It has been an explosive year for UK rockers Spring King. From their acclaimed debut on Later…with Jools Holland to headlining shows all over the world, the band is taking the indie rock scene by storm with their catchy licks, hooky choruses, and driving retro-inspired melodies. Audix checked in with the drummer and lead singer Tarek Musa after their Australian tour to talk about the band’s emerging years, engineering the new record, and why they choose Audix to carry their live sound to fans all over the world.
Laidback and reverently irreverent, Spring King’s founder, drummer, and lead vocalist Tarek Musa displays none of the self-importance that a frontman with half his accomplishment could choose to carry. He’s a bloke on a fun, and perhaps slightly unexpected, high-speed chase down the international airwaves, something he dreamt of as a kid, since the first time he saw the Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do.
“That movie must have blown a lot of people’s minds,” says Tarek. “As a kid, I thought-oh, that looks like so much fun!” He laughs. “That made me want to play drums.” He cites his parents as major supporters in his musical journey, though they waited several months before buying him a drum kit-just to make sure he was serious. “I would play on [stacks of] books, and after about seven months I was still into it and drumming every day. So my parents thought, all right, cool, he means it.”
Musa comes from a rich international heritage. His father from Lebanon and his mother from Poland, Tarek grew up between several countries. “Travel has definitely influenced my music,” he says. “Spending time in West Africa there was a lot of djembes, and the rhythms of the djembe are just insane. They challenge everything that we in the West accept.” He spent time studying djembe in West Africa at age 19, which he remembers as initially frustrating, but in the end, very rewarding.
Spring King’s nascent stages came back in England in the form of a personal project, founded at Musa’s bedroom recording studio. After studying sound engineering at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Paul McCartney), Musa was working in recording studios and decided he wanted to make his own music as well. His ex-schoolmate Pete Darlington, the band’s current guitarist, heard his songs and eventually convinced him to set up a band for it. “If it wasn’t for Pete, I don’t think we would have started a band.” He shrugs. “It’s all gone really well.”
The band’s proverbial big break came when DJ and TV presenter Zane Lowe chose Spring King’s track “City” to open his first Beats 1 show on Apple Radio. “That was mind-blowing,” says Musa. “It took five or six days to really understand. He could have chosen any upcoming artist in the world because there’s just so much good music out there.” The band realized it was the beginning of something special. “We had just played South By Southwest, we had toured with Courtney Barnett in the UK-we were a very active band and we were always doing it all ourselves-but when Zane played that, a lot of record labels picked up on it.”
They were careful to choose a label, so as not to rush into anything, Tarek explains. “It’s kind of a warning sign when everyone really likes you all of a sudden,” he says with a laugh. “There were a few labels that had always been around us and had always been interested so we went to them first. None of us wanted to get anyone else involved for the first album; it was cheaper and it was a lot more fun for us because we got to be a lot more involved than you might normally do in the studio. We actually signed our record deal before we showed anyone the album.” Tarek himself recorded, engineered, produced, and mixed the album, and it was mastered by German engineer Robin Schmidt (1975, the Black Keys, Two Door Cinema Club). “We’ve never been a band that rehearsed and recorded,” Tarek says of their recording philosophy. “Producing the band is always the songwriting process and the performance process of it all. We didn’t really know all the parts before we went into the studio we were just doing it as we went along. We had a rough skeleton, and that was it. We’re very laid back.” He smiles and adds, “Sometimes we just wing it.”
Musa’s unique position as the drummer, lead singer, and engineer plays a huge role in what gear he chooses both to record in the studio and perform live. “The microphones you use in the studio really help shape you as a producer and an engineer; they add to your sound,” he explains. Even before they were Audix official, Musa remembers using the D6 for a kick as often as he could get his hands on one. In recording the new album, his first question to the studio was, Do you have a D6? They didn’t. “I remember borrowing one,” he says. “The Audix D6 is definitely my favorite for the kick drum-I’ve been using it for at least eight years now.”
Their live setup includes a whole lot of Audix. “We’re slowly just converting everything to Audix. We use the DP7 drum pack live, which is insanely good, our sound engineer [Rob Roberts] loves it. We all use the OM7 and OM6 dynamic vocal microphones on our vocals. I use the OM7 because the pickup pattern is a bit tighter around the back-especially with the drums, it cuts out so much of that bleed that you get from the cymbals. I think it’s the best vocal mic for a drummer or a rock band. I’ve got three OM7s now-I’ve got a backup of a backup, because we don’t want to be using anything else if we can avoid it.”
For more info, visit www.springkingband.com and follow Spring King on Facebook at www.facebook.com/springkingmusic. Their new album Tell Me If You Like To is available on iTunes at itunes.apple.com/album/tell-me-if-you-like-to/id1110218095. Watch their new music video for “Detroit” below.