Christopher Sprake is an engaging singer, songwriter, performer and producer based in Victoria, Australia. Their latest release is East Coast Low and they are currently in the North Hemisphere touring it.
As part of Tour of Melbourne (June 2018), spoke at length with Sprake about life and particularly having a big heart for community as well as their releases. Can hear that chat here….
To listen, click the green ‘play’ triangle… [note: may take few seconds to load]
(Transcript of Christopher Sprake chat below, check to delivery in audio)
IMAGE CREDIT: Jason Lau (Photography)
At time of posting, these are the current dates remaining of his Northern Hemisphere Tour. Strongly urge to catch him LIVE if you can:
24 March – Sault Ste. Marie, ON – Cases Music
27 March – Montreal, QC
28 March – Toronto ON – The Burdock
30 March – Ottawa, ON – Bar Robo
31 March – Kingston, ON – The Mansion
SHOW NOTES: Christopher Sprake episode
Where to find the show to subscribe/follow:
- PlayPodcast – this link directs you, to the Podcast app on your device 9subscribe to not miss an episode)
….or you may prefer to Search “radionotes Podcast” in your favourite podcatcher.
The socials… Instagram – Facebook – Twitter
FEATURE GUEST: Christopher Sprake
- Official Site
- Instagram – Twitter – Facebook
- East Coast Low
- Hidden Currents (Band)
- Stars (Live with explanations)
- Storm (Official Music Video)
Mentions on episode:
Next episode guest: Rachel Eckroth
- Call My Name (Lyric Video)
More details on playpodcast here, thanks to Matt from them.
[Radio Production – notes: one main chat contact for more details – thanks]
Theme/Music: Martin Kennedy and All India Radio
Web-design/tech: Steve Davis
Voice: Tammy Weller
You can make direct contact with the podcast – on the Contact Page
For direct quotes check to audio, first version of transcript by Jonathan H at REV
Due to format C. Sprake used as Christopher Sprake too long for the fields REV use.
John Murch: Christopher, welcome to radionotes.
C. Sprake: Thanks John.
John Murch: Can you firstly touch on the new release and what that’s meant to actually now finally get the band record out.
C. Sprake: First thing that’s really evident with this record for us is that, it really shows the progression of us meeting as a group of friends, who were originally playing my songs as a songwriter, and then moving towards writing together, and having the sort of backwards and forwards songwriting process with the music that takes a lot more time. A song that kicks off the record like Made Ghosts is very much my songwriting brought to the band with the structure pretty much complete, and then the music filled out by the band, whereas by the time you get to the end of the album with songs like Ring and Small Folk, it was very much writing together. While I still contribute to the music, it’s a collaborative process writing the actual music.
John Murch: Narratively speaking, are you happy with the stories that you’ve shared on it?
C. Sprake: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s, I guess as my style that trying to work in personal stories with larger social issues, or using relationship stories to discuss social issues, that’s sort of where we’ve often come from or I’ve often come from.
John Murch: When you do that, Christopher, that very much feels like a breaking down of the personnel, let’s call it private, the private and the public aspect of living. Do you have a conscious desire to do that? To make the personal in some way through songwriting become more public, and the public to be more personal?
C. Sprake: That division is how a lot of social issues come up that people segregate themselves into sections of society and they think that they’re not involved with the outcomes of social issues or they don’t have a responsibility for a social issue. Hopefully when you’re telling a story from a personal point of view, you can smuggle in some ideas about equality and shared human experiences. Possibly it’s preaching to the choir in the style of music we do, but hopefully some of the songs, say a song like Updraft, which is slightly about my own relationship, being sort of in limbo and has a large section about refugee friends, having to experience detention and not knowing if or when they’d ever be released back into the real life of one of a better phrase. Some people that resonates well and for other people it’s always just going to be a love song.
John Murch: If the music is about preaching to the converted, is there a sense of frustration or is that a challenge for you to make the music broader but within your own style of music?
C. Sprake: It’s definitely something we’ve been conscious of, even now as we’re willing to writing a second album were critiquing ourselves a lot more heavily and thinking about how music can impact other people and not just be for our own enjoyment. On the next album one, there’re probably less eight minute progressive pieces and probably more shorter form a songs with bigger moments of hopefully uplifting ideas and music. That is something that we’ve thought about, that what is the line between art and doing something that you love for yourself and also getting ideas out to other people.
