Interview with Spring Offensive

When Oxford-based rockers Spring Offensive were offered a deal with Seattle record label Burning Building Recordings, they simply couldn’t refuse. The result led to the release of their latest album, ‘Pull Us Apart,’ which became available in the States a few weeks ago. On ‘Pull Us Apart,’ the quintet weave delectable and imaginative tales into their tracks. “Every Coin,” for example, tells the story of a man who consumes everything in his wallet, while “Abacus Rex” is loosely based on mathematician Alan Turing as he starts to become decrepit and unsatisfied with his own work. As a whole, the record is laden with indomitable riffs, a snug kit and bass, and ebullient vocal harmonies. Now if we could only get them to come over to America for a show or two.

Right before they started an evening rehearsal, the band took some time to chat with Rock Edition about their history, ‘Pull Us Apart,’ and upcoming plans. Keep reading to see what they had to say.

Since I have you all here, let’s talk about the history of the band. You all met at school, right?

Matt Cooper: Where did you hear that?

The Internet — it’s full of lies!

Matt: It’s full of truth. Yeah, we all met at school, apart from Joe [Charlett]. He auditioned for us, believe it or not.

And you let him in.

Pelham Groom: He had a van. [laughs]

Matt: He had a van, he could play bass guitar, and he had tattoos and a shaved head. We decided he would do wonders for our image. He’s also great at the bass and was into the music. [laughs]

[laughs] Was the forming of the group during high school or college?

Matt: This was in high school.

Lucas Whitworth: Theo and I are brothers, so we met when he was born.

[laughs] Right.

Lucas: Matt and I were good friends at school. He was always in bands and I essentially stole him from those other bands. Then we got the other guys involved as well.

Matt: Pelham actually got involved by mistake, we didn’t want him. He heard us using his amp to practice.

Pelham: I was the only one at school who had an amp that was loud enough to be heard outside of the music room. I stormed off to tell whoever was using it to stop using it. They were all a couple years older than me, so instead I asked if I could join in.

Matt: That’s the history of the band!

At what point did you guys decide to get serious about the band?

Matt: Two years ago.

Lucas: Yeah, about two years ago we decided to put something out, and straight away it was picked up and played on national radio. From then we thought, “Well, people might like this.”

You can’t turn back now!

Matt: We kind of kept going through university — we’re all out of university now — and it was difficult. I think the music suffered as a result. But toward the end of it we did “A Let Down.” It feels like a really dated song now, but it was really good for us. That was our starting point, when it stopped just being a gentlemen’s club.

[laughs] How did you guys bring the band to the next level?

Pelham: Well, we all went to different universities in different towns, which obviously is less of a big deal in this country than it would be in the States, but we were still many hours away from each other. Once we all did that first track and felt like there might be something there, we all moved to Oxford. Some of us were already living here, but I think that was the big change.

Matt: We’re in Oxford because we love the scene. I think it was when we got played on radio that I thought, “Well, shit, people could like this music,” and I think it gave us the encouragement to go and write more.

Lucas: That’s when we decided to do ‘Pull Us Apart,’ which you guys are now getting over in the States, but we released that over a year ago here. Feeling that people were interested enough in us for us to be able to make something and for it to do well — it’s great that it has, it’s amazing.

Wow. So you wrote these songs about two years ago?

Matt: At the end of 2009, yeah.

As you mentioned, now it’s finally available over here where I am.

Matt: Yeah, which is very cool.

It’s cool, but it’s also kind of weird.

Matt: Yeah, it is.

Lucas: Well, once Burning Building [Recordings] wanted to get involved with us, that was what we had to offer at the time. They really liked it, and we’re very happy for them to relaunch the album. There’s not very much more we could have done with it.

Theo: Yeah, it’s nice that it’s getting a second life, which is great for us because it kind of means that we got two releases worth out of one release.

Matt: But it’s also exciting to know that we’ve got more stuff ready and waiting for when the satellite delay catches up with us. It will be cool to be one step ahead.

We’re very happy with ‘Pull Us Apart’; we’re very proud of it. I don’t think anything else would really fit for a release over there because we don’t have anything else of a substantial length and as coherent as ‘Pull Us Apart.’ That album came from a particular time and particular mind, when we had just moved to Oxford. It wasn’t necessarily the happiest time, it was a bit strange trying to find your feet in a town that has such a strong music scene that’s already embedded. We really felt we had to make a mark and decide on our voice. Just because it’s delayed doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t still as fiercely proud of it.

The album itself was recorded in Manchester?

