Casey Spooner and Warren Fischer—better known simply as Fischerspooner, the New York electronic pop duo—spent the past year in the studio reinventing the electroclash wheel as they wrote the follow up to their much lauded 2002 debut, #1. Aptly titled Odyssey, their sophomore recording eschews some of the more cryptic elements of #1 while still offering the unabashedly danceable tracks Fischerspooner has come to be known for. I recently spoke over the phone with Spooner from his home in “magnificent Brooklyn, USA!” about the new album, the characteristically elaborate live performances, and why he might find himself living in a zeppelin in the not-so-distant future.
PopMatters: When I first heard #1 I thought it sounded incredibly forceful, like a manifesto, but Odyssey strikes me as a more reflective endeavor.
Casey Spooner: Yeah, I think you’re right.
PM: What were you going for with this second album?
CS: We knew that we wanted to make a warmer record, something that was a little more human, I guess. The thing that was important to me was that you could hear what I was saying. I mean, I like the writing on the first record, but you can’t hear a lot of it because of the way it’s handled stylistically.
PM: You mean as far as vocals go?
CS: Yeah, just vocal effects. You can’t really understand what the hell I’m saying and we never published the lyrics. So, this is more about me—the writing—being heard and being a little more decipherable. That was one thing. But also I think that, with the first record, it was a creative decision but also a very pragmatic decision to make everything 100% digital. It just made it easier—we made our entire first record without a label or financial support.
PM: A very DIY sort of thing, then?
CS: Yeah, exactly. You know, the digital thing was very helpful in that it was a strong style statement, but it was also very practical in terms of making something independently. This time around we really wanted to explore incorporating all these other elements: working in studios, using lots of instruments, working with different people and pushing for the sonic realm as far as possible. I think in general it was about opening up the sound and letting more things be heard.
PM: I’ve read a lot about how your process has changed from working at home, alone, to working with people in the studio.
CS: Kind of. It’s weird. [In the past] Warren [Fischer] would write a track and the song would be like 80% done. He would work on the track, bring it in and then we’d work on vocals. We would go into the recording studio and I would have the kernel or the beginnings of an idea and then we would work together on ... creating lyrical and melodic ideas simultaneously. Once we had kind of fleshed out all the parts, we would bring in back-up singers and they would take the melodic parts we’d written and reinterpret them. And then we would basically have a finished song. This time around it was more like I would get an unfinished track—a teeny piece, like a shred of an idea—and I would work on that lyrically and vocally without Warren, whereas [in the past] we would always be together. So, we actually worked more separately this time and almost in different stages of progress. We would have snippets of ideas, pieces, and it was about developing as many ideas as possible, any way possible, and less about like “Here’s the track. Here are the words. Bring in back-up vocals. It’s finished.” So, [Warren] would work mostly during the day on production and musical stuff and then I would come in in the evening and we would meet for a short while, talk about what he had worked on, what I should work on. Then I would stay in the evening, track vocals with an engineer and I would leave that for [Warren] to work on in the morning ... so we actually worked more, it’s weird, we were together but separate.
PM: How do you feel that you’ve grown as a songwriter during this period?
CS: I guess I just put more of a focus on it and really tried to listen to the songs. I really wanted the language to be more clear and more in focus and it was a real attempt to be clear whereas the last time, a lot of times, I think ... if I had the choice to make something that was more obtuse versus more direct, I was leaning toward the obtuse. I liked putting more difficult language in such a simple format, so this time it was really about trying to be as clear as possible—literally, sonically, and in terms of the writing.
PM: What would you say binds you and Warren as a collaborative duo?
CS: Oh God. Necessity? Necessity, and I think that we both have a very nontraditional approach to what we do. I think that we connect in that way but, you know, this record was tough because I think we learned ... on the first record we learned how, in a lot of ways, how alike we were, and I feel like on this record we really learned how different we were, and how in a lot of ways that was necessary. It was our differences that actually made us stronger.
PM: Do you have different influences?
CS: Oh completely! We couldn’t be more different.
PM: Could you give me some examples?
CS: Well, yeah, [Warren’s] like a classically trained, hardcore, indie rock musician who never listened to dance music, doesn’t really like electronic music, doesn’t like to do press, doesn’t like to do shows, and doesn’t like to travel. And I am a visual artist who was always around a lot of music and always loved musicians, but found them a little too strict and uptight. [I also] studied performance art, worked in experimental theater for eight years and, you know, loved to perform, enjoyed traveling ... I lived in Chicago, loved house music, went to the Warehouse [the legendary, though now defunct, house music club], went to a lot of gay, black discos ... so yeah, we’re very different.
PM: And who are some people you’re influenced by, musically speaking or otherwise?
CS: I love Bryan Ferry and I love Roxy Music. I love Brian Eno. But I’m also not ashamed to love a trashy pop single ... for a minute.
PM: Is there any theater that’s informed your live shows?
