Spang Sisters: Jacks Of All Trades

As the uncharted year ahead begins to unravel, Spang Sisters’ shimmering sound is a welcome antidote to the bleaker days upon us. Smooth guitars and psychedelic pop sounds, certain to lifts spirits out of the depths of muggy winter and into dreamier, warmer spheres, offer welcome escapism from a world deprived of distraction.

The duo have been busy writing and recording new music throughout lockdown, and recent single ‘Eddie Murphy’ is a sensual reintroduction to all things Spang. The track teems with reminiscence, both sonically and lyrically. Their penchant for analogue production techniques glitters throughout their indie dream-pop, and is a nod to their shared love of Motown and 70’s soul. Silky sounds seeped in nostalgia clutch onto something of the past, but the track is about impending heartbreak, and a reluctance to confront a collapsing relationship. An Eddie Murphy film appears to be the only remedy; the sound reflects that very same nostalgia that the comic actor’s name evokes: lighthearted, rose-tinted pleasure. Even the visuals of a fish finger and a sausage’s love story, in the bizarre and joyous official video, accessorise this transportation back to simpler times.

Their refreshing commitment to honouring production and recording techniques, which are slowly falling out of favour of the mainstream, is a testament to Jules and Rachid’s love of music. They both play a number of instruments, although they humbly assure me not too well. Their care and affection is evident, not only for their craft but also for Bathtime Sounds: a DJ night they were previously heavily involved with, as well as a radio show in both London and Bristol, and now their very own record label. They demonstrate the scope of their dexterity, and their desire to embed themselves into music scenes throughout the south of England.

‘Eddie Murphy’, released in November of last year, was Jules and Rachid’s first release as a duo. The previously expansive member list has simmered down to the two remaining grins on my screen; the other musicians and friends have embarked on their own musical journeys elsewhere. The pair are now announcing their self-titled debut album, out May 21st.

Alongside this announcement, they release their latest single ‘The Ballad of Joyce Vincent’, an affectionate commemoration of the life of Joyce, whose body lay undiscovered in her north London flat for more than two years after her death. It gently poses pertinent questions about legacy and loneliness; anxieties of the collective consciousness of which many of us are currently experiencing. Despite the tragedy and mystery surrounding the track’s subject, Spang Sisters once again deliver with a radiance that will no doubt become emblematic of their sound as they continue to release music. They appear, greeting me on zoom from the warmth of their studio sofa in Brighton – beers in hand – eager to divulge their lockdown ventures.

I’m very excited to be speaking to you both. Where have you been locked down?

Rachid: Actually this is where we have been locked down, so we have been in here an awful lot. This is our studio, that’s our drum kit, over there is our mixer where the light is, some amps, some rock n roll guitar. I feel like this room wasn’t what it is now at the beginning of lockdown.

Jules: No, we have had a lot of time to create a nice space.

R: It’s more of a recording studio.

I love the nostalgia of your sound and how you shape the dreamy RnB into something quirky and fresh. How would you personally describe your sound?

R: Well first off thank you, that’s very nice. I think that is bang on really. We listen to a lot of old music, so that is quite straightforward as to why it’s nostalgic; we have quite ancient music tastes. It’s not really calculated; I think music rarely is.

Is there anything in particular that has shaped your sound in this way?

R: I think the influences are ever changing. At the moment I think Motown has been big, especially for Jules.

J: Yeah, and older soul music.

R: At the moment we are taking more influence from recording styles, for example researching how things are miked up, or how to get a particular drum sound.

J: I think it’s more production influences at the moment. Obviously, it is hard to get away from the Mac DeMarco and Connan Mockasin comparisons, and they are warranted for sure. You can’t get away from that.

R: They weren’t the first people to make warm guitar music.

J: Maybe they were of this generation – I suppose that’s why they’re the touchstone.

