We talk to art-pop provocateur Casey Spooner about the debut of his visual for ‘Togetherness’, queer culture and staying fearless
Fischerspooner’s video for their new single “Togetherness” was an alluring return. The long-tenured electroclash duo of Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner had been relatively quiet since their 2009 album Entertainment, yet the new video – featuring Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek – found them as in touch as ever. At the core of the Fischer-edited clip was Spooner, newly buff and mustachioed, delivering a sultry take into the camera. But rather than just deliver that single scorch of sexiness, Spooner has now offered his own edit of the video – one that amps the homoeroticism to volcanic steaminess.
In the last year or so, Fischerspooner have risen back to attention on the back of Spooner’s museum exhibition at Vienna’s modern and contemporary art museum, Mumok. A collection of extraordinarily architected visuals he co-produced with photographer Yuki James, the images depict Spooner with his friends, his lovers, and collaborators in a beckoning thrill of nudity. In addition, they funneled their emotions through a new photo book called EGOS: Character Studies, Online Marketing, and Prelude to New Music, created at the same time as Fischerspooner’s new album, Sir, produced by Michael Stipe.
The subtle yet thematically packed album title fits Spooner, the flamboyant singer curving and caressing queer language, gay culture, and musical attitude to his desire. In addition to longtime bandmate Warren Fischer, the writing credits feature the iconic Michael Stipe, Spooner’s first lover – as well as frequent Stipe collaborator Andy LeMaster, Beyoncé producer Boots, and Polachek. That’s a lineup written not in pencil, but in bold permanent marker; if you decide to shy away from lust, love, and loss, and remain silent in this world of painful politics, then Fischerspooner are here to grab you by the collar, the crotch, and the heart, begging you to stand up and take notice.
Watch the video for Spooner’s cut of “Togetherness” exclusively below.
Today we’re premiering your version of the new Fischerspooner video for ‘Togetherness’. Did you know you would release two videos?
Casey Spooner: I have to tell you how excited I am for this version to come out. Warren and I worked separately on the editing; we shot it in June of 2016, and then I edited my version in August. Warren finished his edit about two weeks ago. Then we screened both of them in Vienna as part of our museum show. The exhibition had a video sculpture that was a 28-minute single take performance that was shot when we made the music video. The video was also based on photographs that were shot in my apartment. You can see Warren has a more cinematic eye, and I go more towards theatre, more of a mise en scene. His moves around more spatially, mine is definitely more homoerotic. In this digital world, it’s all about versions, so why does there have to be a single version? There was so much good footage, so I’m glad that everyone gets to see Warren’s version which features Caroline more, and then my version that’s a little bit more homoerotic.
Warren's video feels more ephemeral and less aggressive, but in your version, you’re completely exposed, which feels fitting after listening to your upcoming album and how personal the narrative is. It was really interesting that you kept Juliana Huxtable, but shot from a different angle in the shower. It seemed as if you were morphing into another character.
Casey Spooner: Juliana just had a big shower moment. I really wanted Julianna because this record is very political and I wanted to have a beautiful portrait of a very important trans woman.
Your version shows this powerful montage of sweat-covered skin, arched backs, and hair flipping. That intimacy produces an incredible feeling, this weird sexual voyeuristic experience. What was it like shooting those intimate scenes with actor Juan Pablo Rahal?
Casey Spooner: That is my bed where we were shooting. I woke up in that bed, rolled over, put on those shorts that were sitting on the side of the bed, and the crew and the truck were sitting outside. Juan Pablo and I met on Grindr, so, we fucked in that bed. We had chemistry that precedes the shoot. Having fucked and been in that bed, in my house, in the summer… it makes it easy. It’s crazy because Juan Pablo wasn’t supposed to be in the video at all. The day before the shoot, the other dancer changed his mind, so I called Juan Pablo because he had been in the photographs, and I knew he was a great performer. I had never actually seen him dance before. When he came on set, he had no rehearsal, he had never heard the song, and the entire thing was improvised – and the first take that he did was so stunning. I remember Warren looking over at me with his jaw on the floor. And I was like, ‘Girl! I told you!’
“It’s been killing me. I’ve had this look now for almost two years, and I usually change my look yearly. I have to match the fucking record cover, so I have to stay like this until January at least” – Casey Spooner
And in the past, you’ve had this heightened image, the dramatic makeup, the colourful hair, the avant-garde outfits, and now I’m seeing you with this wild natural mane, plain clothes, no makeup. In changing your image, shifting into a new character with a healthy, muscled, gorgeous sculpt, have you found your voice to be even louder?
Casey Spooner: I mean, you’re telling me. It’s been killing me. I’ve had this look now for almost two years, and I usually change my look yearly. I have to match the fucking record cover, so I have to stay like this until January at least. What’s so funny about this haircut is that it keeps coming back to me. When I met Michael Stipe, who helped produce the record, one of the reasons I first caught his attention is that I had grown my hair out. I had cut my own bangs in my dorm room in the reflection of a toaster. I had this weird Prince Valiant haircut. When we were in the ‘Emerge’ era and we were on Top of the Pops, I had a long blonde wig made. Now I’ve just grown it out because it's easier than having to put a wig on.
