Peering in from the parameters,
Spectres cannot help but draw the light
“We want to push people out of their comfort zones. They might hate it, they might find it horrifying…”
The four members of Spectres are hunched around a table at a Bristol pub on a prickly weekday evening, all straggly beards and unassuming smiles. Guitarist Adrian Dutt sips his drink and continues. “We want people to question themselves, to think, ‘what am I feeling?’”
I’ve asked about the desperate, gasping face on the front of the band’s debut album, Dying. It’s an unsettling image of panic and claustrophobia, a heave of breath emerging from a pool of water. “We wanted something that reflected the sound we make,” he says.
That sound, the sound which makes up Dying, is a dizzying, miasmic blur; a muggy, art-damaged smudge of noise that sweeps you in with glimmers of soothing shoegaze melody, then sends you scarpering with nihilistic blasts of atonal grunt. As debut albums go, it’s startling. Admittedly, it’s taken five years, two EPs, countless gigs, a record label and a city-wide musical movement to develop it. But still – it’s startling.
There’s a mischievous self-awareness that defines the record, a grinning sadism. There are certainly great songs to speak of: the soaring confessional Family, the gripping, tuneful hum which bookends the nine-minute Sea Of Trees. But there’s no resisting the album’s defining factor: the way the band knowingly revel in making the listener squirm in their skin; see the Consumer Electronics-esque capital-N noise of Drag, the degenerate static blast of This Purgatory, the brutalist no wave of Lump. They bask in it.
“I think in the simplest terms, it’s a reaction to the reactions we were getting,” reflects guitarist, vocalist and the band’s most pronounced focal point, Joe Hatt. “Since we started playing we’ve been hated, we’ve been heckled. Rather than take that to mean we should tone down and win crowds over, we realised these probably weren’t the people we should be playing to anyway.”
When Dying plumbs its most cruddy depths, Dutt and Hatt’s crippling crackle becomes something other that music. At these points, Spectres cease to seem like a band. They in no way resemble four people, making songs. So how do you practice that, I ask? How does you write it? Drummer Andy Came sighs. “I just wait.” Bassist Darren Frost complies. “Someone has to hold it together.”
“You see that thing on Kickstarter” says Hatt, “where bands tell their fans, give us 50 quid, you can come and watch us practice. Honestly … that would be the worst day of anyone’s life.” He laughs. “They’d arrive and see four people, barely talking, looking in different directions, playing whatever they want.”
The band’s single-minded approach has marked them out as outsiders in wider UK alternative/indie culture. Choosing to ply their wares from Bristol, they’ve assembled a loose DIY community around Joe and Adrian’s label, Howling Owl Records. Forming an identity around non-compromise, non-commercial values, Spectres remain outside, looking in. “It’ll always be like that” stresses Hatt. “It’ll never be a case where everyone laps up what we do. It’s not meant to be like that, that’s not the function of the music.” Frost is emphatic. “We will always be outsiders. If we get bigger, great. Then we play with bigger bands, bigger stages. And we’ll be the small fish again.”
So for these staunch outsiders, the public reaction to Dying might sit a little uncomfortably. The album hasn’t just been accepted by indie blogs, zines and free-sheet papers. It’s been played on Radio One, heralded by Lauren Laverne. It’s even stormed the pages of Spectres’ natural enemy. “We’re Album of the Week in NME” exclaims Hatt.“Of course, there’s a sense that we were never meant to be there. The review is on the same page as Noel Gallagher. He’s got 7/10. We’ve got 9.”
“But there’s no shame in it,” interjects Frost. “We haven’t compromised, we haven’t changed a thing.” “I think we’ve arrived at a good time,” concludes Hatt. “The current landscape of British guitar bands isn’t working. Maybe they’re looking for something different to get behind. Maybe that’s us.”
I met the band on the eve of a sporadic two week tour of the UK. Holding down regular jobs – Hatt as a booking agent for a leftfield music promotions company, Dutt at a record store, Frost as a support worker for people with learning disabilities and, disarmingly, endearingly unpredictable drummer Came as a life insurance salesman – this is the band’s most prolonged spell on the road to date. “Touring is an escape for us,” says Dutt. “We barely leave the van. We enjoy that horrible existence.” They regale me with tales of three Wetherspoons meals a day, passing out on roundabouts and being banned from Sheffield city centre. “It’s like not being human,” says Came. “We just live in this tin can and venture out every night to make noise.”
They reminisce on one show in particular: Mayfest, Mayhemfest, something like that, they can’t quite recall. It was an early show, back in their hometown of Barnstaple. “It was in this big marquee,” says Frost. “It was absolutely pissing down outside, and we came on after a reggae DJ.” Pathetic fallacy at its finest.
“We opened up with a cover of Sonic Youth, 100%” says Hatt. Everyone stormed out, even though it was raining. Everyone. After a while the rain got so bad that everyone had to come back, they had no other option.”
Whether observing from the outside, or forcing the inside out, Spectres will always be the antagonists. Always the outsiders.
Hatt looks up from his drink and smiles. “So we played 100% again.”
Dying is out now via Sonic Cathedral