The ghost of existence past: a Spector interview

Unmasking the first of our Ones To Watch 2012, Daniel Fahey takes a backseat as Spector frontman, Fred MacPherson, lines up some rather poetic analogies of his own...

Premature nostalgia: music’s current tripwire. La Roux and Goulding thought we wanted regurgitated 80s synth pop in 2010, while Yuck fed-back the longhaired recall of slack rock a year later. How did we lose a decade of musical touchstones within 12 months?

Now even, listen to the wrong people and they’ll say that even dubstep ain’t what it used it be, despite it only being around long enough to take off its nappy and smear the charts with the worst of its contents.

So when we catch-up with Spector’s Fred MacPherson on an early December morning and he starts sprouting about wanting to connect to The Strokes and The White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Golden Generation of indie pop, alarm bells start clang clang clanging: is music about to implode? That was less than ten years ago!

Don’t hang up those headphones just yet. Let’s start at the beginning.

Even at 10am, when VF calls up MacPherson, he’s instantly affable, richly articulate and – he reassuringly tells us – not just in his pants on the other end of the line.

In the conversation that ensues, it feels like we finally may have a pop star in our midst that has something intelligent to convey and some opinions not sugar coated in media-trained dryness. Maybe pop still has the life to kick out the dross of the X Factor’s output and give some credibility back to mainstream music.

Some may remember Fred’s first foray into music with Les Incompetents, a short-lived teenage whirlwind of Libertines-like lust. Its dynasty, in MacPherson’s eyes measures up a little differently. “In the middle of it, it seemed like it was a big naffy joke,” he muses. “It felt like waking up, face down on the pavement in front of your friend’s mum’s house with an empty Smirnoff ice in your hand and trying to remember what happened the night before. That was sort of the career path of the band.”

Once that line of business diverted to the dole queue, Fred re-emerged with the proggy darkness of Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man, re-tuning preconceptions of his musical prowess. “When we were with Ox.Eagle with Transgressive they just literally let us do what we wanted,” he remembers. “We got records back to them and were like [sniggers]: ‘good luck marketing this,’ while they had their head in their hands.”

His latest incarnation, Spector, is another sonic reworking. It rewinds towards the echoing grandeur of ‘Hot Fuss’ with a mixture of joyful stadium-styled choruses and broken-hearted honesty. Perhaps, even unintentionally, veering towards a coming of age composition for the 23-year-old.

How did the latest project come about? “It was all on a computer,” says Fred eagerly. “A lot of it sounds band-like but the last thing I was doing was getting five guys in a room together because that seemed…” he pauses, thinks, “it felt backwards to get a load of guys together in a room. It felt like maybe that era of music in a post-internet world is less relevant, the songs then brought it back to that place where we did need five guys in a room.”

And at that point, how did you set about recruiting a band? “I did it in the way maybe the army recruits people. I invited them round and asked them what clothes they liked, what films they liked, what music they liked and if they fulfilled that criteria then I’d hear them play some instruments – that was the last thing on my mind.”

Do you think it’s been successful so far? “We’re definitely not the tightest band,” Fred offers, deadpanning: “but we’re probably in the top million.”

After several sold out London dates, some infant festival appearances and a spot on Jools Holland – “We asked Flea [from Red Hot Chili Peppers] if he wanted to come to a party afterwards and he said [puts on a shaky US accent]: ‘look at me, I’m an old man!’” – Spector are now looking to dovetail a solid release and improve on their live show.

How’s the album shaping up? “I guess we’re maybe a third of the way through,” Fred says. “We’re just trying to get the right productions because we don’t want it to be a straight down the line indie rock album or a straight down the line electro pop album. It’s really about trying to craft a sound that’s sonically relevant, whilst making what is essentially pop in the most part, with some really leftfield guitars and electronic work. We don’t want to make an album that comes from another time we want to make an album that sounds like its come from now.”

Lyrical inspiration has also proved painful so far. “The second you start going through some real big relationships you feel like your life is destroyed,” Fred admits, “and when it comes to writing lyrics it’s hard to really think about anything else.

“But it’s definitely got a romantic vibe and I do believe in the idea of romance. I also remember listening to the songs I was listening to growing up, I was listing to The Strokes, The White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and Kings Of Leon – even though a lot of those bands were really cool and hip but at the heart of the songs it’s still raw and emotional and it thought it would be something good to channel.”

Why are you attempting emulate those years? “It’s not even a case of referencing in a musical or stylistic level, I think a lot of the songs are trying to be as honest as possible and find yourself being kind of childlike in those situations. That would be the kind of music I was listening to when I was 13, 14.

“I don’t think we set out saying we all want guitars that go ding ding ding ding, it was more of a case of ‘let’s make something that we would have enjoyed when we were that age’. Hopefully it isn’t too much of a retro sound because we’ve got other elements to take it into the future.”

The hope is that the album will be out in April and Fred says that he’s been given a longer than usual to tinker with the release. “A major label can afford to take a bit more time and market a bit more but in turn you have to do what they need you to do. It’s a bit like being a young Playboy model, going out with a rich 80-year-old man: you’re not going to get everything you want for nothing,” he laughs.

As for the live side of things, Fred doesn’t think the group are there quite yet, likening their current output “to the old banger that you drive from your 17th birthday onwards.” But with optimism, underpinned by an enduring wit, he marks out his plans: “I hope by the end of 2011 we’ll be well oiled,” he says, “by next year we’ll be the young professional’s first Ford Fiesta or something.”

With support slots with The Killers and an upcoming tour with Florence and the Machine, big show insights will hopefully give room for the live side of things to match with the recorded oomph. “Watching bands like The Killers play is an inspiration to see how they can make full-scale entertainment,” admits Fred. “I believe that’s what Spector is about: it’s entertaining it’s not [Claude] Debussy, contrary to popular belief…it’s a bit more Ed Tudor-Pole.”

Check out Spector’s One To Watch page with festival dates, free downloads and more.