Purple Magazine
— “Purple 76 Index” S/S 2018 issue 29

Spooner casey

fischerspooner’s 
post-electroclash performance 
comeback 

photography by RINALDO SATA
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM

The new FISCHERSPOONER album ‘SIR,’ produced by Michael Stipe and Boots will be released in February 2018.

FISCHERSPOONER AT BROOKLYN STEEL, BROOKLYN, OCTOBER 27, 2017

OLIVIER ZAHM — What about the new Fischerspooner show? Are you still together with your partner?

CASEY SPOONER — Mm-hmm. I’ve been working with Warren Fischer since the summer of ’98. Almost 20 years. Michael Stipe is the producer of our latest album. He was my first love, when I was 18. He was my first boyfriend.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Really!

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah. [Laughter] And my first gay lover. He was 28. I was 18. We met in Georgia on the dance floor. He was just about to release Green [R.E.M.’s sixth studio album]. I was with him just as he was about to go into arena rock. And now, 30 years later, he’s my producer.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Okay, so you learned early what fame was like.

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah, firsthand. And I didn’t like it. I went in the other direction. I went as far away from fame as I could. That’s why I went into experimental theater and performance — because it was a safer place. Fame was terrible. I mean, it’s not fun.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you ran away to develop a different career, because you’re a performer and also a musician, or?

CASEY SPOONER — I make images, and sometimes I’m in them, and sometimes I’m not.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re a photographer, too.

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah. I make images. Sometimes they move, sometimes they’re still, sometimes I’m in them, sometimes I’m not. There’s a performance component that came later. Music came after acting. So, first it was visual, then the visual started to move, and then the visual started to sing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s like you’re your own canvas, and your own object of desire.

CASEY SPOONER — Yes I am [laughs] … sadly. But it’s a hard job, let me tell you. I wish I could fire myself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — [Laughs] Why do you say that? Do you feel it’s narcissistic? 

CASEY SPOONER — I don’t know. I grew up in the ’80s, so I loved Grace Jones — I worshipped her. It was, like, Grace Jones, Madonna, Laurie Anderson, and Warhol. The crazy, eccentric, and very glamorous performance Pop that happened in the ’80s.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The attitude and the look of the performance was as important as the figure performing.

CASEY SPOONER — Absolutely. It’s all part of the communication — each part is a tool to communicate the message.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you inspired by David Bowie?

CASEY SPOONER — Yes, for sure: Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, all of them. Recently somebody called who saw me in the skirt with the long hair, saying, “You’re like a gay Iggy Pop!” I was, like, “Didn’t Iggy have an affair with Bowie in Berlin? So wasn’t Iggy gay, too?” So I’m just like Iggy.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Sometimes it’s complicated who’s gay, and who’s straight.

CASEY SPOONER — I think it’s always been messy at the top. It’s getting more that way now.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Tell me your story. Why did you stop performing for a while? I feel that you never really did, but that you always created a kind of distance. 

CASEY SPOONER — From music?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes.

CASEY SPOONER — You know, the music industry is very difficult to work in, and it’s gone through a lot of changes. It was never really where I wanted to be or planned to be. I was always planning on a career in art, gallery art. Even when we were doing Fischerspooner, it was more of an entertainment project for the art world. It was not very much about music, but created a kind of mise-en-scène atmosphere to create images and a theater setting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — An entire art situation?

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah, using a familiar form to draw people into a situation that could both manipulate and surprise them.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did that attract people from the music business?

CASEY SPOONER — The music business started chasing us. But at first we turned everyone down. We were doing shows, and performed at the Jack Tilton gallery, then at Gavin Brown’s gallery. When we were with Gavin, a lot of people came to the shows. They all told us we should release our music. So we started burning CDs and selling them at the gallery. That grew so much I was delivering boxes to local record stores. That continued, so then we released a thousand copies of Emerge on vinyl with a very small label called Serotonin… It was the most ridiculous record deal because it was a license deal for six months. It was all they could offer.

