Visions of a New World – interviewing the Spectres
Vancouver, British Columbia’s Spectres released one of the finest LPs of 2010, Last Days. “[T]he dark side of 80’s anarcho punk and the coldness of early 4AD and Factory records releases,” Interpunk says of the album, not inaccurately.
Likewise, the Spectres’ 2007 “Cold War” EP opened a lot of eyes (and ears) at the time, and it is frankly stunning to think that that came out half a decade ago. The band play an especially well-made type of dark punk that magazines like Maximum Rock ‘n Roll have likened to early Joy Division, Crisis, and early 80s UK peace punk like The Mob. They’ve been a favorite for awhile and I was more than stoked to hear that within the next few months (as of April, 2012) the band are releasing a new LP, Strange Weather! The band have a website here, a Facebook page here, and a Myspace page here.
I got to interview Brian, the singer, and Zach, the guitarist, recently in advance of their upcoming Strange Weather LP.
OLIVER: First things first: When did the Spectres start? Who started the band, and who is in it now, and what do they play?
BRIAN: Spectres began with Steve H. (who is no longer in the band) and I. We were both living in a tiny rural town on Vancouver Island and started the band as a studio project. Steve H. played guitar and drums and I played bass and sang. Steve and I are still playing together in two other projects (Hidden Faces and Saigon Children). Currently Spectres are Steve G. playing drums, Nathan playing bass, Tyler and Zach playing guitar.
OLIVER: Like another of my favorite bands, Part 1, “Spectres” is a very Google-resistant name, and not only because there are a few other bands with same name. Who chose the band name, and why?
BRIAN: It just came to me when we were searching for names. Years later I was visiting my neighbor in the same small town where we started when his Dad mentioned he was in a sixties pop band with the same spelling and name. What would Jung say I wonder?
OLIVER: How would you describe your sound to someone who had never heard you? What bands would you use as points of reference?
ZACH: It’s always really hard to figure out an answer to this one. I usually just say “Dark Punk” to avoid having to give a lengthy description of influences that most people have never heard of or care about.
OLIVER: Upon first hearing the Cold War 7″, I was really stoked that a punk band was coming out that was sounding like this — it was reminding me of the punkier side of Joy Division (the side that no one remembers) and just so much of the original dark postpunk stuff that I think a lot of punks secretly like. So – what are some of the primary musical influences of the band?
ZACH: Well people always mention Joy Division and Crisis, both of which are big influences and people have started to pick up on the Adolescents/Rikk Agnew, which is also big for us. Some other important ones that get less frequently named are The Sound, Modern English, The Wake, Josef K, The Wipers, The Mob, The Cure, A Touch Of Hysteria, Devo, Killing Joke and New Model Army, Chaos Z/Fliehende Sturme, Rudimentary Peni, and a million other bands.
BRIAN: Some of the new songs I have been writing have been musically inspired by the works of Kirk Brandon, Adrian Borland, Ian Astbury, and Mark Perry during his time with ATV. Aside from what Zach mentioned I have also been heavily influenced by a lot of “Positive Punk” bands and Kill your Pet Puppy affiliated projects. Lyrically many of the songs are rooted in my reverence of the paranormal, the past, and my general disdain for politics.
OLIVER: You guys and probably The Prids, The Estranged, Deathcharge, all sort of pushed the Pacific Northwest sound into a new direction, it seems like, recalling The Wipers but also the old deathrock bands from California and postpunk bands from England. I think Zach said it was The Observers/Red Dons who made it seem “okay” for harder punk bands to start to explore a more postpunk sound in the past decade. Why do you all think this type of music is predominantly coming out of the Pacific Northwest, and what role do you think you all had in driving the music in that direction?
ZACH: We’ve been asked this before, and it seems like people often want to chalk it up to the gloomy weather or something like that but really I just think it’s the open minded and supportive network of hard working, DIY punks that has fostered the growth of this scene. When we first started playing shows we found a receptive audience in Portland (and to a lesser extent Seattle and Vancouver) right away that inspired us to keep working at it despite the blank looks we’d get (and sometimes still get) when we played shows in other cities.
BRIAN: I think the Observers were definitely great but before I had ever heard of them it was primarily UK peace punk that made it seem alright to be into post punk, new wave, and “harder punk” simultaneously. The Apostles were probably the first band that made me realize this, specifically with songs like “Breaking Barriers” or “The Sword.” In retrospect, I realize they were trying very hard to be Alternative TV, but I had never heard of them at the time.
