Fischerspooner: Creative Triumphs, Fraught with Complications
“Total success for me is a divided audience. If everyone loves what you are doing then progress probably isn’t happening.”
Classically trained musician Warren Fischer and artist/theater performer Casey Spooner cracked the New York music scene wide open when they began performing electroclash music and working as Fischerspooner, an outfit that would expand to include more than a score of performers and become known as much for its theatrical visuals as for its catchy tunes.
Absolut Art sat down with Fischerspooner to chat about creative mash-ups and cross-pollination between the music and art scene in downtown New York.
What do you think were some of the factors that made New York into the cradle not only of a rock ‘n’ roll revival but also of a lively visual art scene in the aughts?
I think it’s a couple of factors. It was a crossroads in time between digital and IRL culture. You still had to go to a place, a city, a neighborhood, a club, a gallery to connect with your creative community. Simultaneously computers became more and more affordable, including software available and new interfaces to share information, such as Napster. Regional popularity became global popularity very quickly.
How would you say the visual art and music scene, and other creative areas, helped to nourish each other in New York in the aughts?
New York City was still relatively affordable and the city was packed with artists. In general the city was less commercial, with access to studio spaces, rehearsal spaces, theaters, night clubs, music venues and galleries. The arts were thriving on every level. New York City is all about location and space. I think with the dawn of online culture more and more artists sought out other cities, such as Berlin, and community moved online.
Your first performance took place in 1998 outside the Astor Place Starbucks, where we see you in the photograph you’ve supplied, having returned in triumph for another performance there. What did Astor Place look like at that moment? Why was that the setting for the birth of Fischerspooner?
Kelly Kuvo and Rayna Russom started a band called Sweet Thunder that I was in. They organized a group show of performance in the Astor Place Starbucks with two students from NYU who worked there. Kelly Kuvo knew that Warren and I were working on a song for a film. She encouraged us to perform the one song in the evening’s program. It was a creative breakthrough for me as a performer: a strange mix of costume, character, personality, performance art and music. I came home that night to my roommate Cindy Greene (who later joined Fischerspooner) who stated that I had finally found my voice, my form. Starbucks was a very interesting location as well because of the collision between creative and corporate culture. This collision has remained a theme throughout all of our work. Even the last album, Sir, which was unable to tour extensively because of homophobia in the corporate music world.
Fischerspooner brilliantly mixes success and failure, and is received with lavish praise as well as outright dismissal. How do you balance the two, if those are even the right terms for discussing Fischerspooner’s goals and your reception?
Total success for me is a divided audience. If everyone loves what you are doing then progress probably isn’t happening. New ideas make people uncomfortable. I’m addicted to big ideas and bold moves. The rest bores me. Good ideas always win in the long run…time and history are on our side.
Can you tell us a little about the print “Sweetness 2001” that was included in Absolut Art’s “Meet Me in The Bathroom” collection?
2001 was a strange year. In the springtime we did our largest and most ambitious show in Los Angeles. It was a total creative triumph but the production was fraught with complications. I was broke and homeless living in the Standard Hotel while the production went wildly over budget—into six figures.
We performed for three days, did a photo shoot for one day, and finished with a film shoot on the last day. On that last day of production, Warren pulled me aside and convinced me that we should announce the end of the project to the cast and crew. We both couldn’t bear the pressure of the project. It was taking a toll on our personal lives and it was time to call it quits. We had achieved everything we had set out to do in 1998. We had merged art, music, fashion, film, photography and performance.
Fischerspooner was over! My heart was broken and I wept in the dressing room. I was barely able to get the words out to my dearest friends and collaborators. This series of images marked the end of an era, the pre-entertainment years. Everything we had done up until this point was mostly in the art world.
Ironically, in the summer of 2001 the first album was released on a German record label called International Deejay Gigolos. I had taken a job as a receptionist/agent and all but given up on a creative career. The record took off. The response was strong. Reluctantly, I was persuaded to go on a press tour of Europe to support the album release…which lead to a performance in Barcelona during Sonar at a club called Lolita. (It was this performance that inspired a young Jake Shears to start a band called Scissor Sisters.) Needless to say, the project continued to grow and change and shapeshift. Fischerspooner is a beast that can never be tamed or killed. Twenty-one years later, we still make art and music.