Spud Cannon Proves Sad Songs Can be Fun

When Spud Cannon was a house party band, they learned how to get a crowd dancing. Now that they’re now touring indie rockers, they’re ready to spread house party vibes all over the world.

“We never wanted to be a bummer band,” guitarist Jackson Lewis tells BTRtoday. “We wanted to amp the party up.

Lewis, singer Margaret Matthews, bassist Lucy Horgan and drummer Ben Scharf’s goal of amping up parties is on full display on their sophomore full length Squeeze, released this November. Squeeze is a perfect album for a dance party, even considering the emotional lyrics about heartbreak and fuck-ups. Tracks like “Try For A While” and “Taken For Granted” may be about tough times but the fast-moving music and catchy melodies will keep everybody moving.

Read the entire interview with Spud Cannon below.

BTRtoday (BTR): With so many songs about heartbreak and life fuck-ups, what made you guys want to create such feel-good music?

Jackson Lewis (JL): We were originally just a live house party band that wanted to play only originals, so we figured our music had to feel upbeat and danceable. We never wanted to be a bummer band. We wanted to amp the party up. I’ve always seen it like this: You can be sad and write sad songs or you can be sad and write happy songs to try to feel better. I’ve always done the latter.

Ariana Bowe (AB): We still write about heartbreak and life fuck-ups—how can you not? But no matter what we try to bring some spunk into the mix and make songs that everyone can dance to. We make songs that celebrate those heartbreaks and fuck-ups. We think sad songs can be fun songs too, and who doesn’t like to feel good when they’re listening to music?

Margaret Matthews (MM): I also think our process has a lot to do with it. Specifically, lyrics come last. Everyone figures out what their instrument is doing in the room, and feel-good music makes that room a fun place to be. It’s cathartic to play upbeat music, to write lyrics about what’s driving you crazy and to put the two together.

Lucy Horgan (LH): Even when some aspect of the music was inspired by some unhappy event, we try to transform it into something positive. Squeeze is definitely more about love and friendship than it is about heartbreak.

BTR: What kind of similarities and differences does Squeeze have to Next Time Read the Fine Print?

JL: I think Squeeze is our ‘now’ record. Next Time Read the Fine Print was a record that was heavily inspired by childhood nostalgia and happier times. I felt as though Squeeze was always rooted in the now, with inspiration coming from experiences on tour and things in our daily lives in the last year.

On the production side, we were able to record Squeeze in two real studios compared to Next Time Read the Fine Print, which was recorded in my basement. I feel Squeeze is different in many ways. We took a lot of inspiration from new wave for this record and also started really experimenting in the post-production process. Some songs really changed drastically in post

AB: For the most part, we’ve got a really ‘80s thing going on now, which is super fun and a bit flashier. Ultimately, I think each album reflects a different point in our musical timeline, and some songs on Squeeze definitely bridge that gap, while others are in a totally different place.

MM: We’ve been weirdos all along, but we’ve grown a lot closer and become much more comfortable with each other since writing Next Time Read the Fine Print. Back then I wouldn’t have spent an hour shrieking and squeaking into a microphone as they figured out an outro, but “Shadows You Turn To” on Squeeze tells a different story. We’re all more willing to put our wackiest ideas out there and to trust each other.

LH: We were able to be more adventurous with the music as we became more comfortable with each other as friends and as a team.

Spud Cannon, “Try For A While”

BTR: Do you have a favorite track from the new album?

JL: I think “Runaway Strays” will always hold a special place for me. I had been chipping away at this song for weeks when I was studying abroad and then when I was sitting in a London NHS hospital waiting room it all clicked. I was reading an article about flings and the writer said she had come to terms with being able to love someone for who they were and not who they are. That sense that it’s actually ok to idealize the past really struck me and the instrumental just immediately crystallized in my head.

AB: “Shadows You Turn To” might be my favorite. When we started writing it, we weren’t sure if it was going to work. But when we got to the studio, it blew up—Jason Hill, who helped produce a few tracks, had so many great ideas for the song and he really helped bring it to new level of weird and amazing. We had so much fun with that song.

MM: “The Lucky Ones” means the most to me, personally. I was in an incredibly emotional state while writing the lyrics and the process was truly therapeutic. I also just love the chorus harmony and overall groove of the song. I’m laughing as I say this, thinking back to how strongly I disliked the song when we first started jamming it out. Some bangers are born, others are built.

