“Where do shit riders go to die?”
As I sit supping a pint of pale ale in the warm confines of Gorilla, I look out across the road at The Ritz and feel a tingle of dread. I’d been holed up for an hour or two, eating and drinking merrily, but knew I’d soon have to venture outside and brave the Northern chill – praying the TM hadn’t forgotten the time we’d agreed on, and that I wouldn’t be waiting at the side entrance for too long. Thankfully, I’m soon ushered in the side door and across the vast, open concourse that is The Ritz ahead of show time.
Hours later, Royal Tunbridge Wells duo Slaves would take to the stage for their second night in Manchester; their last in a run of sold out UK shows. Scrappy Northern four-piece Spring King have been opening up these dates across the land, warming up crowds from Glasgow to London.
It’s here at The Ritz where I meet up with Spring King; the quartet in a really jovial mood as they prepare for their last show with the Slaves crew. Reflecting on their time with the Kentish punks, drummer Tarek Musa smiles “It’s been wild. The Wonk Unit guys, they joined us for the UK shows and they’re just amazing. Alex, the lead singer, is like a cult hero. I said on the second day that we were on tour with them, I felt like he could be an older brother. He’s got your back, but he’s also really loving… He’ll defend you, if you’re really stuck” he laughs.
“They’re the nicest people we could wish to go on tour with” chips in bass player James Green. “We’ve been really lucky with…all the crew, everything. Everyone’s just been really lovely.”
“It’s been the easiest tour we’ve done” agrees Tarek, continuing “…and the Courtney Barnett tour; that was really laid back as well. They were all great.”
Hitting the road with Courtney Barnett earlier in the year and touring throughout Europe and the UK with Slaves has seen Spring King playing much bigger venues than they’re used to. It should come as no surprise mind, considering their rapid rise in popularity over the past twelve months. Shows supporting the likes of Mac DeMarco, FIDLAR, Circa Waves and Spector, as well as a healthy blast through the festival circuit this summer, has meant that chances are you’ve seen Spring King at least once this year. They’re everywhere.
“I personally love it” beams guitarist Peter Darlington, on playing larger venues during the Courtney Barnett tour. “…that was the first time we’d played to maybe a thousand people. It was a pretty big step up, ‘cus we’d just come back from South By (South West) and we were playing to 50 people on floors. That’s what we were used to doing, so that step up to the big stage was pretty nerve wracking. I think we were a bit shaky for a while, but now I love it. Just a different type of gig… You have to perform/play in a different way. I love it.”
The European circuit is, by all accounts, a completely different beast. Rolling into a new country, you’re handed coffee and a sandwich before you even open your mouth…
“They treat you like human beings out there.” Deadpans Peter.
“It makes you question if it’s really shit here and it’s just normal over there…” comments guitarist Andy Morton, with drummer Tarek adding “…or if they’re just over the top or very over-kind. I think it’s just shit here – sometimes. To be fair, we’ve have had some really good promoters now…”
It’s clearly a topic worth discussing, as James pitches in “We’ve been quite lucky on this tour…Some tours, smaller venues, you’ll get like four warm cans of Carling C2, which are already opened, and some stale hummus – with no bread…”
“I’ve just got this image in my head of like a graveyard of old shit riders.” Laughs Peter. “Where do shit riders go to die?”
It’s not just where the Northern four-piece have been playing or who with, but who they’ve been played by.
30th June 2015 was a pretty notable date in the music world, with giants of the industry Apple taking a monumental leap backwards (whilst rapidly propelling forward) in launching their own radio station.
Beats 1, a “global radio station” broadcasting from studios in London, New York and Los Angeles, features shows from the likes of Elton John, Dr Dre, Joshua Homme and Zane Lowe, the latter of whom was the man tasked with kicking the whole thing off. His track of choice? ‘City’ by Spring King.
“I was playing the drums at home, had my headphones on, and they were connected to my computer so I could jam along to… I think it was Jimi Hendrix.” Smiles Tarek; seemingly still a touch flummoxed by the whole thing. “Then I could just hear my email inbox pinging in my headphones and I was like – what the fuck’s going on? I went over to my email and it was just…hundreds. No exaggeration. I was reading emails for like three days straight. People were like ‘congratulations’ and I was like, what’s going on? I thought it was a joke. So I text the guys and said ‘someone call me right now’; Pete rang me first. He’d just come out the bakery, ‘cus he was working…”
The gravity of the situation really hits home in the fact that Peter was literally at work when all this kicked off – his band being heard across the world on Apple’s newest venture.
“I’d just finished a shift at the bakery, I was walking home, and I was like – what is he going on about?” grins Peter. “I went on the Guardian and I could see ‘Spring King is the first band…’ I was like, what the fuck is this?”
“Could’ve chose any band in the world. It’s amazing – still blows my mind today.” Adds Tarek, having likely told this story to a hundred journalists since that faithful day.
Andy and James were also at work when Zane’s delightful ‘joke’ took place.
“I didn’t get out till an hour after it happened; I just rang Pete and laughed.” Continues James. “Tends to be what happens when you find out big news, we just laugh at each other.”
“We’re always like – it’s just luck, it’s just luck.” Observes Tarek. “But then everyone else is like – nah, you guys are doing alright! We just can’t…I dunno.”