John Murch: The Voice of the protester has been less listened to over the last decade or so, it feels through music. But there is another narrative which you seem to be taking you on board that isn’t so much about the protest but about the education there of.
C. Sprake: As many people have probably said before me, you have to give the human face of the things that you concerned about. You have to make that resonate with people so that they realize that have a shared human experience with someone who’s being marginalized. I think at the moment, there’s a lot of people in the arts community and in community work, they’re pretty much at that point of fatigue that we’ve seen a large lurch to the right with politics, and we feel like we’re saying the same things over and over and over, and then nothing changes. If anything, as we see money being taken away from community and arts projects, there’s less funding. The same people trying to make the same impact and trying to make changes in the community have less resources and stretched even thinner. While there are a lot of people who are very hopeful, there’s also that fatigue of trying to say the same thing over and over.
John Murch: Has the wind been taken out of collectivism then, or has been taken over by the more right elements?
C. Sprake: I think there’s probably an element of that. I think a lot of people, it’s that fine line between self interest and being able to stay dedicated to a cause. I know that in the community sector, a lot of people love the work that they do, but if they suddenly see that the state or federal funding has dropped and their role takes them down to three days a week and they potentially can’t survive on three days a week, then obviously they have to look for something else, which leads to a high rotation of staff in this community projects and those core relationships that make the changes in communities they turn over more quickly, which is quite frustrating.
John Murch: Christopher this is a good point to pick up back to the music, and what you’re doing within the community sector with music and those members of various communities to I guess get their stories heard as well. What kind of rewards has that brought you on a personal and possibly professional level?
C. Sprake: There’s been a lot of great outcomes. I guess just quickly my background, for the last probably four/four and a half years more directly has been that, my recording studio has been on public housing estates in Melbourne, so originally Collingwood and then the last three and a half years in Richmond. These are some of the most disadvantaged and diverse communities in Melbourne. The Richmond site is within a minutes walk of the largest drug dealing site in Victoria, and within view of the new injecting rooms that will be established, have been established. It is a diverse and challenging environment. For me going into the environment, it’s been about identifying the potential in people who have no backing or resources and then trying to get their voices heard and give them the chance to explore their talents and their potentials.
C. Sprake: That’s been a whole range of different projects. We’ve run many music events and festivals on the housing estate in Collingwood and Richmond, one of the most successful, we even managed to get funding to let off fireworks above the Richmond housing estate, which for me was an amazing moment having African refugee women saying that this was the first time they’d ever seen fireworks in a real life, kind of incredible. But, by the same token, events like that, I would be standing toe to toe with drug dealers who are essentially telling us that this was their turf and they needed to get out of the public spaces. We’d have an indie folk singer meet us from one of the big drug dealing sites and we’d have them to be having to face off with drug dealers while they’re performing for other people. It’s definitely a place of contrasts.
C. Sprake: The biggest ongoing project, and the one that I sort of found the most successful was working with at risk African youth have a project called rich beats that evolved to two nights a week, doing hip hop focused songwriting and music production. That grew to encompass 30 regular participants. These young people, some of them were coming to develop their skills and for a little bit of, I guess entertainment after school, but for other people involved, we’re talking about people that have experiences of family violence, they might be first or second generation refugees. They obviously have experienced racial profiling and prejudice. They’ll come in, work on their hip hop and their rap tracks, and this can range from something that’s really just a process of building up their ego, so it starts off in the most sort of clichéd hip hop parlance. But then as people get positive feedback, they start to think about their place in society and reflect on how they can interact with that, and so that the writing actually can take a bit more of a social focus.
John Murch: Do you feel, during that time you’ve steered people away from drugs or at least given them a decent alternative, it sounds like you have.
C. Sprake: There’s a bit of gallows humor for a lot of the community workers that you often say you’ve just kept people off drugs for another six months. I definitely think that for a lot of these people, it’s about feeling that someone believes in them and then having the chance to see their potential reflected back at them.
John Murch: Where did that come for you Christopher? Where did you decide, was it a very young age, that being in that environment, being in that line of work, it was going to be the key.
