Spygenius – Man On The Sea (Q&A)

The new Spygenius album, “Man On The Sea,” is an expansive (17 song, 79 minute CD / Digital Download, a double album if you get the vinyl version) ride that defies immediate description. Read the full Mike DeAngelis review here.

Buy here.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Peter Watts about the new record and how it came together.

Releasing singles or ep’s seems to be the new norm. Not for you?

When Spygenius got together, we wanted the band to be a vehicle that would let us write, record and perform original music of the sort we wanted to hear, for as long as we could get away with it – so we were never really concerned with what was or wasn’t the new norm or the old norm or any norm… we’ve never been part of a scene or a movement, we’ve always been a bit of an anachronism, to be honest – but that’s great because it’s liberating, artistically. And it’s always been part of our ambition to record great albums, like the albums that inspired us when we first got into music – albums with a coherence to them, that can take you on a bit of journey. But we’ve done five albums now, so who knows, we might become a singles band from now on!

How did this record come together?

This record sort of grew out of the last one (‘Pacéphale) – in fact, they both came out of a really prolonged ongoing recording session. They sort of go together, really – except this one took a while to come into shape. We tend to just work on individual tracks, letting the song take us where it wants to go, and then usually, a moment will come when things start to shape themselves up, the collection gets a distinctive ‘feel’ to it, you start to get a sense of what the track order should be – but this lot, it took ages before that ‘feel’ started to emerge, which might be why there are so many songs on it! It was also recorded over a period where some members of the band went through a lot of changes at a personal level. I’m not sure the album has a theme that can be intellectualized – it’s more of a feel thing – but mortality, and how our relationship to it changes as we age, as we experience joy and loss, is definitely in there – after all, it starts with a track which is sort of about kidding yourself that you’re immortal, and ends with a eulogy.

Hard work or did the songs just keep coming?

It’s always work, but maybe not ‘hard work’ because we love what we do. The old ‘10% inspiration, 90% perspiration’ maxim holds true, and we do just keep slogging at our recordings – and if they don’t come out right, we re-do it… which is part of the reason there are such big gaps between the releases – we all have day jobs and most of us have kids and stuff so we just try to keep as steady a pace as we can, and put the stuff out when it’s ready. As for the songs themselves, there’s a mix of old songs that have been waiting their turn to be worked up and brand new ones, but there’s no particular formula – sometimes a song will just present itself to you, almost finished, sometimes it takes a lot of graft and reworking. Sometimes you get halfway there and just have to put the thing down and accept that it’s going to be finished some other time.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

I think in this case when a dear friend – sadly no longer with us, but someone whose musical judgment and experience we really, really rated, and who we were a bit in awe of, to be honest, – heard an early assembly of the album and just raved about it, how much he loved it. He gave us a track by track breakdown of what he liked the most, which was amazing – literally, on Messenger, while he was hearing it for the first time. It’s not like we didn’t think it was good before that, but that endorsement certainly made us go ‘ooh!’ And then when Champniss added his artwork – which is really sympathetic to the music – it really started to feel like the whole was getting bigger than the sum of the parts.

I have “survived” in the past few months by listening to music, watching movies… why is it so difficult to explain that art is important to our well-being?

No idea. Maybe everyone knows it, really, but for some reason, they think it’s inappropriate to admit it. Because it doesn’t always (often… ever?!) generate a profit? It’d be a sad world indeed if that was our only measure of success. A cash reward has never been the benchmark that Spygenius has used to judge whether or not what we’re doing is worth the effort – it’s about does it please us, and does what we do touch other people – are they moved by the songs, do they go home after a gig feeling a bit uplifted and that that was a couple of hours well spent. If we can achieve that, then we’ve hit the mark. That’s why we were so excited to team up with Big Stir – their whole ethos is so about creating a mutually supporting musical community, and that suited us down to the ground.  

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