By Tom Breihan
Fischerspooner are synonymous with everything indie rock fans are supposed to hate. The New York group rose to prominence within the electroclash scene, which to some is seen as symbolic of artifice and the pleasure principle. They signed for an insane amount of money before they had released an album. They lip sync. They've worked with uber-pop songwriter Linda Perry. But why are we supposed to hate all this? And if we do hate it, do we fully understand why? I spoke with Casey Spooner, the visible half of the group's creative core, to figure out how it feels to be hated.
Pitchfork: I don't know how familiar you are with Pitchfork, but your first album got really slagged hardcore. Did you see it?
Casey Spooner: I can't remember that I did, but I could imagine it.
Pitchfork: The reason that I'm asking is that to a certain segment of indie rock kids, your group has been a real anathema.
CS: Anathema? What does that mean? An anthem?
Pitchfork: No, something that they made a point of not being able to stand.
CS: Oh right. Some people, yes, definitely.
Pitchfork: What do you think of that?
CS: I think that for as many people as have disliked what we did, there were plenty of people that really loved what we did. So it never hurt my feelings. But I knew that what we were doing was extreme. I never expected everyone to like it.
In a lot of ways, I liked it when there was a certain amount of people who did not like what I was doing. If anything, I thought that was a positive thing. I wanted to make something that raised questions and was completely different and challenged the way most people experienced electronic music. So some people don't like me; that's OK.
Pitchfork: Another thing I wanted to ask about that ties in with that-- you wrote on your website in November that you were a rockist.
CS: Goddammit, I knew you were gonna. You can see what I'm wrestling with there. On the one hand, rock is so predictable, but at the same time, the basic idea that an artist can cut through everything and make something that they believe in or make something that they love or speaks to them personally, that it can cut through the bullshit. But at the same time, the cliches of sincerity can kill that. That's the thing I think that confuses people about what we do; I honestly and truly love and believe in what I'm making, and it's not a joke, whereas some people would take a singer-songwriter sitting behind an acoustic guitar as sincere. So it's a bit confusing. There were some ideas that were talked about in the rockist article in The New York Times that I wanted to agree with, but I think you can see that entry is me questioning those things.
Pitchfork: I thought it was an interesting choice of words for you to use, though, seeing as a large part of what people respond to in your work-- people who like it and people who don't-- is that it elevates what somebody might call the disposable. It works toward the hidden depths of what is glamorous.
CS: Exactly, and I think that's crazy and contradictory, that there can be something powerful in the surface and what that is. I think a lot of people misinterpret what I'm doing because they think of it as just a joke or they think of it as disposable. And I do like that contradiction; that people can look at it and read it in different way. But the things I'm making and doing I really like and think are interesting; I'm drawn to them. So I'm not working this hard to make fun of Adam Ant. It's more these ideas of transformation and dressing up and dance and all these other things, in a weird way they seem kind of superficial in passing, but they're kind of the most basic human urges.
Pitchfork: Were you writing what you wrote specifically in response to The New York Times piece?
CS: Yeah, Warren [Fischer, Fischerspooner multi-instrumentalist] sent me the article. He was like, "You should read this thing," and blah blah blah, and I drank a ton of coffee and just went off on it. I haven't read it in months, so I can't remember what I said; I just remember specifically talking about how seeing the Fleshtones in Athens, Geo., when I was a kid was an amazing and exciting experience that was rock.
But a lot of rockers-- and this is why I never wanted to be in a band-- are so fucking uptight. It's the most ruthless, codified, strict, unspoken, irritating fraternity. You can't like certain things, and you can't do certain things. That's the thing that's weird about it; supposedly it's from this tradition of rebellion, but it really is the most non-rebellious thing you can do. That's the reason why I like working with Warren; he enjoys it when I do things that are really wrong and really rebellious.
Pitchfork: Like what?
CS: Like aggressively lip-syncing. Like stopping a show and telling someone to not yawn. Like having fun in the context of music.