OLIVIER ZAHM — [Laughs] 

CASEY SPOONER — Then DJ Hell heard the vinyl and invited us to Berlin to do a performance. That was the first time we performed outside of New York City. He was, like, “Oh shit, let’s release the record.” Then it just kept growing. Then Ministry of Sound chased us, and we said, “No.” Then they offered us a ton of money and flew me in the Concorde, and then I was, like, “Well…”

OLIVIER ZAHM — In the Concorde?

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah, I went on the Concorde. Yeah, it was fun.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I’m jealous.

CASEY SPOONER — From there, Capitol Records… then EMI picked up the first record. So we went all the way from DIY, to indie, to a little bit bigger indie, to independent, to major labels — all the way up the scale. Which was not the best system for us. Not because of anyone’s fault really, but we have an unusual process where we work on music, photography, film, and performance simultaneously. One influences the other so that the whole thing becomes more clear.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you able to adapt to the music business?

CASEY SPOONER — The problem with working in traditional entertainment is that — and this is why I’ve never really been upset that the music business fell apart — it wasn’t a system for us. Because first you had to make the music, which can take years. Then, after you make the music, you hire a photographer, they take a picture, and you hire a stylist, and they pick out an outfit, and then you make a music video, and then you hire the people and go on tour. And that doesn’t really work for us. What really works for us is to do everything at the same time: work on some music, then I work on photography and kind of create a character… In the middle of the recording, we made a book that served as a style guide, which helped to define the context for everyone, including the music.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s speak about gay culture. When you met Michael Stipe, did you already identify as gay?

CASEY SPOONER — I was so young. And I was in love with a girl in high school, but we could not figure out what we were doing with each other. I adored her, but I think maybe I wasn’t aggressive enough sexually. I was so intimidated. So she would hook up with another guy, Donnie. Which broke my heart because we were spending all our time together, dating and doing the things you do when you date. And then she’d go fuck another guy!

OLIVIER ZAHM — Oh la la.

CASEY SPOONER — And it made me crazy. And of course she would hide it from me… I was sexually timid, which didn’t open the door to that relationship. But she was the one I called when Michael first hit on me. I was confused by it — confused and excited. So I called her, saying, “I don’t know what to do. This guy is flirting with me.” And she was, like, “You know, I think you should explore it.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did she help you? 

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah. The girl I was in love with set me free, encouraged me to be with a man. But there’s been a handful of times when I’ve met women, and for whatever reason, I didn’t follow through with them. My biggest regret was the time Helena Christensen was all over me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A missed opportunity?

CASEY SPOONER — I was at a party, and in a monogamous relationship, and she was so flirtatious. Then, when I got home and I told my boyfriend, “Baby, I almost cheated on you tonight with Helena Christensen,” he said, “You idiot!” He was, like, “If that ever happens again, do it.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you bisexual?

CASEY SPOONER — I’ve had experiences with women, but I’m drawn to men.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did AIDS frighten you?

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah, it was the ’80s. I was born in the ’70s. So, ’84, ’86… I’m 14, 15, 16, reading about the AIDS hysteria in the media and having my first real inkling about death.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The ultimate human connection: sex and death.

CASEY SPOONER — Completely. But right now, New York is going through a revolution because of Truvada. Do you know about this drug?

OLIVIER ZAHM — No.

CASEY SPOONER — It’s a drug you can take that prevents HIV. It’s a also a drug you take if you become HIV positive. Most gay men I know are now on it. So you don’t need to use a condom. You don’t have to have safe sex. So, there’s a renewed feeling of sexual liberation that’s happening.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it expensive?

CASEY SPOONER — Very expensive. Fortunately, New York city has incredible programs to make it very inexpensive. I only pay $3 a month for it. Because if you don’t have insurance coverage or if you aren’t part of an insurance program, it costs $1,500 a month. Also, it’s not available worldwide… I started taking it in April of 2016. This drug, Truvada, has completely changed behavior in New York City. There’s a boom in sex parties, sex clubs, group sex, and open relationships. So, in general, New York has become a hyper-sexualized environment.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because of this drug.