CS: Well, yeah ... I worked in a company called Doorika for about eight years and it was very much in the tradition of the Wooster Group [a collaborative ensemble of theater and media artists]. It was all about kind of foregrounding the technology and the artifice of performing ... almost how you create the illusion of the character by revealing the character executing the task at hand, so if there has to be a costume change then you see the person make the change and it isn’t about them going off and pretending that they’re somewhere else. You actually see them do it so that, in a way, you confuse what is the person and what is the character. And that’s just standard, contemporary, avant-garde performance that comes more out of ‘60s [Wooster Group founder Richard] Schechner and [avant-garde theater pioneer] Richard Foreman.
PM: I noticed that, with Odyssey, you published a pretty comprehensive list of everyone that was involved from dancers to people that contributed lyrics to the guy that did your legal. This was interesting to me because most elaborate pop spectacles out there may require a lot of people but they rarely get acknowledged. The key difference in your approach, I think, is this respect for the collective. How important would you say collaboration is to you?
CS: Well, very, and you know, very early on a lot of the things we were doing involved a lot of people and oftentimes I couldn’t pay them anything. When I could pay them it was pretty paltry, so the only thing I could give people was credit and kind of a format and a venue. That was a great way to work for a period of time, but ultimately you can’t continue, you know, basically running a volunteer community center. I love collaborating with people. I feel like the people I collaborate with ultimately become very close friends and I just think it’s such an amazing way to be with people that is, in a lot of ways, a step beyond friendship.
PM: To be creating together?
CS: Yeah, to make things together. It’s just a beautiful, really cool and interesting way to connect with people. My fantasy is that I could have a school. I wish I could have an institute because, honestly, one of the things I love more than anything is to rehearse. I just love to go to work and have meetings and go to rehearsal. I love all the preparation; I love spending time with cool, interesting people that I respect; I love combining all those worlds and bringing together unlikely people and [bringing each other ideas that we might not have connected to on our own]. It’s almost like continuing education, but in this crazy, homemade way. The thing that’s most interesting to me is connecting to different people. Also, I was an only child and I like to create a weird family around me. I think that has something to do with it because there’s nothing more exciting to me than having a group of people that I’m close to, traveling with, and being vulnerable in front of a crowd of people with. I have to say that is one thing that’s really hard for me right now about developing this new show. I’m having to let go of what I built for years in order to move onto a new idea and it’s tough. I feel so close to all the people that I work with. It’s hard. There comes a time where it’s really tough to make the decision that’s right for the idea but works against your personal satisfaction.
PM: In May, you’re playing a few nights at Canal Room in New York City, which is a tiny, 350 capacity venue. Then, you’ll be playing every weekend throughout the summer at Ibiza’s Manumission, which can hold up to 10,000 people. Do you like the challenge of working with such extremes?
CS: Yeah, I guess I really like challenging myself. I’ve never, ever, in all my years of performing worked in a smaller space than the Canal Room. I just had my first performance there last week and it was fairly daunting and horrifying. I have to work on a three foot square piece of carpet versus usually having a huge stage and it being a very spatial, physical kind of performance. We chose [Canal Room] because the sound was the best you could get for that size venue. I developed the first show in several phases and that’s kind of the way I have to approach this. We’re not a traditional band, so I have to build [the performance] in pieces. The first, most crucial, step is translating the music onto live musicians. So that’s what this first phase is about: creating the music, making it sound good, working out the set list, developing the arrangements and just creating a rapport with the band in front of a small audience. In Ibiza, [the performance] will start to grow, become more physical, and have more visual elements integrated ... it’ll grow through the summer. Also, it’ll great for us to be positioned in Europe and [based in Spain]. Instead of just doing the show in Ibiza we’ll also be able to fly out and go to different countries that we would never be able to go to if we were doing a more traditional tour on a bus.
PM: How do you feel about the rezoning of the Brooklyn waterfront? [Author’s note: The New York City Council recently approved a plan to rezone and develop a two-mile stretch of waterfront in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn.]
CS: Oh God. I’m really nervous. You know, I’m all for progress, but 40-story condos sounds like a bad idea. Especially if the model is like Battery Park City, [the 90 acre planned community at the southwestern tip of Manhattan] ... talk about the lamest place in the world. So, I think it’s unfortunate; it could very easily be the death of a great neighborhood ... it’s like, Jesus Christ, how else are we supposed to survive in New York? No one can afford to live in Manhattan anymore…
PM: So we move to Brooklyn and now that we’ve moved here…
CS: Right, so we move to Brooklyn and now Brooklyn is going to be completely devastated. So, I don’t know where the fuck I’m going to go. Paris? Too sleepy, you know. London’s too expensive.
PM: Madrid? They stay up pretty late in Madrid.
CS: Yeah, Madrid might be good. Berlin’s too cold. I mean, great nightlife—can’t deal with the cold and the unemployment’s horrible. L.A.? I hate to drive. It’s like, I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do ... I’m just going to have to build a motherfucking blimp and live in it and go everywhere.