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Friday, September 27, 2013

Q&A Spottiswoode with a Little Help from His Enemies

It was two years ago, around Halloween and while my life was in a tumult, that I made it to The Lower East Side and caught Spottiswoode and His Enemies at The Living Room. http://djbuddybeaverhausen.blogspot.com/2011/10/meet-spottiswoode-his-enemies.html  Wow! Memorable night and great show that lifted my spirits. Thanks to Bernadette Quigley, the band's press agent (and an amazing actress of stage, screen and television as well) for arranging this Q&A with the band's Jonathan Spottiswoode, drummer Tim Vaill (Enemy #2), trumpeter Kevin Cordt (Enemy #4) and pianist/accordian player Tony Lauria (Enemy #6). They will be performing at The Living Room (dates below) scheduled to close next month on Ludlow Street.

Dj Buddy Beaverhausen: You will be finishing your residency at The Living Room on the Lower East Side as that club is closing. Which I find very sad. When did you start your residency there and what are your own feelings about the wind-up of The Living Room?
Jonathan Spottiswoode: This particular residency will start on September 29th. Four shows: Sunday, Sept. 29th 9pm; Saturday, Oct. 5th 11pm double set; Monday, Oct. 14th 8pm; Saturday, Oct 26th 9pm. I think we played our first show at the Ludlow location in 2004. I also played numerous shows and at least one residency as part of the duo, S&M (Spottiswoode & McMahon) at their first location on Allen Street. I remember the duo participated at a best of the Living Room show at the Knitting Factory well over a decade ago. At that time, I remember saying that the Living Room was this century's equivalent of the 60's Bleecker Street scene. That has definitely been proven true. I'm convinced The Living Room has affected the kind of music much of the world listens to today. Norah Jones is just the tip of the iceberg. The Living Room had a vision to promote singer-songwriter music at a time when singer-songwriters weren't trendy. The good news is that they'll hopefully find a new location soon. So I'm not too worried about the wind-up on Ludlow even though I have some wonderful memories of the place.

DBB: In the meantime, what new gigs await?
JS: Besides the Living Room residency, we're playing about another half dozen shows on the East Coast this autumn, including a return to Washington DC where many of us once lived: our debut show at The Hamilton on October 3rd. Next spring we'll be releasing our sixth album, English Dream, so there should be a lot more shows and touring then.

[Friday, Sept 27th, 8
Spottiswoode & Two of His Enemies
The Stage at Rockwells
Pelham, NY




Saturday, Sep 28th, 8pm till late
Spottiswoode & Most of His Enemies
Main Street Pub
Philmont, NY

Sunday, Sep 29th, 9pm
Spottiswoode & His Enemies (full band)
Lounge Set
Living Room, NY

Thursday, Oct 3rd, 9:15pm
Spottiswoode & Most of His Enemies
The Hamilton
Washington, DC

http://www.thehamiltondc.com/live/calendar#/spottiswoode-and-his-enemies-jelly-roll-mortals-and-victoria-vox (A great bill of  Spottiswoode friends: Victoria Vox opens at 7:30, Jelly Roll Mortals at 8:15pm)


Friday, Oct 4th, 9pm
Spottiswoode & Most of His Enemies
Liberty Public House
Rhinebeck, NY
(Spottiswoode's good friend Steven Pague opens)

Saturday, Oct 5th, 11pm classic double set till very late
Spottiswoode & Most of His Enemies
Living Room, NY

Sunday, Oct 13th, 8pm
Spottiswoode & Most of His Enemies
The Carriage House
Ithaca, NY
A double bill with Bronwen Exter


Monday, Oct 14th, 8pm
Spottiswoode & His Enemies (full band)
Columbus Day Americana set
Living Room, NY

Saturday, Oct 26th, 9pm
Spottiswoode & Most of His Enemies + special guests Kenny White & Martha Redbone
A celebration of the last night of the Living Room on Ludlow Street
Living Room, NY

