Sanders attempt at leadership contest, [it’s] really inspirational hands-on work… [also] people who’ve really put themselves on the line, like Stormzy at the Brit Awards actually having a chance to say things uncensored on national TV and talk about Grenfell. I’ve been inspired by bands – like Wolf Alice did the Refugees gig that we all played at.”
How are Brexit and Trump perceived within your band?
“It’s funny; it’s hard to engage with stuff like Trump as if it’s really happening. He still feels like a cartoon character in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or something, a cartoon bad guy.
“I met one person… it was the first experience I’ve had with a Trump voter. At that point I was just dumbfound at how ill-equipped we are to actually engage with people of different opinions when we get a chance to speak to them in the flesh.
“You have to respect people with different opinions and engage them in genuine discussion and debate or you won’t change anyone’s mind. That’s how I feel about the Trump and the Brexit thing. Its easy to be like ‘Brexit is the the biggest most idiotic idea in British history’, and yet it’s 52 percent of our country.
So, if you’re going on tour playing to however many thousands of people, even if you imagine yourself to have a left leaning [and] Remain fanbase, chances are you’re still going to be playing to hundreds of people who voted the other way. You can’t just call them all idiots. Where’s the discussion there? Where’s the openness and engagement there? That’s something I feel more self-conscious of and want to do a better job – not only as a musician and as an artist, but as a person.”
What needs to be done to address sexual assault and harassment in the music industry?
“I mean that’s the million-dollar question. First things first, we need to still give it our full attention. We can’t let it, like so many issues, have its moment in the spotlight and then fade out.
“On the music side of it, we’re only getting started in terms of what is going to be coming out. I think traditionally the entire world’s music industry has essentially been complete apologists for sexual harassment and abuse because it’s been part of the quote, unquote ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ culture. So, even the language, we’re still playing catch up with people beginning to engage with what harassment and abuse might mean.
“I think those words seem extreme to people. I think soon enough, even now, we’re realising how common rape and assault are. It’s not to say the words should lose their impact or their weight – that should remain – but we have to come to terms with how much more common it is than we possibly imagined.
“We have to listen to women and believe women. The reality is also people are going to see their friends and band members and label mates and influences called out for certain things.”
Spector’s UK tour
The band’s upcoming UK tour dates are below. Tickets are available here.
Saturday May 5 – Leicester, Handmade Festival
Sunday May 6 – Dorset, Teddy Rocks Festival
Sunday May 20 – Sheffield, The Plug
Monday May 21 – Nottingham, The Bodega Social Club
Tuesday May 22 – Bristol, The Thekla
Wednesday May 23 – Manchester, Gorilla
Thursday May 24 – London, Scala