A static opening. An echoing saxophone refrain. Thundering percussion. One enduring question. “What are you waiting for?” Such is the introduction to Spring King’s second album – a record that sees the outfit striving towards bigger, bolder, and better things than ever before. The result of a newfound collaborative approach to, well, everything, ‘A Better Life’ is the band at their brightest and most brilliant yet. With the album release finally here, Spring King’s fun is only just getting started.
“I never even thought there was going to be a band in the beginning,” frontman Tarek Musa reflects on the group’s origins. “I never wanted it to be a thing. Then when the first album came out, I was like, ‘Okay, cool, we’re a garage band,’ but then this album came out, and we’re not a garage band any more. We’ve grown out of that sound a little bit. I never know what’s next.”
True enough, ‘A Better Life’ isn’t quite the same band the world fell for on debut record ‘Tell Me If You Like To’. Sure, the affinity for driving rhythms and catchy-as-hell hooks remains present, but this is Spring King on turbo charge. The scope is broader. The choruses are catchier. The harmonies are stronger. There’s more synths and more saxophone. There’s even an appearance from the House Gospel Choir. ‘A Better Life’ is Spring King at their most urgent, their most energised, and their most inviting.
“I think this time around we just wanted to realise any ideas that we had,” Tarek details. “So if we wanted to add strings or add a choir, we were just going to do it - which was really fun.” Determined not to let their live show determine their capabilities in the studio and on record, all bets were off, and their limits were what they made of them.
“We’ve all improved as musicians over the past couple of years, which just gives you a broader scope for what you can achieve,” bassist James Green distils. “It was hard,” he laughs. “Trying to write some of the parts and recording stuff, it was graft. Trying to learn to just do bizarre things. But we’re really happy with the way it’s come out.”
The first time the band have written songs together as a group, working on this second record saw the band push each other to be the best that they can be. It might have been hard work, but the results have undoubtedly proved to be worth their while.
“We kind of recorded in a backwards way, because we were in the studio doing these parts individually and bringing together the songs that way,” guitarist Andy Morton reflects. “Now we have to go and learn the songs as they are on [the album]. It’s quite challenging.”
“Yeah, we probably wouldn’t have put it on the record if we knew,” guitarist Pete Darlington laughs. “A lot of the stuff is actually just a lot harder to play and sing. For us as a band it is quite challenging,” he continues, more seriously. “The record stepped up. The songs are more varied. Now the live set needs to be able to match that.”
There’s a lot to consider, but Spring King have never been ones to shy away from a challenge. “Do we want to add other musicians?” “Do we want to bring a choir to certain shows?” “What can we do to elevate what we do even further?” are just some of the questions that pass between the group. With their biggest UK tour to date ahead of them, there’s everything to play for. One thing that seems to be guaranteed is that every moment will be delivered with Spring King’s trademark brand of whirlwind energy.
“I think energy is a huge part of Spring King, full stop,” Tarek enthuses. “There’s got to be an energy there, even if it’s a soft song.” Having collaborated on music together as a group for the first time, that trademark energy is more present now than ever. “Our mindset has always been about writing pop music but with that heavy garage sentiment,” Tarek conveys. “Keeping it catchy, not just for the sake of someone else, but because I love writing hooks.”
“Lyrically, it’s one of those things where it’s as dark as you want to make it,” he continues to explain. “We try and create these things that you can enjoy on many different levels. People can delve in as deep as they want into lyrics. If you just want something loud and fast, you can put it up, and it’s loud and fast. If you want something that’s lyrically thought-provoking, it’s got that as well. You can put the volume down and just listen to the words and take it in. There are different levels to the songs.”
“This is another thing with writing the record collaboratively,” James adds. “Stylistically, all of our lyrics are so different.” Inspired by the world that surrounds them, and the world they want to see around them, ‘A Better Life’ might be Spring King at their most cinematic, but it’s also the band at their most real.
“Every song has its own little story to tell,” Pete states. If there’s one thing these songs, and in turn, their stories, have in common, it’s their emotion. Through feelings of anxiety, paranoia, isolation, and more besides, each song resounds with a characteristic strength and optimism, the band’s trademark energy driving through their very core.
“We spent a long time trying to think about the kind of message that we wanted to present,” Pete describes. “One of the things that we talked about at the beginning was that the world is in a strange place at the moment.” Such a statement is undeniable. Brexit is looming. Gentrification is booming. Finding peace of mind surrounded by the onslaught of news headlines is a struggle in itself.
“A lot of bands are reacting to that with quite angry music,” Pete continues. “That’s great, I love all that stuff, but I just felt like we could spin that or flip it in a way, and try and make something that was really positive.” So that’s what they did. Giving voice to inner demons to forge a powerful sense of resolution, ‘A Better Life’ is all about finding, and holding on to, a sense of optimism that can’t be tainted.
“Even if it was heavy, and dark, to make something that was uplifting to energise people...” Pete describes. “It’s almost kind of like a naive utopia, like, ‘Hey, we can make something more out of this life than we have’.”
