Fischerspooner Is Wonderfully Electric

Avant-garde moxie brings out fantastic pop pageantry

May 27, 2009 at 2:06 pm

If you glanced at the bizarre image located near this text and were confused yet intrigued, Fischerspooner is accomplishing its mission. While its main purpose is to invigorate your body with shimmering Electronica, the band is also here to make you think outside the box. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re already deep into the rabbit hole to Fischerspooner’s fascinatingly synthetic world.

The person clad in that absurd and inexplicably neon outfit is Casey Spooner, the lead performing half of the New York pair. The photograph graces the cover of Entertainment, Fischerspooner’s latest full-length foray. Why the costume? According to a conversation Spooner had with New York Magazine, the idea came when he was deliberating for his band’s next tour during the off-hours of working on a production of Hamlet. Someone from the play offered him a routine and clothing from “The Wisteria Maiden,” a Kabuki performance where the flat headgear becomes a multi-purpose prop. Spooner was into it: He started out using the top of a garbage can for a hat and then, after taking the concept on his global travels, it underwent a few modifications. He ended up with the stylized, vaguely fetishistic regalia found here.

How exactly it ties into the group’s music or performance is still up for interpretation, which is what makes Fischerspooner such an imaginative project. Appealing weirdness has become the norm for the duo.

The group’s peculiar origin demonstrates that it wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the typical garage band. Spooner, an actor well-versed in performance video and experimental theater, first spent time in off-kilter experimental eight-piece Sweet Thunder. Warren Fischer (as expected, the former portion of the group’s name) studied violin and grew up with his mother as an opera singer. The two met around 1998 and poured years into working on a project together out of public view. Crafted on a computer, their first composition was about a “dirty Indian taxi driver” who tried to pick Spooner up.

The duo once again eschewed convention with their odd dynamic. Fischer solely engineered the group’s sound. He dove into Electronica precisely because of his inexperience with the style.

“Warren got into the idea of making something that was purely digital and completely flat,” says Spooner. “That’s when we got into the real super-synthetic sound.”

Soon they were twisting around melodies from Bollywood musicals and rights-free sample CDs to create trippy Electronica. Spooner would come into play later.

“I work with (Fischer) almost like an actor works with a director,” he says. “I co-write the script but trust him to tell me what direction to go.”

Writing his way into tracks that were already laid down, Spooner came to helm the lyrical and vocal duties.

“I’m always telling these fun stories and I never really knew what to do with them,” he says. “I felt like song is an interesting way for me to tell stories.”

Spooner elaborates: “(Fischer was) the sophisticated musician. I’m a bit more of the outsider nave musician. It’s funny: I make songs and I sing but I don’t really call myself a musician. I think of myself as an artist and a performer.”

Once Fischerspooner began performing live, the parttime actor used his theatrical background to construct an elaborate stage show for the band. Employing choreographed dances, background vocalists, lavish costumes and make-up, manic light show patterns and background videos into the project, Spooner became the lead onstage presence.

Success came quickly. Major label Capitol pushed out #1 in 2001, as the duo’s experimental bent had built a mountain of hype. Described by Spooner as their “super-digital” effort, the disc was a hyper-kinetic assault of fluctuating electronic tones and shaky bits of voice, dubbed “Electro Clash” in the salad days of the loosely defined term. 2005’s Odyssey (also Capitol) was Pop-oriented, built out of colorful instrumentation, tuneful synths and unexpected guests like Talking Heads’ David Byrne, activist scribe Susan Sontag and Madonna producer Mirwais.

Entertainment finds Fischerspooner at a crossroads. There are high-pitched scratches (“The Best Revenge”), high-ended dreamy palettes (“Door Train Home”) and high-minded lyrical inspirations (“To the Moon” is based on a line from the aforementioned Hamlet).

“We knew that we wanted to go more Electronic on this record and step away from the acoustic elements, but they’re still there,” says Spooner of the group’s inaugural self-released full-length album. “It’s always a snapshot of where you are at that time, personally and artistically.”

Calling it “almost a show about a show,” Spooner notes that his current tour production lifts his experimental theater background and lays it over Fischerspooner’s framework. The scope has grown no less ambitious: At current count, there are 40-plus people involved with putting the thing together both on the stage and behind it.

With all elements in place, the inescapable quirkiness of Fischerspooner intentionally rides the line between speculative art and showy entertainment. Most startling, however, is that the group’s production isn’t landing in arenas but instead mid-sized venues like Bogart’s here in Cincinnati. Sure, sometimes all of this zeal for experimentation can be overwhelming, but with Fischerspooner injecting Pop-sized pomp into unlikely places, a little ambition can go a long way.

FISCHERSPOONER plays Bogart’s on Monday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.