Spymob

Silent Uproar: We’ll start things off easy, where did the name Spymob come from?

John: I just made it up, there is no real story to it. We were just trying to figure out a name for the band years ago and it just sounded cool to me.

SU: The band is going on 10 or 11 years together now; is it still worth all the work it takes to keep it going?

John: It is. We love playing music together and we have all played in bands our whole lives, so you know from experience that when you find people you really like playing with and who you like personally that it is worth keep together. So it definitely is. We like what we do.

SU: Most people know that you hooked up with NER*D as their backing band, but do you think Spymob would be receiving as much attention as you are now if that whole thing hadn’t happened?

John: I think we would probably not. That has been great for us in terms of just introducing a lot more people to the band and just the association with the Neptunes because those guys are obviously very well known. They have been really generous about promoting Spymob as much as possible. So no, I don’t think we would have the visibility we have from that, so it has been a great thing for is.

SU: Do you think there is a negative side to it at all?

John: Um, no I don’t think so. You know because our music is different from theirs, sometimes people are like whoa, why are you connected to them, your music is really different from theirs. But to most people I think it is a positive. I think it shows we have some range in the kind of music we can play, and a lot of people are pretty open minded about different genres of music being blended together and you will have people who will buy and alt-country record and a hip-hop record they like, so I think in popular culture there is an openness and genres aren’t so segregated.

SU: What is it like going from playing these huge shows with NER*D to playing the small club show as Spymob.

John: It is totally cool; we enjoy both. We prefer playing Spymob shows obviously because this is our band. I think if you are someone that plays music your whole life, then it is really about the music and sometimes you’ll have these really crappy gigs you’ll play in front of thousands of people and then sometimes you will have these really great gigs you play at some hole in the wall. I think we enjoy both.

SU: Do you find it hard to really get into the NER*D music when performing? In that the songs don’t really mean anything to you guys personally; it is almost like you are covering them.

John: Right. You know we really do enjoy that music and we like a lot of the stuff the Neptunes have produced and written. I am a song guy and I just think those guys are the best songwriters in terms of pop music today. At this point in my life there aren’t a whole lot of situations that I would enjoy playing music that I didn’t have a hand in creating from the start, but I really do enjoy playing their music. Eventually we want to be headlining as Spymob and not backing those guys up, but for now it is a really good thing for us in terms of opening shows for them and just introducing more people to Spymob.

SU: Did you do any work on the new NER*D record?

John: No, they let us know pretty mush right away that they wanted to play all the instruments themselves, so except for a few guests they had on like Lenny Kravitz, Chad and Pharrell played all the instruments. So we had no involvement with the new record.

SU: I know you guys recorded an album for Sony several years ago that ended up getting shelved. Did a lot of those songs make it to the new album?

John: Yeah they did. This record is really a sort of a compilation of songs we recorded over the last four years. When we got this music deal, we saw it as our chance to get our music out and in some ways it is just all the stuff we liked best and put it together.

SU: It is weird that you say that, because you can almost sort of tell from the variety of the songs on the album. It sounds like different songs are coming from different periods of times or phases of the band.

John: I think that is true, but on the other hand I think one of our strengths and one of our curses is that our songwriting is sort of all over the map. That is something some people really like about us, and to other people it just seems too random. But that is just how we create. I think we are inspired by a tradition of albums like the White Albums, which is doing songs that are sort of different from each other. At times we have tried to sorta rein that in, but it just didn’t work. I think even when we go in and record 10 songs in one month; it just kinda ends up like that with us.

SU: With that said, is there a particular approach you all take in writing new songs? How do you go in and come out with songs that sound completely different from one another?

John: Well the way it generally works is I am the main writer, so I bring songs in and then we all co-write over the song and it sort of goes through the Spymob sausage grinder and ends up being a very different thing then what I brought in. So it’s not so much the songs are coming from different people, it is more just that we are influenced by a lot of stuff. We love anything from real pop like what the Neptunes are doing to classic country to the blues to classic rock. So I think we are just pulling from different influences and it kinda ends up that way. It isn’t really an agenda, it isn’t like we have a goal of making a huge breadth of songs, it just sort of ends up that way.

SU: You mentioned your influences; I know you've been compared to a range of past artists ranging from Steely Dan to Curtis Mayfield. Do you see the relevance of those comparisons? Or is it more of just a label people are using help define the music?

John: I think it is relevant and I don’t mind that. Whenever someone is talking about a band and you say well what does it sound like, there is no way to talk about a band without comparing them to other artist or guessing at what their influences are. I think what people are hearing is like a classic rock influence, and I grew up playing jazz music, so we have always liked sort of pop music that has funky chord changes. Then we are also influenced by Motown and R&B like the Philly sound and old school funk, and then instrumental things like The Meters. I think Steely Dan had that going on too where they were drawing from like classic black influences like R&B with some more white pop rock. That is sort of what people are hearing and I think it’s accurate because those are our influences.

SU: Going back to your album for a second, I know it was posted on your website that the album was delayed due to ‘industry politics,’ what exactly happened?

