He calls himself a New Yorklander: neither entirely New Zealander nor New Yorker, Simon Spire inhabits the no-man’s land that lies somewhere in between. It’s a fitting reflection of the relentless investigation into the boundaries of identity and potential that have shaped his life and music, particularly his second album, Four-Letter Words. “I’m always interested in where humanity is going, and for that reason I love being in New York – I’ve often thought of it as being at the forefront of the continuing cultural evolution,” says Simon. “In that sense, I want to be part of a new vision, taking part in where we’re going next. I wanted Four-Letter Words to be relevant not just on a personal level, but also collectively.”
Simon Spire’s music is as buoyant as it is introspective. The infectious energy of the music is immediately palpable in tracks such as Liberate Your Love and Knocking On An Open Door. Yet on closer inspection, the themes are not those commonly encountered in such sonically and melodically engaging fare. “Liberate Your Love is about the recognition of our potential and the boldness of claiming it. But it also deals with the frustration that comes with acknowledging our continual denial of that – our continual failure to embrace it,” says Spire. “It’s about taking the risk of freeing ourselves from the burden of our conditioning.” Similarly ambitious themes are evident in the celebratory self-recognition and newfound freedom of Knocking On An Open Door.
In fact, the writer goes so far as to say that his songs are, in essence, about revolution. “It’s revolution in the pure sense of the word – a radical shift in perspective. It’s not political or social; it’s a revolution in what our lives stand for – an individual revolution that reverberates through the collective. The songs are about being radically true to the core of oneself, to the extent that there is constant openness to and inquiry into what is ultimately real, and what’s not.”
A Brooklyn resident of three years, Spire recorded his sophomore album in Manhattan with producers Rich Mercurio and Lee Nadel, and mixing engineer Brian Malouf (All American Rejects, Michael Jackson, David Gray). Mercurio and Nadel have worked in a wide range of genres during their extensive time in the New York music scene, with artists such as Regina Spektor, Matt White and Lenka, and Spire immediately felt a shared musical vision when first discussing ideas for the album with them. “Rich and Lee hold the fundamentals of the music and the song itself above all else, but then their understanding and experience also supports the music fully coming to life with the color and boldness that were equally important to me with this album.”
Simon’s first love is songwriting. An award-winner and triple-finalist in the USA Songwriting Competition, Spire’s songs have charted in the top 20 and top 40 of commercial radio in New Zealand, while he was selected as one of the Top 20 artists of the year by U.S. TV Network Channel One in 2009. While many of the songs on Four-Letter Words exude a lively quality, with clothing brands Hollister and Ecko already licensing Liberate Your Love ahead of the U.S. release, the album nevertheless manages to cover considerable dynamic ground. The gloriously vulnerable No Solid Ground and hypnotic Find offer a more solemn perspective on the themes of transformation, while The Blue Pill’s cynicism confirms the darker and more despondent episodes that are an inevitable part of self-inquiry. “There’s a recurring theme of being in a process of discovery of both the lies we tell ourselves, and of the inspiration that wants to come to life,” he says. “The title itself, Four-Letter Words, points to both polarities of the human experience: both the four-letter words that usually come to mind, and then those such as ‘love,’ ‘life’ and ‘live’. There’s that ongoing tension between being true to the vision of who we know we can be, and on the other hand, the struggle and challenges involved in realizing that potential in the world, which is the subject of the title track. It’s a continual process of transformation, and it’s inevitably quite messy.”
Simon Spire has long been on a path toward fully realizing his artistic vision. Like a lot of musicians, he started his journey into music with the piano while growing up, but after hearing Nirvana at the age of 13, he knew the guitar would be his true passion. Immediately making the musical shift from the eighty-eight keys to the six-string, he found a new obsession in the guitar and would spend hours listening to and studying the music of Metallica, Steve Vai and Radiohead.
