Interview: The Spills

Wakefield’s noisy indie-punks The Spills have been labelled Yorkshire’s best kept secret. However, thanks to a stellar new full-length – the excellent ‘Collecting Dust’ – and a knock-your-socks-off exciting turn supporting labelmates Tellison, word is finally getting out about their greatness.

Already Heard sat down with guitarist/vocalist Rob Slater and, after a brief discussion about our respective squash skills (badass, since you asked…) to discuss the new album, influences and breaking out of a scene in which The Cribs still loom large…

AH: So my first introduction to you was supporting Tellison. Jack from Alcopop! Records said I’d enjoy it and he wasn’t wrong. Listening back over the new album though, it sounds like there’s lots more nuances and textures and isn’t quite as ferocious.
RS: Well, most of it was recorded live. We spent a lot of time on this record getting the guitar sounds right, but there’s not like tonnes of tracks and overdubs and stuffs. Maybe it depends what you’re comparing it too. But, because we’ve got a load of guitar parts, there’s a lot of… noodling… going on (laughs). So we spent a while on it. We’ve never really been into pedals before, and this is the first time that we’ve really tried to amass as many pedals as we could. They’re not doing crazy bass noises or anything, they’re all just slightly different distortions and tones, so we’ve got a bit more into that.

AH: How did you hook up with Jack and Alcopop? What’s the deal there?
RS: Basically, we played a show in Wakefield, at The Hop, maybe 2012, 2013, and it was a really good line-up. We try not to play in Wakefield too often, just so people don’t get sick of us. We did our album launch there last week and it was so much fun, but if you’re playing there every week… there’s not that many people in Wakefield, so we’d be playing to the same crowd. But we did this show because it was such a good line-up. Johnny Foreigner, Paws, Wot Gorilla?, Runaround Kids – they were an amazing Wakefield band and they’ve just sadly split up. So we played this gig, Johnny Foreigner headlined, they were really nice and we were chatting to them afterwards and basically, from that Johnny Foreigner were saying ridiculously nice things on the internet for quite a while.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UCYUiLmdhs&w=100&h=420]

Then we found this email in our junk folder actually – and it would’ve changed things quite a bit if we hadn’t seen this email – but we found an email that Johnny Foreigner had sent us. It was this amazing email about how much they liked us from the other night. Then they invited us to play this Johnny Foreigner versus London end of year show at The Garage.

We feel like we owe so much to those guys. They have a really loyal fanbase and if they big you up, people take notice. And obviously, with them being an Alcopop! band, Jack looked into it I guess and that’s how it all developed.

AH: And the tour with Tellison – another Alcopop! band. It was quite an interesting bill. Tellison are big on classic harmonies and melodies, you’re a bit more off-kilter.
RS: I’ve only just got to the point where I’m not singing Tellison all day (laughs). We’ve had those songs stuck in our heads for weeks. Especially when you’re driving round the country, it’s contagious. The melodies in that band are so strong. But then that’s something we’re into as well. We’re not quite as… We’re all big fans of strong melodies – that’s certainly my kind of aim. Whether that comes across or not, that’s a different matter (laughs).

I think being Wakefield, you kind of forget that not every band in the country sounds like this. We always get these links to Pavement as this sort of slacker indie-rock band, but that’s what we always thought music sounded like. All the bands we listened to sounded like that!

AH: Talking of Wakefield, I guess The Cribs have had such a huge impact in shaping the scene and the sound of the scene, is that still prevalent.
RS: It is a thing I suppose. I mean, we used to see those guys around quite a bit, but I feel like…

AH: Is it hard to break away from that association, even if you don’t sound exactly like The Cribs?
RS: It is hard. There’s been a couple of scenes since The Cribs were actually playing in Wakefield, where the bands didn’t sound like The Cribs but were perhaps still influenced by them, but it is hard, but we often get that one. It’s an easy one for people to pick up on. I don’t even know if we sound like The Cribs. I’m a big fan of The Cribs, and really like those guys, but I don’t know if we sound like them. But lots of people say we do. Maybe they’re hearing that because they’re looking for it?

AH: I found it very hard to pin down if you have ‘a sound’. There’s all sorts of stuff going on – a bit of indie, a bit of punk, a little bit of math, some classic alt-rock – it’s a broad canvas. And then you’ve mentioned an appreciation of strong melodies – so where’s the inspiration? Are you all on the same page or does one of you come in and go ‘have you heard this, this is brilliant’ and that takes you off in a new direction and tangent?
RS: We definitely listen to a ‘core’ group of bands. We all grew up together so Nirvana and Radiohead, we were always listening to them, but then people are into different stuff as well. We might have disagreements about stuff.

AH: Is there anything really polarising?
RS: (laughs) I think we’re all too nice to each other if there was something that we thought were dreadful. We share so much in terms of general outlook, that if someone did really love a band, then there’s enough respect there to say ‘there must be something in it’. It’s almost like you don’t want to say you don’t like it in case they’re right (laughs).

AH: I think that kind of translates to your music though. With two vocalists it can be quite easy for a band to have two different identities, but your sound is very cohesive. Is that a case of being able to work things out or do you work on separate ideas but have a similar general goal?
RS: It’s a bit of both really. It’s nice that you say that though. I think the dual vocals is a difficult thing. I was having this conversation last night with a friend, and he asked pretty much the same thing. The example I give… there’s different song ideas that come from different people, but on certain bits, say if I’ve written a little section and Chad has a full song nearly written and this little bit will fit in, then we’ll have a discussion – will it work with two vocals here, will it make it better. Sometimes it can enhance. Runaround Kids absolutely nailed this stuff. Sometimes it might sound weird, sometimes we’ll decide it needs one voice, sometimes maybe backing vocal. So we do think about that stuff. It’s about serving the song really. You’ve got to take any ego out of it.

AH: And over time, you get a better ear as to what works or what doesn’t work.
RS: Yeah. And working at Greenmount Studios in Leeds with Lee and Jaime, who run that place, they’re great at bouncing ideas off. We always record with those guys so if there’s any uncertainty we can trust their opinions.

‘Collecting Dust’ by The Spills is out now on Alcopop! Records.

The Spills links: Facebook|Twitter|Bandcamp

Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)

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