R: I really feel like it’s also down to the fact we also write all of our stuff ourselves and neither of us are really drummers. So we do end up writing a lot of simple 2/4 songs, that coupled with the one guitar, a chorus and everything. And the fact that it’s pop music. We have pop sensibilities just like they do.

I can hear that, and I really love that you lean into that new pop space where it’s much more accepted to embrace the feminine, and kind of questioning what it means to be masculine. Is this something you are actively partaking in?

R: I would say that is not intentional. We aren’t trying to make a statement about masculinity, I think perhaps generally we are just not the most masculine. I’d love to be able to tell Wax that we are making a statement but I’m afraid we are not.

You were part of a larger Spang collective originally and now it’s just the two of you. Has the creative process changed much?

J: The process hasn’t changed as we were the songwriters and the other members had to spread their wings beyond just being musicians for us. I think we went into it thinking it was going to be this big collaborative thing and quickly the dynamic was established that it was just us. It just made sense, it’s a lot more streamlined now.

R: The dynamic stayed and worked for a while, but the other members are such accomplished musicians so they have started their own thing, which Jules is also a part of. We used to have a kind of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ quality about our live shows. Eighty percent would be the kind of soft jazzy stuff you can hear, and the last two or three songs would be a lot heavier. Eventually that kind of advanced into its own project which is Keg.

J: it used to be the other side of the coin but it’s its own thing now.

I also want to talk about Spang as a name and as a kind of philosophy around your music. It immediately made me think spangles: sequins and glittery. I think this reading of your name embodies your sound really well, but when I looked into the etymology I found out in old English it means ‘complete’ and ‘total’, meaning Spang is a complete sisterhood – which I loved. Could you please explain to me what the name means to you?

J: I think that’s great – your definition of it. I think we will say that from now on.

R: I think in a sense Jules completes me and I might complete him in a way so retrospectively lets say that… The truth is, it was really a nonsense name that came about. We had so many different names.

J: This was the best out of a bad bunch.

R: But you’re right about the glitteriness. We were more thinking about Spang as onomatopoeic – spangly guitar sounds, you know? Glittery sounds, I suppose.

J: Like Wham! – you know Wham!?

I know Wham! [laughs]

R: Well, their music is like ‘WHAM!’, and ours is like ‘spangly spangly’.

You have just begun to release music on your very own label, Bathtime Sounds – can you tell me a little about the inception of the label and what it means to be signed to something you created yourself?

J: It was born out of necessity; nobody wanted to put us out.

R: We have always self-released. Bathtime is a DJ night we started in Bristol at the Surrey Vaults. It was a great little pub; really a utopia. Skaters ran it and they always put on really good music, it was like a little labyrinth in there. Spang ended up playing a show there under the Bathtime event, but then we started doing Bathtime events all over Bristol and then in London. It’s also a radio show on Balamii – a Peckham based station, and we used to have one on 1020 in Bristol. We haven’t done an event for a while, but for a while it really was a collective with other artists from Bristol and other friends from London. It’s very exciting that it is now acting like a label really and will hopefully it will continue to do that.

I think there’s going to be a lot, there’s bound to be a kind of renaissance after all the rubbish of the past year.

R: Oh yeah, absolutely. Let’s just hope it’s not a saturated market.

Of course, that’s the artist’s worry. Did it feel strange releasing ‘Eddie Murphy’ in the midst of a lockdown?  

R: It was a weird time I think with the US election– perhaps generally not the best time to be releasing music. I hate to say it, but our music is deemed ‘summery’, so it is not the best time when the world is caving in on itself in the winter. It’s done quite well I think on Spotify. The [Eddie Murphy] music video has not done as well as we thought but it is going to be shown at the London Short Film Festival.

Yes, please tell me about the love story between the fish finger and the sausage and how this gorgeous idea came to fruition.

J: That was just our mates really. We’d seen a video that they had done before and we thought “let’s leave it to them” as they had such good ideas. It was the first idea they shot back at us: “what do you think to a sausage and a fish finger getting it on?” and we were like “yep, that is the best idea we have ever heard!”

