“I want to kick the door down and start dropping rope ladders for everyone to come up”, says Muck Spreader frontman Luke Brennan.
The south London six-piece are a collective in the truest sense; an open door for creatives to express themselves through music and art, one that tackles social issues head-on in an explosive manner – with a heady dose of surrealism to boot.
Led by Brennan and featuring a line-up of talented multi-instrumentalists, Muck Spreader want to extend an arm out to the city’s emerging and often neglected talent to mould an entirely empowering proposition.
He tells Daily Star Online: “Muck Spreader are on stage doing the music side of things but it’s a wider community of people who are all working in different fields. It’s a constant dialogue that everyone is having about politics and the world that drives us.
“I’ve just assumed the role as a spokesperson for everyone’s ideas”
The project breaks down the barriers of modern popular music by being an improvised entity. Their recent EP, the excellent Rodeo Mistakes, is five tracks cut from a four to five hour long recording – a pure snapshot of their flowing energy at that moment in time. “We never rehearse, we just turn up and play shows”, Brennan says.
He adds: “One of the main ethos is there’s no such thing as a mistake. A mistake is an opportunity to change direction or grow.
“It’s a challenge rather than what someone typically calls a mistake in music.”
Their genre-challenging exploits have been captured in a new short film, also called Rodeo Mistakes, that acts as a visual accompaniment to the record.
Written and directed by Chelsea college of arts graduate Dylan Coates, it features Brennan playing a fairy godmother/devil on the shoulder character to an uninspired creative, played by John Frederik Kanu, that’s soundtracked by the EP itself.
Talking about the film, they say: “Draws on various influences from a range of schools of thought, both historical and current.
“Its disorientation is intentional to give the viewer an unsettling sense of motion like a plummeting cruise liner in the arctic or perhaps Noah’s desperation on the ark.”
Muck Spreader are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a band.
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown chatted to Brennan about the formation of the Muck Spreader project, life growing up in south London, the creation of Rodeo Mistakes, and how the collective are embracing the city’s talent and beyond.
Hi Luke, how’ve the past few months been for you and the band?
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. During lockdown we managed to get approached by the press company and radio pluggers who otherwise would have been way too busy to hear us.
“We’ve been sitting on Rodeo Mistakes for about eight or nine months. We put out a couple of things ourself and reached out to people we knew. It’s all moved really fast without us being able to play shows.
“We’ve played spontaneous shows in parks and stuff like that but not being able to get into venues, the live show is quite integral to us. I understand the whole theatrical nature of it.”
How have you tried to keep it all running over the period?
“We played a few gigs locally in south London in the parks. There were jazz jams going on. I’d go along and rap or sing or do a bit of spoken word without the band.
“During the height of lockdown we changed the whole process. The drummer would make a beat and send it to the guitarist, who’d just work on it. He’d sent it around and we’d make these little videos and put them on Instagram. It was to keep going. Because the process is different we’ve named it a mixtape because it’s a little more trip-hop with electronic beats.
“We’ve managed to get in and record our next record. It’s being mixed and mastered now. We got the short movie we managed to shoot during lockdown too.”
How do you make your shows aware to people?
“Those other sort of shows were tied into the Black Lives Matter protests. Making people feel like they could go out and perform and have a place.
“I’m involved in quite a lot of younger kids helping to advise them with music. The younger generation of kids coming from south London are all really active and jazz seems to be having a real resurgence here.
“Our trumpet player goes to Trinity School of Music where a lot of this stuff is coming from.”
It’s really important to make sure you’re in the community and working with people in that.
“Completely. I initially started off organising shows because we couldn’t get any. I always tried to make them all ages, free and to have dogs allowed. Wherever possible I’ve tried to make shows free because it’s so important, especially with the lack of venues and people need access to live music.”
It must inspire a younger generation to get involved and pick up an instrument?
“I feel that because some of us are older there is a responsibly because the music industry can be a really difficult and damaging place.
