With the release of their second album Moth Boys, it is becoming impossible to pigeonhole Spector into a specific musical genre. Not just your average ‘indie pop’ band, their second LP is particularly influenced by the ‘80s. Speaking to frontman Fred Macpherson ahead of their gig at the Institute’s Temple, he spoke of how during the recording process “[the band] were all listening to different music… ‘80s pop bands and stuff… but also really emotional, modern stuff like Drake, anyone who gets overly emotional in their lyrics.” It seems that despite being a band that, as a collective, listen to very different music, this has helped rather than hindered their musical direction following on from debut Enjoy It While It Lasts. “I guess there’s stuff that we listened to growing up like Depeche Mode that’s in there but we wouldn’t all sit down and listen to it together now, I think it’s just in the blood of our music.”
Waiting in anticipation for the London act to arrive on stage, I heard several snippets of conversation regarding the dream setlist: “I’m only here to hear ‘Celestine’” “They have to play ‘Decade of Decay’, that’s my favourite”. With that ‘difficult second album’, for many bands it is always interesting to hear their sophomore tour setlist. “We’re going to be changing the set a little bit every night and so for us its about playing songs, seeing what goes down the best and trying to fit a certain mood and journey into the setlist”. The five-piece jumped onto stage and opened, ironically, with album closer ‘Lately It’s You’ before launching into mainstream single ‘Stay High’, arguably their most pop-influenced track. It can be difficult to gauge a decent balance with a setlist, especially with new, recently released material, but Spector feel that on their latest headline tour this is easily avoidable: “…lots of bands, when they make quite a different second album, they act like the first album didn’t exist and I think with us, we can actually see a lot of links between our first album and second album in a way that other people can’t so… it’s quite equally balanced but we want to try and play as much of the new album as possible”. And do this they did, with gusto. The set, while including fan favourites such as the majorly catchy ‘Chevy Thunder’ and ‘Twenty Nothing’, was made up of almost the entirety of Moth Boys. Macpherson’s own personal favourites, ‘Don’t Make Me Try’ and ‘Kyoto Garden’, went down a storm, the crowd never once stopping for breath whilst singing every line in perfect harmony. Even tracks that divided fans critically, most notably ‘Cocktail Party/Heads Interlude’ got the entire crowd dancing (and ultimately changed my opinion on what I thought was a very average track at best).
The lyrical brilliance of Spector’s music is something that is always highlighted by critics and fans alike, and it is a delight to witness these lyrics transcending this particular setting. Considering many of Macpherson’s lyrics are at times quite complicated and metaphorical, themes of heartbreak intertwined with preoccupations of our generation and the growing influence of technology were shouted back at the band as if they were football chants: not a single person in the room remained silent. This was most notable during ‘Bad Boyfriend’, the front row being so enthusiastic that Macpherson gave up his microphone to a young teenage girl to sing the first verse for him. It is clear that these lyrics truly resonate and have deeper meaning for both the band and the fans, especially due to their emotional roots: “There’s a lot of good [lyrics]. I really like the lyric that the album opens with and the one it closes with. “No, nothing ever really started with a kiss” and then the last one on the last track (a vocoded vocal at the end of ‘Lately It’s You’), “We can’t change the past, baby / We can barely change the present”. Even though you can’t really hear it, that’s a lyric for me that really sums things up, as the album is full of emotional outpourings and then there’s this kind of resignation to the fact that however hard you can try you can never really change what’s around you, let alone what’s happened in the past.”
Speaking of the references to digital space and technology throughout Moth Boys, Macpherson opened up about his thoughts towards the modern age: “One of the reasons I like gigging so much is that it’s an hour of not checking your phone, it’s the only time it happens in the day which I’ve really been noticing a lot more on this tour is you’re on your phone in a van all day… on stage, it’s real. You’re communicating with people on a direct level and not digitally which is cool.” When asked if the band had any particular tour traditions, I was told that nowadays as a group they put their phones away a half hour or so before they go on stage, in order to “get a way out of the digital space and into reality” to get into the correct mind-set.
It is noticeable more than ever that the nature of live gigs is changing; it is rare for someone to go and see an artist/band and not upload a photo to Instagram or a video to Snapchat. However, what has recently come into serious focus is behaviour at live shows; in recent weeks, a group of teenagers from Scotland and London set up a Twitter account @girlsagainst in order to highlight and support victims of sexual harassment at concerts, after concerns were raised on Twitter with members of Peace following behaviour at shows on their recent tour. “Looking back, even gigs that I went to when I was about 13 or 14, [there were] maybe things I hadn’t realised at the time were vaguely inappropriate… I think that it’s great that they’ve highlighted it. I was reading the FAQ on their Tumblr and I think it’s great that they’ve said that it’s not just about girls being sexually harassed but everyone really… it’s a no-brainer. A gig should be a place where everyone can go; it’s an alternative to the rest of life. It’s also a great and positive sign of what can come out the live music scene, that sense of community and the fact that with the Internet you can immediately create something and it’s there. That’s exactly the sort of stuff that should be happening from gig culture, groups of people doing things to try and make positive changes rather than just negative, self-serving stuff.”
Seeing one of your favourite bands live is obviously a treat, and a band as tightly knit and focused on their live shows as Spector was even more fun to observe than most: however, all eyes were fixated on Macpherson. As a frontman, he’s a naturally suave leader, confessing to me that he sees himself “as the mouthpiece for the [band]”. While he may write the lyrics and draw a lot of influence from him own life and experience, his role as the mouthpiece tends to put in to words much of what their listeners are feeling. “I was speaking to a fan yesterday who said that’s why he likes [our music], because its quite raw and it helps bring emotions to the surface which isn’t necessarily a very British, or male, thing traditionally. That’s what I like about ‘80s music is that it’s so heart on sleeve.” Ending on the emphatic ‘All The Sad Young Men’, the reaction within the Temple was unmistakable: every note left a mark and none of us wanted the night to end.
Do you have a particular ’80s classic you’d sing at karaoke?
There are songs that I love singing at karaoke. ‘Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’ – was that ‘80s? [Phil: I think it was 1992*] I like power ballads. ‘Ultravox’ by Vienna: whenever you do that at karaoke, there’s always a lot more weird silences in it than you’d expect.
If you had to be a superhero for a day, which power would you choose?
I really like Magneto from ‘X-Men’’s power. Even though he’s not a ‘hero’, I feel like you could do a lot with that power. It would make load-in’s for gigs much easier because you could just float all the amps up the stairs.
Have you got any tickets to see anyone live in the next few months?
I’ve got tickets to Skepta and JME at the Brixton Academy before Christmas. I went to see Swim Deep play recently and I really like The Magic Gang, they’re playing in November in London. Tame Impala are always good. There are bands I would buy tickets on the day but less and less these days. I once met a guy outside a gig when I was about 17, 18 and he told me about a band that went on to be one of my favourite bands, when I was young. I bumped into him five years later, and I just remembered it was him and I was like, “I’ve got to thank you, you opened up my whole musical path”… and he couldn’t remember.
*It was actually released in 1998… oops.
[Originally written for Redbrick Music]