CASEY SPOONER — I mean, it’s been growing. At first, I was very resistant because I didn’t like the idea of big pharma, corporate America, owning my sexuality. I felt they were profiting from queerness. Conservatives were both undermining the civil rights of gay people and profiting from them. Because it can prevent HIV, and so many people take it, they’re making money off you whether you’re HIV positive or negative. I felt a lot of resistance. Then I went through a big breakup and started dating a younger man who was maybe 32, super-sexy, super-hot. It was a very sexual relationship. And he was on a drug called PrEP — that’s an acronym for pre-exposure prophylaxis. There’s a city program that provides PrEP for people who can’t afford it or don’t have insurance coverage.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And he didn’t have insurance?

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah. You know, health insurance in America is a disaster. I’m an artist… I can’t afford health insurance. Well, now I have health insurance through Obamacare. These other programs provide the drug PrEP.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So these new medicines have transformed gay culture in New York?

CASEY SPOONER — Absolutely. That’s why I’ve sort of adopted the ’70s image. It’s because there is this golden age of gay life that’s happening again, where you can have sex without fear.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re also very romantic.

CASEY SPOONER — I am, I know. It’s so funny, I just had a Halloween party where I dressed like a total whore. My friend was, like, “You know you’re really not a slut.” And I was, like, “I know!” In fact, I’d rather dance and hang out with my friends and talk and hold hands and kiss and spend time with someone. I’m not really deep into the gay bang thing. Whenever there’s a gangbang, I’m probably going to be upstairs having a cocktail.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you always have great style. How do you explain that? Is it a gift?

CASEY SPOONER — I think I got it from my mother. My mother’s very stylish. So it feels like it’s genetic,

OLIVIER ZAHM — I’ve noticed that you regularly change your style. 

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah. I like to change it. Although for this album, I’ve stuck to one image a little bit longer than normal.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you feel like a figure in New York’s art and gay scene — a representative? Do you feel like you can teach something to the younger generations?

CASEY SPOONER — I do actually. It’s interesting because when I was younger, I didn’t know a lot of older gay men because they all died. And now I’m in this situation where I’m a mentor, but I never had one myself. So, I don’t really know how to mentor. I get confused because I treat young guys as if we’re the same, and then I realize we’re not.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because you’re older?

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah. And then I think, “Oh, right, I’m the adult.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are they waiting for advice?

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah, and so it’s been a little confusing. Because age is real and not real. I don’t get too caught up in it. I remember when I was younger and people would talk about their age, and I’d say, “The thing that makes people seem old is when they talk about their age.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you don’t need to.

CASEY SPOONER — Well, when I was younger, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be around cool and interesting people who knew something.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But in a way, you’re a representative of this community — this community that I didn’t realize is quite open again.

CASEY SPOONER — But also angry about the political situation.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And that needs to protect itself even more so than before.

CASEY SPOONER — Way more. Shockingly so.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Before, you had to fight for your rights, and now you have to fight for your existence. 

CASEY SPOONER — And you have to fight the rights of people who don’t have the privilege of a being a cis-white-male. So, from the queer community, I’m the one with the most privilege. Now I feel I have to not simply take care of myself, but to take care of others, the weaker ones.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a crazy period.

CASEY SPOONER — It’s fucked up. But, weirdly, I feel good about it because everyone feels alive, invigorated, focused, and conscious. Everyone has a purpose, drive, perspective.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You can transform yourself.

CASEY SPOONER — I can go through things. I love to have that kind of focus.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The sense of community, and the political sense… does it apply to sex, including anonymous sex?

CASEY SPOONER — There’s a great community in anonymous sex. I don’t think it needs to be diminished. It’s like a ritualistic energy exchange.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In the virtual community of sex, don’t online applications isolate people?

