Put your hands in the air! Like you just don’t care! Now never do that again. Instead…welcome yourself in to the world of the Two Spot ::
It was little over three years ago that singer songwriter James Robinson and cellist Rob Lewis bumped heads with guitarist Dino Randawa, a funk-wristed drummer by the name of Ben Matthews and trumpeter Matt Ellis to form the roots of Two Spot Gobi. Fast forward to 2009, and with the addition of bassist Matt Harris, their ‘Melodious Star’ EP (and a whole lot of love), the ‘Two Spot’ have started injecting ears and turning heads with their debut album ‘Everywhere You Should Have Been’.
Not only did it see them float across the U.S with Jason Mraz- and play at the first ever Leeza Gibbons Oscars aftershow party in LA- but it’s allowed them to return to the West coast once again to record their much awaited second album, due for release in the better half of this fine year. I caught up with a few of the guys a for a chin-wag before they hopped on stage at Shoreditch’s Cargo to do what they do best…with a little help from their friend Bushwalla.
Nick Pryke: Well, first of all, congratulations on your continued success as Two Spot; how does it feel to be back in the U.K after basking in the Californian sunshine and recording the new album?
James Robinson: Yeah, we didn’t feel that great about it! We obviously knew we were coming back to some shit weather, but actually September turned out to be alright. Having some fun, getting on with the new album, and getting back into the gigs and stuff… and loving it. Living it, loving it, bringing some new songs into the set, re-arranging some old ones and just trying to have fun with it all.
NP: The U.S seems to have understood your sound a lot quicker than the UK have. Not that I’m suggesting a lack of love here, but why do you think that is?
JR: Well the thing is with the UK is that what’s hip in London at the time is hip everywhere because London is the natural epicenter for the music scene in this country. So in terms of that, we don’t really fit in into the London scene too well, so we do love going over to California because obviously the vibe over there is very open; people are very open minded to what music they’ll listen to. A lot of people appreciate turning up and seeing musicians who can really play and get involved. Whereas, often in this country, I think a lot of it is based around the wrong principles of image and everything connected with that.
NP: Yeah, definite agreement there. Who you are impressing seems to be given too much credibility this side of the pond. That said, one who you have managed to impress rather a lot over the past eighteen months or so is Monsieur Jason Mraz, who describes the Two Spot as “…being able to perform their music swimmingly”. What do you have to say to that, eh?
JR: Haha! Ye it was because we did a gig in a pool naked for a..lot… of people!
JR: No, we didn’t unfortunately! But that is very nice of Mr. Mraz to say so, and we really appreciate him letting us use his studio all summer, and giving up his house and his car. And his cats. And his girlfriend *pause for a cheeky eyebrow*. And his avocados. We ate all of his avocados from his avocado farm.
NP: That’s a lot of avocados. And I don’t believe you.
JR: OK, maybe we didn’t eat all of them, but we were hunter gathering…mostly gathering, so we made a strong dent.
NP: So has the avocado farm helped you out a lot with the new album? California is enough inspiration as it is; being at Mraz’s casa of tranquility must have served you well, no?
JR: Yeah man. We went out with about half of the album written, about 5 or 6 tracks, and then with the rest of it we thought, well, there are things that are half finished, a couple of old number that we thought- ok, we need to jump on them and get them all up to scratch to stick on the new album. Then when we got out there, we started working with a guy called Niko Bolas who’s worked with Sting, Neil Young and all sorts of people, and then, you know, he got involved and got us bantering. The way he worked was to turn up at the beginning, leave us alone for a bit, we’d get some tracks down, then come back later in the day to hear what we’d put down. He really found in us the essence of what we’re all about. We were all recording in one big room, in a live situation, so obviously when you open up those doors its full of natural beauty all around that cant help but inspire.
NP: So did being in that different environment help your writing?
JR: Yeah, it really helped.
Matt Ellis: Completely. The fact that we were privileged to record where we did, with no time constraints, allowed the vibe to happen, as opposed to having to force something that would inevitably destroy that vibe.
