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Five Minutes With Jonathan Spottiswoode – Indie Sounds

Jonathan Spottiswoode is back … but without His Enemies. The Englishman in New York has dispensed with his sprawling band for his latest record - Piano 45 – which he releases tomorrow night at Joe’s Pub.  Indie Sounds got the scoop.

Five Minutes with Jonathan Spottiswoode

Photo by Brian Dilg

Indie Sounds: So Piano 45 is your first solo outing in a decade? Why the wait? Why now?

Jon Spottiswoode: Yes, my first since Ugly Ugly Love. But that was much more “produced”. It had drums (by Tim Vaill, the Enemies drummer) on every track and all kinds of overdubs. Piano 45 is very stripped down and I’m virtually the only thing on it. Tony Lauria (the Enemies keyboard player) plays the piano on three of the tracks. Everything else is pretty much me.

I have wanted to do a stripped down CD for a long time. Friends have heard me play songs on guitar by myself and over the years many have encouraged me to make a simple record. Ironically, I finally decided to do it with a bunch of piano songs, and I barely even know how to play piano.

A couple of years ago, my friend Don Dilego (fabulous singer-songwriter) gave me an extra piano he had at his studio in Pennsylvania. I wrote a group of songs with it in a pretty short time and they seemed to fit together. They felt quite personal as well. Around this time I celebrated the ten-year anniversary of my band with a double CD release. It just felt like time to do a solo record. And then Kenny Siegal, the producer, kept calling me up trying to get me to make a record with him. So I did.

Why the wait? I’ve been busy! Leading the band, touring occasionally. We made four records. I made a duo record with Riley McMahon. And a record of my songs with Bronwen Exter. And that’s just music.

IS: For those who know Spottiswoode & His Enemies, what should they expect?

Jon: Well, they should expect not to like this record. There are no pyrotechnics, very little theatricality, it’s generally pretty downbeat, etc. If you like the quieter more intimate songs that the Enemies do, then maybe this CD will speak to you. Not surprisingly, I’m finding that the people I know who like this record most are folks who aren’t big Enemies fans. But there are exceptions!

IS: So was anyone else involved at all?

Jon: Keny Siegal produced it at Old Soul Studios, his house in Catskill NY. He was incredibly patient and encouraging. It took me a long time to play a halfway decent performance of many of the songs. Tony Lauria came in and played the three harder songs on piano. That’s about it. Kenny played percussion on one song. The rest is just me. Kenny even wanted me to do all the backing vocals and I think it was a good choice both for logistical and artistic reasons.

IS: What’s the grand release plan?

Jon: Ah, Pete, I wonder if I shall ever have any grand plans again. We’re releasing it at Joe’s Pub this Friday. And at the brand new Helsinki in Hudson on Saturday.

I say “we” because the band is kindly backing me on a few of the tunes and we’ll work the songs (in Hudson anyway) into a double set of other band songs. Beyond that I honestly don’t know. There is a gentle quality to this record. For me to get all pushy and aggressive about strategy and career would kind of poison the experience.

Sure, it would be lovely if someone rode in on a white horse with money and a promotional plan, but I have reached a point where I’m no longer hungrily trying to get to those people, at least within the context of a traditional music career. And I was never very good at that anyway.

So, mark it as a labor of love.

IS: And what’s next for the big band?

Jon: The band is currently making a CD called Wild Goosechase Expedition, also produced by Kenny Siegal. It’s turning into one of those that’s difficult to finish! But we’re trying. Should be ready before the end of the year.

And I’m still hoping that we can find backers for our musical/rock opera, Above Hell’s Kitchen …

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