CASEY SPOONER — No, it’s brought people together because it’s broken down socioeconomic boundaries. I’m meeting people whom I wouldn’t meet because they’re not in my circle, or where I hang out. So, I’m connecting with people in all kinds of different ways.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But that’s the nature of sex, isn’t it? Sex is democratic.

CASEY SPOONER — Yes. It is. And I meet a lot of people online, and then I end up working with them. I met Juan Pablo, who stars in the Togetherness video, on Grindr. He’s an incredible dancer. But social media is also an environment where people segregate. They can segregate sex from their real life or their professional life. So that makes it a great way to meet people and connect and share something.

OLIVIER ZAHM — To share something deeper, too?

CASEY SPOONER — You can have sex again or not. You can just meet. It’s like a greeting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But the thing is, creating sexual connections through social media is also somewhat superficial.

CASEY SPOONER — The problem with digital sex is that … a photograph is not always representative of a person. And so, sometimes people can look amazing or they can have the right stats, but their energy, their smell — these very real things don’t always connect. So, you take a risk. In general, it’s like a multi-platformed set of clues. So the online picture can only be used as a tool.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Maybe we’ll learn to consider pictures as an illusion, rather than a trap.

CASEY SPOONER — Everyone’s become so savvy with photography. Like everyone knows their angle and their light. I heard that when you look at pictures of someone online, and there’s one picture where they don’t look the best, that’s probably what they look like. So, just stick to the worst one and be prepared for that. But I’ve also had magical experiences. The song I did, “Top Brazil,” when I was in Rome. I was traveling with my sister, and we were sharing a room, and I snuck out of the hotel and met this beautiful Roman college student, who snuck me into his parents’ house — while they were sleeping. We had the most incredible, beautiful, amazing, sexual experience, like a top five. His profile name was Top Brazil. And the next night, I wanted it again, and it was awful. It was terrible. The energy was wrong, and the whole thing felt so weird.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s incredible that 30 years later, Michael Stipe is still with you. 

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah. It’s crazy and cool to make an album about gayness with the man who started it all for me. We worked a lot at his home, which was the same place I had sex with a man for the first time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — He’s not just a musician, he’s also a visual artist.

CASEY SPOONER — And not fully recognized or appreciated for his perspective on visual art and culture as well as music.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Which is as deep and as real.

CASEY SPOONER — Oh my god! Just last week he basically became my show director. He sat outside during the production and gave me notes. It was so intense and incredible to have him help me basically write the script. The thing that was most different on this record was that, since he’s so experienced with performance, he knew how to write and record for the stage. So, the voice is more natural.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What did he tell you?

CASEY SPOONER — Well, once we would write and record a song, he would say, “Okay, now go through and sing that song from start to finish three times.” This was to see if it was performable live. For instance, in the past when we would make songs, because I never considered myself a singer, I felt I didn’t have anything to prove musically. So I would just show up, and I would let Warren [Fischer] do whatever and sing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Improvising?

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah, Improvisation is part of the writing process, but, in terms of finishing and performing, I wouldn’t worry about how or even if it would be performed. I didn’t care. I just wanted it to sound cool. Warren has a great ear, and he has this icy quality that is interesting to me. He likes to get to emotion through an extreme formal quality. Michael goes in another direction. His way of connecting is more human. For example, in the second verse of “Never Win,” I can’t sing it all the way through because the vocals are edited in such a way that there’s nowhere for me to take a breath. So, when I’m doing that song, I have to be so focused, and I take teeny breaths. The last tour, I was wearing a corset, so I was trying to breathe and get all the words in and…

OLIVIER ZAHM — And at the same time, you’re moving, dancing.

CASEY SPOONER — Yeah, constantly. So Michael was very good at helping me build a script that I could actually sing naturally, with my voice. That’s opened up my performance in a way like never before.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Great! When do I get to see one?

CASEY SPOONER — It’s coming. Yeah… It’s been tough but it’s good to be here.

END

[Table of contents]

“Purple 76 Index” S/S 2018 issue 29

Table of contents

Purple Index 76

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