Exclusive: Nicopanda Interviews Casey Spooner
The Fischerspooner frontman dishes on their highly anticipated comeback album, SIR
Photo: Vincent Claudio Urbani
By Justin Moran
Seven years have passed since electroclash outfit Fischerspooner released its third studio album, Entertainment, giving New York-based duo Casey Spooner and Warren Fischer ample time to react to a world that now lives entirely online. As a result, music culture, pop culture and even sex culture have all changed, transitioning in response to the rise of social media—a non-factor when Fischerspooner first broke out in 1998. Unlike their ultra-loud, conceptual stage performances, the pair’s been relatively quiet during their time away, releasing a few smaller projects and each working independently. Now, Fischerspooner is plotting its big return, which already sounds like full-blown pandamonium.
Lifted off their comeback album SIR, Fischerspooner’s buzz track, “Everything is Just Alright,” soundtracks our own ballerina-punk fashion film, starring YouTube sensation Josh Killacky. The single is grizzly and confrontational, showcasing Casey’s vocals with a rawer finish whereas previous Fischerspooner eras favored more polish and perfection. Having closely involved R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe as the album's producer, SIR naturally developed with an ear for legacy rock bands, like The Velvet Underground and T. Rex—a collaborative study in relinquishing control and reflecting on love.
NICOPANDA caught up with Casey to talk being "unabashedly homosexual," working with the R.E.M. icon and singing more freely than ever before.
Being such a visual artist, how was the experience of handing off your new song for someone else to create their own video with it?
I’ve been doing that more lately, where I go into situations and just let things happen. I made this crazy book, 'EGOS - Character Studies, Online Marketing and Prelude to New Music + Apt #3,' where I changed my image by working with 50 photographers and giving them no direction on how to shoot me. I’ve always had trouble with traditional music business marketing because they hire a photographer, you do one shoot, there’s a stylist and that’s your image for that chapter. I never get it right the first shoot, so I’ve learned I need maybe four to figure out the character. We’re living through this amazing time where everyone is shooting and posting—this new narcissism. ‘EGOS’ became more of an online conversation. One photographer would shoot and I’d post those [images], and another would come and we’d shoot more. This new chapter is really fun, letting things go and handing your material to new people. That’s a big thing on our new album, SIR—letting other people participate.
What’s the story behind “Everything is Just Alright?”
I wrote that first opening sequence walking down 14th Street, past Nowhere Bar. ‘I smell the smoke, I smell the piss, I smell the anger’—it really began as a piece of writing. Michael and I built off that and he had this desert vision: Patagonia, South American, gay biker gypsy. Some mysterious man with a beard and motorcycles—this sexy, cool, gay cowboy.
Is that attitude present on the rest of SIR?
The record is aggressively, unabashedly homosexual. That was something I wanted to do from the beginning. Warren and I had discussions about it because he didn’t want to limit our appeal to maintain a larger audience, so he asked if I could shift some of the pronouns to be more Universal. I had to think about it long and hard and said, ‘When you make songs vague about the sex of characters, you never assume they’re gay, lesbian or transgender. If there are generalizations, it’s assumed to be heterosexual.’ So I was like, ‘We can’t change the pronouns,’ and once he understood that, he got on board. There aren’t a lot of cool, smart gay songs that aren’t bad. It feels like the gay spectrum is just drag and porn.
Photo: Isauro Cairo
How long have you been working on this new album?
Three years pretty consistently. We’re slow, in general. Michael stepped in about a year and a half ago and then it was a really solid push for a year and a half. It works because you get great ideas, you get momentum, you push yourself, you burn out and then you step away for a period of time to go do other things. Then, you have a fresh perspective. I always move between art, theater and music, and they all feed each other. That’s what makes [Fischerspooner] not a band. Our interest isn’t exclusive to music. We make a song and then maybe a photograph, and all these elements grow simultaneously with each other so we end with this holistic sonic and visual [project].
How did Michael Stipe get involved?
