Quite often, I have listened to people lambaste the very thought of forming a band, exclaiming with enthusiasm every problematic influx of issues, involved with being in a band.
They negate every debate possible, focusing upon the people politics, quarrels, and in my experience, the horror of scouting for suitable members; especially with modern equipment allowing music to be created alone, at home, in a suitable, simple and leisurely environment.
I guess, having fun, hanging out with your mates and physically clattering around on stage your hand crafted songs still attracts many a day dreamer, and add this to the attraction of playing in a band assisting in the scoring stakes with girls, which a very unique appeal of its own.
‘I’ve known Pete the guitarist, since I was 14 years old. We went to the same high school and have been making music together for over 10 years. Andy was someone I met when I was a little older, maybe 16 or 17 years old.’
Significantly, it still lays the ultimate platform, as far as I am concerned of projecting a voice through opinion and not to mention the dreams come true scenarios of basking in the glory of headlining tours, meeting idols, and inspiring countless along the way.
However, It takes a certain recipe and flavour to lure the public to taste your musical concoctions and it is no accident that Spring King, a very cool bunch of lads from Manchester; formed as a small-scale, art-pop-punk project by drummer and front man, Tarek Musa have caused quite a stir.
‘The last year has been a lot of fun. We’ve had ups and downs along the way but we’ve enjoyed every moment.’
Little over a year ago, the band had been playing the rounds of UK and European venues attempting to make waves, releasing singles and extended plays until the celebratory evening, Zane Lowe played the charging 2015 release ‘City’, which got beamed into 100 countries last June, as the landmark first track played on Apple’s Beats 1 radio service. Follow up single, ‘Who Are You?’ was launched at the end of 2015 and announced as the ‘hottest record in the world’, on Radio 1 by Annie Mac. It was then A-listed on 6 Music and placed on the In New Music We Trust playlist on Radio 1.
“I’ve had a lot of emails and positive tweets from people who have never heard the band before,” Musa said.
The Apple beats gig proved to be a huge break for the band, leading to worldwide press hype, a deal with Island and an appearance on BBC2’s Later… With Jools Holland alongside Elton John, who personally requested a copy of their debut record.
‘’Elton didn’t offer any advice, but he really enjoyed our performance so we gave him a copy of our album!’’
Recorded in Lincolnshire’s Chapel Studios as well as 27-year-old Musa’s house, ‘Tell me if you like it’ belays a deeper, richer sound than in previous releases and almightily armed with a set of songs screaming to be played loud and danced too, until sun rise.
We wanted this debut to be a natural progression from where that EP left off. We wanted to explore identity even more and on the whole the album was intended to be a coming of age record.
A track like ‘Demons’ perfectly demonstrates the growth within Tarek’s mixing and production abilities. Originally, released in 2014 the track is now served with a bolder production given edge by Peter Darlington’s carving-knife guitar.
‘I tried to challenge myself to record better than before and mix better than before, but it was an artistic desire to expand as a musician and engineer.’
Most recently, the band flourished on the NME/ BBC RADIO 1 stage displaying an unnerved, controlled and natural performance, providing a wide eyed and unpolished excitement fans desire from young buck, rock and rollers performing at a festival. The performance served everyone a glittering glimpse, into the bands future, as potential headliners, which only heightens the excitement brewing around them.
‘’The astonishing energy and speed was kept up throughout the set, and was so fast and furious that even an Olympic sprinter would’ve struggled to keep up with the pace.’’
Catching up with the band, prior to an upcoming UK tour, I hoped to experience what it must feel like to be in not only Manchester’s but one of the world’s most promising and prodigious bands, whom are certainly taking Manchester, into the future after many years under the clouds of multiple legendary legacies of past glories.
How did Spring King come into being?
I’ve known Pete the guitarist since I was 14 years old. We went to the same high school and have been making music together for over 10 years. Andy was someone I met when I was a little older, maybe 16 or 17 years old. He skated at the same park as me and we met over skateboarding and a common love of metal and punk music. He didn’t play an instrument at all, that came later. James our bass player was someone we met when Spring King had already been going for a while…we had numerous line-ups but musicians were constantly changing and eventually James joined as the bass player. He’s been with us ever since and we’re now a settled band.
How has the band evolved from the very birth to present?
Spring King started as a solo project and now it is a full band. The sound has changed with what I have learned about mixing and producing music. I’ve always wanted to make sounds as best as I could, and the limitation was always my knowledge of production and engineering, but over the years this has evolved. We are still the same four guys we were last year. We are very active with our releases and make sure to be hands on with the photos, videos and artwork. I feel like even though we are on a major label now, we still stick to the DIY way of doing things, being part of the big decisions and making sure we do this the way we always have enjoyed doing it.
