Liverpool’s bop connoisseurs, Spinn have built up a name for themselves with jangly pop and blue-sky melodies. Peanut Mixtape’s Dale Glenister sits down with lead singer Johnny Quinn and guitarist Andy Power to talk houndstooth ties, Spinn tattoos and being big in Japan.
We’re in the middle of Middlesbrough as Twisterella festival is happening a few hundred feet away on Linthorpe Road. As we start Andy apologises for being ill then runs off for a tissue. There’s a joke about it being freshers flu and there’s a sharp intake of breath. “In our circle of friends a fresher is a derogatory term” he goes on to explain, “just put the Frosty Jacks’ in the fridge”.
Their advice? Start drinking Co-Op’s own brand wine, “That’s when you know you’re a second year” Johnny chips in. It seems fitting that we’re in a pub just across from Teesside Uni SU as they rattle off a list of first year errors.
Spinn have the world at their fingertips. The four piece band, three quarters Scouse and one quarter Brummie, are coming to the end of the biggest year of their collective lives thus far but you wouldn’t think it talking to them. Whilst a storm whips up around them life goes on as usual at Spinn HQ.
When talking about their newest single ‘Boredom’, Johnny says he wrote it whilst at work – when they’re not on rockstar duties Johnny and bassist Sean McLachlan work in a carpark. “I was stood there thinking of rhymes to entertain myself. It wasn’t even rhymes, I was trying to be poetic I guess”.
The relationship between Johnny and Andy appears to be what shapes the majority of Spinn’s songwriting so the fact that Johnny started ‘Boredom’ alone is a change of pace for the pairing. They were under pressure to write more over Christmas and this meant they started a lot of songs on an acoustic guitar but as Andy explains “you can’t really tell how the song’s gonna sound until the rest of the band play.”
The track is noticeably darker and less jangly than previous singles ‘Shallow’ and ‘It’s Not Getting Better’ but it’s been noted that the more brooding sound looks good on them, especially as the winter draws in and warmer, bittersweet tracks like ‘Boredom’ are back in fashion.
Looking back over his Spotify for the month Johnny sees “at the time I was listening to a lot of Orange Juice, and MGMT. We went for more of an eighties, more of a ‘retro’ feel. We wrote that in your [Andy’s] bedroom.” That retro feel seems to soak the band’s whole image. From the single artwork to their strong eighties influences, Spinn are entrenched in nostalgia but this is no surprise when the majority of their influence comes from bands that peaked before they were even born.
As a band, they listen to everything from Michael Jackson to The Jam but Neutral Milk Hotel had a big impact on Johnny: “I don’t want to sound like an edgy bastard but when I heard Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea for the first time that fucking blew my head off. I knew how to play an instrument but this made me want to get more into songwriting.”
For Andy, it’s Scouse heritage, “The album that had the biggest impact on me getting into music was The Beatles’ White Album. I remember that was my earlier recollection of music by The Beatles.”
They agree that as a band their one of their biggest influences is The Smiths. The pair try to agree who gets Hatful of Hollow and who gets The Queen Is Dead but then Meat Is Murder gets thrown in the mix and they just settle on The Smiths in general. The one album they can properly agree on – and they say it at the same time – is Arctic Monkeys’ debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. That was their ‘rock and roll’ moment.
Talk turns to the band’s early days as mods and they groan, squirm and look slightly embarrassed. For the lesser equipped fans, the band used to go by the name The Spinning Tops and attend gig exclusively in suits and/or Fred Perry. Johnny’s defence? “I watched Quadrophenia and thought that’s pretty cool.”
“I think we got really into The Who and The Jam. You get into stuff like that and then you just sort of become a bit warped,” Andy confesses. Johnny is quick to justify it though “We weren’t even that mod. We were playing fucking Smiths covers wearing suits. I wore a V-Neck jumper with a blazer and a tie and a polo shirt underneath. Sean wore a tie with a polo shirt once.”
They’re laughing now thinking back to it. “Sean used to wear a tie with a Fred Perry polo shirt. It was houndstooth.” Johnny rolls around in embarrassment while Andy continues down the rabbit hole, “You know the funniest thing was him [Johnny] singing Eton Rifles.” He’s now sat up and cringing as he sings the chorus. “You actually put on the little voice as well and you forgot the lyrics because you hated it and started forgetting them.”
When the mod phase came to pass and the name was dropped to just Spinn things slowly but surely took off. Their second single ‘Notice Me’ racked up 1,000,000 streams on Spotify in just seven months. Johnny recalls two years ago when they played to twenty people before Andy interjects: “No lad, it was like three in Maguire’s Pizza Bar. This is the reality of it, there were three people.”
From the early days, people have believed in Spinn to lengths that have humbled them even now. “When we were like really small there’s a girl called Jane who’s a boss photographer around Liverpool got a tattoo of Spinn when we were playing to three people. I think she was one of the three.” They say since then they’ve only seen one other Spinn tattoo.
