Fischerspooner finds common ground with new collaborator Michael Stipe
Casey Spooner, singer/co-founder of electro duo Fischerspooner with musician/composer Warren Fischer, had an ambitious goal for his latest art project. “What I wanted to do was something no one else was doing in entertainment,” he says. “I wanted to move away from being an avant-garde space clown. There are not older, queer, expressive, sexual men out there doing what I’m doing, so I went post-clothing and got raw. I didn’t have to worry about a stylist—just go to the gym and moisturize.”
To an extent, Spooner is discussing photo-art installation SIR, where he’s posed and poised—sans clothing—and revealing a well-oiled and muscular body that wasn’t there when he started his music career with 2001’s #1—a sound his pal and one-time beau Michael Stipe claimed “revolutionized electronic music, amplifying it to arena-blasting levels while managing to keep it passionate and dark.” Now, for SIR (Ultra), the band’s first joint album since 2009, Spooner and Fischer have reunited for a stripped-to-the-bone brand of electro, less ornate and elaborate than in their past—all telling deeply personal, homoerotic stories of love, trust and lust.
“The record would not have had the same emotional range that it has if what happened to my then-relationship—happy and very successful and very sexually open—hadn’t happened,” says Spooner.
Motivated by a horrific breakup with a man Spooner thought “was my forever mate for life,” SIR was co-produced and even co-written in spots by Stipe, in his first musical excursion in a long time. “At first he wanted to do it for free and no credit as a friendly thing until he got deeply involved and just took over,” says Spooner with a laugh.
The recording sessions, conducted in familiar Stipe territory (Athens, Ga.) weren’t always easy (“Michael can be prickly in the studio,” says Spooner. “He’s got PTSD from all those engineers during R.E.M.”), which yielded a stark, danceable sound free of affection, vocal frippery and ornamentation. “Even Warren submitted, and he’s tough.”
Fischerspooner was always a tough-but-tender performance-art-based rendering of the merging of moody riffing electronica and naughty-haughty punk—a sound and image copacetic to both men. “Warren and I had very much the exact vision forever,” says Spooner. Yet, by the time they got to their third album—sans a major label—the artistic, the business and the personal relationships (to say nothing of their nerves) began to fray.
“I was done with it,” says Spooner. “I mean, we had a difficult time releasing (2009’s) Entertainment. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the album and the show we put together. The first album we toured was very electronic. The second record leaned more into real instruments, and we integrated a band, which made us feel as if we lost some of the original performance-art elements. With Entertainment, I felt as if I learned how to mix live and electronic instrumentation with performance concepts. But we got lost, blew a lot of money even though I had never worked harder. When we came off tour, I was spent physically and financially. My business manager handed me $300 and a sandwich.” A 2010 Spooner solo effort, Adult Contemporary, didn’t fare better. “I was gone,” he says.
The passage of time and 2014 monograph New Truth brought Spooner together with his old pal Fischer, with a new morning fast to follow. The pair wound up finishing 12 songs and got stuck on a 13th when Stipe got involved. Still, for all of the latter’s participation, SIR is very much a “Fischer and Spooner” Fischerspooner album—even though the lyrical vibe and emotional storytelling of songs such as “Togetherness,” “Strut” and “Try Again” are Stipe-esque.
“Now, this is a very homosexual record; hard to deal with, surely, as that is outside of Warren’s comfort zone,” says Spooner. “He’s not gay, so that was a real challenge. He’s also discreet and reclusive, while I’m completely shameless and extroverted. And as we get older, we have each only become more so.”
Spooner states that it was during the sessions for 2005’s Odyssey that Fischer truly imploded (“We could not see eye to eye”), but that, with SIR, each man knew what the other was getting into.
“This is my longest professional relationship, and sure, there can be conflict,” says Spooner. “But we’re doing this organically, which was perfect as I’m just really digging deep and revealing so much of myself.”