Interview: Michael Bingham of Spiritual Cramp Talks About Self-Titled Album and Changing Over the Years

For a band who are only just now celebrating the release of their debut LP—a self-titled album out now from Blue Grape Music—Spiritual Cramp have already grown a lot as a band and as individuals. But while the band’s political philosophies have evolved to become more nuanced, they’ve still maintained the roots of the band’s beliefs from their earliest days. Vocalist Michael Bingham took some time to talk about a few of the ways the band has changed since their earliest days and why the new album shows a leaner sound than their early Eps.

So this is your debut album, unless you consider a compilation of EPs an LP. I don’t know, I guess there are different opinions on that. But regardless, I feel like it has more of a focused sound than some of your earlier stuff. Is there something that that was different about how you approached this album as opposed to the previous EPs?

Yeah, for sure. I can speak to two of the things that you just brought up. The first being the question as to if it’s our debut LP or not. The answer is yes, it is. If you look at the cover of Television, I was really careful to, under the title of Television, I wrote two EPs, (four) new songs and two covers, because I wanted to be able to say, eventually down the road, that this record would be our debut LP. So it’s for sure our debut LP.

And then the second thing is, there was not necessarily a new approach as to how we wrote the songs or our intention behind the songs or the things that I was writing about, necessarily. One thing we learned between the time we put out all the songs on Television and now is that sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board with some of the songs. And we did that a bunch with a couple of these songs.

“Talking on the Internet” was a different song when we first wrote it and sent it out to the people on our team. And we had some feedback from people, specifically Dave Rath of Blue Grape Music wrote me back and said, ‘This song is really great, but I think that it can be a lot better if you just put some effort into working on the lyrics and working on the composition.’ And so we would go back and redo things and try to make them hookier or funnier, or more Spiritual Cramp.

So yeah, I guess so. And we worked harder on producing the songs. we spent more time in the studio with Grace (Coleman, recording and additional production). And having Carlos (de la Garza) mix the songs was also impactful. I mean, he mixes really big stuff. So obviously, the person who’s mixing Paramore records is going to make our record sound a little larger than the previous ones. So yeah, I think it was natural.

I love the whole, I think you described it as hard-mod as your genre?

I didn’t describe that. Zach Lipez, who has written at a lot of different places, described, us as hard-mod in a Cream magazine profile that he did on us. And it kind of stuck around; I think Alternative Press or Kerrang! picked it up, and they reused it. But that’s all Zach.

For some reason, one of them use the term “self-described.”

Yeah, I saw that one, too, and I thought, ‘We did not describe ourselves that way.’ But I did feel the description to be very on the nose, for sure.

What’s your influence in terms of that kind of genre, and bringing that mod sensibility in there?

I mean, bands like The Jam, and The Buzzcocks, and The Undertones, these are all bands that do the same kind of thing we were doing. Stiff Little Fingers. They weren’t necessarily all mod bands, but it’s the same kind of swag. It’s downstrokes, and it’s really catchy, pop-oriented music, but kind of snotty. And those are things that I’ve always been drawn to as an average music enjoyer.

I like clothing.  I like clothes as a sense of self-expression, and mod culture—and punk culture, in general—is just such a form of expression that I was personally drawn to. I like crispy jackets. And I like starched pants and shiny shoes; I always have. And, I don’t know, I think it stems from some insecurity I had as a kid,because I never had the cool pair of JNCOs or whatever. So I knew, when I get older, like, I’m gonna dress cool. And it’s just something that’s carried over into my life.

The other band that you always makes me think of is The (International) Noise Conspiracy in terms of  that, but also in terms of having a very blunt message and lyrics and then marrying that with the mod vibe as the sugar to make the medicine go down, so to speak.

That’s a great comparison. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone use The (International) Noise Conspiracy. We’ve gotten a lot of Hives, obviously, because our sound is garage. But yeah, for sure. I remember (International) Noise Conspiracy was a little out of my paygrade when they came out. It was a little too indie rock for me. But I think that Dennis (Lyxzén), the singer of that band, is an incredible performer, and I was really into Refused when they were coming out. I had never seen anything like that.

And they didn’t wear their hair up; they wore their hair down. To me  all the bands that I was paying attention to at first had spiked hair, like AFI and Rancid and NOFX. They spike their hair up. And the first time I ever saw that other look, that more British look, was definitely through Dennis (of The) Refused. And then they really took it to the next level with (International) Noise Conspiracy. And yeah, I think that, in Swedish music in general, they all have this really style forward sense about their bands. Even Viagra boys are a great band who are Swedish, and those guys come across as a unit. And I always thought that was really cool.

