It’s thirty six degrees – the height of the heatwave, right in the middle of lockdown. While restrictions have softened, the anxiety that simmers off the dusty ground lingers – as five people huddle together, bedecked in various attire within the insufferable, disorientating dog day.
It feels pertinent that this would come to represent the visual aspect of our discussion with evocative and idiosyncratic collective Muck Spreader. Their music – freeform improvisation that defies structure or genre for honest, primal feeling – possesses that familiar, sweltering stickiness – the sort that embodies the overwhelming consternation of reality and the dystopian near future we are heading headfirst towards.
Now while musically the group may seemingly cling onto the universal morbidity that encloses upon our daily lives – like an insatiable leech that’s constantly starving – their envision for a brighter future of sustenance, and collaborative creativity in community that doesn’t restrict itself within the industrial conservativeness of the music industry and personal growth through connection – is empowering, emboldened by experience of fading tradition and a simple, clear desire to embrace a different philosophy for good.
Luke Brennan – adorned in a weighty fleece gown that makes him look like a dishevelled shaman or the protagonist in an aged sci-fi novel – welcomes the opportunity to engage in discussion of the ethos of Muck, as they all do – expressing the sentient being they venture within, the muck brain that they plug themselves into to escape – or is it the true reality that they are entering? Regardless – Muck Spreader is an exciting, refreshing prospect – one of unlimited opportunity, one to follow and support in its undiluted creativity – something the five of them here have already embraced.
How has lockdown been for you, have you all been able to remain creative in this situation?
Luke: We just changed the process of it, where we couldn’t all physically be in the studio in the way we usually work where we record everything live, we did it from a distance basically.
It’s simply about adapting isn’t it?
Paul: Yeah, it’s literally a change of process, because typically the only time we were playing was actually when we had a show or when we were in the studio. So because neither of those were an option, we had to send ideas and lay things down.
Did you feel like it worked just as well in that respect?
Luke: I think it sounds different, you can hear it’s not as spontaneous sounding, but I think with that different sound there’s many different feathers in our cap. That’s why I’ve termed this release (Rodeo Mistakes) a mixtape rather than an EP or an album, because it’s more of a mixtape feel.
Jim: I think for us, whatever environment we’re in the sound is really affected by it. Even things for example like Vince breaking his wrist, I’m sure that will lend itself because maybe he’ll play differently. It might be more synth lead if he can’t play trumpet as much, so in that sense we’re quite adaptable. It’s whatever we’re feeling.
Paul: Like you said, whatever the environment is we feed off of that, so if that environment is that we’re all in different houses – we have to make that work. But it is a different thing to what we normally do. This is what this is really about, that spark of spontaneity, and you can’t really have that when you’re separate.
Like you said though it’s having that extra feather in your cap, and obviously with the mixtape coming out during this time, it’s a different condition again isn’t it, having to navigate that as a group of musicians?
Luke: I think it’s really helped us, we’ve only lost a month of shows getting a bit bigger each time, I don’t think we would’ve been in a position without the label, the film wouldn’t of got made as quickly, people have had the chance to listen and discover us so to speak. The lockdown has given us those opportunities.
Paul: It’s just meant that the focus has been more on the behind the scenes stuff, and like I was saying to you, all that stuff has been moving and now it’s a bit more appropriate to move around. We’re in a stronger position than before.
It shows the multi-faceted nature of the project?
Luke: Yeah, and there’s nothing that will stop it. In terms of Muckspreader, getting to where we are now we had to lose a lot of people along the way and a lot of shits happened. Literally nothing will stop it, if I got struck by lightning, and there’s a gig, these guys will still play – if someone can’t make it, it just has to happen basically. I don’t think there’s any hurdle that would stop it, it would continue in some capacity. The muck will never stop, and we need to be resilient in these times to keep the music going.
With the way the music industry is changing, with booking agencies and tours you’re moving to those much more Gorilla, localised scenes. We’re going to put on another party and try and stay as DIY as possible. That’s a massive thing for me, the Fugazi way of doing everything ourselves, keeping it in house and working with young people as much as possible. Dylan who makes the films has just finished university, and it’s a conscious decision to go with him. The other two videos we did we worked with a female director, because we’re about inclusivity, even if it doesn’t look like it with five white dudes.