I am so impressed that you cut bangs in the reflection of a toaster. I can’t cut bangs in the reflection of an actual mirror.
Casey Spooner: The image that we started with isn’t relevant anymore because everyone wears wigs, makeup, and crazy clothes now. Now art pop is dead, so how do I reinvent? What can I do that no one else will do? So I thought, ‘Well, I'm going to be an older, sexualised gay man.’ You don’t see that.
I feel like gay men are so often stereotyped, and the ageing gay man is a singular type. In pop culture, it’s this almost shrivelled up person who is often much older than their partner. How has the gay landscape changed in the way it perceives older gay men?
Casey Spooner: Gay culture is shifting. I didn’t have an older generation of men I could look up to because they all died of AIDS. And now the younger post-AIDS generation love older men. When I was in my 20s, I wasn’t hanging out with any 47-year-olds. There were a handful of people in Athens, Georgia, like Jeremy Ayers and Michael Stipe. There was a crew there, but for the most part, it was a very different thing. I feel like I have to be a gay mentor, but it’s weird because I didn’t have a gay mentor. I’m having to learn how to mentor while mentoring.
Gay culture traditionally is focused on youth. If there are older gay men, they’re always cast as tragic and lecherous. Let me tell you, I was nervous when I was putting myself next to Juan Pablo. He’s 26, and I’m 20 years older. ‘Are you really gonna cast this hot, ripped Brazilian dancer right next to you?’ Like, why would you do that to yourself?
Did you feel self-conscious?
Casey Spooner: Of course, of course! Everyone does. The body in gay culture is really your currency. If you have a body, then you have access to sex, you’re popular, you get invited to things. It’s your social mechanism. The better your body is, the more power you have. But the more you become invested in your physical appearance, dysmorphia starts to set in. I’m around the most beautiful men, and they’ll confess their feelings of being inferior or imperfect. It's shocking. But the more people work on their bodies, the more they lose their mind. Sometimes you’ll meet people who are beautiful and they are just a psychic wasteland. If you meet someone incredibly hot and you don’t talk about their body, they’re incredibly happy. ‘Thank god, you’re not objectifying me!’ Meanwhile, in the back of my mind, (laughs) I’m like, ‘Please take all your clothes off and sit on my face right now.’
“The body in gay culture is really your currency. If you have a body, then you have access to sex, you’re popular, you get invited to things. It’s your social mechanism” – Casey Spooner
‘Get the fuck back to my home.’
Casey Spooner: (Laughs) Exactly! But the most important thing is that this record is so political for me. I’m really upset about the current state of affairs. I feel like I have to be the equal and opposite to this neoconservative white supremacy where they’re just trying to pick a fight with North Korea or Iran to start a war so they can avoid an impeachment trial.
You also wrote this album in part with Michael Stipe. You two have an amazing history as well. Do you feel like this was an opportune time for the both of you creatively?
Casey Spooner: I never thought about working together because we were so different. I always respected R.E.M. and I love being around him. And, really, a lot of the work that Michael does is unseen because he's really more than a singer and a songwriter. His whole life has this visual quality to it where he lives, and it’s filled with the most amazing things. He’s always working on some crazy new sculpture based on every emoji of a black hole. I never intended to be in music at all. I was supposed to be a painter, or a movie star, or probably a great comedian.
The album is so brilliantly and confidently male on male. Thematically, there’s such a specific queer language. You could have easily changed pronouns; Michael has a lot of songs about his queer relationships where the pronouns were universal. Specifically, ‘Oh Rio’ comes to mind.
Casey Spooner: It’s funny that you say that because he didn’t really work on that one, but ‘Oh Rio’ was the song that convinced him to work on the record. The language was a debate that I had with Warren on the first song. He asked me to change the pronouns, and in the past, I would have, but this time I just said I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t figure out why for a long time, and then I had the revelation that when you make something ‘universal’, it’s always assumed to be heterosexuality. No one is going to assume it’s about a lesbian relationship or a queer relationship. Once I made that argument, Warren was on board.
It’s also, like, why can’t queer people represent queer people? Why is a blonde woman always the representative for me? That’s another thing that I think is connected to drag. Men were trained for so long to not be emotional, so they have to transpose their emotions onto an exaggerated female character, a female archetype because women are allowed to be emotive. That’s why gay men are drawn to Judy Garland and Cher.
What has made you so fearless?
Casey Spooner: I remember very specifically feeling like my life was in a very unusual place, this living narrative that I didn’t ever hear about. I was in a very successful long-term relationship that was open, and so I would come home and have a husband, then we might have a third boyfriend. or I might have lovers while I was travelling. I felt like I was having all these amazing, complex, and interesting ways of connecting with people that were never really talked about openly, or without being sensationalised. So I set out to mirror my experience. It’s not radical; there are a lot of people like me, Frank Ocean and incredible performers that are out and queer.
Fischerspooner release their new album SIR on February 16