R: We don’t take any credit for the video. The previous video they shot actually went to that film festival too so they are clearly on their radar. That video consisted of two taxidermy badgers and it’s actually a really heart wrenching video for the track Long Friend by Benjamin Spike Saunders. They’re a couple, Ben and Marie [Dutton], and when we saw that video and we asked them to do ours. 

Yeah, it’s wonderful!

R: And the sister of Marie, Steph [Dutton], has done some artwork for us so they’re kind of all in the Spang family.

I love the way in which you talk and reference about those around you that you have collaborated with. Do you think this idea of sisterhood is important to your ethos as musicians?

R: I certainly do. I think community in all forms of art is key, that idea of helping one another. I think in London especially there’s a stereotype – perhaps quite an accurate one – that people are climbing on top of each other. It’s impossible to make it in London because everyone is stabbing each other in the back which I guess may be true unless you have that sense of community. I think you need to all be bolstering each other, one person’s success could mean so many other people’s success. We have seen it in so many different scenes around the world. So yeah, I think community is important; it helps you better yourself.

J: Yeah we can’t do it all by ourselves!

No of course not. I mean, you can’t even play the drums!

J: Honestly, I’ve tried.

They try to show me Jules on the drums but, devastatingly, the stool is missing.

R: But something Jules and I have talked a lot about is the fact we aren’t really part of a scene in the UK. The artists that have picked us up and want to help us tend to be more in the hip-hop scene – not really in the guitar music scene.

J: Seems like there’s a weird overlap into our world with hip-hop. It seems like the flavour of the month is a lot more angular, experimental and dark. So we do talk about community and sisterhood, but I don’t really feel like we are part of a scene.

How are you feeling about not being able to perform new material live?

J: I’m a bit scared to start playing live again to tell you the truth.

Because you have been out of practice?

J: A little bit, but also because now there are only two of us. We have performed the two of us before but I feel like the songs need the arrangement. We are piecing a band together at the moment so hopefully in the new year we will come back stronger and better and all that.

R: We don’t really – well – I don’t really write songs whilst questioning, “will a band be able to play this?” which means it’s hard to mimic the sound of the record on stage – especially with the harmonies.

I suppose as you both play a variety of instruments so I can imagine it is quite challenging to recreate that live, especially just with the two of you.

R: I mean, we don’t really play any of them that well, apart from the guitars.

J: We just play everything quite badly.

R: Jacks of all trades, but masters of none.

We all know this year has seen an accelerated advance of the digital world onto music, with UGC platforms and live streams basically replacing live shows throughout the year. As relatively new artists and given your musical style, how do you feel about this shift?

J: I’m not going to mince my words: I hate it. That’s pretty much my stance, but we don’t really have a choice.

R: I think the nostalgia you remarked upon, well, we are both luddites and that is probably why we emulate an old sound. The dream for us is for everything to be analogue in our recording process.

J: We are pretty analogue dudes – you should see this guy’s phone!

Is it very heavy?

R: It’s very heavy, it’s actually a briefcase with a long antenna. But yeah, we aren’t very social media minded.

J: That’s not to say we are above it, we know we have to do it. Unless you’re Tom Waits.

R: Or Parquet Courts.

Do you guys have any plans for 2021? Perhaps an EP on the way or will live performances be first on the agenda?

J: More bangers.

R: Yeah, more bangers. We actually have an album coming out and a single coming last week of January, and with that a whole mess of material ready to go that we are currently working on. We also had a Bathtime event I was actually organising at the Windmill in January.

J: Oh fuck!

R: We are putting together a live band and once things open up again we will be ready to go, hopefully with a much stronger live show than before I hope.

Words: Rachel Mercer Photos: Lorenzo Garrido

Spang Sisters’ self-titled debut album is out May 21st via Bathtime Sounds. Pre-order the album via their Bandcamp and watch the video for new single ‘The Ballad of Joyce Vincent’ below.

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