Just as it does for many of Nashville’s most celebrated songwriters, music comes naturally to Spazz Cardigan. First finding fame online after covering Lady Gaga’s Princess Die, the singer went on to release several EPs and an album under his own name – and finally announced a new project under the Spazz Cardigan moniker in 2015. After a stunning debut single, which we covered right here at CelebMix, Spazz locked himself in the studio and wrapped up on his album, I, last November.
Today, Spazz celebrates the release of his new music with an interview with CelebMix. Below, we talk all things songwriting, studio sessions and Donald Trump.
For those who’ve yet to hear your music, describe your sound.
I supposed I’d like to think I’m somewhere musically between Gorillaz, Gotye, and Imogen Heap. Experimental pop that doesn’t really like to live within any boundaries other than what I can imagine. I’m drawn to artists like Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Prince — people that don’t necessarily like to live in a genre for too long but give a massive degree of study and respect to what they’re making.
Talk us through the name. Spazz is a little different…
Ha! Truthfully I was an incredibly shaky, awkward, and nervous child so I got labelled with the name more or less without my input and at some point, it became obvious that turning it into an asset and embracing it was a much better way of accepting my own shortcomings.
It looks like you’re very hands on during the recording process. Talk us through how it works…
Every song on the record started as a demo I would make from scratch. My demos are usually very dense, very overthought, usually longer than 5 or 6 minutes and not so much Pop as exploring all the musical cavities that a song could possibly have, so I very much value having a second opinion about halfway through the process to help condense what’s happening and to find the core of what works in a particular group of songs. On this album that was my friend Who Is BC. BC reached out to me sometime around July of 2015 about creating together, I played him about 30 demos and we sank ourselves into the project. Every instrument on the album is being played live with no quantization (computer-perfected rhythm) by either myself or BC. There aren’t many digital effects, all of the instruments are analogue, and the whole of the album ended up being recorded to tape. We wanted to create something that could have been made at any point from the 60’s through the 2030’s that would feel coherent in any era and didn’t play to any trends because frankly, neither of us listen to the radio.
How long would you say it takes to record a song? Is it a one-time process for you or do you go back and tweak things ‘til you get it right?
Oh lord, what a loaded question! It really varies song to song, but on average I am very much obsessed with tweaking. Some tracks are done and never touched again after one or two takes and some very light editing, while some very much take months and months and months on end of experimenting and finding what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes BC and I would go for weeks on one particular version of a song before realising we were in the wrong direction entirely once we’d stumbled into something that worked well on another. We were constantly going back and making minute changes to each song to keep the album cohesive as a piece.
I guess one of the best things about your music is that it’s jam-packed with really well thought out lyrics. Nowadays, artists seem to string together a sentence and sing it again and again. Does songwriting come easily to you, or does it take time?
I don’t know that I would necessarily say that it comes easily, but it does come naturally. I’ve very much always framed my life through the context of songwriting since I was very young and started finding a knack for it. Everything I do finds it’s way into my writing even if it takes a while to fully play out. Often I’ll write a verse and a chorus or a bridge, abandon it for a few months and do a bit of living to come back and finish it with fresh perspective; and then some show up fully formed in 3-5 minutes I also write for a living in Nashville, so every day in some form or another I’m trying to challenge myself as a lyricist to be better than I was walking in that morning.
Lyrically, the album is really honest. Songs like Happy Little Pills and Be really emphasise that. I guess the recording process was quite therapeutic?
Unendingly. Being able to create in a vacuum of honest expression was the most important factor to this record. I don’t know that I could ever produce another album without again starting from the same point of just existing with myself and finding what it is I’m trying to communicate. I’m so happy that’s connected with you.
It’s hard to pin down a particular sound or genre for this music, which is exciting.
Thank you! That was more or less the idea BC and I strived for from day one. We both came to the table with a slew of reference points for the album that were mostly art rock, hip-hop, and avant-garde jazz; we wanted to create something neither of us had heard anyone make.
What song would you say was your favourite from I?
Either “Lost” or “On Re-Entry”. The former the most man hours of any song on the album, the other was the last written for it.
iDeologue was great. Do you think you’ll be pushing any of these new songs out as singles? Maybe another music video?
