Spud Cannon sneaks into squash courts, rediscovers sound

Courtesy of Ella Baum '20

Spud Cannon didn’t think it would make it to a third album. The band also didn’t think it was going to stay together after a particularly rough stretch of touring. However, fate or the universe or maybe just the longing nestled inside people who need to be making music with each other brought the group back together. The result: “Good Kids Make Bad Apples,” Spud’s third album, to be released on June 25.

Spud Cannon was formed at Vassar in 2016 and is composed of a firecracker group of spunky, talented musicians—Meg Matthews ’20 (lead vocals), Lucy Horgan ’20 (bass), Ben Scharf ’22 (drums) [Disclaimer: Scharf is the Live Events Chairperson for The Miscellany News], Jackson Walker Lewis ’19 (guitar) and Arianna Bowe ’20 (keys). I met up with the band on an unfortunately cold and rainy May afternoon and quickly felt pulled into their laid-back, easygoing conversation. This is the story of how the quintet found themselves in the Vassar Squash courts this summer, sleep-deprived, sweaty and ready to make a record.

Why the squash courts? The obvious answer: The courts were free. The space also provided resonance and a large, all-encompassing sound, perfect for recording an album. Really, though, breaking into the squash courts was fitting for the band’s narrative: “A lot of people cut spud cannons out of PVC pipes, and we like to do everything ourselves—get our hands dirty,” described Horgan. Lewis noted, “[T]he idea of it became interesting. Like, not boring. It was like we’re gonna have to sneak in, it’s gonna be this overnight thing, it’s gonna be such a pain in the ass.” Scharf added, “Everything about the recording process was both haphazard and illicit…including, you know, whatever substances we had to take to stay up all night. It’d be like 10 p.m. to like 7 a.m.—I’d drive home to Massachusetts with the sunrise. But I don’t think I’d have it any other way.”

After finding each other again, Spud needed to re-find its sound— the squash courts proved to be the perfect place to do so. Spud Cannon is a Vassar band after all, and a defining aspect of Vassar culture is sneaking into restricted places. It’s also significant that the band returned to Vassar despite the fact that four out of its five members have graduated. Vassar is where Spud was born and, through recording the third album, where it was born again.

This time around, the band felt less pressure when working on the record. Lewis explained, “The stakes felt so low when we were writing for this album. It felt like nobody cared, you know what I mean? Because we had done two albums and the second album—I think it was a miss, kind of a miss of an album, and some of the touring was rough. And we just felt like the stakes are so low—who cares? Nobody cares.” Bowe added, “[L]ike our first album, there’s a ‘fuck it’ kind of energy … I think that translates well for us because that’s what our whole schtick has been.”

Spud Cannon’s sound is fun. It’s “we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously-and-neither-should-you.” Uninhibited. A return to the band’s root desire: “[A]ll we ever wanted to do was play parties,” said Lewis. “And make people dance,” added Horgan. “That’s what it’s all about—the movement.”

Bowe commented, “[The third album] definitely sounds like us, more so than the second album. I think we tried a lot of things, like kind of experimentally, to try and sound a certain way. But I think going back to the roots of the way we did the first album brought us back to the sound that we actually put out naturally.”

This pure Spud sound is captured in the band’s newest single, “You’ve Got It All (NOT),” released on May 12 and available to stream everywhere on May 14. Lewis wrote the track’s riff with The Beach Boys in mind, in terms of both their sound and the feeling of youth that they project. Matthews collaborated with her bandmates on lyrics, which, Scharf noted, provide a “slightly subversive Vassar critique.” Matthews explained, “[Y]ou know the Vassar boy that’s got it all together, kind of. And is a smooth talker but has a lot of internal baggage that you have to deal with and, like, no!” 

The song captures the circus that is life and love in your early 20s, especially at Vassar—it’s fun, it’s childish, it’s a bit ridiculous, but it’s all you have to cling onto. The bright bounciness is playful, teasing and just a little bit ironic. Matthews’ airy voice floats through the chorus: “Leave the talking to me / ‘Cause you can’t see / You’ve got it all/ You’ve got it all.”

“You’ve Got It All (NOT),” and really the production process of the whole album, comes to life in its music video, which was directed and edited by Ben Klein, with assistance from Danny Lombara ’24 (key grip) and Bowe’s brother, Preston Bowe ’24 (gaffer).

Fittingly, the video was shot at the squash courts. Why? Again: free. More than that, though, the space has become somewhat sacred for Spud Cannon; the band shot the music video in the same court that the album was recorded in, where they spent countless hours rediscovering their sound and producing a record ultimately deemed better than the previous. Horgan commented, “It’s much more collaborative, you know. We’ve definitely changed the way we write the longer we’ve been together and it’s more, you know, writing together in the room and everyone contributing something.”

Spud Cannon entered the courts without much of a game plan for the video. Scharf described, “Basically we went to the squash court with only three ideas: Wear white, go in the squash court and film it on a Super 8 camera.” In the end, though, those three key elements structure the video; not much else is needed to tell the story of the song and its album. The retro, warm graininess of the Super 8 film is wonderfully suited to capturing the video’s aesthetic of carefree simplicity, as well as the pops of red against the band’s uniform white. “It felt good because it’s, you know, how we play—just having a good time, jumping around,” observed Matthews.

Play is certainly a defining aspect of the video. Spud plays instruments, plays with light and shadows, plays with hula hoops and plays with large white yoga balls (one of which did hit Matthews in the face—she has the fading scar to prove it).

Sitting with the band, hearing them talk over each other, balancing earnest reflections with one-line quips and raucous laughter, it’s easy to see why the five gravitated back towards each other. The music video is a record of this moment in time. It says: Spud Cannon was here. Look at what we created.

As promised, the end of my article is a message from Lewis: “[S]hout out to the Vassar squash department…They’ve been unknowingly instrumental.”

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