Written by Alana Mazurke
Multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer and songwriter Spender, formerly known as Tom Spender, sheds light onto the unveiling of latest release Modern Pest. The six track EP which features the likes of Gotye and Clairy Browne is quite a remarkable listen; it is very refreshing listening to music where you can really hear the simplicity of sound through an array of both instrumental and vocal work mixed with a seemingly effortless appeal.
“Modern Pest is actually taken from a whole record I tracked and recorded at the same time. I just wanted to split them up as I was nervous about putting out all that work and it just falling down the back of the filing cabinet. Some people I respect suggested this idea and it appealed to me as it allows me to start working on a bunch of new material now, while getting ready to put out the next one.”
The new EP Modern Pest has just recently been released; how do you feel the reception has been thus far? Is there anything you would want to do differently now, looking back, on the record?
I can only say that I am really relieved that it is finally out and hearing back from friends and others that they’re enjoying it is helping me get over the bizarre ‘cabin fever’ I was feeling. If I could have changed things, I guess perhaps looked at ‘Never Again’ as a single. I wasn’t expecting the clip to go as nuts as it did and I feel like it would have been great to ride that wave a little further. Thanks for asking an interesting question!
You had originally spent most of your time busking on the streets of Melbourne during the early years of your career. What is the most memorable experience you have taken with you from that time?
There are many. The first that springs into mind was perhaps having a bizarre rich Indian fellow try and buy me a $7,000 saxophone. In the end, it was all an elaborate plot to get me to play at his wedding in Mumbai on the weekend. I politely declined.
Your sound is quite eclectic and yet refined in that it is almost in a way just pushing the barriers on what people would call soul and jazz; your voice is quite unique and yet the array of instruments in which you use create that classic genre of sound. What is your aim when making music, for instance, do you have a particular genre in which you place yourself or do you prefer to leave that one to the critics?
Most of my life I’ve listened to a lot of jazz. Mainly Coltrane, Mingus, Davis, Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, Wayne Shorter etc; which led me into hip hop through Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, De La Soul, Public Enemy, which led to Prince, and then ultimately to Outkast which where I’m pretty happily stuck on. I’d call all that music colourful, soulful, dissonant at times and incredibly melodic. Plus the vocal delivery is always built around the music, not at the centre like most pop music.
Your apparent skill and knack for playing saxophone is ever present throughout the EP notably so on opener ‘Never Again’. When did you first decide that you wanted to play saxophone; what drew you toward that particular instrument?
I started at primary school; gave it up for years and then picked it up later in High School when I started playing guitar. I guess I just loved the tone. It can be such an incredibly vocal quality. Especially live in a room; this big, warm, round breathy fat sound so dynamic and liquid; it really seems to inspire me.
You’ve recently completed a national tour with the magnificent Mama Kin and are about to embark on another with fellow songstress Claire Bowditch. Which other Australian artists would you love to play with during your career?
I want to pick up the work I was doing with Kimbra before she went gang busters. We were making some great music, in the vain of Outkast, Little Dragon type sounds. I love her arrangements and her chops on pro-tools – though not traditional, are very musical.
In reference to the question above; the EP features collaborations from revered artists such as Gotye and Clairy Browne and the likes of both Sia and Kimbra have given you substantial props. Is there a type of comradely in Australian music that you have found?
I think there’s always been, in every country on the planet. Nowadays though, social media is a public forum for proclaiming ones musical community and support. Australian music is going through an interesting phase of accessibility to the global stage previously quite limited.
It’s been noted that you have recorded your music in a multitude of bedrooms, studios and hotel rooms so I’m intrigued as to the story behind track ‘Hotel Home’. Why was Gotye your choice for a featured artist on this particular track? It’s possibly my favourite off the EP and the collaboration works wonderfully!
Thank you so much. ‘Hotel Home’ was written in room 3 at Regents Court (sadly closed, but worth googling) in Potts Point, Sydney. I’d won an artist’s grant after my old band had a nasty break up as the hotel was a patron of the arts. In exchange for free board at the hotel, one had to keep the luscious roof gardens watered. It was a dream. Wally De Backer, a guest at the hotel, was up on the roof while I was watering and we were introduced. Over the next few years we bumped into each other, normally at Franc Tetaz’s studio as Franc had begun production on the EP Making Mirrors. The drummer on the Modern Pest EP who was a big influence on the whole sound, Michael Iveson, joined Gotye for the world tour. I thought this was a nice coincidence to send it back to Wally as I had an instinct it would really work well with his voice. I sent him an MP3 and he responded really positively.
I’ve read that you are more so drawn toward artists with unique voices, clear visions and broad imaginations. Why, do you think, is it important for musicians to have this or at least a similar type of ethos?
I like it when people sing with their own voice. Not one that they necessarily like, or have worked away on for years, just the sound of a human with something to say in a musically compelling way. A clear vision creatively gives me something to bounce back off. I find it hard when ideas are vague or not committed; and lastly, broad imaginations, because I’m always trying to throw in something in something a little unsafe. I hate music predictable and perfect. I like collaborating with someone that can go to a new place take me with them.
Where do you find yourself writing music the most? You tour with a live band; does working with multiple instruments and musicians influence you in the way you write music?
I like writing music on my bike. I find singing riding really opens up your imagination. A lot of my Dictaphone recordings have heavy wind noise in them. I also, sadly, write a lot of music behind a laptop. On good days it’s in a room in the moment with a band. I’m happy to sit down alone with a guitar and laptop or a sample library and come up with a million ideas. In fact, that’s what I do most. The music I’m most proud of however is always very simple and written in a way that I can never seem to get back. Especially now I’m busy being a dad. That’s a whole new challenge! Hence, writing music on my bike enables me to multi task.