Interview Spring King: ‘I’m Only Just Beginning To Scratch The Surface’

Building studios out of bathrooms is all part of the do-it-yourself routine for Tarek Musa.

Tarek Musa likes to keep things unconventional. A producer and mixer as well as the creative mind behind his latest band Spring King, Manchester-based Musa has worked with bands such as Chateaux, Jethro Fox and Stealing Sheep in the past couple of years. Spring King’s latest release – a 10-track demo called ‘In All This Murk and Dirt’ – was recorded entirely in a bathroom Musa converted specifically for the songs, and even features one of the band member’s dads on saxophone.

Wild, ferocious and undeniably ambitious, Spring King’s music sports both the frantic and raw qualities of early garage rock revival bands as well as more of a tender and romantic side that seeps in via some of Musa’s biggest influences. We talk to him about making music spur-of-the-moment, what the Manchester music scene has going for it right now and what other unusual places he plans to use for recording in the future.

Did you seriously manage to get every single one of these songs down in one day? That’s an unbelievably quick turnaround.
Every song was down in a day, from writing it to mastering it. I wanted to try something different with the way I was getting things down and doing it that way was a bit more of a rush and kept me on my toes. I really liked the idea of looking back at the songs and knowing they were recorded as one takes, and as untamed as possible in that respect. I wanted to experience the polar opposite to what I do in other projects I’ve worked on which normally involve spending a couple days at least per song.

Saying that, a lot of the demo’s instrumentation sounds improvised and spur-of-the-moment. Did you plan much of it before recording or did certain tracks just naturally turn into jam sessions?
The demos were very spur of the moment. Normally I’d get a guitar or piano progression down in my head, then record the drums quite freestyle-d with a general idea in my head of where I wanted to end each section. After that, I’d track the rest of the parts as they came into my head. Its funny because in rehearsals at first with the band, we found playing ‘Waiting’ strange because i’d played the drums and played a few bars too many in certain sections and hadn’t realised. I record the songs then put them to one side, and eventually our bass player James is the guy who reminds me how my songs go. He knows them better than I do and knows where all the quirks are that I don’t realise I’m playing.

With that in mind, is it safe to assume you’ve gone along the Stephen Malkmus route in terms of writing mostly nonsense lyrics or is there a depth to them that might be initially overlooked?
The lyrics all have a depth to them for me. They are all songs based on my life or the lives of people I know or have read about. ‘Drummer Girl’ for instance isn’t actually about a girl who plays drums, it’s about someone playing with your emotions, and each part of the emotion being a different drum. ‘Heat of The Summer’ was completely improvised. I was by the piano and had a melody in my mind - I have a terrible memory and didn’t want to lose it while on the piano so I quickly put up a mic and pressed record, the whole song was improvised on the spot. It’s about a summer I spent missing my mother - I hadn’t seen her in about 8 months and was feeling home sick. I remember that day very well. It was really hot outside and there was a cool breeze running through the house, it was eerily silent that day. I wouldn’t consider myself a lyricist yet, I think I have a very long way to go as a songwriter. I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to discovering how to write a song. People like Brian Wilson, Townes Van Zandt, Etta James and Win Butler; they’re all songwriters I look up to for inspiration.

There doesn’t seem to be any one sound that you guys focus on, either – the demo can go from garage rock to soft ballads in an instant. Is that why you consider it a demo tape or is a specific ‘sound’ something you try to avoid as a band?
As a writer I’ve just tried to write whatever comes to my mind. The thing about Spring King is the songs all fall under a similar raw sound because of the nature of the recording process. Everything is recorded as it goes and as quickly as possible which speaks through the sonics of the recordings. I use a lot of effects while recording and leave them setup every day so I can just hit record and get going as quick as possible. I don’t want to try and avoid anything, there are songs we still haven’t put out which are very different but what seems to gel them all together is the way they are recorded.

It must be pretty fun to take these tracks and play them live in front of an audience. How have you found the transition between recording and playing live?
Recording has been extremely entertaining and the live set is just as chaotic and enjoyable from the perspective of being on stage. We play quite intensely and put all the energy we have that day into playing. Naturally we get going live because we all get on so well - it’s definitely one of my favourite experiences, playing with the band. Anna, James, Andy and Pete are all wild to play with, and we’re all great friends so it just feels like home being on stage with them.

You converted your bathroom into a recording space for these tracks. Are you happy with how that turned out or will you be heading into a different studio in the future?
I saw this stage as an interesting part of Spring King. The bathroom has gotten me some interesting sounds. I’ll probably stick to the bathroom for a while, or find a space that feels inspiring. The only thing that will change is the amount of time I now put into recording and writing. I want whatever I record next to feel different and challenge me in a new way. Maybe that means trying new instruments, writing songs over a longer period of time, and finding some new gear that gives me a palette of sounds to work with.

Do you have any plans to convert any other part of your house, or are there any other unconventional places where you’d like to record in the future?
I’d like to send a bit of gear over to Poland. My grandma lives out there in a great little town and she has an old house with a basement. It’d be nice to spend time with her, listen to her stories and look through pictures, then write about it. Plus she makes amazing pizza and polish Pierogi. I think next summer this might happen if I can organise myself.

Manchester’s a hot house for DIY talent at the moment. What projects and bands are you most excited about from the city right now?
Manchester is heating up right now. Shinies are hitting hard and a good friend of mine Oceaan is really making sparks in the electronic world. I also saw Temple Songs the other night supporting Smith Westerns and they were on form. There is definitely a lot of talent in Manchester.

Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online or to download on iPad now.

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