It takes less than twenty-four seconds on ‘A Better Life’ for a saxophone to rear its head. It’s an immediate far cry from Spring King’s comparably straight-forward debut ‘Tell Me If You Like To’, a record almost entirely written by founder and drummer Tarek Musa. Yet, as the four-piece explain over a much-needed dose of H2O on a sunny afternoon in London, they are now more of a band than ever before.
Musically, ‘A Better Life’ still carries the fundamental garage rock sound that propelled Spring King into the mainstream, but it’s considerably more complex. Frankly, as Tarek notes himself, it’s also a more interesting listen.
Heavily influenced by The Beach Boys and their ilk, their second full-length arrives underpinned by pop melodies and overlaid with the band’s signature driving guitars. Never is this juxtaposition more obvious than in the latter half of the record, as the drawn out psychedelic pop of the sublime ‘Radioactive’ melts into the overt sun-kissed bounce of the tantalisingly titled ‘Have You Ever Looked Up Into The Sky’.
“Let the light in,” the band collectively implore on the latter, showcasing the record’s abundant positivity. “I got a feeling that we’re gonna see in the dark.” It’s a lyric that perfectly shows off its consistent push and pull between affirmation and social ills.
“We always said the world is in a very negative spot,” bassist James Green explains. While ‘A Better Life’ deals with some serious subject matter - from Brexit to the Women’s March and anxiety - it does so with an empowering tone. “A lot of bands react to that in an angry way, but we thought it would be amazing to make something that’s a positive reaction.”For the first time, it’s also a collective mantra. While Tarek was the driving force behind ‘Tell Me If You Like To’, ‘A Better Life’ is confidently a full band effort. “This time around everyone is writing,” he notes, “everyone has an input.” It’s the polar opposite to their debut, during the recording of which their schedules didn’t allow for shared studio time.
“We always said the world is in a very negative spot.”
— James Green
“We never even existed in the studio together until this point,” James reveals with a notable level of disbelief. “We had to learn to interact with each other in a new way.” And, granted, this collaborative process wasn’t without its complexities. “There was definitely a learning process of taking the best parts of each other into songs, and to say we liked one bit or didn’t like another bit without there being any friction,” guitarist Andy Morton unfurls.
Has this affected their relationships with each other? “We know each other too well,” guitarist Pete Darlington adds before Andy interjects, “it’s never been worse,” he laughs.
It’s this new sense of collaboration that’s propelled Spring King to where they stand now, preparing to release an album that embeds the musical influences and input of all four members; an album that was created with far more space to breathe. “It’s four painters painting different parts,” Tarek muses, getting all fine art about it. Their different strokes create a coherent image and foster different musical experimentation; the subtle brass instruments underpinning ‘Us vs Them’, the cataclysmic crescendo of closer ‘Thunder’ and the song’s sister interlude ‘Lightning’, and the consistent yet considered use of synths.
“The record goes much deeper than what you can take from the surface.”
— Tarek Musa
Music wasn’t the only element they experimented with: each member brought their own lyrics to the table. “The record is a decent amalgamation of various approaches to songwriting,” James explains, noting the lyrics were something of an afterthought for their debut, but on ‘A Better Life’, they’re pushed to the forefront.
What pulls the album together is the conflicting ideals of positivity and idealism. Built around the concept of a utopia, it learns from the negative to reinforce the beauty of the world. Its upbeat nature is delivered almost entirely by the melody and rhythm, while the lyrics tackle more weighty issues.
“That’s the thing I love about the record,” Tarek beams. “You can hear it on the surface level and just enjoy the melodies, or if you want you can focus on the lyrics of the record.” He refers again to The Beach Boys’ iconic ‘Pet Sounds’. “It goes much deeper than what you can take from the surface. There are so many levels to it.” It’s something he, and Spring King as a whole, are keen to replicate. “I don’t mind if people don’t go deep down. They don’t have to, as long as they enjoy themselves.”
“Our fans just want to lose their shit, and there’s space for everybody to do that.”
— Tarek Musa
Pete finds solace in putting pen to the paper in the first place. “There are songs that mean a hell of a lot to me that might not be intended that way, but it doesn’t matter,” he says. “Once it’s made and once it’s out you hope it has its own life and people can relate to it in their own way.” He explains his strong personal connection with ‘Have You Ever Looked Up Into The Sky’. “Even if it’s read in a different way, at least I know it’s right for me.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Spring King going forward is translating this bigger sound into the live show. “We recorded in a weird way,” Andy admits. “We did all the parts, and then we kind of crafted the songs around that. Now we have to learn them as a band.” “It’s really hard to play,” Pete exhales. “Spare a thought for Tarek,” James laughs, “he’s got double the amount of limbs to coordinate.”
Yet, much like before, the band are excited about the live show, too. Hard at work ensuring they can make the songs work, they’re focused on retaining their signature intensity. “It’s not really an issue in my head,” says Tarek, shrugging off the suggestion of adding backing track or new members to bring it to life. “Our fans just want to lose their shit, and there’s space for everybody to do that.”
It’s all part of the thunderous evolution of Spring King. “I’m feeling like an animal,” they sing on the album’s lead track; really, they’re becoming an entirely new beast.
'A Better Life' is out now via Island.
As featured in the August 2018 issue of DIY, out now.
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