Introducing Sebastian Spader, a wonderful photographer who when shooting people, manages to capture the character that is projected from his subject in a single shot. I found Sebastian to be a very gracious man, as he allowed me to briefly enter his world to find out about his work, his book ‘Wondering’ and the kind of music that has grabbed him.
PC: Can you talk about your background in photography and describe your style?
SS: I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, but didn’t really start regularly shooting until I was around 21 (I’m 26 now). And it’s typically been an on-and-off thing for me. I used to carry a camera over my shoulder everywhere I went, but I don’t do that anymore… I usually have a camera accessible, such as in my car, but ultimately I’m here to experience life through my eyes, not through a lens. It would make me kind of depressed to someday say that I’ve always seen the world through a camera, that means I didn’t see it truly for myself.
I guess that’s partially why I’ve come to enjoy taking portraits most, because I get to talk to people. I’ve always felt very uncomfortable taking candid shots because I feel too far removed and I don’t like trying to be ‘invisible’. It’s more relaxing being close to someone.
PC: You recently brought out a book, WONDERING. Tell me more about it?
SS: WONDERING wasn’t actually a project until after I had started to edit through my photos in hopes of creating some form of a book. I had been shooting for 4 years without any goal or structure, just shoving my negatives in a closet after I got them developed. Once I began going through them though, I found a few consistencies in style or subject matter that must have formed subconsciously while I was shooting. And being that the theme of the book ended up relying quite heavily on juxtaposition and the story created by that, I was very surprised at how naturally the photos fell into sequence.
It was funny, I had put about 90% of the book together and went to organize my negatives to begin printing and realized I couldn’t find the negative for one shot toward the end of the book of a dark hedge at night… I was pretty devastated, but I took that shot out of the book and began rearranging things to accommodate the sudden hole, though nothing really fit the exact right way. Well by the time a few months had passed, a few additions had been made and I moved enough around that it worked pretty well. Then suddenly while moving some things around in storage I came across a binder of negs that happened to have the missing shot… As soon as I put that back in, everything was exactly how it needed to be and worked from there on out.
PC: You have clearly enjoyed traveling, where have you visited and what’s next?
SS: Yeah, traveling is always fun, no matter where to. And I really do like to take certain trips that don’t have anything to do with photography because, as I was saying above, experiencing places without feeling the need to capture a moment is just as important as capturing a moment. The last big photo trip I took was to Mongolia with a fellow photographer, Vincent Isler, which was incredible. Definitely the best place I’ve ever been, I’d go back in a second. And if anyone reading this has even the slightest interest in going there, go NOW. It’s changing a lot. I also traveled through Spain and Portugal recently, but that wasn’t photography focussed.
I do have a project coming up within the next couple months, but I can’t say exactly where I’ll be going, partially because I’m keeping the details to myself and partially because I don’t truly know where I’ll end up once I begin the trip. I can say it’ll be within the US.
PC: Can you tell me more about the first album or single you bought and do you remember where you bought it from?
SS: The first song I ever remember listening to is Gloria by Them. My father used to own a ’64 Pontiac GTO and that was one of the songs we’d listen to while driving in that car. I’ve always promised myself that when I buy a GTO one day, that’ll be the first song I listen to in it.
It’s tough to say what the first album I ever owned was, but I know Sandinista! by The Clash was one of the first and certainly the one that most influenced my taste in music. The first song I ever heard by The Clash was One More Time, the reggae inspired tune featuring Mikey Dread at the end of the second side of record one and it has remained my favorite song by my favorite band ever since. Plus, though I think band names are inherently cheesy as fuck, The Clash is without question the best band name ever.
PC: Which song do you just have to play at full volume?
SS: Every song on Fun House by The Stooges. If you aren’t listening to that record loud, you might as well not listen to it.
PC: Which song or album soothes your troubled mind or heart?
SS: I don’t know the answer to this question because I don’t listen to music to make myself feel better necessarily, but I will say that the Mississippi John Hurt album The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt has a pretty relaxing effect. Same thing with Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue. I also find that reggae is the best music to fall asleep to… Not sure what about it makes sleep so inevitable, but it’s just the way it is.
PC: Three pieces of music you adore or three styles of music you are drawn to?
