Interview: Haydon Spenceley

Nov 18 2010

As British singer/songwriter Haydon Spenceley releases his new album 'Heart Strings', LTTM spoke to the former Freeslave front man to find out the story behind this stunning new release and his thoughts on life in the music industry.

Tell us a little bit about your new album 'Heart Strings' and what the inspiration behind it was?

Once Circles, my first album, had done its thing, and I'd toured that a bit, I wanted to build on that, and push things a little bit more in a "rock" kind of direction again. I started writing at the end of 2007, which was when FreeSlave (my other band) went from being at it's best, to not really existing anymore, in quite a short space of time, so then, with Aaron and Ben from the band, this record became my primary focus.

The new record's a collection of ten songs. When we started working on it, it seemed like this would be the record that would get picked up by labels in the UK and internationally, so we balanced up recording new songs, with new versions of some of my favourite songs from my musical past. So, you get Heart Strings, which I wrote with Aaron and Ben, and King of Glory, which I wrote last year, which sit alongside Crying and Life in Me, which were written way back in 2001 and were on the first Freeslave EP in 2003. Of course, as is often the way, the grand hope for industry support didn't come along as I had hoped, and so now I'm releasing the record with the help of Harun, one of the producers, and his label, Knuci, and keeping things in-house and relatively low key.

Inspiration-wise, I wanted to give a snapshot of who I'd been as a person, and an artist, and who I am now. Over the last few years I've gone through a whole heap of changes, battled (sometimes not too successfully) with depression and other problems, and often used songs and the band as a kind of therapy, and opportunity to vent a little bit. I've been accused in the past of being a pretty depressing songwriter! I still hope there is an honesty to my writing, but honesty means saying when things are amazing as well as when they're dreadful, and as I've experienced God's healing in my life, so I wanted the album to reflect a more positive, hopeful side of life.

It's also worship, my offering to God. I've given up trying to be cool. This is who I am right now.

The album seems to have been in the works for quite some time now, was it a longer process this time around?

It was a long process. One of the good things about not having a label is that you can do things at your own pace and work till you're as happy as you can be. I've had a great team of people, from Ross and Harun the producers, to Ben and Aaron who wrote with me on some of the record, to other musicians who guested on the recordings, and at each stage we've been able to do things just as we want. As the process went along, my vision for what the album could be developed, so it moved from being solely an electronica record, to the more band-oriented set of songs it is now. I know I had Ross and Harun tearing their hair out a few times, but they did a very cool job on a very very tight budget, and I couldn't be happier.

Which is your favourite track off your new album and why?

I have a couple of favourites. Lay it Down rocks verily, somewhat like a badger, which is a very good thing. Crying, and Masterplan are both on the epic side, which I love I love the messages of those songs too. Crying's been with me since September 12th 2001, written the day after the attack on the Twin Towers, and I am so pleased that we nailed a definitive version of that song on this record, after quite a few attempts in the past. I think it has a timelessness and an inherent hope in the midst of troubled times which every generation needs. Making videos for Heart Strings, and Lost My Heart was a lot of fun too. Oops, I've named half the record. Ah well. It's a good record, it has good songs on it. I like them all!

How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?

My style of music is one I like to call "Good". It's not about so much these days but I, and a few of my friends decided it was time to bring it back.

No, seriously, it's good.

But seriously, I am basically a guy who plays piano and writes songs. Much as people have tried to get me into technology and stuff, I've never managed it yet, so I guess I'm a singer-songwriter. I love rock, folk, electronica. As for specific influences, I guess I'd go for Mutemath, Aqualung, Stateless, Pedro the Lion and other things, all the way down to guys like Paul Oakley, Delirious and all manner of other Christians in music. Most recently I've been bowled over by a lot of stuff coming from Come and Live! That label is where it's at, musically and ministerially, these days. Heart Strings was nearly out through that label, but it didn't end up happening. But yeah, bands like Ascend the Hill and Lovelite are showing the way forward for Christian musicians these days to be excellent in what they do, who they are, and be obedient to God's call on their lives, and fruitful for the Kingdom. All that any of us should want to be really.

As a wheelchair user do you find people prejudice you as an artist?

No, not really. I think using my wheelchair as an excuse or something to hide behind is a bit weak really, just the same as if I hid behind my faith. In the end, if the music is good enough, people will listen to it and dance to it, sing it in the shower and all that, even if they don't agree with the sentiments of the lyrics. I think it anything, it's time to be mature and realise that the only way to get noticed is to be excellent, and even then that's not always enough. But no, I don't think disability precludes me from doing anything really. It's more of a blessing to be honest. God's given it to me to teach me to rely on Him, and He's used it to lead me to some pretty exciting places (Trafalger Square playing to 5000 people, Radio One, for instance) that I wouldn't have been able to get to without being disabled. In the past I made a lot of noise about being disabled, but, in a way, isn't everyone disabled anyway? We all certainly need healing....

What advice would you give to any aspiring singers or bands out there?

Love what you're doing, do it because God told you to. Listen to God for guidance on how to do your band (I haven't always, and it never ends well). Don't hold on to it too tightly. Stop when God tells you to stop, and most importantly of all, remember that you are a child of God who is loved by Him, and your primary purpose is to know Him and be known by Him, to lead other people in to relationship with Him. All of that comes long before you're a musician, and will still be the same long after all your hair falls out and you don't look or sound cool any more.

Oh, and enjoy it. It's a total blast.

Make sure you always treat your friends like your friends, and remember that they're your friends. I wish I'd done that.

And, lastly, be very careful about what label you sign with, or even talk to. These days you don't really need them for much, so be savvy (it's a case of do as I say not as I do on this one!) and make sure you only seek help from inside the “industry” when you really need it. I learnt that pretty hard this year...

What has been your career highlight so far?

So many. Playing Liberty Festival at Trafalger Square a couple of times with Freeslave was amazing. Recording with Julian Kindred right at the end of that band was mindblowing. The many times when people have told me that songs I'd written have changed their view of their situation, or that God's used a song to bless them. I'm also loving the response to this new record so far, it's been a real struggle to get it done, and a few times I thought it wouldn't happen,so it's nice to know that people love it, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

In your opinion, what makes the perfect song?

That moment at the end when you're compelled to reach for the repeat button.

You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your mp3 player. What track is it?

Right now it would be Ascend the Hill's version of Hiow Great Thou Art. Chills! (which might come in handy on a really hot day)

What does the next year hold for Haydon Spenceley?

The album's out in November, and I'm putting together a few shows to support it. I'm trying to write at the moment, so there might be a new something or other early next year. Aside form music I'm working for a Church here in Northampton, which is pretty much taking all of my time, and I may end up at Theological College next year training for Ordination, which is quite random, but there you go!

Find out more about Haydon at www.myspace.com/haydonspenceley

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