“Muck Spreader are on stage doing the music side of things but it’s a wider community of people who are all working in different fields. It’s a constant dialogue that everyone is having about politics and the world that drives us.
“I’ve just assumed the role as a spokesperson for everyone’s ideas.”
Tell me about the origins of Muck Spreader. What’s the premise?
“I was doing poetry and running a spoken work event in Hackney for people with addiction problems. Eventually I’d done a few shows at the Windmill. Some people in bands had seen me and asked if I could come and play.
“I started grabbing people out of the crowd. This guy could play guitar, this guy could play violin. Eventually we found a few solid members and we’ve been through quite a few people. The line-up that recorded Rodeo Mistakes, we’d been a month together before that but now we’ve been together about a year.
“It’s a solid line-up but there will be people that come and play with us. If they can’t make it, people aren’t precious. It’s not like ‘I’m the bassist’. As the singer, I’m always available. If someone can’t be there, we’d find someone else to play. Because it’s all completely improvised, nothing is ever done twice.
“Even the record is done in one take. One of the main ethos is there’s no such thing as a mistake. A mistake is an opportunity to change direction or grow. It’s a challenge rather than what someone typically calls a mistake in music.”
You’ve just released your excellent EP Rodeo Mistakes. You’re quoted as saying ‘there’s no process to our writing’ – how does it evolve? Does it form organically?
“You go in and someone will assume responsibility. Live, it often goes to the drummer. If people are looking around thinking ‘where do I go?’, he comes through with a beat and it will fall into place. I start saying something and the band will build around that.
“Rodeo Mistakes was formed from a recording that’s four or five hours long. There are loads of outtakes. Some of the songs are maybe 12 or 13 minutes.
“That’s what I’m struggling with now on the new EP. We have songs at six minutes and the band say we should cut them down but I like to build the tension. I feel that’s a big part of it. You know the band Dirty Three? They form part of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds. They have instrumental, violins and it’s really epic and building a lot of mood. I feel that also with dub it influences us a lot. We can do so many songs that sound completely different in genres. We’re interested in the imperfections.”
How do you combine vocals and the instrumentals?
“It literally just comes to me naturally. Half the time I don’t know what I’ve said. My eyes kind of rolling in the back of my head and it just comes out.
“Before I used to write lyrics. I’ve always been into words and poetry. It came to a point where I started practicing free-styling. Me and Oscar in the band, we moved into a house and we’d just freestyle nonsense for hours. When I say words I see them in my head before. They kind of form shapes. It’s an association on the way the words look visually.”
Do you enjoy letting go with your lyrics as they come to you?
“I never hold back. I like to let it all out like that. My voice will start getting gruffer, I’ll start shouting and the band will start following. That will happen if we get a reaction from the crowd. If we don’t get a reaction, I’ll put a mirror up to them.
“We always say it feels like therapy for us. When you go out, you let out a lot of stress. I’ve got an analogy that I compare it to sport. You train all week, you’ve got 80 minutes in a game of rugby or 90 in football where everything has to go into it. In a live performance, you’ve got so much to say to let it all out. Afterwards you have that same knackered effect if you’d do sport.”
Has it got better as time’s progressed?
“It’s getting much better. You can hear on Rodeo Mistakes that we’re quite tentative. We’d only known each other a month. Only occasionally at weekends if some of us had been playing shows. Now we’ve been on tour, we’ve been in studios, we’ve played loads of gigs and had big challenges to get over as a group. Naturally we’re more trusting as we’re playing. You have to have each other’s backs.”
You must be thinking ‘how far can we go with this?’
“There’s the different influences from everyone. We have no restrictions into what genre we go down and do. The musicians are so talented. Every time I’m so humbled and grateful to have those guys behind me.”
Sonically there’s a lot going on. It changes tempo and atmospherics often. What’s it like letting loose?