When describing the fans it’s neatly summed up by Andy saying that “it’s 99 percent good stuff”, and it shows as they talk about their fan encounters, most of them are funny if not sweet. He laughs recalling a story from when he was out in Liverpool. “I was out the other week and I was on my way to go to the toilet and as I passed I just heard someone do either ‘Notice Me’ or ‘oohs’ off ‘Home’ and just shouted that at me. It’s funny. I don’t even know where the voice came from.”
Johnny adds “Someone shouted down the street “What’s happening, Spinn?” at me the other day. It’s mad.” They say a lot of the indie kids round Liverpool recognise them these days and they usually come over for a chat if they ever see them out and about. When the band are back at home it’s “fucking great” to see the support they get from the kids in the local scene.
On a year full of massive achievements the lads have to sit for a second to think about their biggest one so far. Andy settles on their recent Liverpool headliner and Johnny decides it’s the trip they’re taking to Japan next week. He’s excited to tell me a “great Spinn fact” that as of next month the biggest show they will have played will be on the other side of the globe from where they’re based, on their first trip there no less. “Big in Japan” they laugh.
The Japanese phenomenon seems as lost on them as it does on everyone else. Neither of them seems to be able to wrap their head around the idea that they’ll play to 1,300 people in Japan next week or that they have their first physical release as a Japan only exclusive. “Yer Dar stream it soon” Johnny proudly announces, going on to explain how they’ve also featured on Billboard Japan’s official twitter somehow. The whole thing has battered their heads a bit by the looks of it, it all came about from an email asking if they fancied a show in Japan.
Achievements like this are huge milestones and Johnny is most proud that they’ve done it alone. Andy elaborates that in Liverpool there’s a certain sound that’s more 60s/70s classic rock and if you don’t fit it you’re not ‘in’. Because Spinn never fit into this sound they were overlooked by a lot of publications despite being no less worthy than other scouse bands.
After worrying Andy’s called out half of Liverpool Johnny backtracks his original point to explain more that they don’t fit in the typical bracket so they’ve had to look elsewhere for ways to be seen. “In Liverpool itself, I don’t think anyone gives two shits we’re from Liverpool because we’re not particularly cool. Most of the music publications in Liverpool completely dismissed us because we’re not in that bracket of what a lot of people from our city, (which we do love and is our home but don’t turn against us if you read this) expect, they just don’t rate us at all.”
However, a certain interview from earlier on in their career may have raised eyebrows in the Liverpool scene. “I did this jokingly but once I started roasting The Beatles and I called John Lennon John Lemon and someone was like “Oh yeah, scouse man takes no influence from The Beatles. Calls John Lennon, Lemon”. And I was like fucking hell it’s just a joke but they used it in a serious context, I felt awkward. I’ll let you know when The Sun starts slagging us off.”
He goes on more to say that it feels good to know that they’ve done what they can with minimal help and it’s paid off, “we kind of got to the point that we are without a lot of help which kind of re-enforces the fact that they don’t like us but that doesn’t matter. If you do like us and have helped out then that’s amazing.”
The conversation then shifts back to the recent Liverpool headliner and Johnny confesses he cried during the gig. “Three people and then now 500. I like was singing the song, and the last song is quite emotional and I had to like look away from the crowd, I was welling up. I was like ‘Oh my god, Johnny come on. This is not going to look very cool’ Well you know what? I did. I did cry out of happiness.”
A few days previous to our interview they tweeted about wanting to work with Girls Against at gigs and they made the decision after hearing fans’ experiences at their Liverpool gig where they’d been groped throughout. The story leaves a bitter taste in the pair’s mouths as they talk about the future of Spinn gigs and protecting fans.
“I never realised that shit happened at our gigs. I always thought it was a nice place to be in the audience. So I’d like to work with them in the future, especially the bigger it gets. I’d never been to a gig where the Girls Against reps had been until fairly recently and I was made up to see them there because this was like a week after the gig. It’s very important.” Johnny says.
Andy stays quiet for the most part, adding his disbelief that predators like that would have any kind of overlap with Spinn. The message from the pair and the band as a whole is that “Spinn is a family” and for that reason, they’re working to keep fans safe.
Despite having toured relentlessly since the days of playing in Maguire’s Pizza Bar, the lads aren’t afraid to admit they still get nervous. Having played to crowds of all sizes at both their own gigs, support slots, and festivals, they still shake and shiver as they first walk on stage, we as the audience just don’t notice it.
The pair take differing opinions about how much it affects them. How does Andy deal with it? “Building a tolerance”. “I remember being really really scared when we played our first gig but now if we played to 20 people like I wouldn’t get nervous anymore.”
Johnny is more forthcoming on the matter. Being the frontman there’s more pressure, no instrument to distract yourself with, no one else to take the attention off you. A recurring theme in reviews of Spinn live is Johnny’s character. On stage, he’s a cheeky chap, a bold dancer and at the heart of both of those things, a performer, but that’s not the whole story.