Whom and what are your non-musical and musical influences?
Musical influences include The Clash, The Beach Boys, Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, Arcade Fire, Black Lips and TY Segall. Non-musical influences, I’m not sure, I like to read a lot…maybe the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Alan Watts and Noam Chomsky…
How difficult is it singing behind the drums especially with the beats you hit. Did anybody else attempt, or try out for the front man role?
We originally had a different drummer, but he had commitments to other projects. Playing the drums and singing was never intentional, it was something that happened due to not having a drummer and finding it difficult to find out quick enough. I used to actually play Bass and Guitar originally in Spring King! It can be difficult, especially when you’re al-ready tired before a show, but I always get a buzz and then I’m fine.
You guys were recent guests on the legendary Jools Holland show, alongside Elton John. How was that experience and did Jools, or Elton offer any advice?
Elton didn’t offer any advice, but he really enjoyed our performance so we gave him a copy of our album!
Do you have any advice for young bands out there?
Make music that makes you happy whether its punk or pop or whatever you’re into and be proud of your art. Play as much as you can, both in the practice room and live. Take it slow and steady, give your self time to develop as a musician both as a songwriter and as a performer on stages.
Describe your sound to the uninitiated?
We are fans of pop music but enjoy energetic, heavy, garage style playing. Mostly up-tempo songs, with a few slow ones that we love too.
‘They’re Coming After You EP is about things falling apart. A bit of chaos. What is the creative identity, connotations and imprint of, ‘Tell me if you like to’?
‘Tell Me If You Like To’ follows on from the ‘They’re Coming After You’ EP. We wanted this debut to be a natural progression from where that EP left off. We wanted to explore identity even more and on the whole the album was intended to be a coming of age rec-ord.
The lyrics to the notable track, ‘City’ the debut track played on Apple Beats by Zane Lowe, assisted Zane through a couple of stressful months. You are, indeed, noted for writing the lyrics after the music is laid out. Is that simply a natural process, it being easier to write the music over lyrics or do you think that helps the songs evolve, and function?
When we start to write a song, normally there are a few lyrics floating around that aid the development of the melodies. Once the melody and basic song is in place, I try and focus purely on the music first. We work on the music and record it so it sounds exciting to us instrumentally, and then we add the lyrics. The lyrics are written separately so that I can focus on them.
Does the band swear by any particular instruments and equipment?
The Roland Space Echo (RE-201) is incredible. I don’t think Andy could live without a Bigsby Whammy on any guitar he plays. Since using Zildjian, I don’t think I could ever look back, they sound better than any cymbal I’ve ever owned. The Boss Blues Driver is also a great pedal, it really helps cut through, especially in Pete’s guitar tone.
You guys like to challenge yourselves, in particular, writing a song per day. What other musical challenges do you feel lay ahead?
The next challenge is writing more music and using whatever influences that inspire us in the future to create it. The next record we release will hopefully be different in its own way! The other main challenge musically is performing the album on tours, which I find very exciting!
‘The Summer’ was Radio One’s track of the day, which I read was a homage to Brian Wilson. How does he inspire the band?
I didn’t really take a passion for songwriting until I heard The Beach Boys. I’ve always written songs but never taken it seriously until around the age of 23 when I heard ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’. After that, I kept listening to all their catalogue and slowly became obsessed. I realised on the surface a lot of the songs were about sunshine, parties and surf but dig deeper and there was a darkness behind Brian’s up-tempo ‘happy sounding’ productions. There was a moody undercurrent which swept me away and ever since, I feel like I’ve learned to understand his writing in much more detail. I’ve tried to take his energetic/up tempo approach to arrangements across into Spring King, along with the dark nature of some of his lyrics.
What were some of the challenges that you faced writing and recording ‘Tell me if you like to’?
We recorded ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ very much in the same way we’ve recorded our older songs. Luckily we received a grant from the PRS for Music Foundation who helped us gain funds to enter a recording studio. Apart from the small budget from the grant, we kept it simple, and I took the seat of engineer, producer and mixer on the album. We were in between two tours when the album was being recorded so didn’t have long to record it! The biggest challenge was making sure we got what we wanted out of those sessions but also learnt when to say enough was enough. For me this rec-ord was about capturing a moment in time as opposed to a perfect album that takes months upon months. That’s the way I’ve always approached recording our music. There’s a perception that maybe because we went into a studio we were perfecting things or over producing but it’s definitely not the case. I tried to challenge myself to record better than before and mix better than before, but it was an artistic desire to expand as a musician and engineer.