C. Sprake: Like from my own story, growing up in the 70s and 80s as an artistic sensitive male, I experienced a lot of bullying and prejudice on the assumptions that people made about me not fitting into gender norms, what my sexuality might possibly be, and even just looking different. I grew up in a fairly conservative part of Melbourne, and so a lot of the expected ideas about masculinity were just things that I was never going to, I was never going to be the footballer, I was never going to be the stand over bully. Yeah. It was never going to fulfill all those things that, at that point where the expected norms. I think in some part, you know, I guess a psycho analyst would say that I’m still that disenchanted and frustrated teenager trying to make a difference in society and let people be themselves, or maybe I’m still kicking back against all of that stuff that I grew up with.
John Murch: But there’s a point where that was you, but you decide to then go into a career, a line of work that was giving back to what was similar or close to what you were experiencing?
C. Sprake: Yeah. That’s true, and maybe rather than being an activist for a certain cause, being a community development worker was always closer to where I was headed, because rather than taking one line on one issue, it’s trying to bring people together and show them where their similarities and their human connections are rather than their differences.
John Murch: Did you find that is and continues to be some of strength in difference though? In binding difference as a strength?
C. Sprake: I think the diversity, obviously diversity is very important and personally I feel safer around diversity, but I think there’s actuality in trying to show people that they can be themselves and then getting people to experience diversity around them and embrace it and support it. In the same way that they are embraced for who they are and their unique contribution just as a society that they can identify it in other people, and then enhance that as well, which is tricky.
John Murch: When did music for you then play a part? When did that start being a thing that was important to you?
C. Sprake: For as long as I can remember, I probably started first making music on piano when I was young. I didn’t follow that as much as I probably should have, really just from the perspective of when you’re a kid being hit with a ruler on the fingers for when you get the notes wrong, it doesn’t encourage it-
John Murch: Yeah, that’s what used too happen to kids.
C. Sprake: From a young age, I was listening to the radio and taping my favorite songs off the radio, I was in piracy already. In my teenage years, like a lot of people, you start to try and make sense of the world by creating your own music and writing your own songs. Yeah. I guess that really became part of my identity, trying to create sounds.
John Murch: Did the idea of songwriting come earlier or later in that piece? Because I have a feeling that would have been key to the expression, so when did that sort of sit in?
C. Sprake: Yeah, I think probably by the time I was 15 or 16 I was thinking about writing in some form. A lot of the music that I was listening to was very sound based rather than structured basis, so all those sort of post punk new wave bands like the Banshees, and The Cure and Simple Minds and U2, and all that sort of built a lot of experimentation in what guitar and keyboard could sound like. At that point that was probably as important for setting the sonic picture of where the lyrics would go. It was probably later that, being more self critiquing about lyrics became important.
John Murch: You look at the diversity, let’s just pick one record, the go off record for example, so if you look at the diversity of that particular album, were you starting to see and feel things listening to the album possibly like that at the time that you would do in later life. Were you taking note or just experiencing?
C. Sprake: I don’t think I was that conscious back then. I think as a teenager I was probably very much just straight into the emotions, straight into the reaction, but probably by the time I was in my late teens, I was already recording on a four track, like probably every kid was that age so you’re starting to think how can they make that sound, how they do that. The production side of things eventually sort of came through. That’s probably one of my feelings, even now that I’m still largely all about heart, and the technical side of things is driven by wanting that connection. I wouldn’t call myself a naturally gifted technical musician or someone that thinks technically, or started out thinking technically about music production. But all of that was driven by wanting to be able to make the sounds right.
John Murch: Did that make the genre of shoe gazing for example, more appealing to you? That it was more about the heart then the play?
C. Sprake: Yeah, I think so. And even, I probably bypassed things like grunge because I felt like it was too derivative back to say, heavy rock or hard rock, so even in electronic music I found those expressions of music and sound and atmosphere more engaging. I guess with shoe gaze, one of the big things was always the almost unintended crossovers where the sound was just so wild that you weren’t quite sure how all these things would interact, and make sounds that were engaging in a mystifying.
John Murch: Is that the next challenge, so once you’ve done with four tracks was it a case of then figuring out how they did this, definitely not a four track approach really.
C. Sprake: Yeah. That layering is still something that’s amazing, and probably with a band like Hidden Currents, we’re being more aware now that we maybe need to strip things back and focus on being just a five piece rather than a studio band, so yeah.