Such a utopia is visible in the album’s distinctive artwork: a group portrait of the band alongside friends, family, and a whole host of guests, all clad in distinctive uniforms alongside fruit, flowers, and flags, against a picturesque artistic backdrop. “We said we wanted it to be about people from all walks of life coming together and creating this better world,” Tarek portrays.
“We wanted to get a group of people together, almost like this is a little society that we have,” Pete adds. This theme of a better world, unsettled but optimistic, is one that played a big part in the making of ‘A Better Life’ – and not just in the lyrics they wrote.
“What we were thinking and going back to was this idea of this post-apocalyptic world,” Andy distils. “We’d listened to the songs on the album, and tried to bring the imagery with them, and it always goes back to the idea that the world ended, but that was somehow better than what it used to be?” he offers, almost in question.
“Whether or not that comes across, I don’t know,” Pete laughs, “but that’s where we were coming from.” Using this post-apocalyptic image to keep the four band members on the same page, following the same vision as they wrote for the record, the songs – though varied in voice and in topic – all offer a characteristic sense of something positive, which in turn offers a characteristic sense of power.
Their first fully-collaborative work to date, ‘A Better Life’ sees Spring King step up their game and take everything to the next level. So much so that the band’s first listen to the finished product managed to impress even themselves, even after a year of living inside the same songs.
“It was quite an intense experience. It was quite emotional,” James recalls. “We sort of said, ‘Right, here’s a pair of headphones each, listen to the whole thing, all the way through’.” From months spent together in a writing room in Wandsworth, through time spent recording in “a strange little town called Fladbury,” to mixing on a boat in London, it was a moment that had been a long time coming.
“It was the first time we’d probably done that,” James states. “It was the first time we locked in the tracklisting and were like ‘this is definitely the way it has to be’. It got to the end of it, and it was quite an emotional moment, quite overwhelming.”
“It was quite an exhausting listen, in a way,” Pete continues. “When you’re in the studio for that long you hear the tiniest detail. When you actually try and put that away and listen to the songs, it was actually quite a crazy experience. Like, ‘Bloody hell, we’ve actually made something that’s pretty good’.”
How far they’ve come in such a short space of time isn’t something that’s wasted on any of the band members. “The other day I went back and listened to the ‘Animal’ demo,” James enthuses. “It’s amazing hearing it, especially with it being the first thing that we’d written together. Starting there, and then hearing the album was quite a powerful moment.”
From driving rhythms through dynamic melodies to surging optimism, power is something that Spring King have garnered a knack for creating, and the band have never sounded more empowered than on ‘A Better Life’. The group pause and contemplate how to best describe the result of their efforts, only to be distracted by the ringing of a passing cyclist’s bike bell. “...We could just use that,” James offers.
“That’s exactly how we would describe it,” Pete laughs, mimicking the ‘ding’.
“Intricately chaotic,” Tarek offers as a more serious answer, before adding “it’s so varied, the whole thing.”
“It’s an anxiety-ridden rollercoaster,” James conveys. “A work of a lifetime,” he mocks. “It’s our magnum opus!” he laughs. “ Please don’t use that.” [Sorry, not sorry - Ed.]
“Honestly, without sounding like an egocentric maniac, from the first time I heard ‘Let’s Ride’ I knew we were going to be a good band,” Pete states. “That doesn’t mean I knew we were going to make this record, or that we’d do Jools Holland, or anything like that. I just thought that this is a really exciting sound.”
“I still feel that way about the band. It’s a testament to the songs,” Pete continues. “Like Tarek said, we have grown. Now, in a way, the next record is going to be mental. I don’t know what it’s going to sound like, but the scope is going to be even wider. Songs will still be about songs and great melodies, but I think the scope will be even bigger.”
For right now, the group are simply excited to get back on the road. “That year and a half touring the first album was possibly the best year and a half of my life,” James proclaims. “We did things that I never ever thought that we’d do,” he enthuses, and the rest of the band are quick to echo his excitement.
“I guess that’s the dream for every band: to put out the best stuff that you’re proud of and hope people love it, and if they don’t, you love it anyway,” Tarek distils. “Then tour as much as possible and play as many shows as we can. I think for us we just want to play live.”
“For some reason, we’re quite good live,” Pete comments. “I don’t know what it is, but we’ve just managed to pull it together.”
“Mate,” James interrupts, laughing. “You, in those shades, just sat there on the canal in Hackney, all ‘I just always knew we were going to be sick,’ is such an amazing picture.”
“I didn’t think we were definitely sick,” Pete tries to justify, “I just thought there’s potential here.” He pauses, joining in with the group’s laughter. “I know I’m going to come across like a mental egomaniac, but I don’t mind, it’s just how I feel.”
“You can only act the way you are,” James affirms.
Conforming to a policy they describe as “radical honesty,” Spring King are raring to once again take the world by storm. As the band themselves question on lead single ‘Animal’, “what are you waiting for?”
Taken from the September issue of Dork. Order a copy below. Spring King’s album ‘A Better Life’ is out now.
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