After moving to Nashville just two days after high school, Spazz Cardigan, a classically trained pianist and multi-instrumentalist, began making his mark in the music scene. Writing with hip-hop musicians in Nashville, he began to really hone in on his production technique. With Nashville’s music scene changing, it’s musicians like Spazz Cardigan that help to create the platform for other artists to follow in their footsteps. He answered questions for Cliché about Nashville’s music scene, his background with music including learning many instruments, and his upcoming EP.
Cliché: You moved to Nashville two days after high school to pursue music, that’s pretty brave. What was it about Nashville’s music scene that pulled you there and how was it for you in the beginning compared to now?
Spazz Cardigan: When I moved, I had the standard “Nashville” starter kit: go play at some open mic nights, go play a few writer’s rounds and try to network with the country writers, the Christian writers, and the Belmont kids. That’s really as much as you could do as an alternative artist here for a while other than try to hustle your songs onto Lightning 100 — which is a great local radio station, but they’re very focused on more Americana-leaning indie music than electronic/rap/pop-leaning indie music. The market was totally different. I found work in those early years by becoming friends with rappers and making beats or albums for them; that was really my scene the whole time I was trying to get my project off the ground. Now there are venues, showcase nights, magazines, and tastemakers that really cater to pop and alternative, but that took a few years of imagining a scene before it existed.
How would you say being a classically trained pianist helps you in your career now?
I’m definitely able to pick up on things quickly. I can zone in pretty acutely on what I like or dislike in the music I’m hearing and try to avoid that in what I’m making. It also just gives you a sense of discipline or diligence that I didn’t really share with people when I was in punk or rock bands.
What does your creative process look like? What inspires your music?
I’m writing every day, usually with someone new most of the time. A lot of writers I know are very good with these super witty concepts or tongue-in-cheek lyrics that they’ll bring into a session to write as a prompt, but I’ve always had a weakness there so I try to let myself stay fluid and present with what’s happening around me and just write about that. Usually it’s politics or music politics that’s on my mind and I’ll try to find a way to channel that into whatever the musical vibe is. I tend to start from creating the music until I discover a melody, then I’ll produce the song in tandem with the lyric writing.
You play a ton of instruments. Do you usually teach yourself? And what draws you to these instruments?
I learned just enough piano to start understanding guitar, and took lessons just long enough with both of them that I had a baseline understanding of theory that let me pick up most other instruments. Except brass and winds; I cannot wrap my brain around the muscular nuance for them — I also can’t whistle! I’m really just drawn to having the option of creating fluidly; if I have a drum idea or a bass idea or a piano idea, I like the freedom of being able to go to that instrument and express the thought so that I can get on with the rest of the process. It really just comes from some sort of childhood impatience. When I started learning to produce as a kid it came from that same place: I wanted to make a full product on my own so that I didn’t have to wait to express the idea, or have it refracted through someone else’s understanding on my imagination.
You’ve said you’ve been gigging since you were 10 and releasing music since 12 years old. It’s basically just always been a part of your life it seems. How have you grown as an artist since those first days? Do you ever get stage fright or are you just used to it?
I take myself way less seriously now than I did at 10, 15, 20, hopefully yesterday even. I have much more fun with music now than I did as a kid; I was pretty fatalistic with it. It was all or nothing, every show and every song were the crux of my future and nothing was going to go right if I didn’t get that one gig right — and now that just seems like a heart attack waiting to happen. I’m still serious about the craft, and I have to respect the work and be disciplined and put on a good show or execute my brand carefully, but I don’t think I’m going to die if I miss a note on my piano, y’know? I can laugh about it more now.
I definitely got stage fright before the first couple of bigger Spazz gigs because a part of me thought the audience must be pulling some massive joke on me. Rooms that were 250-500 capacity and packed, I mean. Like, there was no way they actually came to my show to listen to my music for an hour. The last few though I was much more comfortable with the process and had so much fun walking out to a full room. I’ll probably feel a similar kind of “no way” when I play Forecastle later this year and there’s 3 or 4,000 people — but that disbelief honestly makes me perform a bit better and it usually wears off within one song.
What can you tell us about the making of your upcoming EP, ‘Vulnerabilia’?
I wrote all of the songs last year, definitely under the influence of how my music translated into live settings. I produced the EP myself like my first LP, played everything on it, recorded it in my bedroom, and really just wanted to give my band something fun and challenging to play every night that was a steroid shot for an audience.
From that EP the single, “S.O.S” has already dropped. Reception so far on the internet seems to be that listeners love it. What’s the story behind that song?
I wrote “S.O.S.” the same week as my last single, “DOIDOIT”, and they both stemmed from me feeling very burned out after a year of working constantly and always tearing myself apart. I noticed myself having the same breakdown again and again, finding the same solutions again and again, and then getting back to the same situation just a few months later. “S.O.S.” is me noticing that pattern and wanting to get over it, to get out of my own way and move on. That people are into it, the fans love it, and it kills in a live room — that just really cements to me that it was worth writing.
Apart from your new EP what else can listeners expect from you in the near future?
*Deep sigh*. I really am so excited for the things coming this year that I’m not able to talk about, but I can talk about playing my first festival shows this summer at Forecastle and SunFest. I’m also opening for Julia Michaels in Raleigh on March 8, and I have a crazy collaboration dropping in the spring. Otherwise, I’m just keeping my head down and focusing on making more music.
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Spazz Cardigan Talks New EP ‘Vulnerabilia’ and More. Featured Image Credit: Ryan Nolan