Interview: Spooky Mansion Talk Blending Genres and Upcoming LP
Posted: by The Editor
Spooky Mansion, who formed in San Francisco, then migrated to Los Angeles, crafts eccentric surf rock with a dance-centric style that mingles the spirits of the two big cities in the Sunshine State they have roots in. In advance of their sophomore LP, “The Curse” due to be released in early 2021, I spoke with the primary songwriter of the group, Grayson Converse.
Grayson started by explaining that their song “The Curse” was recorded about two years ago at a studio in San Francisco called The Point: a former US Navy repair station turned artist commune. Grayson told me, “It’s this big Navy shipyard where they used to store nuclear weaponry. This guy (Jacques Terzian) decided to buy the lease in the early ’80s and turn the old warehouses into studios and workspaces. The studio we tracked the album in was this old stone bunker with these renovated rooms, and it was like you could feel the residual radiation. I’m sure that’s not the safest, but it is pretty cool.” There’s a lot of great history to learn through Hunter’s Point Shipyard Artists that’s worth checking out.
We talked a bit about Grayson’s writing processes and how the rest of the band expands on it. He said, “I typically write the basic structure of the songs and some lyrical stuff, sort of in waves. Like, maybe two or three at a time, based on the mood or influence I have then. We usually get about twenty songs and cut it down to whatever feels right for that release.”
When making music with my band, I have a similar style of writing and presenting to my bandmates, so I was curious what criteria helps narrow down the bulk of songs into the final product. Grayson replied, “theme doesn’t really dictate the process for us – style does. A while ago, I had a hip-hop side project that I originally felt was separate from the band’s stuff. When I put it up, people really dug it – so, I decided to just incorporate that style shift into the band. Regardless of the specific technique and feel, it all had the essence of Spooky Mansion.”
Along with their evolution in style, Grayson said that their willingness to streamline their work has increased, too. He explained that he had earned a degree in Jazz Music from San Francisco State University and their drummer, Rob Mills, has a degree in Jazz Drumming. “Our strengths really lie in form and arrangement, so a lot of our early material was just too complicated, honestly. I think the new record is a good balance and shows a lot of progression of us as musicians,” he said.
With a bit of a chuckle, he admitted, “We slowly and begrudgingly relented to being less critical of simpler music and tried to tone it down. I think a good lesson I learned once about songwriting when I was hanging with some friends and passing a guitar around is that if the base – in our case, rhythm and vocals – can’t hold up on its own, you gotta give it more attention and make it palatable.”
I have run into the same problem many times in early songwriting. When I was a solo artist, I couldn’t rely on other instruments to carry a boring bridge of whole notes – so if there was any empty space, it was just empty space. Grayson and I agreed that “the best musicians need a good framework to play on and songwriters need that detached collaboration. A talented instrumentalist who’s familiar with their instrument can shred easy, but they need the structure provided by the songwriter to reign it in and explore.”
Make sure you keep your eyes open for Spooky Mansion’s album The Curse coming early next year, and listen to their newest single, “Baby’s New Man,” here. You can also grab some merch from their upcoming holiday line on their Bandcamp.
Luciano Ferrara | @LucianoRFerrara
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