Absolutely! The video for “Happy Little Pills” will have just dropped when people are reading this interview, and my team and I intend to make a video for most songs on the album over the course of the year.
You’re playing a live show tonight (January 20). What can fans expect?
To see the album played out onstage and to see the starting point of what I want to do for the rest of my life. My work is songwriting, but my imagination usually gravitates to creating a unique live experience for an audience and I cannot wait to take these songs on the road. The show on the 20th is the band’s first, it’s the first time any of the album has been played live, and it’ll be the real beginning of whatever the story becomes.
You’ve been outspoken when it comes to politics on social media. I was quite surprised that you didn’t really mention Trump on the album. Any reason why?
This is a fantastic question. Firstly (and possibly most importantly): I, like most thinking and informed Americans, did not think Trump would win the election. Let alone winning by the help of the electoral college, which he spent the entire campaign railing against. I wrote most of the album before Donald Trump had even announced his candidacy and I didn’t really know how to address the man lyrically at first because, much like the rest of the world, he seemed like a farce of a candidate. As time went on and we all lived with reality I thought just having a few newsreel clips of Trump in the “iDeologue” video would say all I needed to; mind you this was in March of 2016.
Also, What is on @realDonaldTrump's tax returns that's so worth hiding? Still the ONLY presidential candidate in 70 years not to release
— Spazz Cardigan ??? (@SpazzCardigan) December 31, 2016
Bernie Sanders was still a plausible candidate for the Democrats and the country collectively hadn’t grasped the full scope of the problem. I still don’t know that we have. I think we’re at an interesting precipice of culture where, much like the 60’s in the States and the Thatcher years in the UK, we’re about to see some amazing reactionary art.
It will fall very much on the creative community to help process this odd little moment in human history, and in a way, I think one of the most important things we can do as creators is make honest art.
I easily could have made an album’s worth of material about Trump. It was talked about; I had a moment of wanting to throw away the entire album because I felt a sort of obligation to address this con man who’d become a messiah for at least a very vocal third of my country. But I realised that for myself at least, the best way I could process seeing civil discourse collapse in my everyday life, the best way I could combat my own feeling of being blindsided by my culture was to do what I want others to do: be open. Be honest. To stop being afraid of our vulnerability and start openly discussing our own issues as terrified animals sharing this tiny little rock whose resources we’re depleting.
That conversation is the only one I want to have from here on out because it is imperative to our survival as a species that we are honest with one another. I’m sure at some point I’ll mention him on II or III, though. It’s fairly inevitable to not want to discuss such a confounding shift in everyday life.
Foundation features on this album. Let’s say you could collaborate with any single living artist. Who would you pick?
Imogen Heap or Bjork. I would give a limb to work with either.
We loved Nerves, but it didn’t make the album. Does that mean you’re still working on new music?
Always! I don’t know that I have a biological ability to not create. There’ll be loads more music out within the next two years; certainly at least a mixtape and another album.
The internet has made things exciting for independent artists, but there’s so much noise nowadays. Everyone wants you to listen to their stuff. How do you navigate through that?
It’s an interesting moment. Everyone’s got the capability to make music on their phones or laptops and to upload it to some sort of audience. There are 9-12-year-old EDM “producers” on SoundCloud with followings in the millions, and at some point, I think I found peace in that. I don’t like to force my music down people’s throats and I’m admittedly pretty illiterate with social media, so I try not to think about it too much. I make what I make and I can only hope that someone connects enough with it to come see it live, and then the onus is on the band and I to make it tangible for them.
When you’re not recording music, what else do you like to get up to?
I read constantly. Books are largely my world and I love learning in any way possible; whether through watching lectures of college classes or engaging and going to a museum. I’m also much more prone to wanting to spend time in nature than with people. My work is very technology-centric and I am not someone who enjoys technology that much, so I’m very prone to disappearing for a few hours to the woods or a lake to decompress and centre.
Finally, what’s next for Spazz?
Playing these songs live for as many people as will lend an ear, and seeing as much of the world as I can to influence what I’ll say next. I am trying to live in the moment, to listen every day to people I don’t agree with, and to grow.
Spazz Cardigan’s debut album, I, is available to stream on Spotify now.