Local indie-rock band Spondees talk to Time Out about their new CD, music style and being a band in Shanghai prior to their show at Yuyintang
Can you start by explaining how you all met and how and when Spondees started?
Matt: Back in 2008, Chris and I met at work, and then we met Ryan at Beedees Music Bar. Ryan is a busy guy involved in a lot of different projects, so when our schedule was getting to be too much for him, we found Yoshi, again at Beedees Music Bar. He was playing drums with a motley band of highly intellectual travelling Swedes, but when they went back to Sweden, he picked up the bass and started playing with us. Then Chris had to go back to England for med school, but we’d met Dave, who was playing in an overworked and underrated cover band, somewhat akin to Murph and the Magic Tones....
How has your sound developed and changed since you first started out?
Yoshi:Probably the biggest development is that we used to avoid hi-tech gear, but now we can’t get enough of it. Some things haven’t changed much though, like our interest in major 7 chords and polyrhythm.
Matt:The early songs I wrote for the band were pretty firmly rooted in the classic-blues-rock idiom, but our recent songs are more experimental and cover a lot more ground stylistically. Everybody always asks ‘What kind of music do you play,’ but it’s kind of hard to say with us. One thing for sure, our arrangements have always been defined by our trio line up - we’re kind of an experimental electro-pop-rock trio with classical sensibilities and jazz pretensions, which doesn't really help people understand what kind of music we play. We keep hoping the press will come up with some pithy moniker for it!
Dave: I think the sound has changed a little bit since I’ve been in the band, because we’ve gone, like, totally electric now. All of the samples we use are a really important part of our sound. And of course the sound is a lot bigger now that we’ve got the big Detroit drum beat behind it.
Few Shanghai bands seem to last more than a couple of years, you've been going for six. What's your secret?
Yoshi: Dismal love lives?
Matt: We all like Shanghai and have felt at home here for many years. The other big thing though is drive. We just gotta play our music. All the time.
Dave: We don’t mix business with pleasure.
What do you make of the current state of music in Shanghai and how have you seen it change over the years?
Yoshi: All the bands are getting more sophisticated.
Matt: There’s always been tons of good music in Shanghai, but if anything it keeps getting more and more diffuse. There’s something for every little niche audience, but it’s always hard to draw a big crowd.
Dave: I still think the core audience is there, it’s just reaching it. People are bombarded every day with entertainment options and it’s hard for them to pick out that one thing...
How long has this album been in the works? When did you start writing and recording? Who did you work with on it?
Dave: Since 1976.
Yoshi: Two World Cup cycles.
Matt: Since time immemorial. This album is actually assembled from various projects we’ve been working on for quite a while. But it’s all just the three of us and a few extremely Spondaic friends. Ryan produced the two best-produced tracks: Faretheewell and Everything. Aaron did his X and Jazz It Up vocals. Spivey co-wrote Dragon with me and Yoshi. Suki did a lot of work at the print shop. Even though the tracks are drawn from many different time periods, I think they hold together nicely as a set, and create a pretty unique mood that kind of draws you in to a very Spondaic place.
If you had to pick out your three favourite tracks on the album, which would they be and why?
Matt: Lucky Number. I always like the tracks by the dark horse writer in any band.
Yoshi: X-Ray Eyes. Just listen to it.
Dave: Lucky number. It’s just pleasing. It’s a weird song, and I’m a weird guy.
Matt: That’s actually only two track.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in recording this album?
Which venue is your favourite to play in Shanghai and why?
Dave: Uh-oh, gotta be politically correct!
Matt: There are so many good venues, with so many good people. We love MAO Livehouse with its massive stage and massive screen, Yuyintang with its grit and grime and spit and blood, On Stage with its beautiful room and awesome sound system, and Livebar with its low-key college vibe and independent ethos. We’re pretty much happy to play anywhere when it comes right down to it.
Yoshi: I really liked The Void in Nantong.
What's your favourite and least favourite thing about being a band in Shanghai?
Yoshi: The best thing is lots of opportunity to play and the different types of people you meet. The worst thing is that we lose at least 20 gigs a year because of my face.
Matt: Yeah, the racist thing really sucks. When people want a band with no Asian people in it, we know that we definitely didn’t want to play that gig in the first place. Those people obviously don’t care about music at all. They treat artists like commodities. Then there’s another type of gig where they don’t want any white people in it. They want it to be their idea of ‘local.’ That leaves us in a funny place, because our band is 100 per cent born and bred in Shanghai, but of course we’re originally from other places. Whatever. It shouldn’t make any difference where you’re from. If people don’t want to listen to a band with a Chinese person in it, that’s their loss.
Dave: I suppose my favorite thing is the people and the other bands we get to meet out there playing around. And the worst thing about being a band in Shanghai is the other bands and the people. No, not really. Exposure is the tough thing. There’s a lot of competition with the discotheques. Whenever people see our show they always really like it, but it’s hard to get them there to see it.
What can people expect from the show next weekend?
Matt: We’re going to perform the whole album, so we’re practicing, because some of the tracks aren’t in our regular live repertoire, they’ve been strictly studio creations. We’ve also got a new video for 456 from Josh, and Suki’s working on getting it into a visual show. And of course there will be CDs and T-shirts available on a no-reasonable-offer-refused basis. Just don’t ask us to give you the whole lot for a kuai. There are three other bands, too: Scarlet, our old friends Stonebones, and the phenomenal Nomadsland!
What's next for Spondees? A tour? Another album? World domination?
Yoshi: All of the above! We want to keep building the global fan base onlinehere or on our Facebook, and the local fan base on our Weibo and onDouban.
Dave: Plug those websites...
Matt: We have another album with Ryan at The 72 Studio that’s been nearly ready for about six months now...
Yoshi: We’re just working on the drum tracks, ahem...
Matt: There’s a growing sense of urgency for that global domination with Yoshi thinking seriously about eventually returning to grad school.
Yoshi: We’ve got almost 4,000 international fans on the reverbnation. We’ve really got to get the local fans on board now.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Matt: I’d like to take a minute to remember the late great Jeff Davis and how hard he worked to connect people and grow the music scene in this city. He would want us to remember that in music and so many other facets of life, less is more.
Spondees release their CD at Yuyintang on Friday 29 August.