The thriving music scene of New York in the early 2000s was a colorful one – populated by the likes of such upstarts as The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, and Animal Collective. However, none were so colorful as Fischerspooner, a duo at the forefront of the movement that would become known as ‘electroclash.’ They easily stood out amongst their relatively tame peers, pairing club kid sensibilities and aesthetics in their performances with proper bombastic club music to match. Put on their legendary underground hit “Emerge” in any club today and you’ll have a floor-filler on your hands.
Now, after a lengthy, much-elongated hiatus (album cut “Everything Is Just Alright” first debuted during Nicopanda’s SS16 campaign), Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner are back with the first Fischerspooner album in nearly a full decade, Sir. Simply put, it is far better than it has any right to be. In some ways, this can be attributed to the stellar cast of collaborators the pair have enlisted in its creation; R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe was on board as co-writer and producer for the extent of the album, while Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek lends her inimitable soprano to particularly ravishing effect, and BOOTS delivers appropriately skull-crushing beats on tracks like lead single “Have Fun Tonight.”
But Sir functions most effectively – and most bracingly – as proof that the Fischerspooner-sensibility of club music has never gone out of vogue; on the contrary, they have demonstrated a remarkable proclivity to not just adapt with the times, but blossom within them. Their mission was to make an “aggressively gay” album in response to these troubled times, and boy did they succeed. Never before has their work been as shameless and as playful, and even in today’s landscape of widespread acceptance, you would be hard-pressed to find an album so proudly celebratory of the complexities of the gay male experience. Not only do they have more to say than ever before, but they’re channeling their messages through experimental electro that is on the cutting-edge of pop production. The result is that they have birthed the most thoroughly enjoyable (and mercilessly-danceable) full-length of their career.
Chatting with us from his new flat in Paris, we spoke with frontman Casey Spooner about the radical new album, synthesizing club-life into high art and being thrust into the fashion world.
First off, I want to say you put on a hell of a show. I saw you in Berlin last summer and it was wild – I ended up dancing on the stage with you at the end.
Oh yeah, that was a crazy little gig!
It was! But it wasn’t an official Fischerspooner show, correct?
No, I love doing unannounced club gigs, and I like starting down and dirty because I get a lot of ideas. It’s almost like sketching really, doing these kind of club gigs. I just started doing them and I wouldn’t announce them, or I would only announce them a day before. I did one in Spain, I did one in Berlin. To me, when they’re not announced and they’re kind of quiet, it lowers expectations and then I can play around and get ideas. Every one of those little shows that I did, every little club gig, I would get a new idea. Then I took all those ideas and then I put them in this big show we did in New York in October.
Do you feel like those kinds of shows get to the heart of what Fischerspooner did at the beginning of your career?
Yeah, exactly. When we did the first record, we would basically do a gig a month and we would add pieces of wardrobe or we’d add a new song or we’d add a new device. It would be a way for me to sketch. Then, when we got to the second record and it was a major label, there was so much attention and there was so much mythology around the performance that it was really difficult to gestate publicly. I tried to do something similar where it was a smaller low-key gig where I was kind of testing material, but it completely backfired and everybody promoted it; everybody showed up and they all thought it was going to be a big thing and there was a lot of disappointment. It made touring difficult, so I learned if I do something small, I can’t tell anybody about it and it just has to happen. It then changes the expectation. I’ve learned from my mistakes over the years.
Listening to ‘Sir,’ it is immediately clear how much your sound has drastically evolved – what would you say was one of the biggest differences you were conscious of when setting to work on it?
I think the big difference was Michael [Stipe] wanted to keep the vocal more raw and human. He also had Warren [Fischer]… he really kept Warren and myself a little bit more raw, because we’re both compulsive and we’ll work endlessly. He stopped me from working at a certain point, and he stopped Warren from working at a certain point. I also think there’s an immediacy to everything that wasn’t there before, because he didn’t let Warren dick around with the music forever and he didn’t let me re-track or fuck around with the vocals too much. There’s a faster, more … I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for. I guess there’s immediacy, there’s a natural… things had to happen naturally and quickly or Michael would lose patience and he didn’t want to mess around with forcing something if it wasn’t happening quickly, so there’s an immediacy to everything and a rawness to everything.
You make a clear distinction between being an artist and a musician – you identify more as the former. Why is that?
