Why Spector's Fred Macpherson is singing the social media blues

Lyrics should reflect our lives, including the loneliness of Twitter and Facebook, Fred Macpherson tells Nick Duerden

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The Independent Culture


In the three years it has taken Spector to follow up their debut album, Enjoy It While It Lasts – in singer Fred Macpherson's words: "our attempt to create a 100mph pop bonanza" – much has happened to them. Guitarist Chris Burman quit, wanting to do something else with his life; at least two long-term personal relationships came to acrimonious endings; and Macpherson himself felt an increasing struggle to live in a modern world dominated by technology.


"I'm so drained by the complete commodification of socialising these days," says the 28-year-old. "We judge people now based on their Instagram accounts, their Twitter followers, their Facebook pages. Personally, I've never felt more isolated."


Something else has happened in those 36 months. Macpherson, once a proponent of the short-back-and-sides look, hasn't visited a barber once. Consequently, he walks into this west London café, with bassist Tom Shickle by his side (guitarist Jed Cullen and keyboardist Danny Blandy are busy with tour rehearsals), looking like a contestant on University Challenge from 1987: circular silver specs glinting out of a curtain of lank hair, and dressed down in an old pair of jeans, and a formless white T-shirt. And, much as you might expect from a University Challenge contestant circa 1987, he is clever and witty and self-deprecating, and exceedingly good company.


He shrugs off the questionable new hairstyle, saying: "Well, we weren't touring any more, I got lazy, and fancied a change. This is more the real me." It also gives him something to do with his hands, self-consciously brushing it from his eyeline every few minutes because, like all long hair that isn't saturated with styling spray, it will not sit still.


Back in 2012, Spector were essentially an English version of the Killers: both bands made bold statements through songs whose choruses were engineered to be sung back at them by thousands. The Killers had "Mr Brightside"; Spector had "Chevy Thunder", a song powered by irony, perhaps, but turbocharged irony.


"We always wanted our songs to have a stadium presence," he says. "I like to think we succeeded, even if we didn't quite find the audience." Enjoy It While It Lasts peaked at a fairly modest number 12 in the charts; not quite high enough to see them headlining Wembley.


Their new album is a more subtle, and nuanced, proposition. Moth Boys is essentially a heartbreak album set in the information age. Drenched in Eighties-style stabbing synthesisers, and afforded a swaggering portentousness courtesy of Macpherson's booming tenor vocal, it suggests that modern life, in all sorts of ways, is rubbish. "I'm getting bored of all the songs I write and the people I've become," he sings on the single "All the Sad Young Men". On the track "Bad Boyfriend", he offers: "My battery's 10 per cent/Let's generate content". "Using", meanwhile, equates social media with heroin abuse.


"Social media has become like a drug. My mum's explained this to me; she's a psychologist. She tells me that every time I see the red light go on my BlackBerry, dopamine is released. Each new message prompts a chemical release. We are addicted to it. I am; I sleep with my phone essentially next to my hand."


He picks up his phone and shows me the red button flashing impatiently. "Three new messages. But I'm not going to read them now because I'm talking to you." And how does that make you feel, I ask? He laughs. "Pretty anxious, really."


Modern lyricists, he believes, have a responsibility to reflect the world around them. "So many songs today sound like they could have been written in the Sixties or Seventies, and that confuses me. We are all affected by the world around us right now, so why not document it?"


But this can be tricky. "Nick Cave once sang: 'I woke up this morning with a Frappuccino in my hand' [Abattoir Blues, 2004]. That wasn't so good. But another one of his: 'Wikipedia is heaven/When you don't want to remember no more' [Push the Sky Away, 2013] is amazing. What we're trying to do here is tell the story of our lives now, a bunch of people in their mid-twenties trying to figure things out in an increasingly technologically driven world."


Having achieved only moderate success so far has forced them to question everything about themselves, Macpherson says. "We took three years on this album because I don't think you should release music unless it's worth sharing. Our music is much less clichéd now; it's more honest.


"We've had to unlearn a lot of arrogance along the way in the hope of finding some form of purity," he adds. "I don't think we are there yet, but then it's like water through a filter: you put in so much bullshit that you have to filter out all the bad. It's a bit like waking up the day after a hangover when you start to feel slightly better, but then you clutch your head and go, O h God!" He smiles here, clearly pleased with the analogy. "That, I think, is what this album is all about."


'Moth Boys' is out now