John Murch: Hidden Currents is the current band of Christopher Sprake, who is our very special guest, and do want to ask you about your recording studio last match recordings, not just a home for your own work but of others as well. When did you decide that you needed a recording studio? What was the match spot?
C. Sprake: I mean I always had a small recording set up for myself even though I was just recording as a solo artist. The real impetus was brought along when I had kids, and so up until that point, really my life had been a day job working in healthcare, so healthcare worker and nurse. When the kids came along I just thought, well maybe I’ll try doing the sort of medium sized budget home studio and I’ll run all the studio hours around looking after the kids. It took about six months for the transition to happen, and since then that’s the only the work I’ve really done. That was really the spark I guess.
John Murch: You at least have a home for that sound to be produced, and is there much of a future in that or is there other focuses now?
C. Sprake: Look, for myself, there’ll be different focuses in the future. This is the 11th year I’ve been running a recording studio and I love sound, but the time demands of also being a single parent and being in a band that us to wanting to go out and tour and work as much as you often hear people say, I fired my own studio, I’d been in there all the time,, and it’s true, you, you are in there all the time, but most of the time you’re working on other people’s music. It’s not always a glamorous thing to be in a soundproofed darkened environment for eight to 12 hours a day for days on end. I do feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to do it for so long, especially in an age when digital technology sort of making the future of recording studios questionable, but yeah, for myself, I’m looking to running a venue with a recording studio and a live music components sort of my future I would say.
John Murch: You mentioned a single parent, so let’s talk about some joy there. What is the joy of being a single parent?
C. Sprake: For someone like myself, it’s just seeing your kids become themselves. As a parent, I’m very much focused on supporting them in what they want to do. When they ask for answers, I generally give them a variety of answers that they can think about rather than this is what you should do, and just seeing them find their joy in life and then work towards something.
John Murch: It was rough back then, and you said that we’re lurching to the right a little earlier, so how do you feel about the future?
C. Sprake: I think there’s, maybe there’s a lot of people saying I think socially it’s probably going to get worse for a while, I guess that’s for me being more progressive and left worse.
John Murch: Is that a case are not getting what you might what?
C. Sprake: That’s right, yeah, that should qualify that. I guess I’m hopeful that society at large can shift in its values, so at least as a society where progressive and embracing difference.
John Murch: The thing is, Christopher, you’ve got the next generation and your hands, you’re giving them a number of different answers you said just then. You have a little piece of the pie to play towards that.
C. Sprake: I certainly give them information. I avoid saying this is what you should think. But let’s say the most recent sort of social issue that came up large for Australia was the marriage equality vote, so talking with my kids about it, I didn’t really say either way, even though I obviously I have strong ideas about myself, I’ll just point out this is what some politicians think about it, this is what other politicians think about it, this is what people at large think about it. When you’re delivering an idea like that to my kids, like my daughter saying, well these politicians think that people who are the same gender shouldn’t be allowed to get married. So my daughter’s responsible to that was just, well that’s stupid, isn’t it? That’s just mean. Without having indoctrination of certain ideas, people just get to react. My kids get to react and then we can have discussions about those kinds of ideas. They see the way I live, they say the way I’ve prioritized art and people and community in my life, and there’s lots of things to discuss with them about that.
C. Sprake: But they also are coming up in this new generation where their superheroes are YouTube games players, or they create funny video content providers, so it is a different landscape, and obviously the finances of living in a big city like Melbourne, will they ever own property? Do they need to? Does that change ideas about security? The other mechanics of it all can be scary. There’s lots of contrasting ideas, and I guess from my own point of view, taking one ideology and just sticking to it, really breaks down the debate over the worth of the ideas now. Even though I see myself as progressive and left, I don’t think that the left is beyond reproach or introspection in how they approach their ideas.
John Murch: You mentioned about focusing, putting your focus on music, arts and community very clearly. Was there a point that you made a conscious decision that that would be what you would do? Did you go through some sort of high school university and go this is what I’m going to do now.