 
DBB: Wikipedia describes your sound as "eclectic" and "with songs ranging from rock to folk to jazz and even gospel." How would you describe yourselves?
Tim Vaill: Lunatics with instruments.
Kevin Cordt: A little bit of this, a little bit of that, a pot, a pan, a broom, a hat.
JS: I always use the word "expressionists." We express ourselves! and there's a lot to express! Would you call The Beatles eclectic? Perhaps. But it wouldn't be the first adjective to come to mind. They wrote songs on many different themes and in many styles but it all made sense. "Rock to folk to jazz and even gospel" could equally apply to them. I've always liked Robert Altman's words: "People ask me to describe my style. But it's not about style, it's about personality. And I'm not the right person to ask what my personality is."

DBB: Fall's settling in. Won't be long before the holidays are here. Let's discuss "Chelsea Boys," kind of an international cult Christmas hit. The song describes an event. Real or fictitious? Of course, the song has its gay following. Anything you might care to say to my blog's LGBT audience?
JS: Thanks for asking! I'm very proud of that song and I'm grateful to you for championing it. I wrote it about a decade ago while spending Christmas in Manhattan. I was single at the time and, alas, I didn't find myself dancing on 22nd street or singing along with a gay street choir. But at heart it's a true song, if that makes sense: A love song about a boy and a girl on a date in Chelsea, dancing in the snow and then spontaneously singing Christmas songs with some gay strangers on the street. It sounds corny as I describe it, but it's a strangely moving song to sing.
I have wonderful memories of playing Christmas shows and getting the audience to sing along (no matter their sexual orientation). Of course, three band-members are gay so it does work as a band anthem, although I wasn't thinking about Candace, Kevin or Tony when I wrote it. 
TV: Rock your leather, rock your tights, listen to Spttiswoode on cold winter nights.
KC: Kevin is single.
http://djbuddybeaverhausen.blogspot.com/2011/12/son-of-chelsea-boys.html

DBB: Could you discuss what it's like to be an indy rock band dealing financially in the environment of today's music industry? Are you ever tempted to "sell out"? You're an amazingly talented group. What do you think prevents you from breaking into the mainstream? And is that something you even desire?  
TV: It's a miracle we're still here and it's not getting any easier. Even in the best of times, making money as a musician is a massive challenge. I don't think we're too worried about mainstream success. Sometimes being the right size is better than being the biggest.
JS: I don't really feel like we're part of the music "industry." It's much more feudal than that. We rely on patronage! I would sell out tomorrow if I could. I'm just not sure what that would mean. If we were all twenty, then I suppose it might make sense for us to sing a One Direction cover while twerking our butts off, but I don't think we'd get too many buyers for that at this stage. Several reasons we haven't broken into the mainstream; we were already in our thirties when the band formed; we're not easily pigeon-holed; we're a 7-piece so we're not that portable. I'm not sure if "mainstream" is what I desire, though I certainly wouldn't say no. Tom Waits, Nick Cave aren't exactly mainstream but they have successful careers and have created an amazing body of work. Good role models to have. The challenge is to keep growing as an artist. In the meantime, hopefully you somehow find a larger audience.

KC: We have had so many amazing adventures playing together, I'm just psyched to see what happens next.

Check out the video for the band's new song:
http://www.americansongwriter.com/2013/09/video-premiere-spottiswoode-mcmahon-mummys-got-strange-friends/ 
DBB: What is your view of the state of rock and pop today, and with what tops Billboard and is heard over the US radio?
JS: Even when I was a child, I didn't pay much attention to the Billboard charts. I can't really comment. Every generation needs its mating dances.