Michael made the biggest shift because when he came in, we already had 12 songs done. We had a really beautiful track that Warren made, but it was so difficult musically—these big brutalist, synth chunks with the most overblown parts. I could not figure out how to turn it into a song. I had Cody from SSION and Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters come in to help me figure out how to attack the track, but it was Michael who finally came in and figured it out within a couple hours. He left, but eventually came back and asked to give me notes on a couple songs. He fucking tore the songs to bits and I was like, this is incredible, I’m going to learn from the master.
Did Michael challenge the way you initially approached this album?
He tried to push me to be a singer. First, I was a visual artist, then I was a performer and last came music, so I’ve had no real training. Music, for me, has been very intuitive—always more of a format and a tool to express ideas, create images and build this world around. Singing came last, so I never had a problem with openly lip-synching because I had nothing to prove or lose. This made me very free, which is why Warren liked working with me. I was very malleable, but Michael pushed me to be more emotive and connect with the language—to take responsibility for the vocals. On SIR, the vocals on some songs are very raw, real and messy, and not this cold, icy, clinical, plastic persona.
Photo: Javier Biosca
After having worked with Warren as a duo on previous Fischerspooner albums, how was it closely collaborating with a third person?
Michael stopped us from working. He was like, ‘Don’t do anything else.’ Warren would get frustrated because he’d send us demo tracks while we were in the studio to work on vocals and melody, and Michael wouldn’t allow him to make any changes to the music. The first raw musical sketch would be the one that’d stick. The same happened with my vocals. There’s one song on the album that’s done in the first take—a long, crazy spoken word verse. He also encouraged us to be on a bizarre schedule, where we’d start at maybe 10 p.m. and go until 6 in the morning. We’d go days without stopping, at one point 23 days straight without a day off.
Was this when you were transforming your image for the book, “EGOS?”
Yes, I’d wake up around noon, eat something, have training in the afternoon and go straight into the studio at night. I was out of my mind, physically and mentally being challenged, and working in this weird celebrity spa writing prison where I was completely in isolation. At one point, I was so tired and I remember telling Michael I needed to shower before the studio. He was like, ‘Absolutely not. Take a towel and shower there.’
What are you exploring lyrically on SIR?
When we started the record, I wanted to make something about my relationship, sexually and emotionally. At that point, I’d been in a long-term relationship for [about] 14 years—a very happy, successful relationship that’d been an open relationship for about 8 years. I ended up in this emotionally advanced, sexual and intimate relationship, and wanted to reflect on these narratives. I had a loving home with stability and support, but I was also having relationships outside the primary one. In the midst of all that, my relationship unraveled, so the album has this chapter about failure, collapse and heartbreak. At the end, I recover and find myself—I experience revelations and rediscovery.
Have you considered what your live shows will be like for Fischerspooner’s new era?
I’m torn because there’s an expectation for us to make something spectacular based on our past, but that idea is kind of done. I feel like all the things we did became part of popular culture. The whole crazy costumes, punk-pop irreverent vibe—it’s maxed out and everyone’s now wearing a cube on their head. That’s what I’m struggling with. How do you maintain some of that philosophy, but also evolve?
What was the creative process behind your album name and artwork, which features a giant hard-on?
The album was originally going to be called EGOS, but SIR is a word pulled from the song we made in one take, called ‘Stranger Strange.’ The word also appeared in our book ‘EGOS’ in this gothic font on a transparent page. Toward the end of mixing our album, Michael was like, ‘Are you sure EGOS is the title?’ Our creative director Spilios Gianakopoulos overheard and returned the next day with the word, ‘SIR,’ superimposed over this radical image. He said, ‘This is the cover. This is the title.’ The artwork feels like The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, but the pants came off and the dick got hard. You can see how this represents our holistic nature of how we collaboratively work. We recorded it, a designer put it into a book, there was a conversation that someone overheard and they combined these elements into a new idea. That wouldn’t happen if Fischerspooner was just a band.
Watch our SS '16 campaign, featuring Fischerspooner, below: