FAMILY TIES – Rose Berlin of Father-Daughter Duo SPC ECO On Working With Dad Dean Garcia and New Album ‘Calm’
Father-daughter combos are as rare as hen’s teeth in the music industry, but for London-based duo SPC ECO, it’s clearly a formula that works.
The pair recently celebrated their 10th anniversary as a band with the release of Calm – their 9th full studio album.
Dad Dean Garcia is a seasoned veteran having formed one half of indie band Curve in the 1990s, before going on to produce and tour with the likes of The Eurythmics, Mick Jagger, Sinead O’Connor and Ian Dury.
From a young age, daughter Rose Berlin was a frequent visitor to his studio and the two soon began making music together, recording their first single together You’re Alright/Another Day in 2007.
Here Rose tells Matt Catchpole about the making of Calm, her decade working with Dad and why they’re happiest writing sad songs together.
So Rose, tell us about the new album Calm – is the title an accurate summation of the music – can we expect a calming experience?
I use the term ‘calm’ a lot with my friends, it’s like saying we’re all on the same page. If something is calm, it’s understood and is generally a good idea. I started using it in this way at home with Dad and it just caught on. Whilst compiling the album the term became the perfect way to describe the album.
Describe your music for the unitiated?
Our music has changed a lot over the years, so this is always a question I find really hard to answer. Originally, we were shoegaze with a hint of trip-hop. We had a period of melancholy pop and have been known to throw in a ballad or two. This album we’re all of the above.
Dean says some of the music on the new record harks back to your first release – were you thinking about your past records as you approached your 10th anniversary together?
This album was a new experience for both of us, in that we spent easily more than twice the amount of time on it than we have for any of our other releases. This was mainly my fault as I was out a lot and it was difficult to use the time we had together effectively. The way we write is very fluid, it’s very much about our moods at the time that we record. If something isn’t working we don’t sit there and beat ourselves up about it, it’s left for another time so we can revisit it later and make a decision. Personally, I wanted to really push myself with the vocal melodies. Whenever Dad plays me a track I really want my part to fit the vibe and for it to sit nestled in with everything else that’s going on.
You’ve signed to Hamburg label Tapete for this release, why did you decide to go with them?
They actually came to us. When they got in touch we went and checked out what they do and thought they were really cool.
I understand you wrote enough songs for a triple album – was it a difficult process narrowing it down to the final 12?
The way that people listen to music has changed dramatically over the years. People don’t listen to whole albums in order any more, instead tracks are picked out and played almost like singles, or albums are played as part of playlists on shuffle. We wanted the album to work as a collection, but for the individual tracks to be able to stand alone. We had loads of different combinations of tracks, but in the end, we decided on these because they had a cohesive vibe and in our opinion were truly ‘done’ with no doubt in either of our minds.
You’re credited with a bass drop on the new album, are you keen to contribute more musically in the future?
I had the idea for a bass drop and sang it to Dad while we were listening to the track. Dad liked it and just gave the bass to me! It was an awesome moment for me, but I was like: “Dude this is your vibe, you’ll do it way better than I can,” but he insisted. When we started making music we both had our ‘roles’ if you like but as the years have passed (and I’ve got older) I’ve been much more involved in the musical side, production and mastering. Some ‘guitar solos’ on past albums are actually my voice put through a load of effects. I use my voice as an instrument, so I feel like I am and always have been involved in the musical composition and overall sound of SPC ECO. I’m very like my Dad in that I won’t let anything that I don’t love be released.
I’m struggling to think of any other father-daughter musical duos – why do you think your relationship works so well?
I think it’s because we genuinely get on; we respect each other as artists. When we work together I truly believe we’re the happiest we could be. It’s like nothing else. When I was very, very small (like four or five) we made an album on tape. He would make these mad instrumental tracks and then just give me the mic, one take and that was it. It was very similar to how we write today and I believe it all stemmed from there. When Dad was in the studio I would come and sit with him and listen, maybe sing some ideas and sometimes he would set a mic up for me. It’s our way of being creative and spending quality time together.
Do you argue much about the music, or is your connection so strong that you instinctively know when something is right?
Of course, we argue! We’ve had full on shouting matches about levels, melodies, drum sounds, the list goes on, but we always seem to find a way around it, be that a mutual agree to disagree situation or one of us will change our mind and end up agreeing with the other. We’re both passionate, but like I said respect each other and each other’s opinions.
How hard a taskmaster is Dean? Is he a difficult man to impress?
We both love making music so that’s never a problem. The only issue we have is that Dad generally works in the evenings and I’m out quite a lot. It’s hard to find a good time for both of us, but we seem to make it work.
How aware were you of your Dad’s music growing up? Was the house always full of musicians?
When my brother and I were very small, Dad was away a lot on tour. When he was home he always had a studio set up in the house. We would always have instruments set up and yeah people would come over, but we saw them as mates. It was later that Dad would tell us about being on tour and all the people he worked with. I love hearing about it even now. We were very lucky to meet the people that we did growing up. One of my fondest memories was rollerblading in Abbey Road Studios.
Did your schoolmates know that your Dad was a musician?
Yeah, they did but I didn’t like talking about it if I’m honest. I would tell people if it came up, but if not I would just leave it. I just find it a bit un-cool to go on about it as it can come across like I’m showing off. My mates say they dine out on my stories and I love that, but I just feel a bit weird about just telling people for the sake of it.
When did you first decide that you wanted to get involved?
I used to sing all the time when I was little, I loved listening and watching my dad in the studio. We made songs together from a very young age and it wasn’t actually ever a decision it was more of a progression. It’s just the way it’s always been and its developed over the years into what it is today.
What would you have done if you hadn’t been a musician?
For me, my life has always been art and music and I decided to pursue art in an academic way, as I felt music was something I was able to explore and develop on my own. I did my foundation at Central St Martins, then my degree and Camberwell College of Art. Though the title of my degree was Fine Art (sculpture), I ended up making installations and sound art. I have had my work exhibited in Venice as well as putting on shows, but I plan to do another this year. At first, I saw art and music as two separate things, but now it’s more like they’re two mediums within the same art form. My art is my way of expressing my ideas outside of SPC ECO.
How does the songwriting process work? Do you come up the lyrics and take them to Dean, or do you write to his music?
Generally, Dad will play me a track and then give me a mic and I’ll do a few passes and we’ll go from there. Sometimes we’ll record something together off the cuff, but it just depends. Sometimes it starts as just a drum loop and a drone. We feed off each other and let the tracks grow naturally.
Where do you draw the inspiration for your lyrics?
The lyrics stem from the melodies. I’ll sing something and sometimes the odd word will be there or a phrase and then I go from there and see where it goes. I really enjoy the process of decoding the original takes and unraveling the story.
Is there a lyrical theme running through the new album?
I don’t think there is. The nature of the writing process means that the lyrics grow organically. The only similarity for us is that they’re all pretty sad.
Are there any songs you’re particularly proud of?
I really love All the Voices (see below). I just think it’s really solid. It’s a love song, but it’s from an odd perspective. There’s a lyric that says ‘all of your voices are hiding out in your bedroom’. It’s meant to make you feel what it would be like to have everyone you’ve ever been with and every thought you’ve ever had alone at night or otherwise in one room at once. It’s about taking all of the things that are private and confronting them at once. I just find that idea really powerful. I also absolutely love the spacey, spangly guitar after the chorus. I think it’s really cool and psychedelic and is the hook of the song for me.
Who were your music heroes growing up?
Dad obviously haha! I had and still have a bit of an obsession with Massive Attack. Liz Fraser [Cocteau Twins} on Teardrop is just perfection. When I was a kid I wanted to be her. I also love Bjork and Thom Yorke. Their vocals are something else.
Do you think it’s still true that female musicians have to work harder to gain acceptance in the industry?
Unfortunately, I feel Women have to work harder at everything
If you could do a duet with anyone who would you choose?
Wow, that’s a very hard question. I would love to work with Thom Yorke because the tone he has and the pain in his voice is just so awesome and I think we would sound great together… or Justin Bieber, just because.
Do you think you’re writing has changed much over the 10 years since the band started?
Yes of course. I’m much more confident in my own ability as a singer and push myself a lot more now. I think that’s something that comes with age, but Dad was always very supportive and encouraged me to just let go when singing. He said something that I will never forget; it changed the way I thought about music and art for that matter. He told me that it doesn’t matter if what you do is complete shit because you have the power to delete it. It seems so simple but it’s really easy to become obsessed with the bad things that you make and if you’re not careful it really affects the way you approach things. But if you take that pressure away it becomes powerful and inspiring.
We have no plans to play live as of yet but if we found the right venue and vibe then I think it would be great. We’ve thought about putting on our own event with a few other bands that we love, but nothing is concrete as of yet.
- Calm is out now on vinyl from Tapete Records and digitally through the SPC ECO bandcamp site
- For more on SPC ECO visit their website here