Craig Broad 19/02/2010
I first became aware of Spring Offensive six months ago, despite their name, a war reference which I assumed belonged to a metal band, they blew me away with jagged guitars, memorable vocals and innovative song ideas. At the time, they did not have a bass player but they were gaining attention in their place of birth Oxford and their self released EP was selling quickly. I caught up with vocalist Lucas Whitworth on the eve of their debut mini-album 'Pull Us Apart' to ask him questions about Spring Offensive and their latest release.
Hey Lucas, first and foremost can you explain who Spring Offensive are and how you came to existence?
We're a five-piece from Oxford who write music with guitars, bass, drums and vocals. I'm sure you've already heard the “friends meet at school, don't really fit in, end up forming a band” story so I won't bore you with it again.
Both your EP and your new mini-album are quite bright and poppy in places, was that a conscious decision you made on becoming a band or has it just developed over time? Are you conscious when you create songs that you want sections to be anthemic and sections to be quirky and different?
We've never thought of ourselves as being a pop band, or an “alternative” one either, for whatever that term is worth. When we released our EP, we were surprised when people described it as “danceable”, because it was almost the opposite to what we had in mind. All the bands that we're into are obviously making the music they want to, and we're just trying to do the same. I'm not saying it always works, and we tend look back on most of our songs and think, “Fuck, I wish we hadn't done that”, but by that stage it's too late. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that we'll keep on writing music until we run out of money or songs, and it doesn't matter what that music sounds like as long as we think it's right at the time. If people find it poppy or anthemic or quirky, then that's up to them; you can think whatever you want about it really, but the conclusions you draw will probably be quite different from our own. I think that genre labels are only really useful for marketing, and it's certainly not something we take into consideration when we're writing.
Do you think that Oxford has had an effect on your sound?
Absolutely. We moved here as a band (three of us were living here already) last year, and as soon as that happened it became quite clear that there are better bands than us, and that feeling of friendly competitiveness among your peers drives you on to improve. Contrary to popular opinion, Oxford doesn't have a “sound”. We've got bands making amazing music, but it's not a question of either simply producing overly cerebral reinterpretations of Radiohead or the sparse “math-pop” or whatever you want to call it of Youthmovies or Foals. I think that the “Oxford” tag gives lazy reviewers an easy get-out. We had a review recently that said we sounded too much like Radiohead, which is ridiculous but understandable if someone has never heard any genuinely contemporary local bands like Stornoway, Ute or The Winchell Riots. It's not that you expect people to have done, but it's worth pointing out that there's more to this city than dreaming spires and 'OK Computer'.
Lyrically you often have a storytelling quality to your music, what inspires this?
We try and write songs that are actually about something rather than generalised emotions, and often this will take the form of a narrative, yeah. 'Pull Us Apart' has specific moments in it which are about definite stories, like 'Every Coin' (being forced to eat the contents of your wallet) for example. But there's more to it than that. The whole record has a through-line and recurring themes, but they're not imposed upon the listener at all. Again, you don't have to listen to this record and try and work out what we were thinking when writing it, but, if you want, you're very welcome to. Our new EP, which will be out before the summer, will take the idea of telling a story even further still.
You self released your EP, did you ever expect it to sell out and what do you expect the reaction to the mini-album to be?
To be honest we were shocked that anyone liked it at all! Though we'd never actually released anything, we'd been going as a band for quite a few years, and achieving absolutely nothing. The EP was pretty much the last throw of the dice, and even hearing one positive reaction would have been enough to validate ourselves and what we were doing. But the extent to which people praised it and bought it was genuinely humbling and uplifting. We're under no illusions that doing this full time as a career will take a huge amount of work and might never happen due to the saturated nature of the market, but it's comforting to know that some people, any people at all, care. It never really occurred to me at the time, but being invited for a BBC 6 Music interview by Tom Robinson off the strength of one song (he'd only heard 'A Let Down' at the time) is pretty damn special. 'Pull Us Apart' doesn't have any obvious singles like that one, although I firmly believe that all the songs on it and the way in which they work together have far more about them. I don't think people will “get it” as much; it's not as instant or accessible, but we're fiercely proud of it. Having said that, in a strange way, though the album isn't officially out yet, we've already moved on from it. As long as it speaks to some people, it's done its job as a piece of music. And once that's happened, all that matters is the next record.
All of your current success has come off your own effort, are there any plans of working towards getting signed?
The DIY thing is cool, but it's also exhausting. Everything up until this point has been trial and error, and a lot of mistakes and blind alleys have led to the occasional moment of “success”. Using the word “success” is interesting as well, because how do you define that? Your parameters for what is successful change as you go along. We've certainly had no financial success, but every time you take a step up the ladder, you realise that the next one is even harder to get to: square two is always the new square one. Getting signed would be lovely, but it isn't the be-all and end-all. If we were to sign, it would have to be with a label that cares about what we're doing as much as we do.
Do you have any plans for a tour?
If everything is right with the world, we should be heading on our first tour this time next month. But we've had bad luck with this sort of thing in the past so we're keeping our fingers crossed at the moment.
What do you feel about UK chart music currently and where do you see yourself in relation to that?
For obvious reasons, what we do is considered to fall within the same broad category as people like N-Dubz; this is mostly because it's easier as a starting point to call it all music. But in reality we're not even close to doing the same thing. It's not a question of better or worse, just that the two are incomparable. We're ambitious, but we've got no plans to get into the charts, not in its current state. We've just had the misfortune of living through the poorest ever decade of pop music, and there aren't many signs that this will change any time soon, plus Radio 1 have already started phasing guitar music out of their playlists. A cursory glance at the biggest selling records of the 00s would be enough to make you lose faith in the industry if it weren't for great bands making untrendy music. For example, of the top 10 biggest selling singles last decade, there were five covers and four reality TV acts. Compare that even to the 90s and you'll see what I mean. Pop music is fucked, and no one's doing anything about it apart from exacerbating the problem. We've just got to keep writing the music we want to and hope for the best, ignoring the Simon Cowells of this world and hoping they go away or die a death.
The music industry has notably been in meltdown for a couple of years now, do you feel that has worked in your favour as an up-coming independent do it yourself band, or against you?
Yeah, like I say, the music industry is something that we have absolutely no interest in at all. I mean, we're fascinated by it, but it's not something we want to be a part of, if it can be helped. The music industry is paradoxical; how can you formalise and package and sell what is meant to be creative? Yes, I know its a necessity within an economic system like ours, but surely it's wrong that the people who run it have little to no idea about music itself. And, while they might now be getting what they deserve for the way they've treated the art-form, the bands are suffering as well. Most bands are DIY, and in our case it's not like we made an active decision to do it, but it does mean that we get complete creative freedom, and we don't have to pay any attention to how the rest of the industry is doing. Right now, we can do whatever we want. That's a really fucking good feeling.
Spring Offensive's debut mini-album will be released in March 2010.
Spring Offensive Myspace