While it may take a beat—if not longer—for those of us over the age of 21 to remember the band Spacehog, the recognition for their first hit song “In The Meantime” based on the opening notes alone is almost instantaneous. The track rose to number one on the Billboard mainstream rock charts and is now universally recognized as a coming-of-age classic to those who were in their teens and early twenties during the last half of the ’90s. The debut album from Spacehog in 1996 was a glimmer of hope for recovering rock fans—a neo-glam rock evolution defined by the Bowie-esque tenor of lead singer Royston Langdon’s voice, which had just enough pop in it to get radio play without totally selling out. Two more albums grew out of the band over the next three years, neither of them selling as well as Resident Alien, though there were minor hits like “Mungo City” and a true belief in their talents from music fans and their musical peers alike.
Now, over a decade later after their initial breakup in 2002, Spacehog has reformed with As It Is On Earth, a self-released album that came out this week. A lot has changed in that time—from the state of the music industry to Royston Langdon himself, through the fallout of his marriage to actress Liv Tyler leading to some serious self-reflection and, as he describes it, maturity. The album is a fascinating journey, a tricky amalgam of a wide variety of different genres. It ranges greatly, from the classic boot-stomping Brit Pop on tracks like “Love Is a Curious Thing” to the smokey lounge, mourning sounds of “Now I’m Only Dreaming” or the lovely, ethereal “Cool Water,” proving that, if anything, Langdon’s voice has only become richer over the past decade. While there are hints of the older, glam rock Spacehog sound on tracks like “Sunset Boulevard,” both they (and we) seem to know that they need to move on to new frontiers.
Langdon took some time to chat with me, about the new album, why the band got back together, and what has been happening, from his perspective, since Spacehog originally broke up.
Why, after being broken up for over a decade, is now the right time for you to get back together and put out a new album?
It took a long time to get this record out for numerous reasons. In 2006 we got together for Johnny’s 40th birthday party in New York and that was really the kind of spark of realization that we have yet to achieve all that we wanted to. There was a feeling of goodwill around that, a realization that we were literally blown apart in late 2001, right around the time the World Trade Center was hit. It split us all asunder, really. That and other things. We had some personality problems within the group at that time as well.
Anyway, when we played together for his birthday in 2006, we got along splendidly and realized there was a lot of love in the room. So since then we’ve spent the last 6 years slowly plotting out our return. It took two years for anything to actually happen, because we were all working on other projects in our own lives and it wasn’t until 2008 that we all were able to get together again in L.A. and really start working. It wasn’t until late 2010 actually that we all got back into the studio again with producer Bryce Goggin. And then after that it took us two years to finish the album, as we were funding it ourselves and wanted to do it right. We’re not 21 and wandering around the East Village with nothing but time. So if you look at it that way, we haven’t really been broken up for that long. The most important thing for us was getting the best record possible, and it took some time to get it right. We work in the way that we work—we don’t really settle.
Were these songs that you had already written or were these songs that you all wrote when you got back together?
A little bit of both, really. I’ve always been consistent with writing and playing, working on my own solo stuff to a certain extent. We all had, I think. Some of these were songs that never made it onto past albums, like Resident Alien and The Chinese Album. Some were songs that came from the experience of my life and being back with these guys again, which is like being back home, in a way.
Is there a different approach to writing and making music now? I guess what I’m asking is if you changed over the past 10 years or so…
I think I’ve been collaborating more over that time. There’s a bit of this on this new record. Songwriting-wise, I feel the first three albums always really held up, so I wanted that to continue on this record, which forced me to not get lazy with it. So I guess maybe that part took more time and diligence…
Let’s go all the way back, back to the beginning… I know other bands who hate their hit songs, because they have had to play them ad naseum. How do you feel about "In the Meantime" now?
To me it’s just another song. A song I wrote when I was quite young and a song that came together because of Spacehog. I still love to perform it and I try to get into the headspace that I’m performing it for the first time every time I do it, probably more successful at some times than others. It’s an interesting thing for me personally, and us I suppose, as it’s taken more attention than other things we have done, that we are equally as proud of. I’m eternally grateful, though, for what that song has allowed us and given us though. It can be seen as both a blessing and a curse, but that’s not for me to decide. My feelings surrounding it are totally positive. I know it’s still loved by many people and it’s become a part of their heritage in a way, which really means something special, as that’s what the song was about—getting a message out to people.
When you guys initially broke up, the music industry was on the brink of falling apart due to Napster and digital downloads and just the way people were able to listen to music in general. What’s your opinion on how that effected Spacehog and the state of the music industry as a whole?
It’s interesting how the story of Spacehog mirrors the upheaval in the record industry itself. We were as confused as the record executives who were working with us as to where everything was going. Now the format has changed. There’s a commercial side that can’t be ignored and the Internet has freed music in some respect, which has changed the outcome before you really start. I’m quite happy about it personally, because anybody can make or get music. It’s more difficult to filter out the wheat from the chaff, but you can do it if you’re passionate about music.
Do you think the early success affected the band and the mindset of the band moving forward? Was the bar set too high off the bat?
In some ways, sure. That was a record we made then and there were a number of reasons the bar became high, so to speak. Having lived through that—barely—I an only comment on that with a bit of 20/20 hindsight from a 40 year-old guy. I probably would have reacted differently if I had more insight into myself, if we all had as a group. You get thrown into that thing you always dream of and it’s very difficult to know how to handle it.
Success is a deceptive and dangerous position to be in. There’s usually only one way to go and that’s down. I don’t feel like our follow-up records are any less of accomplished albums as a whole, but it wasn’t as well received. Then you have to think about all of the other things going on around you—managers, the road, just life in general—and see how that effects you. You also have a larger disposable income and you haven’t really emotionally grown—in fact, there’s the possibility of regression when you become even somewhat successful and famous. Especially when you get in the bottle of touring a lot and people wanting that to be perpetuated in terms of making money and capitalizing on that.
For myself it became very, very difficult to keep my head on straight and doing what I do best, to write and perform music. I am totally responsible of that, of course and nobody gives you a handbook when you start off in that position. You’re just suddenly known for something you’ve been doing since you were a kid in your bedroom, playing along to your stereo. And then all of a sudden it becomes a reality and you don’t know what to do with it.
I feel like this record is very much a reflection on that, which is why it sounds somewhat more mature, because I am and all these things have become clearer to me.