“The Zane thing; the show was huge exposure for us, but then I guess we still… for us it’s about, if it’s not broken, let’s not try and fuck with it.” Confirms Tarek. “We don’t know what we’re doing in April or May yet; we take it as it comes. I know a lot of bands, they go for the opposite approach and they’ve got the next two years planned out. I think I’d freak out if I knew what we were doing every single day. I like to just be told a few weeks before…”
Peter, James and Tarek look over to a pensive Andy, seemingly mulling over life’s great mysteries and the comments he’s just heard. Woken out of his stupor, he smiles and comments “I was imagining my calendar full of gigs, every single day for the next two years. While that would be amazing, it would also be equally depressing…” as the rest of the band fall about laughing.
Whilst they might not know what’s coming up in the next few months, February is a dead cert. Next week, Spring King are heading out across the UK yet again, this time on their own headline tour. Whilst not quite the heights of Manchester’s O2 Ritz, the smaller venues are preferable in other ways, as Andy comments “…I am looking forward to going back to little venues though, ‘cus they’re always the best ones. I mean, these are amazing, because there’s so many people, but I like the intimacy.”
“I’m quite used to having everyone really close.” Adds Tarek. “When we play festivals in the summer, we still put everything really close together. The stage techs are like – are you sure? You’ve got all this space?”
“You see bands like Guns N Roses, and they’re literally like 30 feet away. I’m like – what the fuck is that about?” Laughs Peter.
The tour kicks off at Broadcast in Glasgow, a venue that will always be remembered by the band for Peter’s antics. According to Andy, the previous Glasgow session for the boys saw the roof blown off, with a lot of help from Peter who was crowd surfed so that his person was scraped across the low ceiling!
“Didn’t you bite someone’s finger as well?” Prods James with a grin.
“I bit someone’s finger, yeah.” Peter laughs, continuing on “Well someone’s finger went in my mouth, I was like – what am I gonna do? Am I gonna lick it or just let it leave? I’m gonna fucking bite it. So I bit their finger. So If you’re out there – drop us a line…”
The tour will see Spring King hit up a run of hyped venues across the land, favoured by artists and music nerds alike. The penultimate stop on the tour will see Spring King triumphantly return home to Manchester for a sold out show at The Deaf Institute.
“Who’s buying all these tickets?!” asks a befuddled James with a smile; drummer Tarek matching the confusion “It’s weird when our manager first got us that show, we were like – Deaf Institute is way too big for us.”
“Put us back in The Castle.” Laughs Peter.
“If we sell out Gullivers we’ll be happy!” Chuckles Tarek. “Then apparently…well it did, it fucking sold out!”
City, much like a bulk of the material in Spring King’s oeuvre, was masterminded and recorded in Tarek’s family home – his mum’s sewing room and the bathroom (where the drum kit is kept) playing key parts in the setup. Funding from the PRS Foundation has recently seen Spring King make a move from the bathroom to a much bigger studio, though some home comforts still remain intact.
“Well I think the studio experience…” Tarek begins to add, as the rest of the boys snigger “What happened was…Everything was in the house, ‘cus we’ve always been limited in what we can work with. That, in a way, has determined what the sound of Spring King is. I’ve always tried to make the best out of the least. When we went to the studio, we recorded all the drums in this beautiful church room; really high ceilings. When it came to the guitars, we just did it in the bedroom – It was a residential studio. The assistant engineer was like – are you crazy? We’ve got 50 grand’s worth of microphones downstairs and I was like – it’s fine, we’ll do it in the bedroom.”
“I’m so used to that sound now…” He continues. “…That, to an extent, is what people have enjoyed and what I’ve always enjoyed about Spring King, so we just kept it that way. We used the studio basically as a place to sleep and be away from my house. I think that’s the thing, for me, just getting out of that house now and finding new inspiration. I’ve been in that house nearly my whole life, but eight years recording there. The studio was just like a revival of spirits and getting excited about it again.”
The middle-of-nowhere location proved difficult for some in particular (“No phone signal, really patchy internet. I kind of live on the internet, so it was quite difficult for a little while” Laughs Peter) but it was a push the four-piece felt they needed, with a view to give themselves a kick up the arse.
“Hopefully we want to release some of these tracks this year. If we can pull our shit together, we’ll put out an album – that’s the plan.” Confirms Tarek.
“The last EP ‘They’re Coming After You’ was, for me, the best capturing of the band, so far. I feel like I want this next step to be that and more.” Adds Peter. “It’s going to be a similar formula, but I think the quality of the recordings now has just jumped a little bit, ‘cus we’ve used a nicer room, instruments and microphones. It’s still Spring King, but just a bit fuller.”
“In a way, we finally know what the band is.” Peter continues. “ It’s taken maybe a couple of EPs and a few singles to finally work out what it is.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, really.” Beams Tarek, like a proud Dad. “There’s a lot of bands that maybe jump straight in, who get picked out real quick. Sometimes you don’t get enough time to develop and understand what you want to become. I don’t think we could’ve played big stages from day one.”
“We’ve been a bit slow really.” Smiles Peter.
Exchanging glances, the four lads burst out laughing. It’s great to see them collectively together and having as much fun off stage as they seem to be when they’re playing. Later that evening, they would go on to warm the crowd up considerably, performing in front of the growing crowd at The Ritz.
This February headline tour could be the last we see of Spring King playing relatively smaller venues, though even as their rapid growth continues, I’m sure you’ll still find them huddled up together in the middle of the stage, as always.