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Interview: Spring King – “We Don’t Really Know How To Play Super Soft Music”

Spring King are a band on a meteoric rise. Manchester natives, they’d been plugging away for several years before catching the ear of Zane Lowe and having their hit single City receive the honour of being the first song ever played on his Beats 1 show. Hard hitting, relentlessly driving rock and roll that pummels you into delirium with a deliciously tangible 60s flavour, they have released a string of equally as hotly received singles in the lead-up to their debut album Tell Me If You Like To, which is just weeks away from landing. With the Spring King boys also set to tour Australia as part of the biggest Splendour In The Grass lineup in years as well, we had the privilege of catching up with frontman, drummer, songwriter, producer and an all-around great bloke in Tarek Musa ahead of a huge couple of months for them.

Tarek: Hey James, how are you?

Good Tarek, how’s it going?

I’m alright, it’s my first ever interview abroad basically with Australia.

I get the honour of that interview? Good lord…

Yeah! I’ve never woken up this early…

Oh dear, I do apologise for waking you. I’ll definitely try and set the bar high for your first ever Aussie interview. So you’ve just woken up, what have you got planned for today?

*Laughs* So we’re playing Liverpool tonight so the guys’ll be here in a couple of hours and then we’ll drive to Liverpool and play the show tonight and then tomorrow we’re off to Guildford or Leicester tomorrow actually.

Is there even a Leicester there anymore after the Premier League?

*Laughs* I think so.

So you’re in the middle of quite an extensive tour at the moment around the UK, how’s it all been so far?

It’s been really good so far. We’ve been playing a lot of places that we’ve never headlined before or even been to before and the reception’s been amazing like, most of the shows we’ve been about three tickets off selling out and we weren’t really expecting that from places we’ve never been to so it’s really exciting. Especially the first night, which was Norwich, there were so many people there and everybody was going crazy so it’s like yeah this is fun, this is great. We didn’t expect this so we were really over the moon.

The whole tour’s been like that so far so we’re all a bit like oh right, cool, people know us in that place and in that place and it’s really good.

That’s some exciting and encouraging news for you guys, that’s great. So mid-tour you’ve just put out another single in Detroit, which is presently burning up the airwaves over here. What can you tell us about that song?

Well basically we recorded it as part of the album so it comes out on June 10th on Tell Me If You Like To and it’s a song about how I fell in love with someone from Detroit *laughs* and I went over there and it was a really cool place and I had a really great time so it’s basically a song about love and trying to make things work, nothing more than that really.

Very relatable. Love the sound of it as with everything else you’ve released because it has such a huge 60s influence to it. What is it that draws you to that era?

Well I think I always grew up listening to 60s music. My parents have always had a lot of it in the house and especially my dad. Growing up I wanted to learn the drums and the first video that I ever watched that inspired me to learn the drums was this Hollywood movie with Tom Hanks called That Thing You Do and I used to play on books. My dad didn’t buy me a drum kit for about five years or something he was like “If you really want to play drums you gotta keep playing on these books” and then years went by and all I listened to were these 60s soundtracks around the house and I think that’s how that sort of 60s influence came in for me.

A lot of the best pop music I’ve ever heard in my life was from the 60s and its a big inspiration arrangement-wise and songwriting -wise. The 60s, for me, was where it was at for pop songwriting and obviously I love the Beach Boys, they’re my number one band. I’m actually going to see them three times this month in England, Brian Wilson is coming and playing shows and I managed to get tickets to three of them so I’m just going to go and saturate myself in Brian Wilson *laughs*

That’ll be it for you then right?

*Laughs* Yeah that’s it, I’m done.

Well I guess that’s the other big news for you guys, as you mentioned, your debut album Tell Me If You Like To is out June 10th. How does it feel to have it all wrapped up and ready to go?

It feels great! We’ve been wanting to put out an album for quite a while but then we’ve always been doing loads of support tours or working early on, Pete (Darlington, guitar) and James (Green, bass) had jobs and we didn’t have the proper time to get down and record together but we managed to do that at the end of last year and it feels great. It feels great to finally be putting out our debut and we just want to keep writing music now and try and keep up that momentum and get that next album ready *laughs* at some point.

We just want to put out music and I think as soon as you put out that first album it feels like the starting gun to dropping more and more stuff and really starting to write music a lot. We kind of want to put out as much as possible but I guess we’ll see how the year goes with tours and stuff. I’m sure it’s going to get even more crazy and we won’t be able to put out music for the next five years probably *laughs*

Speaking of momentum, pretty much every single Spring King has brought out in the last year or so has just been really really well-received. What does that do for your confidence as a new band? Obviously that’s a really positive thing but does it add any pressure when it comes to putting together the final record wanting to carry through that consistent quality?

Yeah well a lot of people found out about us through City and Who Are You so that was like this riff-based entrance to Spring King which a lot of people found and I’ve always wanted to make sure that when we put out the album that we do a bit of everything that we enjoy, not just one aspect. So there’s a couple of slow songs on there as well, there’s a couple of four minute tracks. I personally like writing short songs but I wanted to make sure that I write a bit of everything so that we’re not pigeonholed too quickly into one area with where the album goes.

It’s really inspiring. When people message you on Facebook or Twitter and they love the music and they tell you “this helped me today” or “I really love this song, I was going through a tough time but I put it on and it made me really happy”, you go oh gosh, that’s really cool. Then when you play shows and people are coming up to you after. It is really inspiring to see the reaction songs have had.