C. Sprake: When I did my nursing, it was like a training program, so that’s the sort of formal education I have other than high school, I’m generally not the kind of person, as I was saying earlier, that is led directly intellectually, so my heart generally leads and then my head goes back to do the research. I wouldn’t say that there was a clear moment where I decided that all these things we’re going to define my life, but as my heart sort of led towards looking after other people, being a nurse, working in the community, the experience of my own being bullied and marginalized because I was different in the time that I was growing up, I think they’re all factors. I mean, even in one of my earlier jobs, I was unfairly dismissed because someone assumed that I was gay, so there’ve been little moments like that all along that probably led towards that.
John Murch: Stark reminder for people, that it wasn’t actually that long ago. We are talking years, not decades go this levels of discrimination for which people think never occurred, occurred quite on frequent basis. How do you resolve that or have you been able to resolve that within yourself? And has music been a part of that or is there some other element of Christopher that says, no, this is how I’m going to get through that?
C. Sprake: I would have to say that music and songwriting is the way I try and process everything that goes on in my life. I don’t keep a diary but I have song notebooks and that’s something that I do regularly.
John Murch: It’s very selective process, isn’t it? A diary could be a spill of the spleen where songs are more concise, aren’t there? When you write down those ideas, even at the first stage, are they-
C. Sprake: Maybe not concise, I would generally start out with a few lines that would, that I think are strong, and then I just fill the page with ideas and there’ll be arrows drawn here and they’re trying to pull everything-
John Murch: I imagine there’s beautiful comebacks as well, like five weeks after someone said something to you as well. Maybe that’s a little vengeful.
C. Sprake: I can’t think of it at the moment, but yeah, I’ll have the perfect comeback when I’m alone at home. The writing process, I guess is my way of processing, but I guess also having developed a lot of community programs, you’re trying to think about how other people can be given a voice and be showcased, and that also brings issues back to the foreign, a more public way in society.
John Murch: I’m going to take you back standing. You’re organizing an acoustic session in a housing estate area, and you’ve got the drug dealers standing next to you pretty much trying to push you out of the way possibly in their space.
C. Sprake: You’re talking about an outside public space that is essentially the back garden for 3000 people that live on the estate. If they want to have a safe performance of music, the people that lived there have got a right to that. In the same way the kids have got a right to play basketball or ride their bikes around. There’s a very good chance that you’ll become a target, there’s good chance that you could get hit, and it has happened, but at the same time you’re trying to fight that perception that drug dealers or other forces at work actually own these spaces, they belonged to the people that live on the estate and they should be able to engage with those spaces without that fear.
John Murch: Do you have any hope for them to change by you being that space? You know, people that you can help but these individuals.
C. Sprake: It’s certainly a complex environment, and it would be fair to say that if you’re growing up in that environment and you see a community worker who’s going to be earning 30/35 bucks an hour, or you see the drug dealers who are driving around in their Mercedes Benz or BMWs, what is a more realistic and attractive …
John Murch: Aspirational.
C. Sprake: Exactly. Having hope, I don’t know, my observation has been that these things move in waves, that you’ll have a few years where a lot of great social change will come through and you’ll have a lot of the stakeholders engaged, so there’ll be state government, local government, federal funding, lots of different agencies working together and they will make a difference.
John Murch: I want to pick you up on that point of the BMW versus the 35 an hour, not to be too personalized about it, but you also mentioned that you work from the heart. Surely the communication of the heart is way stronger than the callous coldness of the corporatization of the BMW, of the drug dealer.
C. Sprake: I guess it depends on how those things are projected to the community and essentially to the people living in those estates as well. If your heroes are hip hop stars with all the trappings, the gold chains and the cars and the women, and you’ve got people modeling something close to that lifestyle, that’s a big thing to be kicking back against. Going back to the moving in waves, so I saw her a few years of amazing changes, and then in the last year to 18 months, we’ve seen three different service providers in Richmond disappear because the funding disappeared. That meant that Homework club and a couple of other organizations that were always available and we’re situated on the estate are gone, so from around the middle of last year, if you’re a kid living on the Richmond housing estate, you could play basketball, you could do drama, with my best mate, you could do hip hop recording with me. Hopefully we’re at that point in the cycle where things swing back the other way, but yeah, that’s sort of been my experience of it.
John Murch: Because what you’re saying as bleak as is, you’re mate, the others aren’t in that space, then it will just get filled in by those that are willing to peddle?
C. Sprake: Correct.
John Murch: Having a chat with Christopher Sprake from Hidden Currents, he also does things he does by himself, we’re finding a little bit more about him and and what he does. What’s your overseas travel’s been like?
