Reading Festival 2018 [INTERVIEW] with... Spring King

Photo: Hollie Fernando

Saturday afternoon at Reading; the sunny conditions work as a contrast to the rain on Friday making it even more comforting to be meeting Spring King on  site. Things are looking bright just now for the four piece. Having just dropped an ambitious fourteen track album second album last week, the band have plenty of reason to be in celebratory moods and enjoy the rest of the year and beyond.

Titled A Better Life, Spring King's second album, is a perfect example of the type of magic that can happen when a band collaborates fully. Out now on Island Records, the album is a triumphant next step in the band's creative journey, it shows how far they have come since their debut Tell Me You Like To. It is a highly consistent album pinpointing the band's musical range, eclectic influences but not neglecting the importance of hooks, riffs and just having good songs.

The release of the fascinating track Us Vs Them' , A Better World sees Tarek Musa (vocals/drums), Pete Darlington (guitar), Andy Morton (guitar) and James Green (bass) ask for nothing less than a better world. Produced by Tarek and engineered by Jonathan Hucks, the album comprises energetic anthems, strong riffs and memorable well-considered lyrics.

Pete has previously spoken about Us Vs Them "I never thought much about the old haunts and memories until now. Reliving moments gone, and seeing how much life has changed. Now I really see the way in which time has passed, and where I stand today is the consequence of everything I once did. I can feel my whole world changing, softly in the morning sun.”

Spring King adore playing at Reading, having only just arrived their return to the festival looks smooth, they have even managed to catch some of Sunflower Bean's set. "It has been nice, says Pete, it has been quite leisurely so far. We are chilling before we go out and watch more bands."  

 Having released a strong second album is a great achievement in itself but it also influences the band's live sets in positive ways, explains Tarek "the first record we did we toured for such a long time and it always felt like we didn’t quite have enough music for the show, if we were to play for an hour. It was not a challenge for us but we had to bring in some older songs to make it work but this time around, we were like ‘let’s put something together that is a little bit longer, it will give us the opportunity to play with the live show in a different way so that is kind of one of the thoughts behind it but we also wrote a lot of songs and they are just strong tunes and we didn't really want to cut anything."  

For the most part the band would write and record the album together. With six months of studio time set aside, they would meet in Wandsworth and work, sometimes it would be in smaller groups, at other times, it would be everyone. Andy and James live in Manchester so they would travel down on the train.

 "We had a studio available there and any of us could go in and use it, says Tarek, we could compose stuff and we would meet up, open the sessions together and listen back. Sometimes I would just go in and open something Peter had been working on, we did that for quite a few months, up to the point where we thought we have got enough here let's go to the studio, sit down, choose the demos we are most happy with and then start recording."

Agreeing on and selecting the tracks to go on the album happened smoothly and fairly quickly and it did not take long. 

 "It was a pretty easy conversation, says Pete, there was quite a lot of different songs, which made it a bit more challenging, so it was whether it or not we wanted to go a particular way, deciding one evening what the direction the record should take, is in a way quite a challenge but it was actually worked out fine, it took a couple of hours and it wasn’t too long. We are all happy about how we went about it and the end result."

Ending up with more than what is needed is not the worst position to be in. With 16 songs it became clear that a couple were not quite right, it was not the sort of sound they were after and a final decision was made to leave them out.  

"Once we sorted out the studio and done all the admin stuff, says Tarek, we just got on with it and that took about four to five weeks. We had a little break in between where we played a few shows and then I went away and mixed it at Grand Cru Studio I went there, started to mix it which was really nice as it was close to home."

"Our engineer on this album Jonathan Hucks works at Grand Cru and it was really good to have him working with us instead of having to go to different studio, with a different person, who I don’t know, it was great to have Jonathan there from start to finish. He is an amazing person and he really helped us when we needed it, he also assisted with mixing it."

