I do interviews for Totally Dublin sometimes. They go up online on their site so I don’t usually post them here, but I thought it might be fun to post a few unedited transcripts of full conversations, rather than the edited ones. This interview was with Spencer Krug a couple of months ago. Afterwards I felt like I was a little static with the questions, and I wouldn’t mind having this one back, given how long I’ve loved his music.
tl;dr: interviews with the boring bits.
Dragonslayer is a much more open record than Random Spirit Lover, were you trying to avoid making something as dense as Random Spirit Lover?
We weren’t trying to avoid anything per se. I think we wanted to try working a different way. Well I know we did. So a different-sounding album came out. Random Spirit Lover was made in the studio, a lot of it was written in the studio, a track at a time, figuring things out slowly and layering things on top of each other, ending up with that lush, dense sound that you’re talking about. Dragonslayer was almost completely written and toured beforehand, we did it like a live record where you throw up mics and everyone plays their part and there are no overdubs. So it ended up feeling more open and more like a bunch of songs, less conceptual. Just sort of rock songs. It’s just a natural product of the way we were working.
Do you think it’s more of a band record than previous Sunset Rubdown records?
It’s a similar sort of mix. The other records are still everyone adding their own things, writing their own parts. The way it always works in Sunset Rubdown is that I’ll have a song, and certain ideas or rhythms or melodies that I’ll want people to do. But most of the time, people are making up their own shit, you know? I think maybe the difference in sound is down to us being more comfortable playing with each other, and maybe people in the band are starting to experiment a little more or be more confident in their playing? I think we’re just getting better at playing, as a band. Everyone’s that bit more confident in their creativity, you know what I mean? We also added a fifth member, which makes for a bigger sound.
To what extent are your lyrics fiction? Or are they fiction at all?
They’re fiction as much as any other lyrics are fiction I think.
I was reading the lyrics to Dragonslayer on your website and the way they’re laid out, some of them read like short stories almost. Do you think of yourself as a writer?
I don’t really think of myself as a writer. I do try to write short stories, and I’m not very successful, but when I’m writing lyrics… I’m not trying to write a short story when I’m writing lyrics, so in that way, no, they’re not fiction. They’re metaphorical ways of describing situations and my own feelings and experiences of life and friends and lovers. I think that’s pretty much what all song lyrics are. I try to have certain elements of poeticism in there, as bad it may be. I try to keep it interesting, for myself and for the listener and for me to sing and for people to hear. So for that reason I end up using a lot of metaphors, and it reads like some sort of weird, half-baked short story. Which I can totally understand, and it’s totally fine, but when I’m writing, it’s not like I’m writing poetry or anything like that. I would never call myself a poet. I’ve tried it, and I’m really, really bad at it. When I’m writing song lyrics, I’m just writing the emotions that the music is invoking in me. I’m thinking of the music as much as I’m thinking of the meaning of the word. Like, the melody, the cadence of the word as much as their literal meanings.
The people in your songs tend to have mythological names, or there are a lot of animal names. What’s the idea behind that?
Those are just concepts and images that… at a certain time they kind of interested me. They’re not meant literally. They’re figurative, they’re metaphors. I end up using a lot of animal imagery or mythological imagery because I guess they’re kind of fascinating or really lush. But I’m not literally singing about a leopard or whatever.
How do respond to the accusation that you’re the hardest working man in indie rock?
I don’t work that hard. It’s not really work. I think there are many, many people writing and putting out as much music as I am, but maybe for a smaller audience. I’m just in this great situation where different record labels are willing to put out records that I’m a part of. And I’m in a lot of collaborations, all these different bands have these really talented people that I get to work with and are kind of a lot of help with making music. Of course, if different labels are willing to put it out, then that’s cool, but there are hundreds of seventeen year old kids in their bedrooms making twice as much music as I am. This “hardest working man in indie rock” thing, there are so many parts to that sentence that are annoying to me. Even the indie rock part is annoying to me. It’s just bullshit, you know? I’m just making some records.
So when you’re writing, do you just write songs and bring them to different projects, or do you write for Wolf Parade when you’re writing for Wolf Parade, and for Swan Lake when you’re writing for Swan Lake? Do you divide the songs up in advance?