C. Sprake: The last overseas trip to the recording with Canadian musician and producer Jim Bryson. I really enjoyed, probably the most enjoyable thing was not being behind the desk.
John Murch: You’ll note that he’s smiling in that voice. Jim Bryson was his hero during these times.
C. Sprake: It still is Jim, if you listen to this. I think finding other producers that are able to put their ego aside and embrace the music is really important to me. There’s another local Melbourne producer I work with occasionally, Marty Brown and he’s just sort of a similar mindset. Marty playing in Art of Fighting, a Melbourne based band.
John Murch: Well, and an outstanding band.
C. Sprake: Correct.
John Murch: That was your connection to Marty Brown was Art of Fighting?
C. Sprake: Originally, yeah. And so we’ve done some drum sessions together and when I want once, an objective set of ears that I can trust are going review mixes with Marty, but yeah, so similar sort of approach with Jim that he’s very good at finding the space in songs. He’s very good at knowing what a song does and doesn’t need. I suffer from adding things when I’m not sure about a song, whereas Jim’s was very much able to take my songs and just put my voice up the front and then construct around that. That was my last trip and I did a little bit of traveling around with Jim while we were there. He also plays with an artist called Oh Susanna, so that was a great experience as well going to Toronto for rehearsals and then playing in an outdoor festival, or seeing them play. It was also inspiring just from the fact that you’ve got people who are middle aged with children who are still just loving what they’re doing and embracing it and taking their kids along for the ride.
John Murch: Do you think you’ll be doing that again for your releases? To head overseas?
C. Sprake: Envisage that at some point in the future it will happen?
John Murch: Was there an inspiration of a writing while you were there or was it very much the recording of what you had and the tourist factor?
C. Sprake: We made some slight changes to lyrics, really just in I guess as a review of it all, but mostly it was trying to capture the music and a bit of the tourism side of things as well. I’d been to Canada before, but it must have been on the other side of Vancouver and Edmonton. I’ve always loved Canada.
John Murch: How much of your relationships, your personal relationships end up on your recordings?
C. Sprake: There’s often an initial spark of a conversation or something that happens and that’ll end up as the catalyst for the song, and then they will grow around that.
John Murch: Is that the rebuttal thing again, being in a situation where you’re more comfortable a few days later in the song writing process?
C. Sprake: I think some of it’s the rebuttal, but there’s also the element of this person was right in what they said about me, and so you’re exploring your failings and your frailties as much as you’re exploring the failings of people in relationships in general.
John Murch: Is that hard to do? Betting that question with the fact that being bullied at a younger age that you already may have felt like you were wrong and that might be a default position.
C. Sprake: I mean, I think that can swing both ways, always having to feel like you’re right and you’re always having to prove that you’re right, but yeah, there’s definitely that aspect that you’re questioning yourself, questioning your worth. I recently watched the amazing Hannah Gadsby special Nannette, when she’s talking about doing self deprecating humor, and linking that back to growing up continuously being told that you’re not good enough or you’re not what you meant to be, and then you end up and you’re 40 and you’re still apologizing in a self deprecating way for being on stage. Certainly, you know, a lot of the guys in the band, like we love music and we think that what we’re doing is really worthwhile, but we’re also, we’re not hip hop stars trying to promote ourselves. We’re not saying this is the best thing you’ll ever listen to.
C. Sprake: There’s probably an element of that that is either that we’re still trying to reconcile the idea of having self worth, or that society has told us for so long that we’re outsiders, that it’s hard to believe that people out there are actually going to take an interest. I think that moment has a lot of resonance for a lot of people that yeah, once again, if you’ve, if you’ve grown up being told that for a long time, getting to a point where you can accept your own worth and deliver it to people around you and not being apologetic about it, it’s a tricky thing.
John Murch: What do you do to give yourself self worth?
C. Sprake: I hope that my contribution to the world around me makes things better for other people, whether it’s my kids or my community or people that engage with the music. That would probably be in a nutshell.
John Murch: What elements from that giving reward you the most?