Lucas: It was at Courtyard Studios, which is in Sutton Courtenay, which is near Oxford.

Oh, okay.

Lucas: It’s a place where Radiohead’s management are based. They have an in-house studio there.

Matt: It’s where Radiohead recorded ‘Pablo Honey.’

Is that why you chose it, or was it just convenient?

Matt: [laughs] Convenient. You can stay the night there, and we loved that idea. We stayed there for 14 days. I quit my job for it, and we all kind of cut ourselves off. It was great.

Joe: Best two weeks of my life.

Lucas: They were really nice to us. It was a studio that was beyond our means. They helped us, and they were great and very generous. It’s kind of nice to go from zero to actually working as a full band professionally. It was a good environment to do it, and it’s just down the road. [laughs]

Were all the songs written before getting into the studio?

Matt: Yeah. We made a couple changes in the studio. I certainly regret one.

Which one?

Matt: [laughs] It’s so minute.

You can’t say that and not tell me. [laughs]

Matt: The beginning of “Abacus Rex.” After the riff we had the drums coming in earlier and we changed it. {He starts singing the part to the band members]

You guys didn’t really have a producer, right?

Matt: We all produced it.

Theo: We all kind of like doing parts of it more than others. Matt will do a lot of Lucas’ vocals with him…

Matt: Not sing, I’ll sit in the studio with him.

Theo: It kind of all works nicely and collaboratively.

Pelham: I think we like to have the songs completely finished except for a few minute changes. We like to have them done so that we can go into the studio and just focus on recording it and not worry about anything else.

Matt: Time is money.

Theo: Time is money, indeed. I think that makes it easier for us to produce it ourselves because there’s less of the arrangement work to do once we actually get there. It’s then just about tracking it, and it’s kind of nice to let the engineers spread their wings more because they don’t have a producer breathing down their necks.

Matt: With Ian [Davenport], who worked on this album — he didn’t by any stretch of the imagination produce it — he said outright, “I’m not producing this.” We were paying him as an engineer. He did a lot of the mixing himself. The engineer becomes the sixth band member because they have such a large investment in the record, whether they intend to or not. Ian was very important to it sounding as coherent as it did.

Was there a lot of experimenting with different equipment once you got into the studio? Was your sound really formed there or at home?

Pelham: I think we went in with a very definitive idea of what we wanted to sound like, but not how we wanted to achieve that. Ian is so good and we knew he was good, so we trusted him to interpret what we were saying.

Theo: I think some of his choices have had a lasting influence, particularly his judicious use of reverb.

Matt: We were in the studio on Sunday recording some acoustic guitar and the fret noise was coming through really strong. We all [mentioned it to Ian] and he said, “Well, that’s the sound of a guitar being played.” He quite liked the rawness to it. It’s hardly punk, but there is a roughness to it. Having said that, now we tend to go into the studio and we’re quite strict about what we want. One pet peeve of ours is when you go in and a producer goes, “I just bought this triplified sasquatch pedal with added delay and reverb super boosters. It would sound great on this track.” And you’re thinking, “Is it because you want to record it or because you think it will actually sound good on a track which you haven’t actually heard finished?” We’ve been in the studio before where we’ve had guitar amps stacked on each other and us going, “We want to make it bigger!” But that didn’t achieve it because what we actually wanted was the sound that came from our amps. It’s not naming names, it’s just that we tend to stick to our guns and say, “This is what we sound like and this is the sound we want.”

To change subjects for a bit, I noticed on a press release that everyone does some form of singing in the band except for Joe. Why won’t you sing, Joe?

[Everyone laughs and turns around to look at Joe]

Pelham: We have begged him to sing. Joe can sing, but he’ll deny it.

Joe: I can’t sing, mate.

Pelham: He can sing like an angel! We begged him, but he refuses.

Come on, man. You don’t want to be left out.

Matt: We always have four vocal mics on stage. When you say to an engineer, “Four vocal mics — three in the front, one by the drums,” they go [sighs deeply]. If we up that to five, we might be in trouble.

Joe: A lot of angry engineers.

Matt: He’s too shy.

Joe: I can hit the notes, but my tone of voice is unpleasant.

[laughs] Alright, fine. When it comes to lyrics, is it mostly up to you to come up with them, Lucas?

Lucas: It’s mostly Matt, in terms of how they start out. It varies song to song, but Matt and I work closely together on these things, and go through various drafts.

Matt: We kind of springboard it. It’s a nice relationship.

Lucas: We collaborate on it, and then if something sounds rubbish, the band will say, “That sounds rubbish.”

