Casey Spooner

Interview
MAURITS DE BRUIJN

Casey Spooner

Casey Spooner loves Skype, he loves Twitter, hell, he loves the Internet. It’s noon in New York, Casey has been kicking around for a couple of hours. ‘What am I doing?’ he repeats my question. He is working on releasing all the singles for his deeply personal yet fun first solo record Adult Contemporary, after releasing three amazing Fischerspooner records together with Warren Fischer.
Casey leans on his side in his Brooklyn apartment and speaks fast and elaborately about his latest venture, about being an artist and an entertainer, about the grace of Marlene Dietrich and opening for Scissor Sisters, about standing at a crossroad.

‘I’ve done it. I’ve made music and art anyway you could imagine. I’ve made it with a lot of money, I’ve made it with no money. Everyway of making something is really difficult. I wasn’t entirely happy when I had endless recourses. It was actually kind of a nightmare. I had only worked creatively when time and space and money were limited. I didn’t have endless corporate sponsorship. When we went into the second record I worked too hard cause there was nothing to stop me. I would work too long on a song. I had no distance, there were no limitations. Now I know limitations are not a bad thing, limitations are awesome.

There’s no record label. I’m doing everything super independent. It’s basically me and my manager and my publicist, it’s a lot of fun. We coordinate everything in a small team. We’ve just got seven tracks mastered for the new single.

I’m sort of burned out on music videos. The first single Fay Dunaway is a portrait of modern day homosexuality. The remix is very clubby, very now. The video is a collage of clubs. People can download it and play it in bars. My dream is that every gay bar in the world will play it in the bar.

Warren primarily works on the music and once the tour starts he recedes. He focuses on the music. We make a plan together but he doesn’t execute it. He rarely does press tours, he never does the live shows.

Right now we are releasing seven remixes. One is house, one is experimental, one is electro, they’re all totally different. It’s coming out on iTunes April 4th. Music right now is this open exchange that happens internationally. And I want to embrace this new moment instead of fighting it. It feels like everyone is in a panic and freaking out about the music business. ‘No one buys music, there’s no budget...’ But in exchange you get this connection with people, there is a dialogue. You get a different texture and out of it is coming an aesthetic revolution.

The record was made in a very strange way, it was an accident. I was working with Jeff Salzman on a Fischerspooner record and after working for two years, Jeff said: ‘I am going to record my own music and work with different people and I want you to work with me.’ He threw out this track and I wrote a song really fast. This was very spontaneous. It is much more present, it’s much rawer. It’s almost like a conversation because it's so spontaneous.

After a few weeks Jeff stopped calling it his record and started calling it ‘your record’. And I was like ‘Wow, I don’t want make a solo record.’ But because I wasn’t thinking and I was doing it so quickly I feel like I made something more personal and really emotional. The songs aren’t restructured so it’s like whatever I was thinking stayed. My voice is not perfect, is has more humanness to it. Some songs are really specific, some are bigger but somehow the whole thing is made in five weeks and it feels very natural.

On this record I tried not to listen to the music until I was recording. I didn’t have time to think about how I would respond to the music. In my first three takes there would be all the good ideas. It’s like a document of a live performance of music I’ve never heard before.

I opened for the Scissor Sisters in summer and I had a week to put a show together. So I made this one man show. It was one of the most horrifying experiences. I am so used to all this shit: costumes, videos, dancers, set pieces, there’s all this stuff. But this time it was just me.

At first I sucked, I was uncomfortable. After a while it was liberating, cause I realized I didn’t needed anything. All I have to do is put on my fucking suit and walk up there and take that microphone and it was a crazy experience cause I jumped on the tour so late, there was no press, no promotion. A lot of the times I would go to perform for a huge audience and there were a lot of people who didn’t know me and if they did know who I was they were not used to this material. So all you can expect from people is to listen. ??I am thinking of a more non traditional way to stage the performance for the new record. I love this new hotel in Las Vegas called The Cosmopolitan. This is very much my ‘Frank Sinatra album’. It is very classic in sound and in the look. So maybe I should just go to Vegas and perform the record there. ?And I am so into Skype right now, this whole record is about embracing where we are now and I was thinking maybe we should do a Skype World Tour. I would tour the world in one day and repeat the show over and over again. So I keep thinking about these variations on traditional touring.

