When you work you really start seeing the value of time in a very tangible way, and music seems like the total opposite of what working in an office represents - we just have to do something outside of that.
It started in a pub as all good things invariably do. We'd been visiting pals in York and decided to see if Fawn Spots fancied a pint, which they did. We like the band a lot, on the recommendation of John Robb we'd booked them for the Louder than War / Incendiary curation at Incubate in 2012, and subsequently found (especially in the din and gloaming of the Incubate afterparty) that we all got on famously. After a few here and there in York (incidentally, we recommend the Golden Ball for a few), we promised to get in touch again in terms of knocking up an interview. The band members are certainly not shy of an opinion or two, and as they are riding a creative wave with their recent, brilliant single for Louder than War, Spanish Glass and new record Wedding Dress, (a split LP with California's Cumstain) it seems a good time to find out what makes them tick. Questions below are answered by Oli & Jon.
IN:. You are pretty prolific, there's quite a body of work on your bandcamp. Is this a sign of your restless natures? Can't sit still?
JM: Each thing on bandcamp has been a document of where we’ve been at any one point, and I still think that’s the case. I don’t know if we’re restless but we’re subject to change. Most recently was a lineup change - a new drummer and expansion to two guitarists. I guess the things on bandcamp are a history of our development as a two piece and Wedding Dress is the first document of us as a three piece. It’s all determined by relationships within the band I guess, and the changes in sound come from finding out what these are and honing in on them.
I wish we recorded more, I love the whole thing that Jay Reatard did, just blasting singles and EPs out and then doing an album when he felt like it. Playing new stuff is always more fun - I think experimenting with noise and loudness are my favourite things about playing.
OG: Its funny, I have only been in the band since September and within the first week we pretty much had our side of this LP written. I just hope we get to record a lot more, I love writing and playing new songs; I think Jon is right about the recordings being a document of where we are, at but I’d like to keep these documents as up to date as possible.
IN:It's a cavalier sound, dramatic sweeps, big choruses, big chord changes, a big, bright palette. As a painter you'd be accused of daubing the impasto on at will.. What is it about this kind of sound that appeals?
JM: I had to look up what impasto meant (sorry). I’m pleased you said cavalier and not pastiche, though I guess either would be valid.
I love big guitar sounds - I used to want Kevin Shields’ tone, but for it to be more like something off Zen Arcade if that’s even possible. I certainly think the choruses and chord changes are a symptom of listening to Husker Dü.
When something’s big like that it feels totally immersive, for us at least. I’m not into this whole RnB type pop that's around in the UK at the moment - minimal over-produced beats and some random vocals about someone or other’s boyfriend over the top. I mean what is that? To me “dramatic sweeps” are just a bit more engaging.
OG: It’s just the kind of music that I would listen to, I want to emulate everything I like in bands/musicians I like whether its Rites of Spring or Chopin, there are correlations in expression there that just seem to grab me by the ball sack and get my attention. By expression I mean the sensation that what you are listening to is actually real and mean something, it could be a lyric, melody, change in tempo, change in chords, tone – anything. It’s what I am looking for. You might say that you can find that in anything if you look hard enough but there is quality control in there somewhere.
IN: What is it that inspires you to make music in any case? What drives you to make the music, what's the message?
JM: When you work you really start seeing the value of time in a very tangible way, and music seems like the total opposite of what working in an office represents - we just have to do something outside of that. It’s a way of breaking up the routine of it.
I suppose you could say it’s about trying to reduce that feeling of alienation. My work time is spent dealing in boxes and commodities, and helping fetishise products to help them sell better. My ‘leisure time’ is when I really want to work, but on stuff I enjoy - music is the total opposite of the mystical numbers, figures and words you deal with sat at a computer all day. It’s just about trying to live without dead time.
OG: I have always been pretty engrossed in music in one way or another. I think what really spurs me on now though is the probability that if there was no band or music then I would only have my job and I’d probably end up jumping off the Humber Bridge. I think at the moment it is the best way to get over my hatred of my job, that combined with music being the only thing I am really passionate about and that’s my motivation.