John: Well what happened is we were on Star Track and the parent company was Arista. At the last minute the CEO of Arista, L.A. Reid decided he didn’t want to release our record. So we were in a jam and Star Track was in a jam. That was actually one of the things that led to the Neptunes pulling out of Arista because they were just having a lot of problems with Arista not supporting the albums that Star Track wanted to release. Just typical bullshit that happens between a small label and a parent label. So on very good terms, we basically told those guys we had this opportunity to release our record on this smaller label, Ruthless, that seemed to really get Spymob and they told us to go for it. So that was the delay. It was basically that we hit a brick wall with Arista and fortunately some other labels came to help.

SU: Do you think it has hurt the potential success of the album having all this press around it 6 months before people could buy it?

John: That is possible. I guess we will know in terms of if the album ends up selling well over the long haul. Yeah, we were pissed off about. The publicist at Arista was amazing and got us a lot of great press, so when L.A. Reed pulled the plug at the last minute, it was a serious blow. Those things can hurt you, but I guess it is hard to gauge.

We feel really good about the record and hopefully as many people as possible will find out about it.

SU: It seems like it would be kind of frustrating touring and working to support an album that has to feel kinda old at this point.

John: You know, I think the key to that is to keep creating. We have written and recorded a lot of songs since then. Anybody who has been through the whole music industry thing knows that you kinda go with where the interest is. The reason that those are the songs is when we working with the Neptunes in a label capacity, that is the group of songs that they wanted to get behind and promote. We really like those songs, so they are all songs that we still enjoy playing and feel that they still do represent our sound accurately. I think that as a musician, as long as you continue to create and write new stuff, to play those songs for an hour at night isn’t a big deal.

SU: Speaking of playing, today is your last show with the Thrills, right? How has that tour been?

John: The tour has been great, it has been really fun. There is probably a bigger overlap in fan bases between The Thrills and us and The Neptunes and us. So it has been fun to play with them and they are a really good live band. I really like their record, but I am a much bigger fan of what they do live. It is good to play with a band you like, and sadly when you gig with other bands you aren’t always that into the music. So it has been fun, they are cool guys and it has been a great couple weeks with them.

SU: Do you have another tour lined up?

John: We are going to be overseas with NER*D in Japan, Australia, and Europe and we will be opening a bunch of those shows as Spymob.

SU: This may seem kinda depressing, but if you could choose how the band would end its career one day down the road, what would it be? Would you rather drop a hugely successful album and then disappear or slowly fade out of the spotlight?

John: You know, to be totally honest with you, I feel pretty detached about it at this point. We’ve had such a great time doing what we do, but a lot of people’s experience in this business; it has been a complete rollercoaster. There was a time when we were dieing to achieve huge rock stardom and make millions of dollars, but I think we are more laid back about it now. I think we went through so much crap about getting this album out, that we feel like it’s in the stores, we have an opportunity for people to walk down to record stores and buy it and you have to have so many stars aligned for a record to be successful that I am pretty wide open as to what could happen.

If we got huge that would be wonderful. But that didn’t happened and we just became a sort of cult following band that some people know about but most don’t, I am just fine with that. Obviously we want to be as successful as possible, but we’re not dieing for it like we were when we were probably younger.

SU: Who did you work with on the art for the album?

John: We worked with a guy at Arista. Even things ended up going really bad with them; there were a lot of really talented people at the label that did a great job for us. We hired a photographer named Michael Smelling who took all the pictures. We were doing this other section of shooting Spymob in the studio and ended up taking a bunch of pictures and took a picture or a mic storage case and that ended up being the cover. So it was a combination of Michael and just some really good people at their art department.

SU: Seeing as how you used to be on the imprint of a major label and now you’ve moved to an indie, do you think the big record companies are the way to go for aspiring musicians, or are strong indies the future of music?

John: I think that there is no clear answer to that. The reality is the odds are stacked against you either way. Whether you want to do it completely free of a label and market yourself on the internet and tour, which a lot of people do well, or if you want to try and get on a major label, or a smaller label it just depends. We have been on two major labels now and one independent label and I think ultimately being on a smaller label is more appropriate for us. We have had good success getting signed to major labels, but then once we’re there they get really skittish because they didn’t know exactly where we fit in. Also, just the way major labels are setup, they are so beholding to the stick holders of the company and they have to meet these returns every quarter and there is no developing an act over time.

So for us, I am really glad we are with ruthless because their attitude is that we understand you guys are not a band that is going to be a hit out of the box and we feel patient about it. I think for what we do, I think it is more appropriate to be on a smaller label. It is like the risks are the opposite. For an indie label the risk is that they aren’t going to have the money to promote you, but with a major label the risk is that you are going to fall through the cracks. That is what happened with is with our major label experience.

SU: The last thing I will ask is your opinion about digital music and its place in the selling and marketing of music?

John: I am still formulating my opinion about that because it is still developing and we don’t know the implications yet. I think it is inevitable. I think that in our case, people downloading record probably helps us more than hurts us. Obviously we want people to buy the music because if our label doesn’t make any money from the music then they are going to drop us, but most artists make their money from playing live anyway. So for us, I don’t think it really hurts us when people are getting our music without paying for it. But I still think we are following and trying to make sense out of it. I think the way people get music is going to totally change, but we don’t know yet how that is going to work out. TO be deadest against it is not realistic though.

May 11 2004