Interview: Five Questions For The Spectre Collective

Interview: Five Questions For The Spectre Collective

C.C. / Thursday 12th December, 2019 2:09PM

Pōneke's The Spectre Collective are rematerialising this Saturday for a special headline performance at Wellington Museum – featuring the core trio of Jonathan Shirley (Church of Goya), Lochie Noble (Transistor) and Will Agnew (Mothers Dearest) teaming up with special guests Anita Clark (Motte), Hunter Jackson (Doprah) and Riley Dick (Transistor), plus dazzling visuals courtesy of Lady Lazer Light. The hugely productive unit have released three studio albums over the span of a mere fourteen months, including May's food-themed opus Electric Waffle, and have a brand new long player named Delirium Imperium threatening to drop in early 2020. Admirers of The Spectre Collective's psychedelic and scorching universe of sound, we felt now was the perfect time to touch base with the gang and find out more about what drives their creative vision. Will Agnew generously answered Chris Cudby's probing questions – catch them live this weekend and scroll downwards to learn more...

The Spectre Collective
Saturday 14th December - Wellington Museum (On the Wharf in the Wellington CBD), 8pm doors / koha entry

For more info head along to Wellington Museum's website here

1. Your upcoming album Delirium Imperium will be The Spectre Collective's fourth long player in easily less than two years – where's all this music coming from? What drives this impulse to be so artistically productive?

Yeah I think we released our first three albums in about eight months or something, which is pretty cooked. I remember during those early months there was a tsunami of inspiration and excitement. We had to release the first album a month earlier than planned because we forgot to make our Bandcamp demos / early mixes private and they ended up on the radio, so that forced us to finish it properly. Then a lot of the second one was just wringing out old ideas. Personally speaking, The Spectre Collective is a gigantic productive distraction from all of the other things I should be doing. I’ve always considered myself a filmmaker primarily, but it takes so long to get anything from script stage to completion, and often requires so much money, that I needed a project with more immediate results. There’s nothing more immediate and collaborative than being in a room with other like-minded people and creating emotions with noise, and then receiving that direct feedback loop from a crowd. It’s also a way for me to combine my interests in music, film and art. It’s a different form of directing. For many years I stopped playing drums entirely, and had to re-learn and improve when I joined Mothers Dearest, which was very trial by fire, so I suppose I’m also making up for lost time. The imposter syndrome is still there, but at least it’s fun.

The main reason we’re prolific, at least at the moment, is that I think we just get bored quite easily. We would rather release something while it’s fresh and we still love it, than sit on something for months and be sick of it before it’s out. Sometimes that means we miss opportunities to tweak things or improve them, but I also like the idea that what is eventually released is a time capsule of who we were at that moment. Embracing the imperfection. There’s also so much music out there that it’ll likely get swallowed up by the void anyway, so may as well move onto the next thing. Maybe one day we can sit on something long enough to market it properly, but right now we’re quite impatient and our brains don’t work that way. Everyone has their own process, and this is just what works for us for now.

2. You have all played in other musical projects, and The Spectre Collective's records have regularly featured special guest contributors – is The Spectre Collective envisioned by yourselves to be a kind of… “super group"? Who'll be playing on the next record? Has Spectre Collective's identity as a band changed since you started the project?

We’re reluctant to use the term “super group”, as it often sounds gimmicky or implies a side project of some kind. The fact is that many musicians in Wellington and the rest of the country are in multiple bands, either as a way to keep things interesting for themselves, or to simply survive in the music scene.

We’re extremely lucky to be friends with lots of talented musicians, and it’s always a privilege to get a front row seat and watch their process. Everyone we’ve brought in so far has been extremely generous with their time and skills, and whatever they contribute always elevates the songs to the next level. It helps us to get that extra brain in the room to explore things we might not have considered. For the next album, we’ve got Oli Devlin from Hans Pucket on one of the tracks, and it’s a banger. There will likely be others, but we just haven’t officially locked them in yet. The “guest musician” stage of the process is very loose and malleable. Sometimes, as in the case of Oli’s song, we write it with them in mind, and other times we listen to what we have and think “it would be cool if so-and-so played / sang here”, like the one we did with Gussie. I recall thinking in the very early stages of the band that it would be fun to have a revolving door of musicians coming and going based on their availability and interest, similar to bands like Queens of the Stone Age or Swans. But it can’t be forced, and should be right for the song. As long as we’re being weird and making shit we like, then it’s cool.

3. What inspired your food-themed third album Electric Waffle? Are there any specific concepts you're keen to explore with the group in the near future? I love that you released a Halloween song.

For Electric Waffle, the food thing was kind of a joke, really. I found this surprisingly good band name generator at some point and would jot down all of the interesting results, and it just so happened that a lot of them were to do with food. Conceptually, I only really knew that it would be an instrumental album, simply because I couldn’t be fucked writing any more lyrics after we finished Cosmosis. We were also interested in exploring different musical styles and broadening our sound a bit, Ethio-jazz, Turkish psych, etc. So far it’s my personal favourite album we’ve done, because we challenged ourselves and went outside of the box, and it sounds like something a “proper” musician would make.

