Classically trained musician Warren Fischer and theater experimentalist Casey Spooner met at art school in Chicago, where they bonded over ideas they suspected were far too ambitious. Years later, as the New York electroclash staple Fischerspooner, the pair signed to the English record label Ministry Of Sound for a rumored £2 million. The duo’s 2001 debut, #1, out-glammed Gary Numan and copped Kraftwerk to dazzling effect, while its follow-up, 2005’s Odyssey, was subtler stuff—electro-pop crafted with assistance from Tony Hoffer, David Byrne, and Linda Perry. The group is also known for elaborate stage shows—a mix of choreography, theater, and gratuitous lip-sync—that include as many as 20 performers. It came as no surprise, then, that when EMI initiated a company-wide bloodletting in 2007, Fischerspooner was not spared. After four years of silence, the notorious spectacle-makers have returned with a self-released new album, Entertainment, and a new stage show. Before Fischerspooner's show tonight at Metro, The A.V. Club got the scoop from Casey Spooner.
The A.V. Club: You reversed your usual approach in making Entertainment, starting with the vocals and the lyrics, then handing that off to Warren to develop. Why?
Casey Spooner: Honestly, I wasn’t sure I would make another record with Warren, so I started on my own, and then ended up giving him what I’d done so he could decide what he wanted.
AVC: You’ve spoken about the difficulties you two had working on Odyssey. Is that the reason for the four years between the last two albums?
CS: There were a couple of factors. First of all, yes, I didn’t know whether I was making a Spooner record or a Fischerspooner record, but I did start working pretty quickly after Odyssey was done. Our last show was January 2006, and I started writing that spring, but we could not get any kind of momentum going with the label. There was a period of about a year of just submitting things and getting no resources. I finally gave Warren the music I’d been working on, and that’s right around when EMI started laying off their top executives, and you could see it coming. Every single person we worked with at the Capitol Tower in L.A. got laid off, from top to bottom, and they sold the building and turned it into condos.
AVC: Considering the shows you put on, Fischerspooner can’t be a cheap endeavor. Has being without a label heavily impacted the group?
CS: No, it’s made everything so much easier. When you’re signed to a major label that won’t give you money, it’s not like you can go to people and say, “Hey, can you do this for cheap?” But the minute we were free, we could be like, “We don’t have a label,” and the response would be, “Cool, let’s do it for nothin’!” In a way it was a return to how we used to make stuff, which was this kind of big collaborative, creative thing where it wasn’t about budgets. It’s also really exhausting trying to explain why you need the money. You’re like, “No, really. I need a hat that’s going to have a neon light in it," and they’re like, “We don’t understand."
AVC: At a Brussels museum last summer, you opened up your show rehearsal to the public. Was it hard to work with prying eyes around?
CS: No, and I actually want to reprise that project. It was a giant exhibition space and we were partitioned off in this room where, if people wanted to come look at us, they went through one of these two doorways that opened up to little stages. There was a big Yoko Ono piece next to us and we had cameras all over the place, and monitors hung that showed different points of view. It was very sculptural: You could either come very close or stay far away.
AVC: Does the live show, billed as Between Worlds, tie in to the album’s themes?
CS: Originally we were collaborating with The Wooster Group on a stand-alone theatrical production featuring all new music. Between Worlds started with the idea of using the ’60s space program to incorporate all these disparate sources—Mark Twain, Kabuki theater, flamenco—into an exquisite corpse. Unfortunately, the economy collapsed and nobody’s interested in funding a hybrid experimental pop show about outer space. We chose the core ideas for this tour. I like the title though. We’ve always positioned ourselves between art and entertainment, which often works against us—we’re between business models. Art is about limiting access to the product to create value, and entertainment is about dispersing it. We’ve put ourselves in a position where, if we reach conceptual perfection, it’s career suicide.
AVC: What’s more important to you ultimately: conveying specific meaning through your art, or creating spectacle itself?
CS: Spectacle for spectacle’s sake was the first record, where we utilized every kind of ridiculous ecstatic device we could, from snow machines to balloon drops to confetti. On this record I tried not to hide behind arty artifice, and I know that sounds crazy because you’ll see the cover and think, “What the hell is that thing on his head?” But it’s being direct while interfacing with a creative approach that makes things more mysterious. To me, that’s the perfect combination.
Fischerspooner playing live at Coachella 2007: