This interview took place prior to the release of their newest single “No Sense At All (Acoustic)” which you can listen too here.
Together we discussed their name, saxophones, their influences, their ideal day at the beach, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have Spinning Compass join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?
Pretty good so far, and all the better for sitting down to talk with you!
2. Back before technology humans used compasses to help them navigate their terrain. Which direction does your compass spin?
Oh, interesting question. I always imagined it spinning clockwise, but perhaps I should spin it anti-clockwise some time and see where that takes me. Incidentally, I recently entered an orienteering event where I used a compass and map for the first time in a long time – it was quite the challenge.
3. How did you come up with your artist name? What is the significance of the compass? How do you feel about GPS?
Ah, the struggle we all go through. I had written down some lyrics from my songs and then decided to experiment with word association. Spinning and Compass were on opposite ends of the page, but the pairing jumped out as it conjures a vivid image, portrays my love of the outdoors, and hints at my tendency to travel between different genres. Nothing against GPS though, when I need to be somewhere on time the compass stays at home!
4. My human employee loves the saxophone. What is your history with the instrument? Do you have any favorite sax-laced tunes?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where everyone plays music. Not only was I encouraged to play music from a young age, but my family have all left their mark on my taste in music. I picked up the saxophone at 11 years old and knew that was the instrument for me. I spent my time at school playing in various music groups – wind band, a small jazz ensemble, and even a ska-punk band at university. I’m so happy I kept it up into my adult life – I love it!
There are so many great tracks featuring the saxophone! It’s hard to pick, but I’ll recommend three for readers to go check out. Smokeshow by Cory Wong features an amazing part played by Eddie Barbash which makes me grin every time I hear it. Streetlight Manifesto’s track Somewhere in the Between, for the delicate call and response section featuring a sax and trombone. And finally, the great Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite which is a bebop masterclass.
5. What is your creative process?
Like anyone creative, my biggest fear is the blank page – an endless list of possible directions to take and unknown destinations. I very much identify with the concept of choice paralysis. Most of the songs I’ve released were originally written as part of a weekly songwriting challenge on Reddit. Someone would set a theme – be it a topic or a musical idea – and there was a deadline which added a bit of urgency. (I should be clear; I could not keep up with the weekly deadlines for very long!)
Aside from the great feedback this community offered each other (thank you songaweek!), my biggest takeaway from the experience was that it helped me to immediately start removing options. Restrictions can really breed creativity so I’m always looking for a new rule to set myself when I sit down to create.
6. Who (or what) influences you?
I enjoy a lot of different bands. The streaming era has not only allowed me to put my own stuff out there but has introduced me to so many acts I may never have checked out before. Right now, I can’t get enough of Cory Wong, and King Gizzard – which is fine because they are both so prolific! My roots are embedded in ska-punk, so Less Than Jake is the band I’ve always looked up to. But honestly, I think it is possible to learn and take inspiration from any song – and other forms of artistic work.
Aside from that, I love getting outdoors. I think staying active, clearing my mind, and just being in a moment is vital for my mental well-being. It also opens the door for some melody or lyric to form in the space. Capturing it though – that’s the hard part!
7. Earlier this year you released “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.” You said on this single don’t be surprised if you wake up flea-ridden. Why should humans not sleep with lying dogs? Is this a common practice amongst humans?
I wouldn’t say it’s common, but I know some people let their own dog into their bed, which is…not for me. But this song is advising you to leave an unfamiliar dog who is sleeping – you may not like the result otherwise. I imagine they would just eat a bottle of Mustard!
The lyric is a combination of two sayings or idioms. I was in the mindset of tackling a problem which I was told wasn’t worth it. I should just let that one lie. Once I had those opening lines, the rest just flowed out onto the page. To me the message was – you shouldn’t do that, but if you do, don’t mess it up.
8. You followed up “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie” with “Nice Weather for a Duck.” Could you share more about your relationship with animals? Is this song a commentary on climate change?
That’s funny, my listeners called me out on this at the time! I love seeing animals out and about. I’m particularly tuned into birds. There was a bluetit nesting in the garden last spring, which I hope will return next year because it was a joy to watch.
So that wasn’t the intended meaning – I was just having a bit of a bad week at work and was wondering when the metaphorical storm might end. But I recently read that once a song is out in the wild, it sort of doesn’t belong to you anymore, it takes on a life of its own. Which is to say that if someone takes a new meaning from the song, then that’s what it’s about. I can see us needing to pull ourselves together and turn this ship around with regards to climate change. The optimist in me hopes we will.
9. What does your ideal day at the beach look like?
Unlike the 10ft monster wave described on that EP, my ideal is 3-4ft waves, a low MPH off-shore wind, 10 second wave period, and my surfboard. Maybe add in a Cornish pasty and a beer for after.
10. Next week you’ll be releasing a skacoustic version of your song “No Sense At All.” What was the motivation behind making this track accoustic?
Before the pandemic I used to play at open-mic nights, but I’ve not got back to it since things opened back up. I was practicing with the aim of getting back on stage soon and posted a quick video. The reaction to the clip was fantastic, so I decided to go all out and record a full version.
I was particularly reluctant to abandon my usual double tracking of the vocals as it left me feeling a bit vulnerable at first. It’s a lot more stripped back than my other tracks. That said, I’m really happy with the result and looking forward to hearing what people think!
11. What are your thoughts on the current ska scene? Is there anyone in the ska scene you’d like to collaborate with? Who are some of your favorite ska acts at the moment?
One of the happiest accidents of starting this musical adventure has been discovering all these acts I was unaware of. Beyond JER’s work at Skatune Network I’m ashamed to say I was not tuned into many modern ska bands – possibly because my old favourites are still going! But my eyes (ears?) are open now and there’s a tonne of great acts out there. I won’t attempt to name all those on my radar, but KMOY’s Precure Album was my gateway, and it blew me away!
As for collaborations, I have to give a shout out to Atlas & Oracle. Their music is distinctive and definitely stuck in my head. Atlas has been supportive towards me as I’ve taken my first steps this year and I think it would be fun to collab on something!
12. What’s next for Spinning Compass?
Lately my compass has been pointing towards funk, and I have a few concept EPs (including a ska one) that I’d like to record. I’ve just got to squeeze that in around work and other stuff!
But in the new year I’ll be focusing on writing, so even I’m not sure what’s next just yet! The two things that are certain: I won’t be disappearing anytime soon and there will always be a saxophone involved.
13. Where can readers listen to your music?
You can find Spinning Compass on all good streaming platforms, or if you prefer to download your tunes you can get those at spinningcompassmusic.bandcamp.com. Thanks for having me, Mustard!