Spirit Fest on “Mirage Mirage” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, May 23rd, 2024  

Spirit Fest on “Mirage Mirage”

A Soundtrack for Uncertain Times

Jun 15, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Spirit Fest is an international collective of musicians spread across Germany, Japan, and England. Its members have remained constant since their self-titled Morr Music debut in 2017. The group is comprised of Saya and Takashi Ueno of Japan’s Tenniscoats, Markus Acher of Germany’s The Notwist, Cico Beck of Germany’s Aloa Input, and Mat Fowler of England’s Jam Money. The group has remained in contact and have subsequently released Anohito in 2018, with the double album Mirage Mirage coming out last month via Morr Music.

Songs are typically written by the Takashis and Acher, while Beck and Fowler lay down the primary musical foundation. For what may have been an initial one off experiment, the group has remained prolific leading to this year’s release being a double album over an hour in length. The group’s songs are marked by a child like sense of wonder while also incorporating found sounds, melodies that morph and stretch, and layers of vocals sung both in English and the member’s native tongues. Their latest in particular resonates in the current environment with an air of nostalgia, distance, and yet references to the collective whole as well.

Of course as with so many groups, Spirit Fest had planned to all tour together in support of Mirage Mirage, but all of that has been put on hold. With members scattered across the globe, Under the Radar was able to catch up with all the members of the band from their respective home base headquarters. Their story mirrors so many of our own, but with distances between members so far apart the path to reconnect and tour seems all the more challenging.

Mark Moody (Under the Radar): Hello from the United States and hope all of you are doing well. Can you tell me where each of you are right now and if you are healthy? What about family members? When was the last time you were all together?

Mat Fowler: I live in a small rural based city called Norwich in the South East of England with my partner and three-year-old daughter. We are all well, and keeping active going on cycle rides, reading, painting and making music. As it’s spring, everything is coming to life which helps at a time like this.

Markus Acher: I am at home in Munich with my two kids, who are still not in school. The situation is opening up a little bit now. I am sad about not going to other countries for maybe a long time. And very especially sad about not meeting my Japanese friends and going on tour with Spirit Fest now.

Saya and Takashi Ueno: We are in Tokyo. We have been staying at home and recording.

In Japan, people are not required to stay at home and can go everywhere, and we feel bit strange because the city must still have the virus. We and our friends are well, anyway. We were last able to be with the other members of Spirit Fest at the recording in May-June of last year.

I had the privilege of reviewing Anohito for a prior publication, but believe this is the first time Under the Radar readers will get to read about Spirit Fest. Can you tell me about how everyone met and decided to work together?

Cico Beck: Markus is a long time Tenniscoats fan and he invited them to come to Munich to play at the first Alien Disko in 2016—a festival curated by The Notwist. They came two weeks before the festival and we arranged recordings in a small and nice recording studio in Munich. Markus also invited Mat Fowler—a good friend and mesmerizing artist from London. Markus knew him because he found his band Jam Money on the Internet. As a producer we invited Tad Klimp from Greece, the perfect person for this combination of people and music. Recording the first album was very special as most of the people didn’t really know each other. It was a very nice and refreshing mixture of politeness and curiosity.

With Mirage Mirage being the group’s third album, has Spirit Fest become the primary musical outlet for each of you? Did you foresee the group doing this much together?

Mat: My musical practice is very much a hermetic one within my own home, and along with a couple of friends we release individual and collaborative projects through our Spillage Fete label. So for me, Spirit Fest is something that seems to blow in like a sea mist, taking us off for untold travels where afterwards I am often left wondering if they really happened. I am grateful for such rich experiences, not just the making of music but for everything that unfolds in our shared company.

Cico: All of us are active in other bands. So it’s hard to say if there is a primary musical outlet—it’s more related to periods certain bands are more in the foreground. In general we all had the feeling that this band could make a lot of music together. Songs pop up very naturally: there is the basic idea with chords, melody, lyrics…then we start playing it together live in one room. We record it right away several times and most of the time we decide the first take to be the best.

Markus: Everyone in the band does a lot of different projects and bands, so it is not the primary outlet. But is a very important and special one, for me maybe the dearest and closest to my heart. We didn’t plan it to last for many records, but it feels like there are so many possibilities and ideas in this band and many more stories to tell.