C. Sprake: I think other people being able to be themselves and feel reassured in who they are themselves, so with the music, that’s when people, you know, resonate with music or with the song. One of the things that I was kind of surprised by on the recent shows, we have a song on the new album called What You Left Me, which is really about, what is left for men in Australian society, once you’ve told them these are the things that are acceptable. And for someone like myself, it’s not much, but at the shows with Hidden Currents, that was the song that people were singing along to. To see men in their 30s screaming the lyrics back at you was like really unexpected. For myself, I felt that that song was quite personal and quite confronting and I didn’t expect it to, I thought people would probably sort of either wash over it or it’d be too much.
John Murch: Society’s expectation, and then when you made that comment he did there, it’s not the masculine aggression side, it’s not the taking control of these aspects.
C. Sprake: Yup. We’ve got all these things that we’re comfortable with men doing. They’re fairly limiting. We’re comfortable with a sports hero, we’re comfortable with the loud alpha male, we’re more comfortable with the idea that guys might use porn then if they are actually emotional and want to talk about their feelings, and that’s something I’ve experienced myself, that people are confronted when you get teary about an issue, or a song, or a piece of art, or if you want to read poetry and talk about why this is important.
John Murch: But at the same time, if you open up the lads mag, that’s totally acceptable in your own realm.
C. Sprake: Yep, and maybe even in wider society, people are more comfortable and so, yeah, so the idea of What You Left Me is like, well, these are the things that you’re comfortable with me doing, but it’s not who I am. I guess also commenting on society and saying, well, when men go slightly beyond the bounds of these things, they get reprimanded slightly, but you’re still more comfortable with those things in general.
John Murch: How you’re working through that?
C. Sprake: Writing songs where I scream. I guess for the discussion of it, I’m relatively comfortable with who I am in myself.
John Murch: The question then, Christopher, is what would you like society to do? If you’re giving, which you are, music, you’re being part of the community, what would you like society to do in return to make you feel more accepted within?
C. Sprake: I guess it’s just we need to think about the idea of strength because we have very clichéd ideas about what strength is, especially combined with masculinity, so if you want to talk about something that’s emotional, you want to be able to cry, you want to be able to express love, you shouldn’t be shot down, you should be encouraged, and I think we’re still a long way from that, especially in Australian society. There’s a complexity to it, I don’t know if social media and the short news cycle, all of these things that compete for our attention move us away from having a longer narrative about a lot of issues. How do you give a nuanced complex answer to something in what, 15 seconds of a YouTube video? For myself, I still have to commit to the things that I’m hopefully good at. And that’s music and art and trying to smuggle through ideas.
John Murch: What poetry reading at the moment?
C. Sprake: My favorite collection is called The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, that was a collection curated by having a men’s group in our city in America reading out loud, and they chose the pieces that had the most visible impact on the participants while they were being read out loud. It wasn’t to do with the technical part of the writing, they were interested in the emotional impact in a live setting. That’s divided up into a whole section of different sections of ideas, but even that has ideas about masculinity and fragility. That’s one of my favorite collections.
John Murch: When do you get a chance to have those conversations, you yourself with other men?
C. Sprake: I’m lucky that between the band and a few close male friends, we do have a few quiet ones and put those ideas out. I definitely feel lucky that the members of Hidden Currents are all sort of that same mindset that we don’t shoot each other down for being emotional, which is fortunate considering we make music together.
John Murch: But what you’re possibly asking for our society is general to find some time for that conversation happen more broadly across gender?
C. Sprake: Look, that’d be great. I probably don’t have that in a personal way. I’ve facilitated a lot of events through the community that have had those kinds of aspects to them, without being directly involved in the arts side of things myself, creating a platform for other people, but that said, my life, for the last four or five years has been incredibly busy. I’m lucky if I’m getting one or two nights a week or I’m not out, or with kids. I also reflect on, we have had male voices for a long, long time, so when we’ve run community events, it’s given us the chance to have queer events which embrace all kinds of art and music and poetry, or we have community based events that provide a stage for people from all different backgrounds, refugee backgrounds. Those voices need to be heard as well.
C. Sprake: Even though I might not be directly involved in the art process, supporting an event where a young refugee woman gets to stand up and to a large crowd, get poetry using a defined line like my life will not be an open casket, those moments are incredible, and they resonate with me and they feed me, but it’s also just, you know, waking up to yourself sometimes that men don’t have to be the center, certainly middle age white men like myself, don’t have to be the center as long as you can be part of the change when you’re trying to provide a stage for other people.
