One of my favourite albums of the year so far has been ‘Shipwrecking’ by These Single Spies. Unfortunately before the album was released, the band split – a depressingly, common occurrence these days.
Despite the split though, Shipwrecking is a record that deserves more than to disappear into obscurity and singer/songwriter with the band, Alex Mattinson, clearly feels the same way as he agreed to speak to MPT about his late ban and their new (but actually quite old) record.
First off he gave a potted history of These Single Spies (nee Thee Single Spy).
“We were a band between April 2006 and December 2011, had about 10 different people involved at various times, released two singles on 7” vinyl and have just posthumously released our debut album Shipwrecking. We began as a folky kind of post-Saddle Creek bluesy 2-piece, and evolved our sound into a pretty big-sounding widescreen type of indie rock.”
The release of Shipwrecking has something of a tortuous history because it was recorded more than two years ago. Whilst such a delay is certainly not unprecedented it is still a source of some puzzlement to me given its quality. In fact it could (theoretically) have appeared in my top 10 albums for both 2010 and 2011. Yet it had been sitting on the shelf until released through the TSS Bandcamp in June. Alex was fairly explicit as to the reasons why it took so long to get the record out.
“Politics, betrayals, some more politics. They played their part. A combination of mental fatigue and loss of time, reversed fortunes, harsh reality. Wasted hours. Bad planning on my part. Misplaced faith. Bad luck. Fate.”
The delay however has allowed Alex a perspective on the record.
“We recorded it in 9 days straight at Christmas 2009 in Brighton Electric Studios on the south coast, with a wonderful guy called Luke Joyce. It was one of the most fantastic creative experiences of my life.
“Last week I listened to the album all the way through for the first time in about a year. I felt proud, and although perhaps I’ve moved on somewhat from the type of songs I was writing for that band, I stand by all the decisions we made.
“I think it’s a great record. It wouldn’t have been released if we had lost faith in it.
“We also have some really amazing fans who have sent us messages of support and thanks – it’s quite humbling because I feel pretty isolated from things most of the time and can’t imagine other people listening to what I write. But apparently they do, and some of them care quite a lot. It’s fantastic.”
Which led us naturally on to discuss the reasons for the split.
“I think that perhaps we outgrew the situation we found ourselves in. We were a pretty hard working band, and I like to think a good live band, but we trod water for about a year while we waited for a couple of business things to go through. Sadly, they didn’t – and we found ourselves staring back at 12 months in which we’d stagnated as a live band and made only a few advances creatively.
“At that point, last Christmas, staring ahead at another year of unknown slog and insecurity, I think we all found ourselves in the same mindset. We unanimously agreed to call it a day. From my own point of view I was finding it increasingly difficult to write songs for that type of band, and that was very destructive in various ways.”
Looking back on the band’s lifespan Alex is clear about the band’s achievements and one regret.
“I’m proud that we self-funded our album, and I’m proud of the songs we wrote. I’m very proud of the set of lyrics I produced for that band, and I regret not being a better manager.”
TSS live in Edinburgh, April 2011
Given that the album had been in the can for nearly 18 months when we saw These Single Spies play in Edinburgh last year, not surprisingly they were already playing two new songs not on the album. These look to have become casualties of the split. And, perhaps, a source of one final regret for Alex.
“Erm, I think I know the ones you mean. They never got recorded, and I doubt they will. Quite liked them though. You should see the amount of songs that fell by the wayside over the 5 years – it’s a terrible waste!”
Shipwrecking is available as a download and extremely limited edition bonus edition from the These Single Spies Bandcamp.
From the album here’s the epic opening track:
Look out for a second interview with Alex next week about his new post-TSS project, the rather fine, Death to Dreaming.