My fantasy show would be based on a concert that Marlene Dietrich did in the early seventies. It’s so beautiful. It’s just her on stage, it’s super stark. It’s very dynamic, yet very minimal. That’s what I have based the look one. The version that I saw is a TV special shot in London. She has a huge orchestra, her musical director was Burt Bacharach. She has no costume change, just three follow spots. Everything is rhinestones, champagne coloured, beige. Everything about it is so classy.’

Casey decides to show me the YouTube video of the performance and before he shared his screen with me he says: ‘God, my desktop is such a mess, this is what you should see.’ As we both watch the diva in action, he says: ‘It’s so powerful, she is strong and she is weak. She is kind of a bad singer, but she is telling a story.’

‘I like that we can have an interview like this. This is amazing, I am at home! I used to pack a suitcase, get on a plane, go to a hotel and meet ten people from 6 in the morning till 6 in the night and then I’d go back to the hotel and get drunk and be lonely. Or we would be doing a phone interview and I wouldn’t be able to show you any references.

The contradiction of the internet is that we are more connected and also more isolated. We are together, but we’re not together. I do think its dangerous, cause there’s this illusion that we’re connected while we aren’t. We are communicating but not connected. There are things like the temperature of the room, or the smell that are not communicated.

If I had endless recourses Adult Contemporary would be a more traditional release. There is something very frustrating about being part of the music industry. I was building my own world being a performer and an artist. The music world wanted to sell that, and I gave it to them. I started to become part of a system so that I could use some of their recourses.

After working in the music business for seven years more people know me from my work as an entertainer. But I feel more like an artist talking about entertainment, or an artist pretending to be an entertainer. I love show business and I’m sort of in it, but I’m sort of not in it.

My mother was my art teacher as a kid. I went to school for the Visual Arts for half of the day. So I did painting, ceramics, sculpture. Went to art school, studied painting. Fell into the performance department, fell into video art, fell into experimental film, so I was more working on more time-based things. Then I worked at an experimental theatre for a about a decade where we only performed our own shows. We staged it as a performance at a Starbucks and it was this breakthrough moment in performance. I was doing avant-garde performance in a public sphere for people who didn’t want to see art. They were literally just getting a cup of coffee.

Then we started doing performances in galleries where the audience was inside the performances. A lot of people said they felt like they were inside a music video. Then the press got into it. It was right at the turn of the millennium when this new sound called electro caught on and then the press devoured us. ?We were making our version of how show business would be. We didn’t treat the press as secondary to the work, it was the work. It was all part of the big idea.

We were building our gallery career and at the same time mayor music labels were hunting us down. And we said no, no, no until we thought: maybe this can be part of the concept. We are pretending to be something until that pretention becomes real. Is it real or is it fake?

Some people know that line is there, some people don’t know that line is there. The thing that’s cool about Fisherspooner is that people can connect to it on different levels. People that are into music, fashion, photography. I tried to maintain a relationship with the art world and with the entertainment world. But I couldn’t get those worlds to collaborate.

I wanted to do something that is very post-Warhol, post-Pop. Pop Art was always about taking something that’s in the public sphere and bringing it into the elitism of the art world. Celebrating it by bringing it into the hallowed halls of high culture. There is something condescending about it. It’s like: here is this shitty thing, I’m going make it like holy.

I wanted to open up the stream so it wasn’t one way. I wanted to take things that were elitist and put it in the popular. I was taking performance and merging it with a pop sensibilities

Entertainment value is determined by volume: the more you can sell to the more people the more powerful you are. In the art world it’s the opposite: value is determined by how access to the creative product is limited. It’s all about editions. It’s a very strange, complicated, secretive world about controlling access to the product.

I thought I could create one body of work that could exist in these two realms. And by existing in these two worlds it would raise questions about value, meaning and bring these worlds together. I wanted to celebrate the intellectual aspects and the popular aspects. It could be anything for anyone, because that’s what I am. I want to listen to pop music but I also want to look at an intriguing image. And I don’t want to have to choose. ?It backfired on me. It was career suicide. If I made an amazing image, that image went onto an album cover and later when I wanted to show it in a museum it didn’t work because of the economics of it. And I thought I was post economics.

I went through a big existential crisis because basically my thesis had failed. I can’t be both and it’s tough. I’m unsatisfied if I am exclusive to either world. If I were to just exist in the art world or just in the show business it just seems lame to me. And sometimes I get tired and I just want to do drawings.

I feel I have maxed out my affair with pop music after a decade. The thing that’s amazing about pop music is that it’s a language that transcends time, space and culture in a way other art forms don’t. It’s really exciting to make a song, people around the world know how to relate to it. As opposed to doing an experimental play, there’s only so many people that can connect to that. But everybody knows how to connect to a song. It’s a really fun way of expressing.

