There's a saying in Tokyo which warns that 'if a city
is finished it begins to die'.It's a statement that
you may well read again elsewhere in this feature. It's
also a statement that could be just as well applied
to records as to cities. The moment they're finished,
For the artist at least, as the fingers slip confidently
from mixing desk to vinyl it's all well and truly over.
A betrayal of sorts to the energy that brought it to
conception, through it's growth and eventually to it's
fruition. It blooms and gos.
Santa Sprees are testament to the fact that music
can and IS a living thing - always upon the point of
completion - always at the middle point of design without
any real tangible threat of closure. The lo-fi credulity
of artists like Sparklehorse, Daniel Johnston and the
Sprees kind of ensures some infinite pleasure. The pawing,
instable hand at the multi-track effectively freezes
the imaginative moment of creation and keeps it virile,
keeps it fresh. The heaving desperation of a song curling
toward release is never betrayed by the definitive mix
or the polished sheen of over-production. It remains
inexpert but intact. The rich historical context of
the song timelessly perpetuated.We are not talking about
a moments infancy or of adulthood - but of the infinite
possibilities inbetween.Or at the very least - that
I like to think that the ontology of the sparse demo
recording is altogether different to that of the finished
article. It's tense is timeless present, continuous,
never spent.So if you ever find yourself asking: why
didn't these guys spend more by way of production, just
think about it for a moment: it was never really necessary.
Sprees'musical itinerary of inexpensive catalogue keyboards,
electronic mellotrons, 5-stringed guitar, sleigh bells,
diamonicas, samplers, distortion pedals, and kazoos
first saw light on the now defunct Peacock Window Muzak
label in March 1995. The following August, Santa Sprees
made 'THE CURRENT MIND OF....' for the Impakt Festival
in Utrecht. This year saw the release of their debut
album for pop art-house label Dreamy. Their had been
Eps and guest-slots before - but nothing quite prepared
for the bright irregular genius of Keep Still, nor for
the broad acceptance that was to follow. This is Santa
Sprees. Based in Tokyo, registered globally. A story
set not so much in stone as in slippery orange jelly:
upload://Let's start with the name - Santa Sprees
- how did this unusual little nugget come about?
download:// ANTHONY: 'Santa' out of a love
for Phil Spector's 'A Christmas Gift For You' and 'Sprees'
because it's one of the most joyous words in the English
language, an abandonment of duty and routine that is
short-lived....like Christmas itself. Combined the words
have a phonic meaning: the French for 'holy ghost',saint
Esprit, which, until a few weeks ago, I thought I'd
misheard in a film (Robert Bresson's 'The Devil Probably').
This is Anthony Dolphin and Katherine Marshall. Both
halves of the Santa Sprees sitting anywhere else but
here. We indulge in a coversation that is by and by
more the product of modem than of mouth. A cut and paste
terminal dialogue, part now, part then, part history,
part present. But then history's a funny thing. Just
when you think you've got it plotted - it scores a half-truth
and continues to evolve. A point and click reality.
upload:// Is your case-history
a product of divine intervention or the result of something
a little more prosaic - or a combination of the two
- how did the Sprees actually come about?
download:// KATHERINE: Probably something
more prosaic. Living in London in the mid-90's we bought
a cheap keyboaord and messed around with it.
ANTHONY: We met on a fine art degree, Katherine was
doing her m.a. She introduced me to to Daniel Johnston
and Jad Fair. We started writing and recording songs
in London, then carried on in Greece and now Japan.
upload:// The term 'lo-fi'
seems a little overplayed these days - but there's still
something a little mishapen - a little raw about the
Keep Still album.. and yet arrangement-wise it still
has considerable depth. Does under-production still
qualify as 'production' of some sort..or do you simply
plug in and play?
download:// ANTHONY: Production is like the
grain of a film, its significance is immediate. Anyone
can recognise a modern mainstream film at a moment's
glance and there's a similar orthodoxy of surface in
music. Strangely for such lavish efforts lots of production
aspires to fidelity and, supposedly, invisibilty. With
the way we work there is more encroachment on the sound,
some loss and instability which I like. I know some
of the things we do are just plain wrong but we certainly
don't just plug in and play. There are lots of active
decisions - there's very little reverb or separation,
very little bass, lots of treble and distortion - all
things which are a disservice to fidelity, and essentially
The relative complexity of the arrangements in some
of the songs, especially 'Fireworks For Guido' and 'Our
Charity', have an overreaching quality that I like -
like trying to make a Bavarian gateaux when you should
stick to making scones. You're probably right, the gateaux
will look misshapen but it'll stand out on the cake
stand. I loved the Maher Shalal Hash Baz album last
year - limited musicians without a limiting thought
heading out into Sun Ra space.
Dreamy Label appears to be charting a fair chunk of
the PostModern landscape in Britain: Kirk Lake, Santa
Sprees - would it be fair to say there's something a
little more cerebral about your music or Dreamy's music
for that matter (I'm thinking about songs like Alchoholic
Gunslingers and the kind of sequential kitsch tv-history
images it throws up - why Dean Martin? Just a cool drunken
cowboy? Or kitsch idol?)
download:// ANTHONY: As we haven't lived there
for so long you'll have to give us a few directions
on what the "post-modern landscape of Britain" might
be. I don'tknow, pop music is such a realm of dullards
that it takes only the faintest semblance of literacy
to seem cerebral. There are songs on 'Keep Still' that
are lyrically quite dense and perhaps hard to follow
at times but what can you do....footnotes don't work
too well in songs. The most frequently aked question
about the lyrics on the album is 'Who is Joan Quigley?'