Pitchfork: This is total old news now, but what did you think of the whole Ashlee Simpson on "Saturday Night Live" thing, all the fuss that was caused by that?
CS: Eminem did the same thing a week later. So it's no news; everybody knows. It's all fake. People would lambaste me or attack me, and I'd be like, "I'm being honest! I'm the one person that's being honest and sincere about what I'm doing." The rest of the world doesn't want to admit the fakery of entertainment on TV, but I love the fake. I think fake is beautiful.
Pitchfork: I think the choice of covers that your group has done is interesting. It seems like a lot of people who have gotten pegged in with the whole electroclash thing were covering "Sunglasses at Night" and 80s new wave songs, and your band has covered the Boredoms and Wire. Is there a desire to connect with or engage with the whole punk/indie rock culture there?
CS: Warren picked those covers. The way the Boredoms thing happened is that when we were working on the record, Warren would take different songs and he would just program them to learn the structure, almost [like] an exercise to see how they work. So there were different ones that we did. He did Husker Du's "Green Eyes"; he programmed it, and I think I may have tracked it, but I don't know what happened with it. We did the Who's "I Can't Explain". And then this was one that he programmed, and it just fit in a cool, weird way. I liked the Terry Riley aspect of it.
Pitchfork: It works really beautifully in the context of the album.
CS: Yeah, and I felt like someone should take it and do just a little bit of a remix of it, and it'd be incredible on the dancefloor.
Pitchfork: How did you feel about being pegged in with electroclash as it existed four years ago? You played at the Electroclash Festival, and you were on the Electroclash compilation.
CS: Initially, I liked it and I thought it was a great thing, but it did become frustrating when what other people did and what other people said starts to reflect on your work. But ultimately, I think it was only a positive because it brought us a lot of attention, and it brought a larger audience to us.
But all of a sudden everything was hot pink and shitty electro. It was frustrating that all that stuff would influence [what] we'd worked so hard on for so long. We had fully developed our thing pretty seriously in 1998. [That] probably happens in any movement or genre or trend or whatever; it starts in one place, and it ends up being framed by other things happening. The exciting moment was when Adult. was doing their thing in Detroit, and [DJ] Hell was doing his in Munich, and there were all these different people all over the world working in a similar way with a similar sound. It was cool to feel this global electronic thing happening. But it just got to be too much at a certain point.
Pitchfork: Do you feel like it's hamstrung you at all, that you've been consistently attached to it?
CS: No, I think that everyone forgot about it in a way. The crazy thing, and this is so UK, apparently there's an electroclash renaissance happening in the UK. And I think that's mostly because they have a much more open and interesting pop world, so a lot of the people that were working two or three years ago in underground electro are now working on mainstream pop albums.
Pitchfork: You don't think that American pop music is that kind of open and interesting?
CS: No. I mean, hip-hop is interesting, but American pop music doesn't have the kind of diversity that the UK does. And I think that's mostly because we have all commercial radio that's basically paid advertising, and their radio is state-owned. And because they don't have so many stations, they have to program music that's more diverse because it has to appeal to larger groups of people all on one channel. You end up hearing lots of different things on one station instead of it being all one thing on one station.
Pitchfork: But hip-hop has basically become pop music in America. Do you not listen to hip-hop?
CS: Not really. Every four to six months there will be a pop song that'll catch my ear.
Pitchfork: What is it right now?
CS: I'm trying to think; What is my new favorite fucked-up pop song that I'm obsess[ing] over? I used to really like Mylo's "Drop the Pressure", but that's not really pop; that's more European. I know there was one hip-hop song that got me, but I can't remember what it was.
Pitchfork: What music do you generally listen to?
CS: With this record, I got so irritated listening to music. I listen to nothing or classical music just because after being in the studio for twelve hours, the last thing you want to do is listen to anything.
Pitchfork: Yeah, you spent a really long time working on this record.
