Members: Brian Gustavson, Zach Batalden, Mitch Allen, Adam Mitchell, Jason Renix
Occupations: Vocalist (Brian Gustavson), guitarist (Zach Batalden), drummer (Mitch Allen), guitarist (Adam Mitchell), bassist (Jason Renix)
Interviewee: Brian Gustavson
Current release: The new Spectres album Hindsight is available via Artoffact / Cargo.
If you enjoyed this interview with Spectres and would like to find out more about them, visit the band on Facebook, twitter, Soundcloud, and bandcamp.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
The impulse to create must be an inherently human one.
The inspiration to write lyrics can come from anything at all but often is based on some sort of personal past experience.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I almost never need to visualize a finalized work, often I will just try to engage with the gestation of an idea and see where it takes me. Some of my favorite riffs or ideas have just come to me when I am at home drinking a glass of wine. I have always found alcohol can assist with the creative process.
I find creativity to be an inherently chaotic process at inception that can then be refined to something more meaningful through structure and planning.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I don’t generally have a preparation phase when I am pursuing creative endeavors. Often when musical ideas come to me I will try to record them in a simple bedroom studio I created.
I wouldn't say it requires any sort of specific process. I always make demo versions of virtually anything artistic I create. The initial creation requires refinement to be something more meaningful. Almost always the initial idea will improve but on rare occasions I will essentially use the first draft.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
There is a park near my apartment that I will often go to. The park overlooks the train yards and the port of Vancouver but also has a fantastic view of the sea, the city itself and the mountains that surround it. There is a strange sort of conflict you see playing out there between the natural world and the industrial, the prosperous urban affluence and the working class desperation and uncertainty that typified the area in the past. There is something quintessentially Pacific Northwest about this place, a feeling that not alot of people who have not spent time here outside of the major urban areas can understand.
Going to that park always gets me into a creative mindset.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
In many cases with Spectres songs I will write lyrics referencing a specific time or event that happened.
For instance I wrote the lyrics to the song "Northern Towns" referencing the town I grew up in and the impact the declining resource industry and a subsequent workers strike had on my group of friends.
The song "Along the Waterfront" similarly was about the experiences of some of the same people as teenagers and coming to terms with those experiences. There was a real sense of hopelessness and pessimism for the future on the Island I grew up on at that time and I think that time and place often works itself into my lyrics. That sense of hopelessness and boredom is probably why a lot of kids where I grew up got into Punk and music more generally.
I remember years later taking one of my friends from Europe who had just got back from reporting on the war in the Ukraine to some of the towns I had spent a significant amount of time in as a youth. He told me it was the most depressing place he had ever seen and half joking that if he had to live he would have probably killed himself.
Not all of my lyrics are directly referencing a time or a place though I often reference things that just held a special meaning for me. A good example of this might be the lyrics to the song "Dreams". A lot of it might seem like nonsense but some of the lines were me directly referencing other songs and how they hold a special place in my imagination. The Lines
“The post from Scotland says, still raining hard in the Highlands’’
is a reference to not only The Flippers Guitar song "Goodbye our Pastels Badges" but also to Aztec Camera’s album "High Land Hard Rain".
Similarly the lines referencing Romford are not really talking about the place but the Underworld song "Born Slippy", that was a song that my friends and I always used to listen to when we would take pills and break into abandoned houses in my early 20’s that holds a special place in my imagination.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Good lyrics depend on the song. I think certain types of songs demand certain types of lyrics. Certain types of lyrics demand certain types of songs. It would seem hopelessly mismatched for example for a dirgey guitar driven song to have upbeat positive lyrics, though sometimes the opposite can be effective, by this I mean hiding somber and dark tones in an upbeat sounding song.
I tried to do this with the Spectres Song "Fate". The lyrics are about someone choosing to kill themselves but the song sounds upbeat and hopeful. Ultimately lyrics should sound genuine for the intention of the song.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Once the process has begun I feel it begins to largely take on a life of its own. Rarely songs or lyrics will almost write themselves while more often they require revenision and intention to mold into something usable.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I often try to follow things where they lead me. I think the initial idea will kind of come from some other place and then I'll follow where the idea or the intention seems to want to go.
There have been many times in the past when I'll write songs and initially think that they should be a certain genre or style only to find it ends in a very different place.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
It definitely happens, I especially find this when I am writing music.
Often I find myself writing lyrics or music that I love but will definitely not work for Spectres. I’ve written everything from ChipTunes music to Oi! Songs. Often these will just remain as artifacts on a hard drive or tape somewhere and never truly see the light of day.
I have a Synth Pop project called Nouveaux that I will often try to use as an outlet for more traditionally Pop or Dance Music ideas that I write. If you’re interested in that type of music check it out on our bandcamp profile.
We have recorded a full length LP that we should be releasing some time later this year.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Creativity is something that just happens, I find it works best to not over analyze the germination of a creative idea. As for spirits, the only ones I have found that seem to induce creativity are found in a bottle.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I find it incredibly hard to ever say a creative work is completely finished. I keep copies of every demo I have ever recorded and revisit them constantly. I will sometimes even get the bed tracks of recordings I've done professionally and re-mix or add to them years after the fact.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I often work on a piece until I feel like there isn't any time left. If it were completely up to me I would allow continued revisions and re assessment to every piece I have ever created indefinitely. I always end a recording session wishing I had more time to adjust pieces of the mix, change vocal patterns or add additional instrumentation.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Production has a massive impact on the final product, almost as much as the songwriting itself. Mixing and mastering can completely change the way a song comes across.
I always try to be very involved in the mixing process. I personally mix and master a lot of my own home recordings and really enjoy the process.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I’ve personally never experienced any sort of emptiness after a peice is completed. After a work is as completed as time allows I am always driven to create something new and continue on. I have a lot of different projects I am working on at any given time.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I do feel there is a difference in the creation of music, the way that music appeals to people.
Music has the ability to impact in a very direct sense the thoughts and emotions of a person. I personally find very few other mediums that can do the same.