Matt: We spend a lot of time on lyrics. Occasionally, we’ll sit down and just talk about lyrics and wonder if the lines make sense. I think they’re too important to us for them to be weak, so we’ll go back and forth hundreds of times in order to get them right.

I think it shows. Your lyrics really do seem to tell interesting stories. The song “Every Coin” especially is quite narrative.

Matt: Yeah. With “Every Coin,” we went went to the Latitude Festival and watched a theater show that was set in this pre-apocalyptic meltdown and there was this guy who decided to eat everything in his wallet. We just said, “Oh, let’s do a song about that.” That was how it started, we didn’t have music.

Lucas: You find things here and there. You might pick up a line and that can be enough, or you read something in a newspaper. We don’t end up ever really writing songs about exactly the thing that [inspired us to start it].

Theo: We don’t really like to comment on things or express opinions or theologies.

Lucas: [laughs]

That’s always good for interviews.

Matt: There are some things way too interesting not to write about them. You might see it or hear about it or imagine a scenario. I think [our songwriting] has slightly changed since ‘Pull Us Apart.’ ‘Pull Us Apart’ was a very narrative kind of batch. We listened to a lot of bands that have quite clear stories and narratives in their songs. We listened to a band from Leeds called I Like Trains, Death Cab for Cutie, and more. I think now we’re a bit bolder. We weren’t in a band because we had ideologies to shout out, we’re in a band because it’s what we want to do. We didn’t feel that there was an agenda.

Interesting.

Matt: When we started out, we were kind of exclusively political, and then it turned out we didn’t know anything about politics.

Lucas: It’s much more interesting to use a story, event, or moment to investigate aspects of the way we are. It’s nice to imagine certain things than to impose on anyone. All of our songs, whether they have a strong storyline or not, are quite clear.

Matt: It doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of ourselves. They come from a very personal place and are about very personal things. It’s still primarily stories.

Is there a meaning behind the title, ‘Pull Us Apart’?

Pelham: I’m sure there was at the time.

[laughs]

Matt: It was a lyric from “Slow Division.” A lot of the lyrics and themes kept tying in. It’s all about the band and the fact that we moved to Oxford while not knowing if it was going to work. I certainly felt like I was shutting off a large bit of my life — we all were. I think we were terrified it wasn’t going to work. We’re also quite driven and passionate and get quite close to the music, which can sometimes be not particularly healthy.

Lucas: It’s obsessiveness, and that’s kind of what the album is about. We built this obsessive thing around ourselves, kind of accidentally. All the songs on the album are about — on some level or another — obsession or seeing something through to its conclusion, but also not knowing when to stop, basically.

You guys have some upcoming festival gigs coming up soon. You’ll be playing at Truck Festival, Underage Festival, and Greenman Festival.

Matt: Greenman’s a cool one. We’re working with a science-based theater company for a performance piece, but we’re not playing our instruments. You won’t find us billed on Greenman, but we’re playing Einstein’s Garden. We’re writing an album at the moment, so it’s kind of good for us to do as much different stuff as possible to get ideas and keep creative. Usually we have more gigs, especially over the summer, but it’s a deliberate choice so we have time to focus.

How’s the new album coming along?

Lucas: We just started on it on Sunday. It’s going to be a long time coming, and it won’t be put out until it’s absolutely ready, which might mean never. [laughs]

Matt: The good thing is that we set our own deadlines. It means there’s no reason to rush stuff and there’s no excuse to go, “Fuck it, here’s an album.” We don’t need to put one out.

Lucas: We want to surprise people with this album. We want people who have heard us already to be surprised by it and people who have not heard us to be surprised by it.

Are there any plans to come over to the States?

Lucas: The record needs to fly us over there.

Joe: If it sells enough, we’ll go there. I would absolutely love to go there, but right now we have just lint in our pockets. [laughs]

Matt: We’re going to be going to Europe in the summer, so that’s going to be our first taste of touring outside the country, which will be great. We don’t really trust these things until we get off the plane and go, “Oh, we’re in Europe!” America would be fantastic. If you’ve got any rich fat cat backers who want to spend heaps of cash flying us over that would be great.

[laughs] I’ll give them all a call.

Matt: Also, over here we’re done pretty much everything ourselves. This is the first time we’re working via a label. It’s really interesting for us.

Lucas: We have no idea how many people are listening to [‘Pull Us Apart’ in America].

Pelham: It might just be you.

[laughs] Let’s hope not.

Pick up Spring Offensive’s latest album, Pull Us Apart.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Myspace page.