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Santa Sprees

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, they're dead.

Santa Sprees

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 illusion.

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 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 dishonest.

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.

upload:// The 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'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 - childlike fear?

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 of pre-civility.

'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 a metaphor.

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 to leave.

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'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?


2-4-7-MUSIC.COM 2009

STILL refusing to dumb it down.

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