LH: My favorite track on the album has to be a tie between “Try For a While” and “Shadows You Turn To.” I love the slide in the bass line for the verse of “Try For a While,” and the backing vocals in the chorus are really fun to sing. I always get incredibly pumped to play “Shadows You Turn to,’ which I think is one of our most unusual songs. The beat rises in my chest throughout the intro and I think the song builds up really nicely. We had so much fun workshopping it in the studio and I’m really proud of how it came out.

BTR: Do you guys have a life motto or some kind of wisdom you’d like to spread to your listeners?

JL: Have fun. Wake up everyday and try to do at least one thing you love doing. My father told me that and it has always stuck with me.

AB: My mom would say, which I think applies to anything I do, “as long as you’re having fun.”

MM: If you like what you’re doing, do it until you can’t.

LH: You don’t need a parachute to skydive, you only need a parachute to skydive twice. Take the leap and you’ll see the fall is worth it.

BTR: You guys seem like such a fun group of friends, what’s everyone’s character like?

AB: We’re like a family. Offstage, I’d say I’m more of the introverted observer, and a good mediator in the group. Overall I’m pretty much the mom. You can find me working the merch table after our shows, managing our money on the road and doing our accounting in the back of the tour van while we’re driving from place to place.

MM: It’s actually amazing how well such wildly different personalities work together. We all love riffing around in goofy accents and we all laugh at a good fart joke. I have a talent for getting sick right before major shows. The most annoying thing about me is probably my schedule. I’ve got a million things on my plate, but just enough room for some hot potatoes.

JL: I feel like we are five Elaines from Seinfeld—the spastic dancing kind. I’d say I am the most mercurial of the group. I can be spastically dancing in the aisle of a supermarket and then, an hour later, totally reclusive. I’m easily drawn to wild ideas and fall into bouts of manic lust when writing songs. While I like my alone time a lot, I am equally the brash weirdo-erratic-goofball of the band and the most chronically late. It drives everybody crazy.

LH: We’ve definitely had our ups and downs as a group, but we’re in a place right now where the differences in our personalities have come together in a cool way. Each person has their own fart style and also the courtesy of putting down the window in the tour minivan when the beef jerky has ruminated long enough. Even at the end of a long day, I can get lost dancing in the music during band practice and forget about the essay I’m supposed to be writing. I can also pull off pretty much any accent, Scottish is probably my forté. I love laughing with my fellow spuds and when we’re all together it feels like family.

BTR: Where’d the name Spud Cannon come from?

LH: I came up with the name Spud Cannon during a tryptophan-induced haze one Thanksgiving with my sister. I bounced all these silly ideas off her and eventually came up with a long note on my phone that I presented to the band. The list was not particularly exceptional, it included the names Flip Flop and Secret Billion Dollar Idea, but we all got stuck on the name Spud Cannon. It’s fun to say and definitely had not been done before.

BTR: Other than music what else do you guys do?

JL: Music is definitely my main gig, but I love all forms of art. I’m amateur at everything else, but still love photography, graphic design and film. It’s so fun to just create. I have a Polaroid camera with a self timer feature and double exposure and love doing all these weird double exposed self-portraits. I recently got very into video art as well after seeing a breathtaking Nam June Paik exhibit at the Whitney. I picked up two old huge CTR TVs for free off Craigslist and started making weird videos to play at our concerts.

AB: Aside from music, I’d say visual art and fashion are my other two loves, but they definitely come in handy for the band. I photographed and designed the cover for our single “The Boogie Man,” drew all of our faces in ketchup for our 2018 tour poster and put together a few other event flyers. All art is so much fun for me and I definitely need those outlets to let off steam or else I’ll go crazy.

MM: I’ve always loved performing. I was a drama major at an arts high school in NYC called LaGuardia and have done some student theater while at Vassar. However, I’d actually say I now get my acting kicks from performing with the circus group on campus The Barefoot Monkeys. I’m not much good at anything besides acrobatics, but I like to think my facial expressions make up for it.

LH: While I only actually started playing bass guitar when I joined the band, I have been playing classical music on the upright contrabass since I was ten years old. I’m the principle of the Vassar College Orchestra and I lead a jazz combo that meets to jam once or twice a week and performs a few times a semester. I often play in the pit bands for various musicals that go up throughout the years, sometimes on upright, sometimes on the bass guitar. I really appreciate all the different types of music I have access to playing, as each genre gives me a different feeling of release.

BTR: What should we look for in the future of Spud Cannon?

JL: Just playing live as much as we can and wherever the wind takes this band. I feel like that is the mantra we have always had. “Wherever the wind takes us.”

LH: We have more music to make, videos to shoot and music to play. We don’t know exactly what’s next so you have to stick around to find out.

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