Fischerspooner: The Play’s the Thing

By • May 1st, 2009 • Category: Features

fischerspooner_topEach night for the past two years, Casey Spooner has tried to avenge his father’s murder. From New York to Spain, from Amsterdam to France, the 39-year-old singer has set out to kill the person responsible for brutally stabbing his father to death. Dressed in a vibrant red coat with his shoulder-length locks disguising his face, the Athens, Georgia, native lurks about the dark corners of the globe with a sharpened knife ready in hand.

may09_cover-1Spooner hasn’t been seeking out his father’s assassin under the guise of his electro-thrash ensemble Fischerspooner. He hasn’t even been doing so as Casey Spooner. Rather, he’s been setting out with the murderous intent of Laertes, the man responsible for the death of the title character in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” For the past two years, the Fischerspooner frontman has been traveling the globe as part of the New York-based Wooster Group’s performance of what is perhaps the most famous of all plays.

“It’s cathartic,” said the performance actor/musician, his Southern accent faded after years of Northern living. “If I hadn’t taken the role in the play, I probably wouldn’t still be in Fischerspooner. Performing someone else’s work has been a huge help. It’s been a creative outlet without all the pressure of being totally in charge. I only have to worry about my role. I just go out there and perform.” Nowadays Spooner might be plunging a fake blade into the side of another actor during centuries-old choreographed fisticuffs. But only a few years ago, Spooner and songwriting partner Warren Fischer were on the brink of real-life blows as the duo’s friendship was crumbling under the pressures of their ambitious live show, the weight of a major label recording contract, and the expectations of recording a proper LP.

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“To thine own self be true.” – Laertes (“Hamlet,” Act I, Scene III)

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Fischerspooner is not a band, or even a duo really. Instead, it is a theatrical collective of dancers, videographers, singers, choreographers and costume designers. It’s a traveling stage show, as the band’s albums are more akin to soundtracks of their circus-like performances than properly recorded music. “We cringe if someone calls us a band,” Spooner said. “[Fischer] has been in a band and he’s like, ‘This is not a band.’ We’re not a duo either. We’re a big group. We have this massive creative team that works with us behind everything. It takes a whole cast to put on Fischerspooner.”

Despite collaborative efforts, that cast certainly takes its cues from the group’s two name-bearers. As the ensemble’s musical director, Fischer compiles the performance’s audio tracks. Never appearing on stage during the live shows, the multi-instrumentalist crafts the dense electronic beats that have come to define their thrashing, entrancing, sonic hot mess of a sound. Spooner, on the other hand, assumes all visual responsibilities. Calling on his background in both video editing and experimental theater, the singer pens the lyrics and constructs the abstract backdrops of their live gigs via a large projection screen set up at the rear of the stage.

Fischerspooner might be an all-out audio/visual experience — complete with dancers, musicians and a Broadway-sized cast and crew — but the vision behind the spectacle has always belonged to just two men. And the pair of friends who met in college have succeeded in turning their unique artistic expressions into the expansive traveling production that they always envisioned it to be.

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“The treacherous instrument is in thy hand. Unbated and envenom’d. The foul practice hath turn’d itself on me.” – Laertes (“Hamlet,” Act V, Scene II)

• • •

Three years after relocating to The Big Apple, Fischerspooner finished recording #1, the pair’s 2001 proper full-length. The excellently original album (featuring their groundbreaking hit “Emerge”) came about by happy accident, as the result of an overzealous attempt to continue their live show. “The first record was written for the stage first. We designed the performance and then [the recordings] came out of it,” said Spooner, recalling the time he first realized that people might be interested in buying his music instead of just seeing his show. “The recording was just a way to keep the project going,” he said.

And they did just that, to the tune of a record deal with Capitol Records. The label would package and redistribute that debut before sending the duo back into the studio. It was the first time either had worked with major-label money…or major-label deadlines. As was their agreement, Spooner would handle the visual and vocal parts on 2005’s follow-up, Odyssey, while Fischer would man the music. “We’d show up at the studio and there would be people running around, turning knobs, and doing things as part of their daily grind. The second album was more work,” Spooner recalled. “The first album was pieced together whenever we had time in a very unconventional way. What people don’t realize is that on that first album is every song I had ever written in my entire life up to that point. And then on [Odyssey], I was expected to duplicate that in an accelerated amount of time.”

He couldn’t. And as a result of the members’ increased responsibilities, the two began feuding. The tension reached its highest when Fischerspooner toured to perform the theatrical production of Odyssey. Two years of studio tinkering would be compressed to only three months on the road, a result of stalled contract renegotiations. Amidst the growing hostilities between the two key performers as well as with their label, Spooner split with Capitol — but only after lawyers assured him that his obligation to the label for a third LP could be met with a solo album. But that loophole became moot when Fischerspooner was dropped from the company’s roster in 2007. With a second production completed and a road-ready cast in the waiting, Fischerspooner came to a grinding halt. After almost a decade of working together, Fischer and Spooner were without a label, without money, and — most importantly — without any interest in continuing to work together.

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“A double blessing is a double grace. Occasion smiles upon a second leave.” – Laertes (“Hamlet,” Act I, Scene III)

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Free from the pressure of working on Capitol’s time frame (yet also without the label’s financial backing), the pair went their separate ways following the Odyssey fallout. The years apart found the two resettling into their original roles. Fischer was able to focus on writing music, and stepping back from the tasks of a producer allowed him time to score what eventually would become the band’s third LP, 2009’s Entertainment. Spooner regrouped too, but did so in front of an audience with the Wooster Group.

Happily, the two agreed to give Fischerspooner one more go-’round. But this time they would make their music with no major labels (they are currently signed to French imprint Kitsune Music), no deadlines and no expectations. Spooner’s only rule was to hire an outside producer. “When we started talking about making another record, the only stipulation I had was that [Fischer] not produce it,” Spooner said. “We totally have this relationship where we disagree with each other by default. We have this very combative personality even when we’re the best of friends. So I wanted to bring somebody else in to sit between us and oversee everything, just in case.”

The gambit worked and almost four years to the day after the release of their contentious sophomore LP, Fischerspooner is set to release Entertainment on May 5. And to make sure that they get more than the brief three months of performances that followed Odyssey, they not only scheduled an extensive “Between Worlds” tour, but they’ve also opened their rehearsals to the public. “We just want to perform. We’re performers. That’s what we do,” Spooner said. “Trying to keep Fischerspooner going isn’t going to kill us.” But if he does ever feel like killing anybody, he can simply don his red coat, pick up his fake knife and slink across the stage in search of Prince Hamlet. It’s cathartic and, after all, it’s Entertainment.

Chicago Innerview Magazine, May 2009

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