IN: I mean you are that bit different from other bands - you're not just doing it to be "in a band" are you? Despite the "fun times" image, you seem quietly clued up, or determined... What's the Fawn Spots' "gift of vision"?
JM: What do you mean by ‘gift of vision’? (a phrase used by Ian McCulloch to Will Sergeant when the Bunnymen started up - apparently - I always liked it - ed)... I don’t think we’re gifted in any way at all. It’s just about being realistic and reasoning stuff out. I’m under no illusions that we’re some ‘great’ or ‘special’ band that ‘deserve’ anything. I mean we’re just three generic white boys in a guitar band. But I think accepting that is what makes you realistic, and I guess what you call “determination.”
You see the frame you have to work in and you work to it. Nothing’s going to get handed to us, nothing sustainable anyway.
If you say we’re clued up or determined, then thanks very much, but to me it’s just about getting on and doing it. It’s all about action. If you were required to do something at work, or pay a bill or whatever you’d do it - it’s just about identifying what needs doing for the band and getting on it. When you realise it’s not just about playing gigs and writing hit songs you realise that you’ve got to work hard, and that things like having a manager are just alienating your own output from you.
This is true even on a small scale - it’s so common bands talk about wanting to play more shows and recording an album and stuff like that - well, go and make it happen. A lot of the time people make it difficult for themselves - thinking they’ve got to record in a ‘proper’ studio with someone who cost lots of money, then find someone label to release them. Why not just make it easy? We’ve recorded a lot of stuff ourselves, with our friend Dom and Gravelines with our friends Tye Die Tapes (some of our favourite guys and a great label) It’s just been easier that way - on our own time.
OG: Precisely, ha, I remember seeing a guy in a local unsigned band complaining about the music industry, how it costs him at least £3000 to record an EP and how it's too hard for musicians to do anything these days because we dont get paid much or because the world is too saturated... When really he is just putting up excuses to fail...
JM: And it’s not about being ‘DIY’ whatever that means. We consciously don’t call ourselves that. If we had to tell everyone we were ‘DIY’ all the time, then surely that would mean our actions didn’t show that we were but we wanted to give the appearance of being? The fact is we have released things with a couple of smaller labels, but Wedding Dress will be our second release through Bad Paintings, our label. We’ve got someone working on press for that - it’s not something we can do ourselves. Mastering is not something we do ourselves. Cutting records is not something we do ourselves.
We do stuff to make the band work, if that means doing the majority ourselves then that’s what we have to do. When was the last time Dischord Records came on Facebook and went “Hey guys, we’re a DIY label, do any DIY bands want us to release stuff for them...?”!?
OG: To be honest, I think if you started the slogan ‘BAD PAINTINGS – DIY’ people would just get the wrong impression. You would either get confused people emailing asking about cheap quotes for decorating their house or some smarmy art twat trying you to commission you to paint his dogs. Saying that.... Maybe you’d make some money?
IN: And despite all the kudos about being an underground band, you're very very poppy, you like cutesy images, you wore blousons in Tilburg that were very Haircut 100...
JM: The whole cutesy thing is weird. When we chose Fawn Spots as a name it was because, to Lee and I, it didn’t mean anything. It was totally neutral. I guess we should’ve known people would see it cutesy but we never planned it that way. Joey Fourr, who did our record sleeve, asked if we’d be into a Melvins type look to it, which we were. When it came back with a double headed My Little Pony with a bone coming out it’s crotch, we loved it.
Oli just has an awesome sense of style (if it’s cord, wear it), and I just have these shirts given to me by an old Teddy Boy - he’s a bit larger than me hence why the look like blouses. Maybe we’re just the worst new-Romantic band ever?!