It’s more like, if Wolf Parade are active that day, then they’re somewhere in the back of my head when I’m writing music. So when I bring ideas to them, they’re ideas that, when they were formed, I knew that they were probably going to end up being Wolf Parade songs. And then we write as a group, and Sunset Rubdown writes as a group and Swan Lake writes as a group. I come up with the skeletons of songs, with the structure and the lyrics… I try to write these songs so I can sit and play them by myself, and if they sound okay that way then you know they’re probably not going to get a lot worse if you add these other instruments. But somewhere in the back of my head is what band I’m going to be working with next and what they’re good at. Like, Wolf Parade is good at being a rock band. I hate talking about it, because I hate deconstructing it and analysing it. It’s always something that’s happened very naturally, that I’ve been able to be in these different bands, and be an active songwriter in two or three bands. It’s not something that I’ve ever had to struggle to try to split up my creative energies. It doesn’t take a lot of conscious deliberating deciding where songs will go. When I get asked about it I have to start analysing it, and it sounds clinical and kills the magic.
Do you ever see yourself doing an album like the first Sunset Rubdown album again. Like, demos, or at least just by yourself?
I see myself doing solo stuff again. But hopefully it would sound nothing like the first Sunset Rubdown album. I don’t see myself working in that way again or putting out an album like that again.
But you would write and record something with just yourself?
Sure. Probably. I’m definitely not against it. But hopefully I’m moving forward and not backward. Like that early Sunset Rubdown stuff… I haven’t heard it in years but when I imagine what it sounds like, it’s so very very different to anything I would want to be doing now. You know what I mean.
I didn’t mean aesthetically. It’s just that you’re involved in so many different things, but you have done a solo album in the past, and I wondered… is Sunset Rubdown your outlet for that kind of creative control? Or do you need that even?
Do I need what, to work alone?
Yeah, or do you want to?
Yeah, I think the same as any other musician it’s fun when you’re… it’s very different to work alone. It’s much scarier because you’re not bouncing your ideas off anyone, so you don’t actually know… there’s no-one to rein you in. That can be scary and it can be a negative for the music, but it can also be a really exciting way to work. And it’s also just less formal I guess. You can just be sitting around in your underwear at three in the morning. Music is still a hobby, a passionate hobby, as well as this formal thing I do in bands, you know what I mean? So Sunset Rubdown has moved beyond the realm of me doing a lot of solo work. I recently did a 7” record that was under the moniker of Sunset Rubdown, that was just me, but it was more like me just putting out a couple of demos. One of them has already turned into a full band song that will probably end up on our next record. Because it changes so much when you add these things. It becomes such an entirely different song. It’s interesting to have access to different ways of working and to see how much the results differ. Both are rewarding and both can create music that’s hopefully worth listening. So to answer your question, I totally plan on doing more solo stuff in the future. I kind of never stopped. It’s just a question of finding the time I guess.
You mentioned in an interview vague plans to collaborate with Jamie Stewart. I was wondering, two years down the line, has anything come of that?
It’s still a big plan. I was actually just talking to him in June on a Sunset Rubdown tour in Carolina where he lives now. He came to a show and we were talking about it. We’re both just really busy. It’s something we would both love to do. It still stands at the exact same place. A vague plan.
You seemed to enjoy playing Dublin with both Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. Do you have any impressions of Dublin as a place to play?
People are very warm in Dublin. We have a few friends there too. A warm little crew of people over there who have us over. Dublin is probably the only place I’ve ever played in Ireland. The first time I went to Dublin with Wolf Parade I really loved it, and I’ve loved going back every time. It’s got a chill atmosphere. I love going to the pub and seeing fucking high school kids, sitting around smoking and drinking. It’s not something you really see in America. There’s a sense of community or tolerance or something. Tolerance for partying I guess. That isn’t really prevalent in other places. It’s just this accepted thing, we’re all going to party and have fun together and there’s going to be drinks… that’s a pretence a lot of places try to nurture, but it doesn’t really feel true. It feels true in Dublin.