Being a native of Auckland, New Zealand, singer-songwriter Simon Spire has had a foot in the door of two places since his transition to New York City. With a following in his home country, the musician is braving the city and making his rounds over here. This Kiwi’s ultimate goal is not to conquer, but to bond to and flesh out a place for himself in America’s ever-expanding music scene. His 2012 release, Four-Letter Words, allows for a listener to delve into Simon Spire’s endearing and honest world. This record is an existential journey of poppy melodies, vocals with soul, and relatable lyrics. With more music in the works and touring plans to be made, he spared the time for me to pick apart his brain. Here’s what we discussed:
How has growing up bridging two worlds shaped you as a musician?
Yeah, that’s a good question because I think it’s only now that I have started to realize how much it has shaped me. They are such different cultures even though we think of them as being the same; we speak the same language, pretty much. Especially releasing music, New Zealand is so small; there is kind of a nice, tidy music industry as a whole than in other countries and other markets. It’s not too hard to get a hit around there. It’s not too overwhelming, but it is still tough like any music industry. It was great releasing my music because I got the opportunity to see all the different parts of the industry. I got exposed to a lot of radio, tv, press and all that kind of thing, and distribution and sales. I got to see how the music industry works.
In the States, it’s just so much more unyielding; it’s just huge. It’s really hard to know how to approach it; it’s hard to know how to get the music out there and share it. There are just so many options and so many other people sharing great music. I think those are the big differences between releasing music between the two places.
Growing up in New Zealand compared to the States, I think I’m still working that one out because, especially in New York, I think there are just so many opportunities here for me; so many different levels and layers here to explore. New Zealand is just a little simpler; it can be a little confusing here.
Where do you find your music is more well received, in New York or New Zealand?
Actually, I’ve been grateful for the support I’ve had in New Zealand; it’s been really cool to have support over there and to share it with people. The cool thing about releasing in New Zealand was getting to share it with wide audiences in the mainstream. In the States is where I kind of feel I’ve found more of a home for myself and my music. Even though it’s more of a risk and I’ve done more in New Zealand, I feel the States has more niches and nuances. It’s easier for the people to connect with the music rather than on the mainstream machine. I feel like there are many more avenues for the music to find its audience. I’ve really enjoyed sharing music in the States and see it reach different demographics. It’s reached from adult audiences, older audiences, to high school kids, which I really enjoy connecting with, too. It’s like this endless journey with endless surprises to be over here.
How did you become a musician? What bands influenced you as a kid?
I first got the bug when I was 13 and started playing guitar. I saw another guy at school playing “Come As You Are” by Nirvana on the acoustic guitar. I was a big Nirvana fan, kind of, as much as I knew how to be when I was that age. I immediately gravitated toward the guitar and became obsessed with it from then on. I was kind of a rock guitar junkie back then. I was into Metallica; I was a guitar nut. I was into all of the ‘90s alternative bands as well.
Then, I gravitated more toward songwriters. I got more drawn to songwriters and the magical combination of music and lyrics that can connect the listener to a deeper part of oneself. For some reason, I just got reeled in by that and then I became a real fan of different songwriters such as Neil Diamond, Leonard Cohen, even stuff that is considered mainstream. Alanis Morissette and John Mayer, typically people who are mainstream, but to me there was a degree of self-inquiry and self-honesty in this probing lyrical sense that really appealed to me that was coupled with colorful production aesthetics.
What is the tale behind Four-Letter Words as a title as well as a record?
I’m glad you asked, because I chose the title because, to me, it represents a juxtaposition of the profound and the profane of human existence. We have the typical words, which you probably don’t need me to say, and then we have other four-letter words like “life,” “live,” and “love.” To me, it encapsulated both of those, the fact that we encounter both polarities on the journey of self-inquiry. I thought of the album as songs that recognize our potential with the struggle involved with realizing our potential in the world. It was about the potential of human existence and the mess of it as well, that ongoing journey and the polarities that we come across.
Well, that was a lot more complex than I expected.
(Laughs) Yeah, I guess I’m still trying to get my head around it, too. The album itself is about being in a discovery of what it means to be true to the core of oneself. All the songs are about self-betrayal, self-discovery. They’re all about this inquiry in the core of oneself and that ongoing journey.
Your single, “Uncomfortable,” is, at a glance, extremely easy to relate to. Was the lack of a feeling of belonging the message you were intending to send?
It was a song that just came out of me. I hope it is something that everyone can relate to; I know I can relate to it at plenty of times in my life. (Laughs) I imagine that it is a universal thing that everyone experiences. It’s like the burden of being human, the sense of being trapped in our identity. Also, the song has a glimmer of hope; it points to the possibility of moving beyond that. On an immediate level, I hope it’s a song that people can relate to in our current world and current time in our human story. There are so many ways in which it is uncomfortable to be alive in this world.
What has been the best experience related to your career that has occurred thus far?
That’s a big question. It’s so satisfying to receive messages and hear of people’s connection to the music, what it means to them, how it’s helped them, or that they love the music. That is always a beautiful and humbling experience whenever people tell me that.
I think the experience that really stands out to me is the recording of the album. To me, it is such a transformative experience. I feel like whenever I make an album, whether it was a demo or full-length, I feel like it marked a huge transition in my life. I feel like it was a time of real change and exploration and transformation. Just being in that creative process and bringing that music to reality, there is something so exhilarating about being in that process, participating, and bringing that new creation into the world. Recording Four-Letter Words was like that. Also recording my first album was like that, too. I have such strong visceral memories of that. I think writing and recording in the studio is just an incomparable experience for me.
Any goals for 2013? When can listeners expect some finalized tour dates?
That’s a good question. I’m actually writing more and thinking about putting together some demos at home just because I love being in that creative process and I miss it. Last year, I was mostly doing other performance and promotion-type things; I didn’t put as much time into writing. I’m excited about seeing where my sound wants to go next.
With the other two albums, I went in with a very clear idea of what I wanted. Like, I wanted a real, produced, full sound. I’m not sure that’s actually where I’m going anymore. I’m excited to experiment and play around, see what sounds I come up with. That’s one thing, in terms of touring, it’s more likely that I’ll be doing that in the late spring and summer. I’ve been enjoying doing acoustic shows; I might be doing some in a trio format or just all acoustic, which is what I often do when I travel outside of the city. Dates, I’m actually still trying to work that out with some other people. I hope in the next two months I’m more clear about when we’re doing that.
Simon Spire’s latest album, Four-Letter Words, is available now. For more information, go to simonspire.com.