SS: To me, the greatest part about music is when you all of a sudden come across a song or an album that you can’t believe exists because it’s that good. It’s how I felt when I heard Fred McDowell’s Levee Camp Blues for the first time… The song just hits so goddamn hard, makes you feel like you should be at a bar you shouldn’t be at. Another one was the song Haenim by Korean psychedelic/folk singer Kim Jung Mi, whose album I happened to come across when I worked at Amoeba Music when I was younger. The whole album is ridiculous, but that song in particular makes me feel like I’m standing on a porch while it rains, waiting for it to stop raining, hoping that it doesn’t stop too terribly soon. A third instance was when I was about 15 and my buddy Kiran introduced me to a song called Whips & Furs by The Vibrators. It’s the first time I realized that punk is really just rock & roll, only way more fun.
In terms of styles or genres I like, it’s really easier to come up with the ones I don’t like… I hate rap and I hate dubstep, along with really any fast electronic dance music… and I seriously can’t stand Bruce Springsteen. But I’m open to a lot of things and it’s funny how quickly I’ve gone from listening to pretty much all punk and 60s rock growing up to nowadays a ton of obscure psychedelic from African and Korean and Indonesian, a lot of Blues, Jazz, Reggae/Dub, Surf… all kinds of stuff, weird or otherwise.
PC: My guilty music pleasure would be a bit of 80’s Soft rock, what’s yours?
SS: I really dig electronic lounge-y music. Not dance music, but the kind of music I’d be listening to if I somehow ended up in a cockpit perpetually flying an airplane forever.
PC: Which Movie soundtrack do you never get tired of listening to?
SS: The Harder They Come, without a doubt. It’s what got me so heavily into reggae and introduced me to one of my favorite reggae tunes, Johnny Too Bad by The Slickers. In fact, that’s one of the greatest parts about that soundtrack – it not only includes tracks from some of the most prominent reggae artists of the time, but also includes a few tunes that otherwise probably wouldn’t have been heard on any mainstream scale, like Johnny Too Bad. That single was released as a 7 inch on Panther in Jamaica and then one or two other 7 inches in the UK, but that’s it, and certainly not on any major LP until The Harder They Come came around.
Also, The Endless Summer soundtrack by The Sandals is killer. It’s just vibes so perfectly with the movie and Bruce Brown’s narration. If you ever want to watch something that will simply make you smile for an hour and a half, whether you like surfing or not (I don’t), watch The Endless Summer.
PC: What was the last concert you attended and which concert was the best you have ever been to?
SS: The last concert I went to was to see my buddy Richie play at the Baked Potato here in Los Angeles. It’s always killer to see a show at the Baked Potato. It’s really one of the few remaining classic LA spots and with so many great old places closing, I’m always glad when I see it packed.
It’s tough to say what the best concert I’ve ever seen is… I’d probably have to say when Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Van Morrison split the bill at the Pauley Pavilion at UCLA in 1998. Van Morrison was still touring The Healing Game, having released it only a year prior, which I find to be among his strongest work. There are a few artists from the 60s & 70s who returned in the 90s with a ridiculously good album, Morrison being one of them, Lou Reed being another with New York, and Tom Waits being a third with Mule Variations. I was only 8 at the time of the concert, but it’s the first one I remember clearly and it was pretty amazing.
PC: I am taking piano lessons, do you have musical abilities, if so please elaborate?
SS: Not at all. Plus I can’t stand performing, I won’t even play charades.
PC: What would be your most frequently worn band t-shirt and is it an original?
SS: Man it’s been awhile since I’ve worn any of my band shirts, but I’ve got a Dylan one I used to wear quite a bit that I had gotten at a show. If I ever do buy anything at a concert nowadays it’s usually a poster anyway, since I rarely wear concert shirts. Recently I’ve come to not care as much about buying anything at a concert though… As long as I remember the show, that’s all that really matters to me.
PC:. Which artist or song do you find yourself currently listening to on almost daily basis?
SS: Ah I listen to different things everyday, not often the same thing on a daily basis. There’s this one really weird song that I found the other day called The Big Tragedy by Johnny Lance. It was only released on a 45 back in 1963 and is I guess coined as a ‘novelty’ track, but I think it’s great. I’ve listened to that a handful of times over the last couple weeks.
PC: Do you have a signature dance move?
SS: If I’ve ever danced, I definitely wouldn’t remember it.
PC: How would you describe your perfect day?
SS: Driving through the Gobi Desert having not showered in a few days.
PC: Finish this sentence I cannot possibly live without…..
Sebastian’s recently published book, WONDERING, can be purchased on his website at sebastianspader.com, where you can also view photos from his 2015 project in Mongolia. His work and updates on exhibitions can also be found on Instagram (@horriblesparade) and on Facebook (Horribles Parade).
To hear Sebastian talk more about his photography and travels in a podcast with his friend Chris Paul follow this link.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.