The theme I keep coming back to is connecting. That is ultimately what I am trying to do. You’re trying to connect to people, to communicate. And there are two extremes I have gone between. One is super avant-garde and experimental and that feels like important work. When I do that work I feel I am pushing language forward. ?The role of an artist is to maintain language so that it stays relevant. They are evaluating our current state and figuring out what’s happening. No matter in what form they do it. And sometimes they are so far ahead that people don’t know how to relate to it.

Pop is more about reflecting. You get the gratification you can immediately relate to. In entertainment, nothing is ever new. It is always build around a cliché with the veneer of something fresh. As a pop artist you can get lost in meaninglessness. And as an avant-garde artist you can get lot in meaningfulness.

In my twenties I was deeply involved in this intense avant-garde scene and the last decade I spent dealing with this formulaic cliché form. Two decades, two extremes. And now I am in between. Now I am trying to travel between these two worlds, I think somewhere there is a gap where you can be heard.

In terms of what the next decade holds I could not tell you. I am thinking about sports, athleticism. I don’t even know why. One of the things I love most about performing is the physical aspect. I love to be challenged mentally and physically. The pieces that are about endurance and about decay that starts to relate to spirituality, those are the rare moments I felt really successful as an artist. I am saying something that is very personal, that connects to the audience and becomes universal. That’s what a great pop song is, deeply personal and completely universal.

I’ve done pop really well, I’ve done it badly, if done it intentionally really badly, I’ve done it so that it would fall apart. There is nothing else I need to say in pop. I feel like it’s done. We experience information now in such a different way and I’m thinking about how to reflect that. Making things that are more endurance based, things that are private. It’s almost like I could do anything and that is really confusing. But it’s amazing at the same time. I’m definitely at a crossroad.

I feel really drawn to film and television. Everything I’ve done in the past has been about live performance. I’ve done lots of theatre and touring but the thing I haven’t done is film and TV. It’s other challenge I haven’t explored. A lot of people told me I should do a talk show so I have been exploring that too. Talk shows right now are very formulaic. There’s a joke, there’s a song, then there’s a guest who wants to sell a movie or a record.

I like the idea of building a show that is less about promoting and selling but is about a dialogue that is more philosophical. It’s a bit more highbrow. We need a show that reflects new culture. I came up with the idea to shoot the show in different places. You just set up the aesthetics of the show in L.A. or New York, then you can interview all these people that are not out on a press circuit, you just find interesting people and talk about their work.

Because I’ve been through the system of doing press I have a unique perspective on being a journalist. It’s very strange to be on the other side, I can relate to journalists now and I can also relate to the talent. I know what it feels like to be asked the same question all of the time. So I think I can bring something to it that is different from the normal talk show.

And then i have been doing this blog with my boyfriend. [Adam Dugas, red.] We have been interviewing people for Imagine Fashion, the section is called Ladies & Gentlemen. We interview people we are interested in.’

This is when Casey suddenly asks me: ‘Wait? Are you in Amsterdam?’ And I reply: ‘Actually, no. I am in Tel Aviv right now!’

‘See, this is what I mean! It’s so crazy that Sonny is in Amsterdam, I’m in New York, you’re in Tel Aviv. All the graphic design that I do is with this designer in Copenhagen, I have never met him before. We never even talked on the phone, we never Skyped. It’s only email and we have worked together for five years. It’s our thing, our dialogue is only image based and email based.’

As I thank Casey for the interview, he tells me: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know how to resolve this. How to end this interview.’ So I ask him about the Mykromag shoot and he replies: ‘It was really good. The stylist wanted to shoot in a hotel and asked me if I knew a place. I said I love this hotel The Standard. So we set it up but there was a miscommunication so they gave us a conference room and expected us to shoot everything there. But who can shoot a whole editorial in a conference room? So we try to sneak around the hotel and take pictures and then we get busted of course.

There was this crazy vibe of me trying to change into outfits, sneaking around trying to get pictures taken. It was very weird. Then we get shut down and get told to stay in the conference room. And it was such beautiful day, the room was just flooded in this gorgeous light. So we stayed in the room and shot all this pictures that I think they’re gonna be really cool.’

Watch Casey and Adam's video interviews on Imagine Fashion to get a taste of what his future talk show might look like.

Originally published in Mykromag