OG: HA I had to Google Haircut 100! What can I say, I guess that cutesy cr@p is just what surrounded us when we were brought up? The only movement I can remember outside typical pop music was Britpop and I wasn’t able to get in touch with it at the time. I liked the freaking Spice Girls for God’s sake... I guess all those Now Thats What I Call Music albums my dad used to play in the car got to me. It translates in everything I or we eventually do in some form I guess.
In terms of underground kudos, I think that’s just a process, if something is deemed underground it’s because we dont have a choice not because we think it’s the place to be. People get really funny about the whole underground punk and DIY thing; it’s turned into a status now more than a description... I dont really get that and it saddens me to see people throw the term around as if it’s the in thing.
IN: York's an interesting place for bands. It's always got something. Why is this, do you think?
JM: Interesting is the right word. The two best venues in town have just gone, Bar Lane and Stereo, that’s interesting.
Sometimes there’s some good people come to play. We had Trail of Dead in October ...and then Iceage which was great, but it’s relatively few and far between.
As York’s so small; what’s great is that you can quickly make friends with people into similar things, and get to know new faces when they crop up. Friends here are always supportive of each other when they can be because everyone’s in the same boat, we stick together (I hope anyway).
OG: There seems to be a huge turnover for bands in York, they seem to get fairly popular, get noticed by BBC New Music or some other rotten tart then fall off a cliff or something. Saying that I think York is a really great place for a band to start, there are only a handful of venues and if you can get people down to the gigs then it can be a great atmosphere, but that’s a task in itself sometimes.
JM: There’s quite a few interesting bands in York - Neuschlaufen, this Kraut inspired group, and our friend Muttley is into his whole Spacemen 3 thing which is cool. Manscreams are my favourite - they’re just brutal. It’s like watching a prolapse happen, or watching Charlotte Church puke herself inside out.
OG: Yeah Neuschlaufen are awesome, really incredible – it’s funny because it’s only recently, or since Ash joined that I have been excited by them.
JM: Unfortunately though the majority of bands here care about Facebook likes, sounding like The Libertines or Kings of Leon and stuff like that.
Being in York has made us want to do more stuff outside of it, if that makes any kind of sense.
OG: I do think there are always people dedicated to the music in York though and in one way or another we are all striving to make something happen here, even if nobody seems to be working together!
IN: And all these club nights you put on there, the Bad Paintings thing, tell the innocent about those.
JM: The innocent can’t come to them anymore because of the building’s owners trying to turn them from not for profit, into a “viable source of revenue” - hence our ‘underground’ night became a focus for attention from the council and police.
Bad Paintings, what to say?! My friend Mike and I do it. We’ve been lucky enough to release 7s by The Babies and Xiu Xiu, and a cassette by JOEY FOURR and our new LP. We make no money, and when I say that I mean to be able to do the LP we maxed a credit card. It makes us more determined that way though, and is totally fun and we’ve learnt so much from doing it.
IN: You ended up working with John Robb, how that happen?
JM: All our friends read Louder than War, so when we’d recorded Gravelines and were sending it out for people to listen I dropped John an email. He got back straight away and said he loved Spanish Glass and asked to put it out, which totally freaked me out. Until we got the records I wasn’t sure whether it was a total piss take, but it turned out to be great, and John Robb has been a massive source of support for us and we’re so grateful for his help. Only just saw The Membranes for the first time in December. They were incredible.
IN: And a states tour, how did that happen?? In any case how do you think you'll go down in America?
OG: In terms of the tour Jon was going to be there anyway so we just figured it made sense to make the most of it really – especially seeing as Burger are putting the tape out and it would be the best opportunity we would get to go on tour with Cumstain. I really hope people like it there, I feel if anyone should get where we are coming from musically it should be them, seeing as so much of our sound is influenced by American bands.
IN: What's your favourite biscuit?
OG: I like a chocolate hobnob – I dont really like party rings... sorry.
OG: Sean isn’t allowed biscuits anymore.
JM: I like partying in Oli’s ring, then having a Bourbon, or one of them pink wafers.