It does put a bit of pressure on you, yeah. Because you want to make your fans happy but then if I went down that route I’d probably go crazy so I’m trying to do it like just on a personal level first and making sure that personally I’m really happy with the music first and then if other people like it then that’s amazing. That’s the cherry on the cake.

What were some of the challenges that you faced writing and recording your first album?

So I’d written loads of songs to put on the album and then when I arrived at the studio, because I’ve always just recorded in my house and Spring King have never really recorded in a proper studio before, but when we got there we’d hired it out ourselves and we were going to engineer it all ourselves and record it all ourselves which we did but the actual space was so inspiring that we wrote five songs there. So we went in with this preparation to record there all these songs we had but then ended up writing more songs there and then.

It was a bit of a weird experience really because Rectifier we recorded and we wrote there and there’s a few others on the album which we did there. We went in with this master plan but it kind of just gets thrown out the window anyway. It was a weird experience recording the album. There was a lot of preparation but the atmosphere took us anyway and we just ended up doing whatever we wanted when we were there.

Sounds like a really positive first recording experience in the endI got to have a listen to it this afternoon on my way home from work and like you said, there’s a few different aspects to it and you’re not pigeonholing yourselves into one particular sound or genre but one thing that I thought came through consistently was the sheer energy that you boys played with in recording that album. I just wanted to ask how did you get that to come through so well and is it something that’s difficult to bring to the studio every day or do you all just feed off each other?

The way we record normally we do the drums first and also at the time we were recording the album James and Pete had jobs so we recorded everything in part because James couldn’t make it Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Pete was working in a bakery Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays so I’d do all the drums on my own basically and one of the things I was trying to keep in mind the whole way was that even when it’s a slow song or even when it’s a dynamic song to try and keep that, in the drums especially, to try and keep that punch and still play quite aggressively and I think then when James came in to record the bass that really influenced the way he was playing because they were that aggressive. So then the bass ended up aggressive and the guitars after that so even when it was slow there’s definitely still just this energy there.

We try to recreate it live because live we like to just go crazy so we wanted to get that in the album as well. I think it’s part of us, we don’t really know how to play super soft music, we like to play hard. It’s because we’re bad musicians *laughs*. No we really enjoy the driving force between every song that we play. We like to keep it snappy and hard-hitting, even when it’s slow.

I think that’s why you’ve got so many fans at the moment, definitely what a lot of people look for in their music. Speaking of the live environment, how have your songs been transitioning into the live form?

We’ve been playing Rectifier and Detroit and Tell Me If You Life To at the moment and all three are really fun to play. We just put The Summer into our set as well and it’s the way they’ve all been written. We’ve always written it in the studio, recorded it and then learnt it as a live piece so we’ve never been one of those bands who’ve rehearsed it together and then gone into the studio, it’s the opposite way around.

We had a bit of a challenge at first trying to recreate that studio sound a little bit, like the energy and making sure we captured that energy but then it’s translated really well and the reception we’ve had off these tracks has been really positive. Whenever Rectifier plays and there’s a moshpit we feel like we’ve done a really good job. We’ve done what we came here to do.

I’m definitely very much looking forward to being a part of that moshpit at this year’s Splendour In The Grass which Spring King are coming out to play.

Yessss, we can’t wait.

What are you looking forward to most when you come out here. I mean apart from playing Splendour obviously but is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to doing while you’re in Australia?

Well I’ve never ever been to Australia. A lot of my friends have and a lot of my friends have moved there. We’re only going to Sydney, Melbourne and Byron Bay and it’s a massive country but I have friends who have been to those three places and they’ve all said it’s just incredible. One of my good friends Fraser A. Gorman lives in Melbourne and I can’t wait to see him and hang out as well, he’s a really cool guy and then Dave (Mudie) the drummer for Courtney Barnett I’d like to meet up with him for a bit and hang out and then I guess after playing the three shows we just want to see whatever’s happening and getting tips from everyone around us and making sure we’re doing the coolest things in those cities.

I’ve heard Melbourne is a really relaxed place and there’s a really cool arts scene so I want someone to just take me around and show me some really good music and get some good food and just chill out basically but apart from that if there’s any good shows on then I hope Fraser will take me to a few and take me round basically.

I’d say there might be one or two on around Splendour time so hopefully you’re in luck. Just wrapping it up because I know you’ve got a big day ahead of you, but what sort of goals have you set for Spring King as a band in the next 12 months?

We really want to play as many shows as possible so one of the goals that we have is to be playing 1000-cap venues by next year. Headlining 1000-cap venues would be amazing and a dream come true. In London we’re doing 800 but then in places like Leeds and Birmingham where we’re not as well known it would be great to be doing 1000-caps by next year. Just a big tour next year.

We want to go to Japan as well now that Australia’s in the bag we want to go to Japan as well, that would be so sick. And we want to put out more music I guess next year. An album next year would be amazing. An album a year *laughs*

Some exciting times ahead for Spring King for sure. Tarek thank you so much for the chat, all the best to you and the rest of Spring King with the album coming out. I have a feeling it’s going to go over very very well and we’re looking forward to seeing you all out here as part of Splendour In The Grass.

Thank you James, thank you very much. See you there!