Interview: The Spectres

The Spectres are a two-piece Garage Punk act stompin' their way around the Pittsburgh Music Scene. Known for their catchy melodies and energetic live shows, The Spectres are becoming a staple of the Pittsburgh Music Scene. FoundSound Music had the opportunity to talk to guitarist Dan (DS) and drummer/ guitarist James (JT) to talk influences, music, and what lies ahead for this musical powerhouse. 

1. How did The Spectres get started? 

DS: I had just moved to Pittsburgh for graduate school and was looking to get back into making music. I didn't really know anyone at the time, so I posted an ad on Craigslist with some silly demos and got a few responses. James sent some recordings from his one-man-band and they were really good, so we met at Crazy Mocha and talked about music for a bit. We started writing songs in his apartment soon after. 

2. What are some of your biggest influences as a band? 

JT: For me it's anything off early Crypt records, Get Hip, Sympathy, and early Rock-n-Roll, Blues.  

DS: I wouldn't be playing music without The Ramones. I think they taught me that I could even do it, so they're a really big influence. As a band, we've been recently talking about Lou Reed and how he was an expert at the two-chord song. Recently, we've been challenging ourselves in a similar way, to try to do more with less. Besides that, I agree with James. Also stuff on "In The Red." 

3. Being a duo is an interesting choice- what are some ways this limits you, and what are some ways this helps your creativity?

DS: I think it started out of necessity and ended up as a stylistic part of the band. There are limits in the amount of layers we can add to a song (especially because we want our songs to be completely playable live, so we don't really overdub); we can only have two guitar parts and two-part vocal harmonies at most! We are experimenting with using organs and baritone guitars now to diversify our sound a bit, but for the most part we have a limited array of sounds at our disposal. One way I think it helps is that there's only one other person you need to have chemistry with for the song to "click." One of my favorite songs that we've written was polished off in 15 minutes because we were able to feed off of each other's ideas that quickly. I think it also lets us take on opposing/ complementing roles at times; we can take turns playing the pop elements of the song vs. the more strange/dissonant elements, and really establish that dualism. Also, being a two-piece makes it really easy to tour and get to shows! 

JT: I like the fact that, in a way, we are deconstructionist- we don't get to hide behind anything when we play, which I think adds to our artistic integrity. 

4. How did you come up with the idea to play drums and guitar at the same time? 

JT: I didn't really come up with it! Years ago I opened for Hasil Adkins and always loved that stripped down sound. When I got tired of trying to play with other egos, I just started playing by myself. 

5. What do you think makes The Spectres unique as a band? 

DS: I think our band draws inspiration from a lot of the same source material as other bands we admire, from early R'n'B and rock 'n roll, to doo-wop, punk, pysch, gospel, country, and surf music. The difference between us and other garage bands mainly lies in the proportions of each of these individual elements. It's like in baking how every recipe needs flour, egg, sugar, and butter, but the preparation and quantities of each of these can make many different pastries. Another thing that sets us apart is the difference between James and I in terms of life experiences and how that affects our song writing. I think it's very odd to be a duo where I'm this ex-suburban kind from Long Island and James has lived all over the place, but we both somehow met up in Pittsburgh, which has its own unique story. Our approaches to music are so different- I've done some studies in music theory and he's been writing music for a lot longer than I have, so we each have our own strengths and limitations. In a way, we are always teaching each other. When I listen to our music, I think this weird mesh of two different styles becomes apparent. 

6. What have been some of your favorite shows to play? 

JT: Definitely Bob Log III is up there for me! He is a one-man-band and while he does use a lot of electronics and over-dubbing, it was still a great time to talk to him about time signatures and messing with time in music. Plus I just love slide and finger-picking. 

DS: Yeah, Bob Log III was awesome! It was really cool of Manny to take a chance booking us on that, because it was one of our earliest shows! I'd also add the Lexington, KY stop on our last tour! I think the crowd was really into our style and the bartender was super excited we we pulled out a Gories cover.  

7. How did you guys get involved in the Pittsburgh Music Scene? 

DS: When we started playing music, James hadn't been living in Pittsburgh all that much longer than I had, so we didn't have a lot of connections to go off of. Manny Theiner and Jackson Boytim actually booked a couple of our first shows, which I'm really grateful for, and then other people started hearing about us and asking us to play. I know a couple of people that booked us later on said they first heard of our names from show flyers and such, so those initial shows were pretty important for us. I've also recently started getting into booking shows to help friends out and meet new people, both local and from out of town. It's been fun to get involved in this way, but at the moment I don't have too much free time to book more than one show every month or so. 

8. What are some of The Spectres' goals for 2016? 

JT: To have as much fun as possible! We really want to branch out and do more with country-surf- and film! For me, the end goal would be to make a soundtrack for a silent Spaghetti Western, so if any film students are reading this, please hit us up! Oh, and to record our second album when we find the time. 

DS: We have a lot of new material that we need to get out there. I'd like to play an acoustic set locally sometime doing just country stuff because we haven't shown anyone those songs yet. I'd also like to start planning our next tour for this summer. I think our main goal is to eat more pie at Dean's Dinner and drink more Ale-8-One. 

9. What do you think makes the Pittsburgh Music Scene unique?

DS: This question is hard for me because I've only been observing and experiencing these things for the last 2-3 years I've lived here. One thing I've noticed is how diverse the music scene is here for a city of this size. I also think that new bands and new music can spread around very quickly in Pittsburgh because we are a smaller city. One thing that really impresses me about Pittsburgh is our desire to catalog and preserve our past, and that extends to our local music scene. If you watch the three-part documentary series of the Mind Cure Records story on YouTube, you can see the dedication they all have put into releasing these classic Pittsburgh records to a proper audience. Another good example of this is the Building a Better Robot book that the Mr. Roboto Project released a few years back, cataloging their early history before they moved to Garfield. 

10. Where do you see the Pittsburgh Music Scene's future heading? 

JT: I'm hoping to do see a hillbilly-surf mashup! We need to embrace the coal mining roots of the area and the close proximity to West Virginia. 

DS: I'm hoping that within the next few years that Pittsburgh can continue to pull more prominent national acts. I am already seeing things heading in that direction due to some of the awesome people we have booking shows in the city, but there are still a lot of acts that pass us up for Cleveland or Columbus. In general, I'm excited to see our reputation as a local music scene on the rise!

To hear more from The Spectres, check out their Facebook page:

The Spectres upcoming shows are:
        2/6-The Night Gallery with Dollys, Pachyderm, and Necrotizing Fasciitis. 
 Station P with Tongue Party, Skeletonized, and Brian Disanto