Each album is different in how it comes together, but we’ve learned to trust the process. We try not to be too gimmicky, and instead just write what we think would be fun to play or cool to listen to. Sometimes the concept is that there is no concept. There was a vague concept for Cosmosis (sci-fi morphing into horror), but for Delirium Imperium we honestly had no idea what we would do, so we jammed it out. As we’ve been writing and recording we’ve figured out a vibe and a particular structure for it, but I wouldn’t say there is an overarching theme or anything. There’s more of a conscious attempt to make it song-based and accessible, and we’ve pushed ourselves to try new things. Funnily enough, this week I drafted out what the next two albums will be, and they’re a bit more conceptual. One of them will be built around genre and tone, and the other will be crafted in a similar fashion to Electric Waffle, where song names and a loose theme will help guide the sound.

The Halloween thing was just a bit of fun. We’re a spooky band, and 'The Floating Limb' felt like a good single to release on Halloween because it’s a bit fucked in the head and evil. It’s also one of our favourites to play live. We were originally aiming to release the new album by that date, but it wasn’t achievable, and it felt right to release something else as a compromise.

4. Regarding the practical side of musical productivity – how much time do you each devote to The Spectre Collective on a weekly basis? Do you have a pretty solid studio setup? What's each members' art / work / life balance like?

The art / work / life balance thing is always tricky. Jono works in games, and Lochie works for Radioactive putting their ads together. I dabble as a contractor between various places, such as film sets, festivals, or film funding bodies. I also freelance doing band artwork and music videos, etc. Having a “job-job” can sometimes be good, because if I have all the time in the world I tend to get nothing done. Structure is helpful, as it forces you to allocate your time wisely. That being said, unemployment is nice at the moment as summer kicks in. Whether you’re rich in time or money, you’re always poor in the other. As a band, we chat daily. I live with Jono and we’re all good friends, so we just remain in contact and throw ideas back and forth, as well as memes and general bullshit. The only devoted time we spend to the band as a unit is 2+ hours of practise a week, unless we’re recording in which case it’ll be a few hours more. I work on the artwork and admin stuff in my spare time at home, and everyone else practises and brainstorms whenever they want to.

We don’t have a studio set up at all, and it’s very haphazard and DIY. Every time we record, we set up all the mics on the spot and try to get as much done as we can in our short practise time before we pack it all down again. We borrow gear from our mates and hope it all works out. For Paleofuture and Cosmosis we struggled to find a jam space, so we hired out a music room at Toi Poneke and tried to jam / record there. That meant bringing all gear and using a dodgy kit from their cupboard, and having to put up with the noise of other bands in the rooms next door. We’d wait for the U2 covers band to stop playing and hope that it didn’t bleed through into the recordings. Earlier this year we were very fortunate to secure a space at Pyramid Club, which is a very special and generous place. There’s an energy there that feels like the leftovers from all of the great bands that have played there before. We still have to set up like we used to and we only have a couple of hours a week there, but we try and make them as productive as possible. There’s more gear to play with too. That’s where we recorded Electric Waffle, and hope to record future albums. (They could do with any support at the moment, so please hit them up if you want to donate and help keep the place alive!)

Our bassist / co-vocalist Lochie records, mixes and masters everything, so it’s a testament to his ability to get a consistent sound. He’s a wizard. Most of the time we record live as a three piece, and then do overdubs at home, and that’s often where the real magic happens and the songs come together in a really fun way.

5. What can punters look forward to with your Wellington Museum show on Saturday 14th December? What's on The Spectre Collective's horizon for 2020?

The Wellington Museum show will be our most interesting one yet! We’ll be in the attic space, which is full of all sorts of oddities, like the NZ Defense Force’s official files on UFO sightings. There will be some live visuals by Lady Lazer Light, and this time we have the bigger band lineup, with Hunter, Anita, and Riley filling out the sound. That means we can play some songs we’ve never been able to play live, and we’ll also be playing some brand new ones. Expect some textural, atmospheric explorations as well. We’re the only band playing, so it’ll be an earlier and longer set, and it’s also koha, so it’ll be a cheap way to kick off the night and get weird!

Who knows how 2020 will go down. We’ll release Delirium Imperium hopefully in Jan or Feb, then move onto the next one. In an ideal world we’d record 2 more next year, but we’ll see how our energy levels are. I want to also write and direct a short film for us to score, but it all comes down to time / energy / money, etc. It’d be cool to tour again to places both familiar and new. We still haven’t played Auckland yet or anywhere further north than Whanganui, so if anyone up that way wants us to play, hit us up! We want to get spooky with you. 


Share this
Subscribe/Follow Us
Don’t miss a thing! Follow us on your favourite platform  

You can show your support to keep UnderTheRadar running by making a small contribution. From $1, any amount can make a huge difference and keep us bringing you the best, comprehensive local content. Support UTR!

Spectre Collective
Sat 14th Dec
Wellington Museum, Wellington