As to your second point, regional memes have emerged and evolved out of preexisting subcultures for years. Look at “Sharpies”, “Northern Soul,” or “Visual Kei.” Perhaps it was just a time and a place. That, and you can only play a d-beat so many times.
OLIVER: There definitely seems to be a sonic progression through Spectres’ releases. The first EP had a very Warsaw or Crisis feel; the second one was kind of like early Red Lorry Yellow Lorry; and the “Last Days” LP had elements of Rikk Agnew, even the Sisters of Mercy (or so I’d say) in it. Will the next release continue in this direction, and what will it sound like?
ZACH: I feel like we’ve developed as a band as far as our ability to play together and that has been reflected in our song writing to produce more coherent songs. Other than that the same influences still apply.
BRIAN: I think the next LP (which is virtually finished) has more new wave and post punk leanings. It veers a little further from the harder edge of things in favor of a more subtle approach.
OLIVER: What current bands are out there are the ones you all like the most?
ZACH: Frustration, Bellicose Minds, Moral Hex, Belgrado, The Estranged, Funeral Parade, Ice Age, Population, Cemetary, Crimson Scarlet, Generacion Suicida, Melting Walkmen, Deskonocidos, Criminal Code, The Now Dead, Blue Cross, Cat Party, Kuudes Silma, Rank/Xerox, Vivid Sekt, Arctic Flowers and Dekoder to name a few. There are so many good new bands popping up all over the place it’s hard to keep up with actually.
BRIAN: Bellicose Minds, Bishops Green, Moral Hex, Vivid Sekt, Blue Cross, 13th Moon, Cat Party, The Tranzmitors, Mode Modern, Melting Walkmen, Crimson Scarlet, Mundo Muerto, ect.
OLIVER: How was Distort Vancouver? What’s the craziest story you all have from that (or playing anywhere else)?
ZACH: Foat and I started doing Distort Vancouver together and except for the first year I think we’ve played it every year. I stepped away from it for the last two years but Foat is still hard at work. It’s always been a good time and it’s nice to see people from all over come to Vancouver and see what it’s like up here. This year was pretty crazy because of fights breaking out between festival goers and bouncers. In general though we seem to attract crazy stories and have had multiple encounters with ghosts, homeless skinheads, teenage police and other undesirables who’s cumulative stories would take way too long to tell.
BRIAN: Distort Vancouver is always enjoyable, its fantastic seeing so many of our friends from abroad. Some of craziest times we have had were probably our first tour of the west coast, which was really more inebriate performance art as opposed to a tour. My apologies to everyone who bore witness to that spectacle.
OLIVER: In the interviews I have done with Deathcharge and also with Alaric, I ask why the pace of releases comes out at a slow trickle. In the early 80s, bands would be around for maybe three years, but have 7 releases or so out by the time they broke up. Deathcharge has made one LP in almost 15 years. And it seems like bands takes years between even individual EPs.. Why do you think this is happening, or, more specifically, why is the pace of Spectres releases coming out at such a trickle?
ZACH: Brian and I are the youngest guys in this band at 28, which is another way of saying that we are all old and busy with work, relationships, etc. We are also perfectionists and end up spending a lot of time and money on recordings and artwork so they tend to take a long time.
BRIAN: There is probably some correlation with the relatively high cost of living in the North West.
OLIVER: Any plans on a tour, or playing around any other cities in the near future….?
ZACH: In the short term we’d like to tour Mexico and the East Coast of the US. We’d love to get back to Europe sooner than later.
BRIAN: I would really like to tour Japan, we’re still waiting for our invite though..
OLIVER: When is your next release, what is it, and where can people buy it? Where can people buy the stuff you have already put out?
ZACH: We have a ten song LP that should be coming out some time this summer around June or July, and another single along shortly after that. We are not sure yet who will be releasing it but all of our releases are available for purchase direct from us at firstname.lastname@example.org
OLIVER: Anything you would like to add that I didn’t cover?
ZACH: Thanks Oliver, we’re all fans of your writing. Too often bands get all the credit but blogs like this keep our scene interesting and alive. Keep up the good work!
BRIAN: I would like to thank you for your support of the post punk/death rock resurgence through your blogging and various other endeavors. Without essential elements like the sadly now defunct Cult Punk I am sure a great many impressionable youth would still be exclusively listening to Discharge clones.