DBB: Where do all the members of Spottiswoode & His Enemies hail from? And where do you now reside in NY (i.e., which borough)?
JS: Me: London, England
John Young: Seattle (now in NY)
Tim Vaill: Born in L.A., now in Brooklyn
Candace DeBartolo: Chicago (and Florida?)
Kevin Cordt:  born in Kansas, lives in DC
Riley McMahon: Pittsburgh
Tony Lauria: From Long Island
Tony Lauria: Living in the West Village.
JS: All of us (except Tony) met in Washington DC in the 90s. Kevin still lives there. I moved to manhattan in '97. During the last couple of years I have split my time between London and New York. Until this spring, my official address was Manhattan Mini Storage. I'll be staying in Brooklyn this fall.

DBB: How did you decide on your band's rather cheeky name?
JS: Many of us had been in a successful band together in Washington. When it broke up, I decided I needed to put my name on the next band so that my career could continue more easily after the next band broke up. I never imagined it would still be together after fifteen years! The first question was whether to give myself a different name. For various reasons I decided not to. It felt quite strange and egotistical to use my name in the first place so I felt it was essential to at least acknowledge the existence of the band. The Spottiswoode Septet? Nah. At the time "& His Enemies" seemed like the obvious choice. Most bands end up hating each other and certainly their bandleaders, so I thought I'd just state the inevitable. The name of the band is also about the Enemies within. A lot of my songs are little psychodramas.

DBB: Jonathan, who influenced your singing? What vocalists would you consider yourself a fan of, growing up?
JS: So many people have influenced my singing. My favorite singers growing up? John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Jim Morrison. My favorite singers since: Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan (the most underrated singer of all time -- except when he's doing an unwitting caricature of himself), James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers and many many more. Alas, the only singer on that list who is a baritone is Jim Morrison. Leonard Cohen influenced my singing because he's more in my range and I used to favor writing conversational songs. However, about a decade ago, I finally realized that real "singing" can be cathartic so there's less Leonard Cohen now. It depends on the song. On a few of my "jazz" songs I'm very aware that I can phrase a line like Billie Holiday, but I'm not sure if anyone else would notice.

DBB:  What made you all decide to make music your career? Have you ever worked "day jobs" to survive? What were they?  
TL: I never "decided to pursue a music career." I just needed a day job to pursue my other insane line of work, theater. Or was it the other way around?
KC: Enemy #4 designs gardens in DC as a day job. Feels super lucky to have another creative outlet. Gardens rock, too.
TV: I think what was inspiring was just the mystery of how music happens and that it can sometimes become a separate thing which changes reality in a positive way (hopefully). Yes, I've had many day jobs: paperboy, record store, teacher, drum shop, temp, busboy, residential irrigation specialist.... Oops, I mean ditch digger.
JS: At the age of about 23, I decided not to go to grad school and instead to become an "artist." What made me decide? I was convinced that if I did anything else, I would live my life in regret so it was a no-brainer. In hindsight, I'm sure it was my mother's influence. She's a singing teacher and she wanted me to take risks. I've done many day-jobs:  furniture hauler, court reporter, mortgage researcher, conference staffer, production assistant, non-equity theater performer, commercial voice-over artist, etc.

DBB: Your last album was Wild Goosechase Expedition in 2011. Do you have an upcoming album planned by any chance?
JS: This spring, we're releasing English Dream… 14 songs about England and nature and childhood and stuff.

DBB: You've covered so many genres of pop music. Have you ever thought about doing a kind of nouveau disco number we could dance to?
JS: I would love to do a whole nouveau disco record, but I imagine it being more of a studio creation with a dance track producer than a live Enemies thing. Sorry. I have a tune for some lines by Samuel Beckett - of all people - that I've always thought could be turned into a club hit!
DBB: Actually, classic disco was orchestral before electronica moved in; just something to think about. But I love the idea of Dancing for Godot.

DBB: Any last words to impart upon our readers?
JS: Enemy # 4 is single. But I think he's already told you that.

DBB: Many thanks for this interview! Will see you closing night at The Living Room, 9pm, Saturday, October 26.
TV: See you at our show!
KC: Thanks for listening! Stay tuned.
JS: Thank you very much.... Looking forward to seeing you.

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