What started as a young obsession with the guitar eventually drew him into the world of songwriting and poetry. Moved by the introspection of Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond, and the unedited self-expression and multi-layered productions of John Mayer and Alanis Morissette, he eventually put pen to paper, embarking on a new chapter in his musical development. At the age of 19, Spire teamed up with a drummer/sound engineer friend and began experimenting with recording after managing to find an old version of Cubase for his computer and a couple of microphones. He took singing lessons, and through the recording process began to learn the intricacies of vocal performance, musical arrangement, and engineering techniques.
His interest in understanding the forces that shape our world drew him to a degree in economics and finance at the University of Auckland, where he won senior prizes in both disciplines. Throughout his time at university, he doggedly pursued the success he sought, while pouring every free moment into his music. In sacrificing all other areas in his life in an attempt to focus exclusively on “getting somewhere”, he hoped that success would provide the fulfillment he noticed was lacking in his life. However, he soon began to experience an abiding sense of emptiness and meaninglessness, and for three years during his time at university, all the while incessantly pursuing his goals, he struggled with the confusion of his depressed state. Spire eventually came to recognize that his attempts to find fulfillment and meaning in a constant attempt to “arrive” at some mythical finish line were futile. “I realized that throughout my whole life, I hadn’t been ‘living’; I had been ‘trying’ – trying to become something, trying to get somewhere, trying to be safe, and firmly in the grip of fear. I hadn’t been ‘myself’, and I had no idea what that meant anyway,” he says. “I knew there must be more to life, and I wanted to discover what that was.”
Thus began Spire’s journey of self-inquiry. Although it was difficult to relinquish the stability of the more reliable career he had been heading toward, he made the decision after graduating from university to focus his energies on his musical journey. “It wasn’t that the self-discovery was dependent on a choice of vocation – I knew that it wasn’t. But I had also come to suspect that what I really wanted in life was to follow the inspiration that I sensed still existed somewhere deep down, and to allow that to lead my life. I felt it drawing me to music. I felt strongly that the musical journey had much to teach me, and as afraid as I was of following such a precarious career path, something told me that whether it led to ‘success’ or ‘failure’, it could reveal what I was looking for.”
Music became his vehicle for living the question of what it means to be true to oneself. Sometime after graduation, Simon made his way to Los Angeles where his father was based for a short time. He soon came into contact with Lenedra Carroll, mother and former longtime manager of singer/songwriter Jewel.
Lenedra took an interest in Simon’s development as an artist and further opened his eyes to the world of music, mentoring him all the way through to the release of his debut album, All or Nothing. Now several years later, he is ready for the next step in his musical evolution, and to offer Four-Letter Words to the world.
“Making music has always opened new doors and challenged me to explore unanticipated directions,” Spire says. “In the end, I just let the music lead me, and I simply follow the inspiration. That’s how I ended up in New York, that’s how I made this album, and that’s how I’ll find my way to wherever I end up next.”
Ambitious, enthusiastic, and without a hint of cynicism, Spire’s upbeat attitude is vital in an industry that has become reluctant to invest in new talent. Spire’s lyrics are personal and confessional rather than edgy, with themes of self-discovery and reaching your potential. The music radiates a feelgood catchiness with the added punch of rock guitars. – The New Zealand Herald.
Gloriously vulnerable and emotive…Four Letter Words’ sound is very versatile with comparable moments to Owl City, Ryan Adams and Sufjan Stevens, putting it on par with some greats in the alternative music scene. – muzic.net.nz
Worthy of comparisons to the charting international competition…Spire’s guitar talent is obvious…vocals that are mature beyond his years…Another great Kiwi artist flying the flag abroad for us. – The Waikato Times
An award-winner and triple-finalist in the USA Songwriting Competition, and one of U.S. TV network Channel One’s Top 20 Artists of 2009, his songs have featured in the Top 20 airplay charts in New Zealand. Four-Letter Words has already drawn comparisons to Owl City, John Mayer, Bruno Mars, Sufjan Stevens and Ryan Adams (muzic.net.nz and Rip It Up) and has been described as music that “radiates a feelgood catchiness” with “indelible hooks” and “personal and confessional” lyrics (The New Zealand Herald).