There’s a lot of fluidity and collaboration within your work, and the identity of it lies perhaps within the openness you work within. Was working in this way almost a desire or natural necessity?
Luke: It was a conscious thing. I believe not in creativity when you put boxes around stuff, but when there’s parameters, you end up working harder or you can direct your work. Lars Von Trier has a dogma that he’s written that all his films have to match up to these things. So I just thought I can’t really get a band together, I can’t afford to rehearse and stuff, so out of necessity this was the only way to keep it going -, there’s so many obstacles that get put in. I hate having to learn a song and re-sing the lyrics over and over, I think something is lost. I’ve always liked the first take of everything, even with photographs, I run really on instinct with creativity.
It’s all about gut feeling and what comes from that?
Jack: I think that’s how we all got together, I can’t actually remember the first time I was playing with Muckspreader. I got to play a gig and then all of a sudden we were going on tour together, and we had a really good time. I think that was when it was all solidified, after that first tour we went on with Sorry.
Luke: We got to talk about our sound, we’d discuss with each other what we thought, because we are individuals, we’ve got really different taste in music and then together we are a collective brain but each person’s differences come together and compliment each other really well.
Jim: The beauty of Muck Spreader, when we did get the concept of it down, was that you don’t ever have that feeling of restriction, you really are at your most free.
Jack: I think we just got really lucky in finding people like us that gel really well, it’s pretty hard to find these days.
Vincent: On that tour as well, the first gig sounded sort of messy, the second sounded like we knew each other musically – we sort of predicted everyone’s movements – by the last gig, we were sounding so good, just because we knew each other musically. People don’t realise it’s improvised a lot of the time.
Paul: It’s interesting doing a tour with this format because, normally when you do a tour the same thing happens – you get better and better, but with the same set of songs. Taking that but with improvised music, not only are you getting better but the stuff you are playing is actually improving night on night, it’s really interesting.
It’s developing this unspoken, sentient thing?
Vincent: The Muck brain.
Luke: That’s how I see it, there’s this one connective thing and we all plug into the big hovering jellyfish above us.
Jack: It’s a big moment of honesty. We all play what we wanted to of played in our old bands maybe and we couldn’t.
Paul: It’s not the goal to make something that’s perfect, thing don’t have to fit together in this perfect way.
Jim: It’s interesting talking to people outside of the group itself, because my girlfriend, I remember the early conversations we had, she said “when you record your song, people are going to want to hear that live?” and I said not necessarily.
Luke: That’s the main hurdle we’ve faced is people saying how are you going to put out tunes and never play them? You can do it without playing the songs.
Vincent: That’s the thing with the live gigs, it’s a completely different experience and every gig is different. I feel if you want to go and see any other band, you might as well go and listen to their record but with us, you’re never going to hear it anywhere else. No two Muck Spreader gigs are the same, so I feel like people are sort of blessed to have one certain experience which completely contrasts someone else’s experience of a Muck Spreader gig.
Luke: I think the EP catches that as well, you can see the different genres across the board.
I think that’s quite exciting in itself because obviously it’s not even that the personality of it changes, the live and recording element of it are two totally separate entities?
Luke: It’s always been like that, it’s 100% two different entities. The live show is one way to approach it because you’ve got showmanship and you’ve got live entertainment, and you’ve got the otherside which is recording, which is a completely different headspace where you haven’t got to worry about entertaining and you can rely on other things. I like that moment of collective fear that everyone has, that anticipation of what’s going to happen. As much as it is for the fans being on the edge of their seat, it’s the same for us, it’s super selfish.
I was going to say as well, because of the way you’re bringing it into a traditional format of releasing things but keeping it improvised, it’s testing the boundaries?
Paul: I think it could be redefined. Like Luke was saying earlier, people can’t get around us saying we’re not going to play the songs we’ve released. Why do you have to? Why? Every other band ever has done that but does that mean you have to? We don’t want to do that.
Jack: I’m not your slave and you’re not my master.
Luke: There’s definitely no rules or anything, no one telling you how to do that. For a while I thought there was a set formula, there’s literally not – you don’t have to stick to any convention that you’ve been told.
That’s quite interesting as well, in terms of the temperament of it do you feel like you can go down any road that feels right?