Mirage Mirage is a beautiful album that seems to have more of a tinge of melancholy than the prior releases. What informed/influenced the album as it was being made? Is the recording done collectively or pieced together?

Mat: I think individually and as a collective we are all sensitive people and are touched by both the beauty and joy within the world but also how modern society seems to push against such things. I think making art of any kind is somehow a remembering of something that has been lost and at the same time a revealing of something that has been here all along. I think this shared and playful discovery is something that unites us and cannot help but feed in to the feel of the music as a whole.

Markus: It was always recorded together, most of it last summer in Munich in a small apartment studio. Many influences come out of touring together, talking, telling each other stories, and sharing experiences. Listening to music together or cooking and drinking. It is a lot about relationships and what you can find in others. We communicate a lot in songs and sounds also convey things you cannot express in words so easily. Mat brought the outside world into the recording studio by doing field recordings, which became a very important part of the album. The songs, words, and sounds reflect a lot the days, we recorded them. I enjoyed it so much—it was magic.

I was lucky to review the album as well and spent a lot of time listening to it while in quarantine. It is easy to relate many of the songs and the album’s tone to this time. Clearly there was no intent in that given when it was recorded, but how does that resonate with you today? “Time to Pray,” “Zenbu Honto,” and “The Snow Falls on Everyone” in particular seem custom made for today.

Mat: We live in a time where life feels out of balance, socially, politically and environmentally, and the virus feels somehow connected to this. I think some of the songs reflect these concerns, intentionally or not. So I can understand how they might relate to the current time. Positive elements have also come out of this situation, people reawakening to things that feed the soul, like making art, writing letters, and playing music amongst other things often forgotten or dropped when people are absorbed in their working life. I’m hoping our music encourages this idea of play and expression.

Markus: Yes, we felt that, too. For me, personally “Yesteryears” developed this strange new meaning. But in general, it’s hard to believe these recordings now are the memory of days, a way of being together, that’s not possible at the moment. Fallen out of time—like a dream somehow. But more and more, there is a future coming back. It’s hard to live having only a past, nearly no present, and such an uncertain future, but we plan and work on upcoming tour even if they get postponed all the time. One day, it will happen. I can’t wait.

Saya: Thank-you for expressing your feelings of listening to the songs in today’s time period. Sometimes they fit the situation accidentally. I am glad that our songs are with you gently.

“Time to Pray” is one of the most graceful songs here, but also very playful. What inspired this song?

Saya: I wrote this song while in Indonesia and Malaysia when we went to play at festivals as Tenniscoats. People there pray five times in a day, and in the praying hour many, many speakers were so loud and the town was full of azan voices. Suddenly everything became like a dream, amazing. And then I realized I can pray too in my mind whenever I want, although I am not religious.

Is the phone message on “Yesteryears” from a relative? If so, what is the story there? Something about collecting rocks?

Mat: One of the days off recording in Munich, we wandered around a table top sale in the streets below the studio. Myself and Tad who recorded the record came across an elderly man selling rocks and minerals and some strange and interesting paintings. I had taken my little cassette dictaphone out with me to capture something of the whole adventure. He told us stories about collecting both rocks in Greece and paintings in London, before knowing Tad was born in Greece and myself in London, then handed us both a rock each as a parting gift.

More of the current album seems to be sung in English? Any comment on this?

Markus: In Germany and Japan, like nearly everywhere in the world now, people and politics become extremely nationalistic, right wing, afraid of everything they don’t know. There is a strong tendency to isolate, close the borders and go back to the country’s own traditions. I think, we wanted to be more “international” and English is a good way to cross the borders and still keep your own identity, as it is spoken allover the world, but everywhere different. Singing in imperfect German English or Japanese English is a good way to be different from people who think where you come from has to be recognizable and you are only true to yourself, when you sing in your mother-tongue. We feel very much like an international band this time. And me personally, I love foreign accents and foreign language—a beautiful sound.

My favorites on the album are “Zenbu Honto” and “Saigo Song”—both over seven minutes long. They have lots of time to unfold and do so beautifully. Can you comment on the longer song formats?