How long did you spend working on the record?
The album was recorded in 3 weeks. Some songs on the record such as ‘Rectifier’, ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ and ‘Take Me Away’ were also written in those 3 weeks whilst at Chapel Studios. We took it slow for some days, just soaking in the surroundings was inspiring enough to write new material whilst there!
This time last year you were an unsigned band on the Sound City undercard bill. Now, you’re signed to Island records, embarking on headline tours across the globe. How has the change been for the band and was the success of the single, ‘City’ a turning point?
The last year has been a lot of fun. We’ve had ups and downs along the way but we’ve enjoyed every moment. We have a lot of respect for Island who signed us without even hearing the album. They took a big step doing that, having the faith in what we do as a band and letting us do our thing how we want to. The single ‘City’ was a funny one be-cause that EP it was on (‘They’re Coming After You EP’) was only meant to have four songs on it but right at the last minute I wrote ‘City’ and put it on there! I’m really glad I did, because we’ve had so many positive messages from fans who enjoy the song.
The band is extremely DIY in many aspects. How important is this to the band and with recent success will you relinquish some form of creativity in videos or album covers?
We always have an active role in the creativity surrounding music videos, artwork, photos, and everything else. We are in every conversation, every email and always stay involved. We have always been like that and it’s not something we want to change. We’re also very lucky to have a label that are trust worthy, giving us our creative control. There’s a massive mutual respect. If you don’t stay involved with all aspects of the art then what is it that you’re presenting, and is it honest?
What is the hardest part about being the producer for your band?
Learning when to be a producer and when to be a musician. In many ways the two over-lap and they have grown together since day one.
The band signed for Island records, a major label. How did you decide upon Island records, as you released previous material through the Transgressive label. In addition, do you think labels still matter?
We’ve had a lot of label offers in th past, from both independents and majors. Island were very honest with us and basically said they wanted us to do our thing. Surprisingly they wanted us to keep things the way we wanted more than the others that were interested in the album. What I liked about them was they had faith in us. They didn’t hear the album until it was ready to be mastered, which I felt showed their trust in us to deliver something we as a band were happy with first and foremost. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be releasing this album perhaps right now, who knows. They have a huge level of knowledge and always advise or suggest ideas to us…it’s great to have an extended family!
I think labels still matter. Bands can do it on their own too, it just depends if you can find a way to release your music and get it out there in a way you are happy with. The good thing is there are just so many options in how to promote your music both via labels or DIY.
Your rhythm section is particularly tight and at the forefront of the songs melody, particularly on ‘Who are you?’, ‘Rectifier’ and ‘City’. Is a focus on Bass and Drums something, which happened naturally, or thought about consciously through a particular inspiration?
It’s probably a subconscious thing that is the consequence of being a drummer firstly! I do have a huge love for rhythm and think it’s very important in the music we play. It’s important that the drums and bass were always locked in on this new album.
What’s your recording setup like at home, as you record the majority of songs, in your bathroom?
My setup at home is an iMac, a pair of Mackie speakers and a Focusrite soundcard. I use around 5 microphones in my home setup maximum at any one time. It’s very, very basic but does the job. To be fair, even when we went to the studio, we recorded all Pete’s guitars for the album in the residential bedrooms we were given. It felt a lot more natural to be in the bedrooms in the studio than the actual studio! I like to use great equipment but I don’t feel limited when I can’t either. It was important for us that we didn’t go too crazy using lots of fancy stuff if it wasn’t necessary. The studio for us was more about the space, and getting out of my house to refresh our brains!
‘I said to myself that every song that I would write for Spring King would have to be written, recorded, mixed and ‘mastered’ in one day.’ Do you guys still live by that statement?
Not anymore! But for a good year that was my approach to songwriting. I felt like it made me learn quick and made me constantly excited for the next time I wrote a song. I enjoyed that way of working for a long time, it felt like a rush and meant that recordings were kept quite raw and ‘time capsule’ like as opposed to a perfected piece.
Why did you guys decide on using Tarek, as producer, rather than a producer who does not know your work for the record, like previous material?
We’ve always used me as a producer, it’s just been convenient I guess!
What are your thoughts on social media regarding Twitter, Sound Cloud and Bandcamp?
It depends how you use them, but in my opinion social media is not a bad thing at all. Some decide not to use it and some do, I think there’s arguments for both sides, but then again there’s something for everyone out there.
What is the next step for Spring king?
We are going to tour as much as we can over the next few months, and keep writing more music. Lots more music basically.