John Murch: So not be part of, but get something from.
C. Sprake: Correct. Those things feed me, without me having to be the center, which hopefully more men can learn.
John Murch: You have a strong sense of family. Do you find that a challenge sometime to hold on if you ever think you can?
C. Sprake: It just makes life very busy. I think trying to keep that perspective, trying to keep … I think when you say family, I would have to think extended family includes my close friends, and community, and the band. But yeah certainly with kids they’re always the priority and even though my life is very busy, I generally get to juggle my time so that I’m there for them.
John Murch: Because was thinking more parent age, grandparent age, that kind of place where you might’ve got your education before.
C. Sprake: As a younger person, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s and I learnt a lot about cooking, and she was postwar, so saving on everything, watching her scrap the last little , of jam from the jam jar, and making bread and butter pudding from all the leftover crust and things like that. That definitely had a formative effect even from a young age with my parents being at work, so by the time I was grade five I was cooking dinner a couple of nights a week for my brother and sister. Early on this that kind of aspect to it, but there’s also as most teenagers go through, not most the rebellious years, but when you’re trying to define your character and you’re not fitting in with what you conservative parents would expect to you to do then, family also becomes about your friends who are around you at that point and sneaking out to the city on the train and going to gigs and you’re trying to find your tribe at that point I guess.
John Murch: It’s very much a rock quiz question, but in the context of this, I don’t feel too ashamed, I’ve acknowledge them, so that’s fine where the idea is coming from, the first record you bought with your own cash?
C. Sprake: I don’t remember exactly, it was either U2s Under a Blood Red Sky or Tears for Fears, Songs from The Big Chair, it would have been one of those two I’d say, the first money.
John Murch: Both of those continue to have a narrative into your later years, not just when you purchase it.
C. Sprake: I don’t know. I used to love U2, probably haven’t listened to them much for the last 20 years or so, but I think when they’re at their experimental stages, they’re probably the most interesting. Tears for Fears, I probably haven’t listened to them for since everybody wants to rule the world, but hopefully melody and experimentation have stuck with me, hopefully.
John Murch: Hidden Currents is the band, is lads hanging with and doing your thing. The new recordings will be out in the next year or two?
C. Sprake: Yeah, so we got the album at the top at the moment, but at the moment we’re hoping that a new single, we’re hoping we can get it together by November.
John Murch: You’re lucky enough to get a couple of cuts, including Updraft on vinyl.
C. Sprake: We couldn’t manage to get the whole album on vinyl because we realized it was too long, so it would have had to be a double, we didn’t think we could shell out for that this time round. We’re hoping that we’ll have a new single out in November, we’re keen to get back out to, at least Sydney and Brisbane, hopefully Adelaide’s time as well. And there’s also discussion of trying to set up overseas shows for next year. A bit of long term planning.
John Murch: Which brings the question a bit further than that, the 10 year plan for Christopher Sprake itself. What’s your 10 year plan? The kids will be hitting teenage hood by then.
C. Sprake: Correct. Obviously teenagers, I have to be around a lot, but I would hope that the band keeps going as long as we want to keep going, we’re all sort of enjoying it at this point. I’m still working on solo records that I’ll hopefully tour as well, and yeah, hopefully having a new venue in recording space up and being able to accommodate the kids into all of that as well.
John Murch: This is what we want when the cafe as well, so very Melbourne.
C. Sprake: Yeah, that’s right, very Melbourne. Hopefully finding a space that I guess one of the benefits of the last four or five years having a community spaces has been able to, being able to run events and draw people into joint experiences and I’d be hoping to do the same kind of thing at the next venue.
John Murch: Is there an itch of collaborations within that or just having gigs that are quite diverse?
C. Sprake: I’m happy to let other people take the stage for that kind of stuff, but I mean, I love working with other people, probably the other artists that have collaborated with the most is some Steve Roach is Americana singer, songwriter, so always been happy to sort of produce and his new album whenever that’s finally out. I play all lead guitar on that one, but I guess between doing a solo project and playing in a band, they’re probably the main ways my creative time gets spent.
John Murch: Christopher Sprare, absolute pleasure. Thanks for joining radionotes.
C. Sprake: Thanks John, Cheers.