Vincent: We definitely adapt to our environment – what we were talking about earlier in taking the stage away – I think we’re watching the audience as much as they are watching us. We need to see what they respond to and feed off of. That’s why I’ve been struggling a little more with the lockdown version of Muck Spreader – because I can’t feed off of anyone else in the room, I can’t feed off Luke, everyone responds to what they are doing and it’s definitely a different type of Muck.
Luke: It’s the sort of thing where even eye contact is so key, and we’ve got to learn to pick up on things from each other while you are playing, musically you can feel from someone where it’s going to go – you’ve really got to be in the moment and present, that’s what makes it meditative – there’s no carriers or autopilot where you are just playing along.
People get attracted to it, what you put out into the universe it comes back and finds you. Most people in bands are flaky as hell, loads complain – there’s a lack of commitment. Literally here, if you don’t turn up someone else will come and play, everyone knows that. Loads of people haven’t turned up, a boy dropped out, we had a festival in Manchester and he rang me at 8 o’clock in the morning and said I’m sick, you haven’t got a lie mate you’ve obviously been up all night on pills, don’t worry about it you’re a big boy now. We just rang my mate up near Manchester and asked him if by any chance he knew a bass and keys player, managed to get two people who turned up in Manchester and played with them, then they never played with them again, never spoke to them again.
As much as this is quite an improvisation-led project, I love how the instrumentation captures a sense of foreboding and anxiety, like a convergence between the dystopian qualities that are present within reality itself and the exaggerated intensity you craft. Was that an important balance for you to find?
Luke: A lot of it is Ballard-based, for a while I was obsessed with J.G Ballard – it’s always set in the not too distant future where technology has taken a pressing role and it takes it into the macabre as well. I just feel like that goes with rock n roll, to try and be sexual but also have that darkness, the music I listen to is really dark as well so I think the content stays that way. I spend most of my time walking around the streets, I steal bits of people’s conversations or things I’ve seen and that just gets filtered in, I tune out and my brain filters it all into a story. It’s social commentary and being an observer – I like to sit on the bench and watch the world go by, where I almost become invisible. I think you do need everyday stories, I think that’s important with songs. Lyrical content and word play, I love words.
So when you actually get into the session or on stage and you are going for it – is it whatever comes out?
Luke: It’s whatever comes out, I completely zone out, I don’t even know what’s happening, I don’t really know how I’ve done it. I did practice freestyling for ages and another guy who is in the band, Oscar, we lived together in a warehouse and we’d talk nonsense for years – absolutely rhyming riddles to each other for hours. My mum has always done it, she’s deaf in one ear so she sings her own lyrics to songs – you’d be driving along and she’d make up a song to the song that’s on the radio – so i’ve kind of always done it.
Paul: I think what Luke does – live as well but in the studio in particular – we’re directed by that. We can’t necessarily see him but we’ve got him loud in our ear and that gives you cues as to where you can take it. If he’s talking about something that’s particularly Ballardian or dystopian, you’re going to lean a bit more minor or take it to a place that compliments what he’s doing.
Luke: It can go the other way as well though, they’ll start playing something and I’ll hear something – like with ‘Paraphanaliac’ – it sounds to me like a car on an old theme set with everyone running past – as soon as they start playing something I start seeing the back of the story or a visual in my head, it’ll remind me of a place or something and I’ll try to describe it from the way the music is being played.
Jim: I’m sure you’ve said this to me before as well, I think it’s a sort of form of therapy in a weird way – because you are relying so much on the subconscious. You aren’t just replicating something you’ve made, you wouldn’t be using your brain as much to do something you’ve learnt because you’ve already learnt it. What we’re doing is much more instinctual.
Luke: It’s like Beauys said, “everybody is an artist”, inside of everyone I think it’s there, and a lot of modern life distances you from being able to zone out like that. For me it’s definitely like meditation.
It’s a real cathartic form of expression isn’t it – a real release?
Vincent: I think as well that goes beyond words and lyrics – because most of the time I’m not listening to what you are saying but I’m listening to the sound of your voice like it’s an instrument – you’ve got different characters that you always present.
Paul: I think sometimes you are slightly possessed sometimes.
Luke: Inhabiting other people, using their language like it’s a tool.
Do you feel like it’s an exaggerated form of yourself?