NP: So you think that when the new album comes out, that inspiration will be noticed?
JR: Yeah, without a doubt. You can hear the sun setting, the shoreline is in there somewhere; it sounds cheesy but it’s a really positive sound.
NP: Compared to ‘Everywhere you should have been’?
JR: No, not necessarily. We’re all very proud of that album, but with the new one we’re all much more together. Since we’ve got Matt (Harris) on board we’ve gelled both musically and as a band. California has definitely helped the cause, of course.
NP: And it certainly shows. Since hearing your first EP back in 2004, your sound has matured at lightening pace, but so too have your lyrics. How do you guys work lyrically? Is there a go-to man, or do you write collectively?
JR: The lyrics often come from myself and Rob, but I’ve had plenty of input from these guys with songs on the new album; the Two Spot ethos reigns true that anyone is always welcome to contribute. What we usually do is have a bare-boned structure of lyrics and chords, take it over to rehearsal and let everyone add what they’ve got. More often than not, you can tell whether something is going to work or not pretty quickly.
NP: So is it more of an add lyrics to a work in progress scenario, vice versa? An amalgamation of the two perhaps?
JR: Yeah, it’s most certainly an amalgamation of everything. What I tend to write songs about are usually based on personal experiences, and so if I find that there’s something particular to say then perhaps the melody might find the lyrics afterwards. But to be honest it’s quite random and anything that fits, goes.
ME: If I was trying to do it, I’d probably try to write a poem then add a melody to it, but Robbo seems to have that ability to think of the two collectively.
NP: Spot on. I would no doubt go about it the same way- think of lyrics and try and squeeze instruments around it- that I’m certain wouldn’t get me very far. But bar the process, how important are the lyrical storylines to your songs?
JR: The content is so integral to a good song. If you don’t write something that is really honest to yourself or how you feel about something, you and everybody around you will know that you’re faking it. And that’s only because lyrics are so powerful; people will connect to them and will want to take their own interpretations away from that. I’m sure my favourite songs mean something completely different to me than from the artists who wrote them, but that’s the genius of it all.
NP: Seeing as we’re on the subject of favourite songs- you guys must have had smiles slapped on your faces when Air Australia decided to add ‘Sunshine Lady’ to their music menu? It says a lot about the feel of the song.
ME: You know what, I forgot that had even happened. That’s one of the most pleasantly strange and weird things that has happened to the Two Spot. It all came from some guy we met in America- who turned out to be a pretty ‘original’ thinker to say the least. He worked with us for a few months and grabbed us some weird deals, but Air Australia seemed to be one of the good weir things. That’s fine- it’s the bad weird that you have to look out for.
JR: Although, I don’t know how many people will actually listen to it. *Putting on an Aussie accent* “Ah! Two Spot Gobi. Jesus Christ…who the fuck are they?!”
NP: Ok. But for those who do listen- question time; ‘Let’s Get Lost’- the original, or featuring Mraz?
JR: Difficult one…tut, tut! Well the thing about that night was that it was really cool for us because it was the first time we’d played with him, so having him featuring on the track was definitely wicked, and the whole crowd went mental as he stepped out- you cant help but latch onto that buzz. So I’m not sure, we all really enjoyed that moment, but then again I love that first recording because we didn’t really know what we were doing at the time, and that was the one song we felt really strongly about. Which is why its still in our set list today.
ME: I think that song represents Two Spot Gobi in so many ways, it’s really no surprise that we’ve kept it on our set list for so long.
NP: Moving on to an issue of annoyance if we may- sticking labels and genres onto music seems futile at the best of times, but the Two Spot sound seems to be notoriously difficult to pin down. At the risk of being a pain in the behind, how would you define your sound?
Matt Harris: Its funny you should ask that. The other night I had some friends round, so went to stick some music on my ipod but scrolled down too far on the genres list, and right next to ‘unknown’ was another genre called ‘unclassifiable’. I was thinking that’s a bit odd as there was only one album. Low and behold, give it a little click and it’s Two Spot Gobi. I was going, what does that mean…maybe that we’re post-genre somehow.