The music business is such a disaster. It’s a mess! There’s no resources, there’s not a lot of support, you basically have to do everything yourself – which is not bad because now I know how to do everything myself – but I’m more comfortable in the art world in general. It’s more driven by ideas, and it’s not driven by such a common, narrow concept of what a market is. I like both, I like being able to participate in the art world and do gallery exhibitions and do bigger, bolder ideas where you can define what the format is. Music is very specific, the song’s got to be three minutes and 33 seconds and the video’s got to be this and then it’s got to go here and you’re going to do press like this and the show is going to fit into this theater at this time and be this kind of a budget. When you do stuff in the art world, it’s really like people come see you and they’re like, ‘What do you want to do?’
It can be anything, it can be like, ‘I want to burn walls,’ or, ‘I want to do nothing,’ or, ‘I want to sleep upside down forever in the hallway.’ You have a lot of freedom and a lot of creativity. It lets you have a different type of audience and a different kind of expectation and not the same reach. I think I’ve found the perfect equation; in that I do creative work that’s all interrelated and it can exist between all those worlds. It can exist in a museum, it can exist on YouTube, it can shift and take whatever form it needs to. It’s really like storytelling and a sort of visual style. Those things can be elongated and protracted or fractured in a way depending on whatever the format is.
So I see that you’ve not only moved to Paris but have entered the fashion world – what’s that been like?
The fashion world just grabbed on and went crazy. The last few weeks I was in Milan which was incredible, and all of a sudden it was Zegna and Prada and Acme and Viktor & Rolf and Gaultier, all these people were just throwing clothes at me. I came [to Europe] with one pair of jeans and one pair of boots, and now, I told my assistant, I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t even need anything because I packed up my laptop and a couple negatives and I don’t need anything, I have a whole new wardrobe. There’s no reason for me to even come home.’ I didn’t go home, I’m still here.
What’s one of your favorite things about living in Europe?
I’m eating bread and cheese and pasta and drinking wine and I dropped 15 pounds.
Really? But you put on so much weight for this album cycle!
Yes, I trained really hard for the last two music videos, the “TopBrazil” and the “Butterscotch Goddamn” videos. I got super beefy. I had an incredible trainer, this guy Chase Stone, who just came and beat me into a pulp for the two weeks leading up to the shoot. I knew I had to have a body for motion, so it was difficult. I trained really hard for the October Brooklyn Steel show, and then I went right out of that training into training for these videos. Then I came to Europe and I didn’t have a gym, I didn’t have a trainer. I took a break, and also I think the food is so much better here.
On this subject – you clearly got extremely ripped for this album and torsos have been all over these new videos. Is your idea of making an “aggressively gay” album inherently tied to being fit?
Well… the “TopBrazil” cover is made by this amazing artist Asger Carlsen, and I’ve been collaborating with Asger on that cover image. He was one of the first people I went to work with in 2015 on this album. A lot of times I’ll start working on imagery – sometimes before the music is even rolling – to get a perspective on what the character is and what the mood of everything is. I knew Asger was someone I wanted to work with because I wanted to do something that was A) about the body, and B) I had been struck by the Belvedere torso in the Vatican, and how we’ve been living with this idealized version of the male form before Photoshop when it was made out of stone. We’ve had centuries of these unrealistic expectations of male power and male form, and I liked that it was headless – because, as I’m sure you know, in the gay world online, you’re dealing with a thousand headless torsos all day long.
With such a profound difference on every level of your practice with ‘Sir,’ I’m curious as to how you’re making it all work in your live performance. For instance, how are you combining something like “Emerge” with anything on the new record?
This is the other big thing that frustrates me about working in music, is that if you’re a painter and you make a great painting, it’s not like you have to keep making that. You don’t repaint that painting every time you come out with a new painting exhibition! You do a different idea. So it’s a little bit weird in music how you have a hit, you’ve got to hang onto that hit, and then you have to find ways to make it fresh, but also hang onto the familiarity because everybody just wants to hear what they know.
Now, when the song is of another era, I try to stay true to it and I don’t try to reinvent – I don’t like to reinvent the older versions. When I do “Emerge,” I’m just going to lip sync it, because that’s the idea and that’s the way it’s supposed to be played. When I do a new song that’s written to be sung, I sing it. It’s like showing your work through time, and trying to stay true to whatever the original intention was and not feel embarrassed if the idea is 20 years old.
For more of our features, read our chat with artist Hajime Sorayama on creating the wild art for Tyga’s new album right here.
- Header Image: Matthew Attard Navarro