Cico: I think it comes from the way that we record the songs live in one room. So the songs are never constructed but develop very natural and playful.

Markus: On tour, we improvised a lot. And also in general, every one of us, but especially Saya and Ueno, will capture a beautiful moment in a song by staying with it, circling around it and looking at it from every angle. It is magic, how they can repeat something for a while, and every time it sounds different and new.

Ueno: Due to the amount of lyrics and the quality of the performance they became such a length. Maybe they should be longer!

“Circle Love” has a very hip ’60s cinema feel to it. It feels a little out of place with the rest of the album—what was the inspiration here? Have you contacted Austin Powers about putting it in his next film?

Ueno: I composed it with the image of France Gall singing. I saw myself as Gainsbourg.

I want to appear as Gainsbourg in the next Austin Powers!

Getting back to the COVID-19 situation, were there plans to tour in support of Mirage Mirage and what do those plans look like now?

Cico: Unfortunately we had to cancel our complete tour for May/June. But we are planning some dates in November 2020—and if this does not work out we will go on tour again in May/June 2021.

Markus: There was a tour already booked, which would have started on May 26th, with many wonderful places in Europe, and festivals, that would have helped pay for the flights. It was like a dream, everything felt right this time. Because it is quite difficult to finance a tour with this band, because there are always flights to pay for. But then the virus came and everything is cancelled now, of course. We tried to postpone everything into November, which seemed safe at first, but now also this has to be cancelled. We will see. I don’t want to give up. There are always plans and it just feels good to communicate with the others.

How do you feel your respective governments have dealt with the crisis? What are things like now in regards to reopening?

Mat: In the UK, things are very slowly changing and reopening, but you also have to weigh this against your own thoughts and ideals outside of the political agenda. Our daughter is supposed to return to nursery [school] in a matter of weeks but we have decided not to send her back. A good friend and neighbor died of the virus just weeks ago and his 30-year-old son is now fighting for his life in the hospital so it all feels very current for us.

Markus: I want this to be over as soon as possible and with all people safe and healthy in the end. So I support all necessary consequences to bring us through this pandemic. The German government has made good and necessary decisions so far. But also, there are many empty promises about support for self-employed people, artists, musicians. Like in many countries, the funding just shows how our capitalist society is structured and that it’s most important to keep the economy going so the big companies, landlords etc. don’t loose money in the end. Many of our friends running clubs, restaurants, record shops, small theaters, artists, writers, or musicians will not be able to continue.

Saya and Ueno: Thank you for this question! In Japan, [the] government have dealt [with] unemployment poorly. And they are making new laws of many kinds that are bad. We cannot believe this and we have been opposed to their decisions. Some protests are occurring in the center of the city. In Tokyo, people are just starting to move about outside, but COVID-19 might be still around there.

What have each of you been doing during quarantine—creating, taking a break, reading, hobbies, etc.?

Mat: Because of our daughter being at home all day I have spent less time making music, which at first I found a little hard, but am now enjoying this hiatus. Mostly spending time in nature finding new swimming spots in rivers close to home and planting in the garden.

Markus: With my two children at home all the time, I didn’t have much time so I didn’t do any of these things. I tried to be creative, too, but I have to admit, that I didn’t succeed very much. I felt paralyzed and depressed in the beginning. Now it’s getting better and I have started recording something again.

Saya: We are working on our new recording, cooking, and trying to grow vegetables. And I joined in The Notwist’s new song with over dubbing and sent in my vocal. That was a happy thing! I also opened a new website with friends here: www.minnakikeru.com.

In closing, is Spirit Fest here to stay? It seems you have plenty of ideas to explore and with a double album the collaboration obviously continues to be fruitful.

Cico: Yes, I definitely think it will stay. There is a lot of touring we want to do now and most of the time during touring we start to record new music again.

Markus: Yes! I feel, we are just at the beginning and still can do a lot together.

Thank you so much for your time and congratulations on the release of Mirage Mirage. It’s a beautiful album and I hope more in the world get a chance to hear it.

Markus: Thank you so much for your interest and these great questions. Many greetings.

Saya: Thank you so much for your interview! I hope everything is okay with you. I pray and sing from here. I hope we will meet in the near future.



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