With seven people in the band, does that make it chaotic to make decisions?

It makes it chaotic being around seven people. Being around seven people sucks. Max, who is our seventh, he doesn’t really travel with the band, so it’s usually just six of us. But on bigger shows, like we played with Iggy Pop in San Francisco, and Max was there. And we played as a seven-piece for that.

But to speak to the decision making, no. I think that, from the start of this band, we have had a pretty established hierarchy. And not one that’s based on ego, but more one that’s just based on, certain people can occupy certain roles better than others. And we know what roles everyone is supposed to be occupying because we talk about them. I know what my job in the band is. And it’s not to design the merch anymore; it’s not to get the merch printed; it’s not to worry about flights. It’s my job to write lyrics, help write songs, and go out there and create tour opportunities and meet people and talk to people.

Whereas José, who plays auxilary percussion in the band, does most of the art direction now because he is a graphic designer by trade. And so when we’re on tour, and someone says, ‘What time do we have to be at the venue?’ That’s Mike Fenton’s job. He’s our bass player. So everyone knows that Mike Fenton is the person you’re supposed to ask that question to. Whereas if they’re saying, ‘What is going on with that tour that was mentioned in March?’ they’re gonna ask me that question.

And we’ve worked really hard to make sure that, with that many people in the band, it isn’t confusing so that it’s easy for everyone. And there’s no one fighting to try to serve a different role because that’s when resentments build is when communication is poor. So we’ve worked really hard.

It looks like there was a German electronic band in the early 2000s called Spiritual Cramp. Has that come up when someone’s trying to contact you or anything like that?

I have seen that. Obviously, they were a band, for sure. I think it was like ’96 they were a band. And when we first started, I really quickly became aware of that band. And it doesn’t seem like they’re active. They did some thing on Spotify. They added their music to Spotify right after we did, I think, but it was a really old record. I’ve never reached out to them, and I’ve never spoken with them. I’m sure they’re, they don’t care. I mean, they’re not active.

They probably just took the name for the same place you did, the Christian Death song.

Right. Exactly. And it hasn’t really come up yet. I wonder if it will. I’ve always wondered.

I noticed police feature a lot in your lyrics, obviously not in a positive way. Is there a reason that that comes up so much?

I think that when we started this band, we were all living in San Francisco, and we were all going out a lot and staying out late. And we were really into this identity of being bad kids. And that’s what we were into growing up. It was rebellion and anti-establishment, and that’s where we found our identity. That’s where I find my identity in those ideals, in Bad Religion records and the first time I saw that crossbuster logo. And I just remember being like, that is what I’m trying to do.

And as I got older, in high school, I read Howard Zinn books, and I read Noam Chomsky books, and I read Ta-Nehisi Coates books. I read all these books that reaffirmed this anti-police-state mindset that I had an inkling about. I got into punk, and it was like, ‘The police were bad.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I agree with that, but I don’t really know.’ And then, as I got older, I read literature that would prop that up. And, at the time when we started the band, it was very much like, Fuck the police, and fuck the government because they didn’t have our backs either, as rudimentary as that is. And so those kinds of ideals informed the sound of the band.

We use a lot of police sirens when we play because I want to conjure up images of this urban cityscape. And as the project has grown into more of an art project now, that’s the roots that we planted. And so when I’ve written lyrics for Spiritual Cramp, it’s a punk band, and I want it to sound and look like those things. And, I still am anti-police; I always have been. I think money could be used in a million other sectors of public service, (for) mental health and people who are in disenfranchised communities. But it’s just a little more eloquent now. I’m not as like ‘Smash the state!’ I’m a little bit more informed. I mean, I’m 36; I’m not 27. As an art project, I always still try to keep those themes permeating through the band, whether that’s through sounds or lyrics or imagery.

What’s planned for the band for 2024?

I think we’re going to be on tour a lot. We have a split with a band coming out in the spring we’re excited about. We’re doing a tour with Militarie Gun (and Pool Kids) in February into March. And I think we’re just going to be probably touring all year to go and support the record and trying to write and record the next LP simultaneously.

You can order Spiritual Cramp from Blue Grape Music. Follow Spiritual Cramp on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Senny Mau.

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