CS: Well, not that long. I spent, full-time, one year, and Warren spent two years. And the first one was done in about three years. So it was shorter, relatively, but it was much more intense. I didn't do anything else for one year except think about this and work on this one thing everyday. I guess the best way for me to remember what I'm listening to is to look in the stereo. I bought the M.I.A record, wanted to check that out. Somebody just gave me this band Lesbians on Ecstasy that I wanted to check out. Roxy Music, Brian Eno. I bought a lot of the Can reissues that came out at Christmas. I was listening a lot to Tones on Tail last summer, love that. Tom Tom Club. I love 2 Many DJs. Mylo-- like that one single; I don't like the whole record. A little David Bowie, which I appreciate more and more. Joy Division. DFA.
Pitchfork: What do you think of DFA?
CS: I like it. I mean, I've been hearing it for a long time, and it's nothing new to me. But I like James, and I like what he does. "Beat Connection" was my favorite song, but I had that on 12-inch vinyl like three years ago. I love the Soft Pink Truth; do you know this guy?
Pitchfork: Yeah, Drew. He also writes for Pitchfork.
CS: Drew! Crazy! That's probably one of my favorites. It really is creative interesting electronic music that isn't just relying on the clichŽ. I think Drew is one of my favorite musicians right now for sure.
Pitchfork: What was it like working with Linda Perry?
CS: Crazy, for her to make this outsider pseudo-pop extravaganza. Warren's not like me; he does not like most pop music, and I'm the one who will like a Britney song. I liked "Toxic". I liked it, and I'll allow myself to like it until I hate it. Then I don't like it anymore; I get tired of it, and that's what it's made for.
Linda had written some great super-pop songs, and I wanted to learn how to do that-- or at least witness how someone does that. It was crazy to go from always working with Warren and the same little group in the same studio to going to Los Angeles to a big fancy studio to work with a super-pop writer. It felt like a weird rite of passage. It was one of those things when your dream-come-true becomes a nightmare, to have to step up to the mic and be like, holy shit, Christina [Aguilera] was canoodling on thing two days ago, what the hell is she going to think of me? So it was a big challenge, but she was fun and super-cool and really encouraging, just a pleasure to be with.
The really exciting thing was she worked with us in a very different way. Usually, she writes the songs, she produces them, she writes the lyrics, she writes the music, she does everything. And on this one, it was like, we don't want you to write the track or the lyrics or produce it, but we want your input melodically. So it was fun to give her material and see how things worked to a certain point, how she would interpret it. It was a great lesson for me to see how many melodic ideas could go into a song and how they could layer and all the musical relationships that can happen in a song vocally that I never would've been able to think up alone. It was just exciting.
But I was exhausted. We were on our totally laid-back underground schedule. When we record, it usually takes 10 days to work on vocal parts; with her, [it's] a day. How can you get anything done in a day? So it was a much more intensive superstar Hollywood schedule. You go in, you do it, you get it done.
Pitchfork: I also wanted to ask about David Byrne.
CS: He had come to a lot of our shows, and he was someone that I wanted to connect with. We met very early on, and he e-mailed me several sets of lyrics. I liked one he sent called "Get Confused".
I had a terrible day working on an awful song, and Kyle Johnson, who was working with us, he and Warren had a piece of music. He was like, "Hey, I want to play this for you, and tell me what you think." He played it for me, and I was like, "Oh my God, I know exactly what piece of writing is perfect for this sound." And in basically one take I took the bridge and turned it into the chorus. I just felt like I had written that, like I completely identified with the chorus so directly that I felt like it was mine. And so there was no feeling that I was using someone else's writing. It felt like the way I made things. If something was confusing or difficult, then it was a positive thing. Confusion is a positive.
Pitchfork: I think that's a good note to leave it on. I really like the new record; I think you guys have gotten a bad rap.
CS: You know what? It's OK. If you want to make something that's aggressive and challenging and peculiar and strange and trying to step outside of a traditional approach, some people aren't going to like it. In many ways, that's a compliment. Hate me.