"We were at Vale Studios for the recording process. It is a nice residential studio with several bedrooms, explains Andy, It was an eight-bedroom-house split that is partly turned into a 24-hour studio. It is also a family’s home. We would play football in the garden. It was really good fun to be around the family, so it was very different experience to a normal studio where you go in for twelve hours and then go home. We slept there, we worked out in the park next door, it was intense but really great at the same time."

"We wanted to have more time to play with and enjoy the process in a different way, explains Pete, feel more relaxed, not rush things and make sure that every decision we made creatively was the right one at the time. Part of that was eating well, working out and enjoying the time together, it was almost like a holiday but obviously it was work but it didn’t feel like it was. The first record was a bit more stressful because we had less time plus two tours to deal with. It was a case of ‘I am knackered but we have got to go in and do all of my guitars in two days’." 

“A Better Life shows a really nice progression, says engineer Jonathan Hucks, Spring King are on Island Records, it is really cool that they are being allowed to do it the way they have done. It seems they have been given a lot of freedom which is cool because the album is very good. It is different, it is not the same as the first one and when you listen to it really grows on you in such a cool way.” 

"On the first album Tarek produced the whole thing and played everything, Jonathan continues, whereas on this album, I engineered it so Tarek had one less thing to worry about. He just had to concentrate on playing and producing, all the kind of technical stuff I had control over. I think if you are a producer in a band then it is still good to get a third party to engineer it because it just takes some of the weight off and you get better results out of it that way."

"We were hardly ever in the studio together when we recorded the first album, says Pete, because we were all working at the same time. I would maybe go in for four days, do my parts, someone else would come in and do their bits in a couple of days and then I would come back at the end just to listen to it. But this is the first time we actually had a decent amount of time to do things, so it was much more enjoyable and a far more fulfilling creative experience."

Things are constantly changing and moving forward for the band and a similar thing can be said about their musical influences. They all like a wide range of different music, old as well as new.

"When I was a kid I used to listen to a lot of indie music, says James, nowadays it is mostly hip hop,   electronic music or jazz. I also like artists like Iggy Pop such as the record he did with Josh Homme, then there is Courtney Barnett and the last Parquet Courts album is amazing. I like Kendrick Lamar (Saturday's headliner). I have also been working on putting some players together for something and it is just all hip hop."

"I am really into the Let’s Eat Grandma album, says Pete, it is really good and Christine and the Queens. I liked the first record, but when I saw it live I was blown away by her show and then this new record is really good. I just listened to a podcast with her where she goes on to talk about writing songs, she talks about writing one of her latest singles. She was so inspiring to listen to, the way she thinks about music and how she approaches what she does. She is self-produces everything."

Having a good and effective working relationship with your producer is evidently key and in some ways it is ideal to have a band member who can take that on. It can be a challenge it is also rewarding when things turn out so well.

"You always think a step ahead, explains Tarek, you may be hearing something and you will go 'is that good enough for when I come to mixing it?' It can be a hard thing to do because in my head I always had an idea of how it is going to sound mixed, so there are times where I would say stuff like ‘look we should go with this, it might not make sense right now but it is going to make sense when we get to the end part’."

"It was quite stressful at one point, because I had to think about the end product, whereas normally a mixer would come in at the end you just supply them with the material, says Tarek, they have not been on the same sessions but I guess the benefit of mixing and producing is that you know what the outcome is going to be, so you know what and how to make something more work better for the production process or what to record in a certain way because you know that is going to make my job of  mixing easier. The benefit seemed to be that I had this opportunity to almost 'see into the future'."  

Whether Tarek is able to see into the future or not there is no doubt that Spring King have a future, they have more than a lot of potential. There is absolutely nothing to stop them from going much further than where they are just now and where they are is actually pretty good. 

Headline September tour dates

19th St Lukes, Glasgow
20th The Cluny, Newcastle
21st Plug 2, Sheffield
22nd O2 Academy 2, Liverpool
25th September - Thekla, Bristol
26th Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
27th O2 Institute 2, Birmingham
28th O2 Forum Kentish Town, London
29th O2 Ritz, Manchester