“When we’re making a beat I already hear what the narrative should be. Sometimes it sounds like we’re off in a desert or riding down a raft. You can hear with the music whether it’s night or day. I can’t play instruments, I just use my voice as the instrument. As soon as they start playing, the images start conjuring up.
“If you take the vocals away, it already sounds like a story. It goes places, it changes tempo. I don’t even drive but most of Rodeo Mistakes is written from the perspective of someone driving or being sat in a car. As we were just starting, I felt like there was movement to it all.”
It sounds like you really enjoy performing together, especially on the EP’s last track Draw Knife, where you just let it go.
“That’s my absolutely favourite. There’s another minute and a half of rambling at the end of that. Everyone said it was a skit but they didn’t believe me. It’s three minutes long, it’s allowed to be a song!
“On Rodeo Mistakes, I just personally wanted to show off. We exist and there’s unlimited potential. I think we’re doing something different. Since we’ve started people have popped up doing improv stuff. There’s no rules to this game. You don’t have to sound like anything that’s been done before. It’s like them saying it’s a skit, and me saying it’s a song. It doesn’t have a normal pattern of verse chorus.”
How has south London moulded you personally and musically?
“You need to have a lot of fight. It’s a struggle. It’s a difficult place to grow up.
“Music has taken me all over the city. You feel like you’re against the world coming from south London. There was never any proper transport link. When I was growing up, the overground wasn’t there. Getting back from east, where everything was happening, was a nightmare. The tube doesn’t even go to Camberwell, which is so close. To get between certain areas is really difficult because of the gang troubles. If you’re trying to get from New Cross to Brixton, it’s not possible. There are a few areas cut off because of the trouble.
“My family are really working class and there’s a strict moral code of loyalty among people that I’ve tried to bring into the ethos of the band. I like this idea of brotherhood, we look out for each other, to make this space that you can be vulnerable and make mistakes.
“It’s scary to do improv for a lot of people. We don’t have any in-fighting for anything like that. Before I’ve been in bands and there are huge egos involved. I couldn’t start a band before because it’s like having five or six girlfriends. Everyone’s so involved with each other because you have to rehearse. We never rehearse, we just turn up and play shows.
“We talk to each other all the time in a group chat but we’re not as personally involved with each other. We come together to do this as a team and we’re there for each other.
“We’re all living in our own worlds and we’re bringing in a difficult output each time. We constantly growing and maturing and learning.”
You’re an unconventional outfit in the music scene right now. What do you make of the scene and where do you fit?
“In the UK scene I mainly listen to a lot of drill or grime. That’s where I’d like to sit, around a hip-hop sort of world.
“I think in terms of guitar bands there’s a dearth of creativity. People are playing it safe. I’m glad to see the emergence of the jazz scene, where musicianship is being valued.
“In terms of rock & roll, I’m not sure who’s there or what’s happening. When I hear these guitar bands it sounds like stuff I’ve already heard. A lot of it is trying to sell the same songs The Clash were playing, or re-working of Blur songs.
“I’d rather be on the Barbican and South Bank side of things, rather than the Brixton Academy.”
You’re an open and evolving project. What are your hopes and what are you working towards?
“To be able to keep putting out records, being heavily involved in visuals and using it as a channel to bring through other artists, and to shine a light on stuff. I want to kick the door down and start dropping rope ladders for everyone to come up.
“There’s some great underground artists that exist that are completely neglected by the mainstream. People need to be challenged. With all the social issues going on you need to begin by challenging the people in the circle. Not aggressively but trying to shine a light on the ways they’re not thinking right in terms of equality for everyone.
“That’s one of the main reasons I do Muck Spreader. I have a hell of a lot to say on these things. Music has the ability to communicate with a really wide audience that I don’t think conventional art or poetry will be able to reach. It’s a great vehicle.”
Muck Spreader’s Rodeo Mistakes EP is out now via Brace Yourself Records