From Bushwick’s grey industrial streets, rose Spanish Prisoners’ strangely uplifting sound — a perfect blend of cloudy density and pop-y guitar riffs that brings to mind The Beach Boys on the verge of a heroin overdose. But don’t be fooled by the analogy, surf rock is nowhere to be found here — rather, a heap of perfectly listless waves crash over emotionally charged yet stoic lyrics.
Spanish Prisoners “Know No Violence” off of the band’s newest release, Gold Fools, carefully careens between dreamy layered vocals and lucid instrumental precision, a habit the band luckily doesn’t kick through the entirety of the album. We got to chat with songwriter Leo Maymind and singing drummer Mike DiSanto about finding the perfect amount of reverb, the influence of drunk douchebags and New Order on the album, and how, apparently, Nas’ Illmatic is totally timeless.
Oh and did I mention we have a pair of tickets to check out Spanish Prisoners tomorrow night at Pianos with Ski Lodge, Wolff and more!? So check out the rest of the interview after the jump and leave a comment below for your chance to win and be sure to grab Gold Fools for the current price of whatever you want to pay for it.
First and foremost, where does the name Spanish Prisoners come from?
Leo Maymind: The name came from the David Mamet film “the Spanish Prisoner,” which I think is a classic con-artist movie. Mamet kind of has a cult following. I’m not even sure the rest of the band has seen it.
Mike DiSanto: I haven’t seen it and people always seem vaguely disappointed in me when I tell them that.
Leo Maymind: We’ve been talking about setting up a movie night and all watching it, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Tell me a little about the writing process of Gold Fools. How does it differ from the band’s previous releases?
M: The writing process was very much the same as the recording and mixing process. It was all kind of happening at the same time as Leo and I would pass tracks back and forth with a pile of USB keys. I bought a new keyboard at the time and every time Leo gave me a song he was working on I would delete some of his tracks and recreate them with the keyboard, which was maybe a little annoying but I regret nothing.
L: Mike would also incrementally decrease the level of reverb without telling me. And then I would just increase it even more the next time around, hoping he wouldn’t notice. So it was mostly this long process of just sending things back and forth and sort of carving out something that was pleasing to the two of us and our other two bandmates. Suffice to say it took a pretty long time to arrive where we are now.
M: That’s true, at least 40% of our discussions on the album involved reverb.
L: It was more like 70-80%. We would start talking about reverb and end up talking about New Order for an hour.
A mix of male and female lead vocals is something that, surprisingly, isn’t heard that often — how did you guys come to this musical conclusion?
L: Amberly, the keyboard player in the band, and I had been sort of casually playing music together for a long time. It was never really planned to have her sing with me, it just sort of happened and I thought it sounded very pleasing. The first song that we tried doing the dual lead vocal thing was the first song on the album, “Los Angeles Guitar Dream.” A lot of people also don’t realize that Mike sings lead on a few songs since our voices sound so similar.
M: Yeah, the confusion about my vocals seems to carry over to our live shows as the singing drummer is still something of a novelty. And many of those who do notice me singing bring up Phil Collins but I wish they were talking about Levon Helm instead.
L: Phil Collins inspires so many more bad jokes though!
A lot of the music we love at FREEburg can be classified as “dream” infused, and this record seems to float gracefully along within that genre — is this sort of mesmerizing haze something that comes out organically or have you made a specific choice to stay within that range of sound?
L: I don’t think it was a specific choice, but I do think in general I’m influenced very much by records that have a mysterious or hazy sound. I don’t think that necessarily just means “tons of reverb” though, often times records sound the best when some things are super dry and just very weird and abnormal sounding. Records by people like Tom Waits or Neutral Milk Hotel come to mind.
M: It took me a while to understand what Leo wanted when he talked about “hazy” and we talked about it often. At first I thought it was just a lot of reverb too, but I think ultimately it came to mean a lot of depth front to back. Things bouncing around up in front of the mix and then other elements with their own agenda swimming in the background.
Although there is quite a bit of layering going on, the lyrics come forward as the focus of the record — is it important to you for your fans to get the message of each song?
L: I think a lot of our songs have very specific lyrics, but not necessarily specific messages. I wrote a lot of the lyrics while I was working at this huge nightclub- I would get there around 8 pm and wouldn’t leave till 5 or 6 in the morning. And I’d be surrounded by drunk people, just trying to squeeze through crowds, and not lose my mind. So it was this sort of environment that influenced where my head was when I was writing. I’d come home from these long, long nights and just scribble things down that had been in my head for a few hours- sometimes snippets of conversations, sometimes phrases that I thought of that stuck with me.
Which is your personal favorite track on the record? Which is the most fun to play live?
M: My personal favorite track is “Lipstick Under the Table.” It’s also the most fun to play live for me. I fee like it’s the one song where we step out most in a different direction. I dig the unusual song form and the intertwining vocals.
L: Yeah, that might be my favorite song also. It’s one of the last ones we worked on and one of the most collaborative songs on the album, so in a sense it’s more fresh than some of the older songs. The live version of “Rich Blood” has gone through a few different transformations- the latest one is particularly fun as the ending gets pretty epic, even though the recording is fairly reserved. That’d be my pick for most fun live.
Who are some other musicians/bands you are currently listening to?
L: Well, coincidentally, this week I have actually been obsessed with New Order’s album “Movement.” There’s so much in there that I think is still really relevant. I just recently got into the Gil Scott Heron and Jamie XX album “I’m New Here.” That album has a lot of really amazing sounds.
M: The album I listened to most this past year was Nilsson Sings Newman, and the second most was probably Nas’ Illmatic actually. I’ve also been listening to “Movement” this week thanks to Leo, but all of us listen to a huge variety of music all the time.
So, what’s next for Spanish Prisoners?
M: Well I’m going to go eat a bowl of cereal for dinner, haha.
L: Mike is going to eat a bowl of cereal for dinner and all of us are going to play a show this Friday at Pianos. And we have a few more things that will be out in the coming weeks that we’re excited to share. Some videos and a few other tidbits we’re releasing. But for now we’re just excited to be playing and getting these songs out there.
M: Come to the show on Friday and tweet at us whenever you see the drummer singing. No Phil Collins jokes though!