“It’s like 50/50. Obviously what I do is pretty genuine but you’ve got a magnifying glass on one aspect of my personality so it’s like I go on stage and I dance and stuff like that and it does help with the nerves and it’s expressing something but it’s not my whole personality.”
It has it’s drawback’s though, “people expect me to live up to the chatty guy on stage.” Johnny clarifies that this couldn’t be further from the truth when he’s back to normal life though: “I can play in front of like 500 people but I still can’t speak out in a lecture. It’s like that still affects me, speaking in front of 12 people so no matter how big it gets or how small a gig is, I’m still gonna be shitting myself before I go on stage.”
The trouble is that you can’t just switch off being who you are online so being recognised when you’re not feeling yourself can be even harder Johnny explains, “Sometimes I’ve been in town, people have recognised me and I’ve not really been in the mood to talk and I found myself acting up, talking more than I probably should or would want to. No offence if I don’t want to talk but I can be just sort of having a rubbish day and then I’ve come away feeling worse for putting on the persona.”
“It’s very important as an artist to define the art and the artist. That’s not to like support Charles Bukowski who was a terrible guy but he wrote some good poems but you still have to admit he was a terrible guy. I’m a quiet guy most of the time.”
While on the topic of mental health, and how to protect it the topic moves to toxic masculinity. “I think the concept of being a man is so stupid and dated and ridiculous.” Johnny states. He says Descent of Man by Greyson Perry helped him wrap his head around it. The book talks in depth about how the problem with men is not the fact that they’re men but instead the expectations thrust upon them.
“It’s good that people like myself and Andy can get out of that because at the end of the day if I want to have a cry, I’ll have a cry. It’s for yourself, you have to put yourself first.”
The book also discusses another idea that Johnny brings up about society being shaped by the male gaze, “ It’s down to even stuff like architecture and ties, it’s all phallic shaped”. We aren’t trained to see it until we’re told “Everything looks like a dick and that’s not Freudian or anything or anything like that, that’s just the way British society has been built. The sooner we get out of that nasty cycle of people saying “you’ve got to be a man”, “you’ve got to do this”, “look at this dick shaped building, isn’t it big? it shows power”. The quicker we get out of that mindset the better for everyone as a whole.” The idea is that even if you don’t think you’re affected by the issue, it still looms everywhere you go.
As the band have begun to take off they’ve become more aware of how people are quick to attribute their whole lives to Spinn or try to get in with the band. “I know a lot of people who speak to me aren’t really interested in me but they wanna know about the band and that’s fine but sometimes it’s just like I’m having a conversation with someone that’s not about “oh how’s the band doing lad?”.
It’s not that he’s ungrateful, it’s just tiring to be summed up by the band sometimes. “I’m into other stuff, you know. I like reading, I like sleeping, I like Seinfeld, I like pizza. It’s just a couple of things, I like corduroy shirts.” This would not be the last time in the course of the hour that corduroy shirts would come up, he even stops to ask if I’m wearing one too (which, regrettably I’m not). He’s wearing a yellow one, his penchant for yellow tops extends beyond t-shirts.
A mention of what they do at home puts a glimmer in Johnny’s eye, he grabs his laptop as he begins to talk, “Have you seen what we did the other day? This is how bored we’ve been recently. Look at this, we made as Oasis song. Have you heard it? I’ll put it on for you.” This is the most excited he’s been since we sat down. As promised, you can listen to it here.
He plays the intro of their ‘(What’s The Story?) Morning Glory’ rehash off his laptop for a few seconds before getting a bit embarrassed, the pub now noticeably busier. “It’s even got the helicopter sample” Andy adds. “This is what we do when we’re not on tour. This is why I’d like [the home/tour balance] to tip towards tour so we don’t fucking disgrace music by doing that type of stuff more often. We’ve already planned the sequel. It’s not out yet though.”
When they aren’t disgracing the memory of pre-Tory Noel Gallagher, Spinn live a different home life to what you might expect. Touring is a dual-edged sword, for all the highs of playing shows in a different city every night, the comedowns are just as hard now they’re living away from home.
Andy says: “Our home lives are quite different to what they used to be now because we both moved out. So for me when I come back from tour it’s crap. Like last year you’d come back and you’d see your family, you’d have a nice meal or whatever whereas now you just come back and you come back to silence. It can be quite isolating, a bit of a comedown.”
They’re quick to say that they understand it’s all part of the process, no matter how crap coming home may feel, touring is better. When they get in from a gig at the other end of the country at 4AM and have a lecture at 9AM they know they won’t make it to the lecture. Instead, there’s a lot of days spent playing Simpson’s Hit and Run and ripping off Oasis.
We move onto next year’s plans and while a lot of it will remain under wraps, they seem excited for whatever it is. What can they tell us? “World domination via cyber Spinndustries” Johnny reckons, or if not that he’d quite like a physical CD printed in the UK so his mum can play it in the car. Happy days.