ME: Yeah, we’ve had our share of those in the past: ‘post pop’, ‘organic- soul’, ‘alternative pop’…and now you’ve done it with ‘post-genre’. Nice.
NP: And the list goes on and on! To smack an analogy in here, its almost as if you’ve bumped through this whole arena of music, flirted with some jazz, pop, ska etc. on the way, then walked out the other side thinking where do you even begin trying to explain your sound?
JR: That’s an imaginative view but, yeah, it is really difficult to explain our sound to other people. I end up trying to liken us to other bands until I get a confused “oh yeah” and end up going off on a tangent of other bands. Rhianna. Yeah. Scouting for Girls. Definitely. We’re just like Scouting for Girls!
MH: Sometimes I tell people we’re hardcore Belgium trance, just to see the reaction.
JR: I usually liken us to the Dave Matthews Band, The Police. Actually, we all agree on very few bands, so The Police is one we can stick on in the tour bus without everyone retreating back into their own stuff.
ME: We all like a bit of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers; you’ve got to love a bit of the Chilli’s!
NP: Indeed you do. I saw them a while back and admittedly they looked pretty tired, but squeezed what they could. Quick salute please! Anyway, what would you want a debut audience at a Two Spot gig to leave thinking, if anything, or is it just a case of come and don’t think, eh?
JR: Basically we’d just hope people feel part of what’s gone on, and have enjoyed the songs that they know- and go home feeling part of the Two Spot connective. Then that’s cool man, ‘cause we love it. I mean, being in a creative situation with five other individuals is intense, but essentially what we’re doing it for is that feeling of playing live to people who want to come and see our stuff. And that’s all we want to do.
MH: If they don’t know us as a band before they come down, I want them to leave thinking “yeah, I want to know more”, and going to check us out because they’ve maybe never seen a band like ours, with a cello or a trumpet or whatever.
NP: Do you think that has helped you hit such a wide demographic of fans in such a short period of time- sparking inquisitive minds with this eclectic mix of instruments?
JR: Ever since the band formed, Rob and I have had this idea of the music appealing to as many people as possible. If you stick on a Two Spot Gobi album, I reckon some of its not for some people, but it’ll be hard for those who listen to it to dislike anything, I think. The songs are so vast and different that there’s something for everyone. Different genres, different influences, the sound is really warming…its just good time music really. I thought it might appeal to enough people, I hope so anyway.
NP: It certainly conjures that weirdly worldly sound- and ‘Otherside of the World’ is testament to that. The intro is exceptional- who was the culprit behind that one?
JR: Rob! Actually, a lot of that song is Rob’s doing because he came up with that cello riff. Then with the chorus, we just sat down and tried to figure out the melody. But the thing is, I like knowing what Rob was thinking when he comes out with these riffs and lyrics and things, so the fact that he was on this whole thought process of when he was traveling and thinking about the ‘usual’ that really got us focused on taking that song on board that little bit more in order to nail the intro.
Rob Lewis: I teach the cello, so what often happens is I end up getting into the habit of bringing out my phone in the middle of a lesson to record some little riff that has just popped out so I could take it home and sort it out properly. That’s really how a lot of the new stuff has come about, especially in songs like ‘Try Again’. It just seems that is how it works, I don’t tend to sit down and think about it too much.
NP: Well thank you for having the foresight to press record- who would have thought the phone would get recognition from this! On potentially the most random change of pace known to man- for ten finishing points- if Two Spot was a superhero, would it have gills, breathe fire or fly?
JR: It would have to be flying man!
MH: Yeah, flying would be the one, would have to be.
ME: Gills, you’re all wrong. Think about it.
NP: I have to agree with Matt on this one, gills win- just think about the insane places you could explore. And on that note, I think I should stop bothering you all and say a hearty thank you for taking time out of your sound check to have a natter with me. God speed Two Spot Gobi.
Check the Two Spot sights and sounds out at www.twospot.co.uk. Download album and songs from iTunes