Welcome back to the second part of my recent sit down with Jan Burnett, frontman of Dundee-formed Spare Snare, whose 12th studio album, The Brutal will be released on 12 May 2023.
You’ll have gathered from yesterday’s posting that Spare Snare are not your run-of-the-mill band. The fact that all six members give priority to their family and work lives means any musical activities have to be planned out well in advance, something which was very much to the fore when it came to writing, rehearsing and recording The Brutal.
Spare Snare have long had the habit of developing new material by getting together in the space where recording is taking place, and working on the songs in an organic way but things had to be different this time around as a result of them engaging Steve Albini to come over to Scotland for a week to sprinkle his fairy dust on the music in an Edinburgh studio owned and run by Rod Jones of Idlewild.
This meant that the band had to do a lot of advance work on the new songs, and so they would get together, either in evenings or at weekends on at least a weekly basis in rehearsal spaces in Dundee. This involved Jan travelling the 80 miles, often by public transport, from Glasgow where he has, for many years, lived and worked. It was all part of a process whereby the new songs would more well beyond the state of being mere demos by the time they went into the studio.
The connection with Albini didn’t come purely by chance. A few years ago, funding was obtained from the government agency Creative Scotland to have him come over in February 2018 to deliver a workshop for engineers/producers, after which he would work with Spare Snare over a number of days in the studio owned and run by Chemikal Underground Records. Partly due to the time constraints, the band elected to pick out 10 tracks from their back catalogue that they felt would benefit most from Albini’s way of working and signature sound.
The project was an overwhelming success. All those involved in the workshop were delighted with the way it was delivered and the time in the studio led to the release of Sounds, recorded by Steve Albini, later in the year by Chute Records. There was a great deal of critical acclaim for the new record, especially in the way that a number of long-time fan favourites had been re-imagined, and the vinyl edition very quickly sold out, leading later on to arrangements being put in place for Past Night From Glasgow to give it a re-press, complete with new artwork, in 2021.
mp3: Spare Snare – We Are The Snare (Sounds version)
Albini took his leave of Scotland, saying that he had loved the experience, and he’d certainly be up for working with Spare Snare again in the future. Chats got underway and progress began to be made, only for things to almost derail because of COVID and the restrictions placed on travelling. Jan worked tirelessly to keep the channels of communication open, as well as making plans and arrangements to raise the finance required for such a venture, with the aim being to have a new album of entirely new material recorded to mark the band’s 30th anniversary.
Everything did manage to fall into place and the recording sessions took place in October 2022. The exactness of it all also meant that aspirations to incorporate brass into some of the songs could be realised, with both Terry Edwards (The Higsons, Gallon Drunk, Tindersticks etc.) and Gary Barnacle (The Clash, The Ruts, Soft Cell etc) putting time in their diaries to come up from London to Edinburgh to play as guests.
Jan told a great story in our interview about how he came to first meet Gary; Jan’s not one for name-dropping or the showbiz life, but he was invited to Dave Ball of Soft Cell’s 60th birthday party, during which he found himself chatting to Gary and getting on really well to the extent that he later sent him a copy of Sounds with a request that he come up to the studio when Albini flew in, one that Gary had no hesitation in accepting.
I was really surprised to learn that despite Terry and Gary both being on hundreds of records over the past 40 years or so, they had never previously met, far less worked together, so new ground is being broken on this new album.
There’s an incredible sense of pride from Jan when he talks about The Brutal. The fact that, after so many years of working in a particular way, Spare Snare adapted comfortably to a whole new process which proved to be hugely enjoyable, both in terms of the rehearsals and the time in the studio, speaks volumes about their abilities as musicians and the fact they are very much a group of friends going back decades.
That sense of pride extends to all the band members. Most Spare Snare records are released in a low-key manner, partly as the time constraints on everyone really restricts how much can be delivered in the way of promotional activities. This time around, the release of the album is going to be accompanied by a week-long tour of venues in England, with Scottish dates later on at weekends. There’s a real desire and willingness to get the album out to as wide a crowd as possible, with a collective belief that it is as strong a collection of tunes as any they have ever delivered.
So…..what is the TVV verdict on The Brutal?
In a year when there have already been a number of genuinely exciting new albums from, among others, HiFi Sean and David McAlmont, Robert Forster, Steve Mason, Gorillaz, and Everything But The Girl (and no doubt many more that I haven’t yet picked up on), the latest record from Spare Snare is a standout.
It’s a compact effort, with its ten tracks coming in at around 35 minutes all told. I played it with a pre-conceived idea of what an Albini-engineered album was likely to sound like based on listening and enjoying his work with The Wedding Present, Pixies, The Breeders, PJ Harvey and so on, but found myself really appreciating how different and diverse things sounded on this occasion. I really shouldn’t have been caught out in that way given that Albini is far removed from being a one-trick pony, having worked with, among others, The Auteurs, Low, Cinerama and Jarvis Cocker, none of whom relied extensively or exclusively on guitars to make great albums.
Jan had told me a while back that Terry Edwards and Gary Barnacle were only going to be in the studio on one of the five days in which recordings were taking place, and so I was anticipating their contributions to be quite minimal. It was a very pleasant surprise to hear them playing on at least half of the album, and on every occasion fitting in perfectly with all that was going on around them, a real testament to the way the album had been engineered, produced and mixed.
But please, don’t be under the impression that the brilliance of this record is down solely to the magician behind the desk.
Far from it.
Spare Snare have very much upped their game on this occasion. As I outlined earlier, they took a different approach in the advance planning for this album, working and preparing harder than ever before. By the time they went into the studio, they knew they had a set of very strong songs, their first new material since the release of Unicorn in 2018; by the time they came out of the studio a week later, they had very much risen to the occasion and, to this particular set of ears, delivered the performance of a lifetime.
In summary, they nailed it.
Thus far, I’ve only listened to a digital copy of The Brutal. The vinyl will be with me shortly, and I know that it is going to be given repeated spins over the summer months and beyond till I reach the stage where I’m 100% aware of every note and every pause for breath along the way. It’s an album I don’t ever imagine I’ll grow tired of with each listen.
Here’s 100-odd seconds of magic from it:-
As mentioned above, Spare Snare are hitting the road to promote the album’s release.
North Shields, Sheffield, Leeds, Trowbridge, Brighton and London from Monday to Saturday next week. The fact that they all have to return to work immediately after means that the Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow shows all have to be at weekends.
I’m heading down, with Rachel, to catch the show at Wharf Chambers in Leeds next Wednesday night. I’ll let you all know, in due course, how it turned out.
The Brutal should be available, certainly in the UK, from your local independent record store as from Friday 12 May. It can also be ordered from this bandcamp site, along with many other great items from the back catalogue.
One thought on “(BONUS POST): A SIT-DOWN WITH JAN BURNETT (PART TWO)”
Thanks for the tip-off JC. Just got my tickets for the London gig.