('Old Sage'), well she was Nancy Reagan's astrologer.
I would never sacrifice sound for sense, if you want
that write a pamphlet, but lyrics do have an odd, half-lit,
unstable kind of power. I'm surprised you mention 'Alcoholic
Gunslingers Are Cool' as an exemplar of our cerebral
nature - it's probably the dumbest song on the album,
there's no distance or irony there, no element of kitsch...it's
a celebratory statement: Alcoholic Gunslingers ARE Cool
and Dean Martin in 'Rio Bravo' is brilliant.
Joan Quigley? Dean Martin? Imagine someone like Celine
Dion crowbar-ing those kind of references into a song?
Of course not. It wouldn't work. Then why in this particular
context? A sqaure peg in a round hole. That too sounds
kind of dumb, but then so too does the likes of Jabberwocky,
Alice In Wonderland, Hey Joe. If words are only references
to things, then it's not the words that make things
meaningful - it's the references themselves: the object
to which these things refer. This sets the criteria
for stream of consciousness, word association. So maybe
what is cerebral is more the conflation of these references.
How one may run into the other to create new meaning,
or meanings which in themselves are never stable. Or
maybe I don't know what I mean. Maybe I don't know which
option may suit me better.
upload:// The album title, 'Keep Still' - is there
any paranoia in the Santa camp? It certainly suggests
to me that there's something to fear - something about
to happen. It reminded me of the child-in-the-dark kind
of anxiety - there's something out there in the garden....and
the album itself seems to draw together these two kind
of mutually dismissive ideas: childlike innocence -
download:// KATHERINE: It's never suggested
anything fearful to me - maybe I'm insensitive but it
just makes me think about not moving. I like it as a
sentence -'Santa Sprees Keep Still' - for whatever reason.
ANTHONY: Do you mean a kind of 'Night Of The Hunter'
thing? Well, the only song on the album about childhood,
'Back There', inverts a line from that film..."there's
nothing harder on the world than the little things"....and
has an essentially 'children are born evil and learn
to be good' theme - all that casual destruction and
thoughtless cruelty that kids arecapable of - a kind
'Petrified' is a long way from any child-like fears,
it's about very adult and civil paralysis, a living
death. I wrote it when I was working in an office where
lots of people in their 30-minute lunchbreak would line
up in the company gym on treadmills. If Orwell had written
of a scene like that it would have seemed too banal
Why 'Keep Still'? A few reasons, some of them related
to the content of the record - that desire to arrest
time for a while to look around, to gulp down the present
("I know everybody tells you that the world's bliss
can't last/ Might be some truth in that but does it
have to go by so fast" - 'Free Inside (Worldes Blis
Ne Last)' and "Take a note 'cos someday soon this will
have passed" - 'Fireworks For Guido'). And also in the
nature of mechanically recording there is ultimately
this very primitive and simplistic act of notation,
to ineffectually preserve that which is temporal and
fleeting, barely more sophisticated an impulse than
carving the date in a tree trunk. And, finally I liked
the way the words work as an imperative command towards
someone excitable: 'Keep Still Santa Sprees'.
upload:// Does Tokyo have much of an
effect on the Santa sensibilities? Is Tokyo really that
kitsch, electronically processed mediascape it's been
presented as being? And how have you manage to find
yourself in Tokyo? See much of Cornelius?
download:// KATHERINE: I think that wherever
one lives has an effect, but Tokyo is an extremely good
place - the best I've ever lived in. It's difficult
to comment on how it differs from its image in the west.
Things here feel more temporary, more susceptible to
flux, lighter and more joyful somehow. Sounds are peakier
(every station has its own jingle, played over tinny
speakers while the train doors open and close), most
machines (vending machines, lifts, escalators) is sue
their requests courteously in a bubblegum girl's voice,
colours are more acid (you'll never find a deep, tasteful
National Trust green) - limes and pinks predominate,
walls feel paper-thin and nature has been so zealously
tamed that it never feels as if you're outside. We came
here for work, and just seem to be staying - it's hard
ANTHONY: Yes, it's strange coming back to London
now- it seems so heavy and permanenet and filthy. The
buildings look like husks, casings which modern commerce
squats in like cuckoos. People in the west project on
Tokyo a great deal as some kind of future template or
imminent consequence, but its really a confluence of
quite extraordinary historical circumstance and is unlike
any other city in the world or how any other city will
turn out. There's a ceaseless novelty here, something
unfinished and ongoing - there's a saying here which
warns that 'if a city is finished it begins to die'.
Haven't seen Cornelius but we go to gigs every week,
saw Fushitsusha on Sunday - a mind-altering 3 hours,
incredible. Seen so many great shows, Yumiko Tanaka
(just about my favourite musician in the world right
now), Shibusashirazu, Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet,
Thermo, Incapacitants, I.S.O., Merzbow, Michiyo Yagi.....it's
an amazing city for live music.
upload:// And are we going to see any
live music from the actual Sprees this summer?
download:// ANTHONY: We're going to play some
shows in Tokyo, probably in July and maybe some more
further afield but we've not sorted anything out yet.
Some new songs on the Dreamy compilation which is out,
I think, in October. No plans for a single, but Tracy
at Dreamy is the person to ask about that. We'd love
to do another radio session. We plan on entering a full
blown robe- wearing period for our next album, very
long spiritual chants about dinosaurs and ghosts.
upload:// Smashing. If there's one
piece of advice you could actually give the child in
the dark - what would it be?
download:// ANTHONY: Buy a torch.
KATHERINE: It depends on the child really - is he
or she scared of the dark?