L: Nah, it’s just completely different characters. I’m a bit of a chameleon, I hang around loads of different places with loads of different people who all look different, there’s probably a mental health condition for it, having thirty different characters in your head. Putting it into art though I think it works. I think the body movements even come across within it, when you’re performing it can become a lot more dramatic, it’s a whole thing that goes with it.
There’s a great bit towards the end of the EP where you are literally just laughing it out?
Paul: The skit, ‘Drawknife’, I absolutely love it. There’s loads of bits like that and that was possibly the one bit that stood out the most. We had loads of little pieces like that, little sections of instruments and Luke was talking about stuff. It’s interesting because you could listen to it once and think ok, that’s an interesting piece of collage or nonsense – but you put something into it you can get more out of it.
Jim: Exactly, and giving it a title, it’s got a name, you’re classifying it.
L: It becomes real, sometimes I just have a list of words for titles, and the title is unrelated to the song – but the titles seem to have more intention. I really like that, I’ve always thought the names of songs are really important.
It’s almost like an entry point in that sense isn’t it?
L: Yeah, and as soon as the band had a name it started to feel alive, because you have to make stuff feel real when it happens – it’s positive to have that visual identity. I do feel like we have an important input to put out there, encouraging and inspiring other musicians and bands to realise they can do this, it’s available.
P: I totally feel that with the skit sort of tracks as well, to include that on an EP is really important to show this side of this band, that that’s a part of it as well. It’s showing to people this is ok, this is cool.
Jack: You see other bands and they are fucking arguing in the studio, they’re mapping it out. There’s no arguments here, but we’ve laid it down already. No one’s top dog in this band, we’re just mucking in.
Jim: That’s interesting, we’re giving them a snapshot..
Interesting saying about the identity of it, because obviously it’s an important factor within this very multifaceted presentation. What do you feel you are attempting to present within that, outside of the music?
Luke: Mostly it’s a vehicle to be able to channel through. Eventually I’d like us to be able to have muckspreader.com – where there’s ideas and films and everything’s going on. The community is growing, it’s building a new community of musicians and groups of people, it’s becoming more diverse. The next generation of kids are looking for somewhere to go or something to do – not everyone is a Black Midi where you come out at eighteen, immediately get signed, play a handful of shows and get nominated for the mercury. There’s other bands that have to go out and grind out and work through, it’s important for the community to reach out and give advice, whether to other band members or connections.
Jack: At the end of the day for me it’s something worth doing, just to be creative and to make something. I don’t really have an endgame or an end goal – I just want to make music and that’s it, I’ve got no motive, no political charge behind it in the way that I play guitar. Some music is worth doing, to me anyway. I’m not out there to gain anything.
Luke: I would just like to have a platform to shine a light on certain issues. I want it to be a platform for good where you are able to connect with the most amount of people and I feel like I have some wisdom that can be shared that could help people, there’s no ego here. You have to leave your ego at the door because there’s no space for any of it. The music wouldn’t work if there was ego and people would overcomplicate it by thinking too much personally. It’s trying to develop everyone, not just the musicians and artists, but people. That extends to more than just the people in the band, I think as a community that’s important.
Jim: Going back to your question, outside of the music I think we’re still pinning down what that is.
Luke: I knew what I wanted to look like today, but that’s going to be just as random as the music, with the spiritual vibe. Then the other thing of dressing like I’m from the seventies with the fur coat and fur hat – it’s all considered, but it’s because I see clothes as another form of expression. As soon as we have a budget we’ll be making sets for the stage, there’s already ideas for when we tour of how the stage will be presented.
That’s the thing, while it’s obviously very freeing for you, it’s very considered in that sense?
Luke: The approach to market is considered, there’s no slacking on stuff, I know the importance of having a striking piece of artwork and how everything looks.
Jim: I think that consideration that you are talking about, I think there’s definitely a level of experience that everyone’s had, everyone’s played in other bands or had other roles in music.
Paul: It does feel like because we’re not doing things in the traditional way, where could it go?
Luke: That’s why it’s Rodeo Mistakes, because normally when you make a mistake at the rodeo, you die.
‘Rodeo Mistakes’ – the first mixtape from Muck Spreader – is out now via Brace Yourself Records. Their short film, directed by Dylan Coates, is premiering at Venue MOT next Thursday (10th September). You can listen to the EP here at Wax Music.
Words: Ross Jones Photography: Max Dillon