Fischer and Spooner met in an experimental video class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The two collaborated on performance art pieces but eventually lost touch until years later when both had moved to New York. By this time Warren had begun a career as a commercial director out of frustration with the stagnating alternative music scene, and Casey had been struggling to make his name in experimental theater. Wanting to collaborate again, they attempted a TV pilot but became more interested in the digital soundtrack Warren had composed for the show.
Between 1999 and 2000 they wrote a spate of tracks for their debut album #1, like the anthemic ‘Emerge’, and to accompany a new experimental performance idea. Spooner was the natural front man and Fischer the behind-the-scenes musical wizard in their own burgeoning Oz. With the help of a network of dancers, singers, costumers and other artist friends the performances grew over a year into controversial ‘pop’ spectaculars.
With the songs available for free through their website, an underground release on Germany’s Gigolo Records and their stylish performances, Fischerspooner spearheaded the swelling international electro movement and quickly created a cult of fans around the world. They traveled the show to Europe where intense press attention and a deal with club pioneers Ministry of Sound drove “Emerge” into the UK Top 40 and garnered a worldwide record deal with Capitol Records.
The film, photography, performance and music Fischerspooner were producing also captured the attention of New York’s art world, as a unique hybrid of modern pop culture and performance art. A partnership with downtown gallery Deitch Projects led them to perform and show their work at galleries, museums and private collectors’ homes around the world.
For their second album, Fischerspooner had a new agenda. They wanted a cohesive album of songs that were more expressive and emotional than their predecessors, aiming for a rich, warm sound in contrast to the crisp surfaces and digital conceptualism of #1. Inspired musically by classic and psychedelic rock, “I was thinking of songs I remembered hearing on the radio as a kid,” says Fischer. “That warm seventies FM sound coming off the radio from bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles or Pink Floyd.
To that end, their creative process had to change dramatically. Warren tried to incorporate as many analog sounds and live instruments as possible. “In a sense, I created a virtual band,” says Fischer. Session musicians were brought into studios in Brooklyn where Warren worked with longtime engineer and collaborator Nicolas Vernhes (Fiery Furnaces, Black Dice) to lay down over thirty instrumentals, from which the album would take shape. In a similar departure from the previous album, Casey began to reveal more emotion and a personal perspective in his lyrics and vocal style, pulling from classical and romantic ideas in his search for themes for the new material.
While their new writing approach unfolded, the pair also decided to step outside of their inner circle for the first time, with a wish list of likeminded songwriters and musicians. Warren traveled to Los Angeles to work with producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air) at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios. In turn Casey put out calls to the unlikely pairing of hit songwriter Linda Perry and pre-eminent intellectual Susan Sontag, in a bid to reflect the twin pillars of their creative inspiration, high art and pop culture.
“When I approached Susan, it was September 2003” says Casey, “I went to her house and had this fantasy that we would pick something to work on together from my note book of ideas.” Instead, after a brief discussion, she disappeared into her library and returned fifteen minutes later with a printed sheet of lyrics titled ‘We Need A War’. “I read them and said ‘I don’t think I can say the word ‘’war’ I’m not comfortable saying it.” Sontag responded, “You need to get comfortable saying the word war. Your president approved eighty billion dollars for a war in Iraq yesterday.”
However, as the half-finished songs piled up, and with the physical toll of the many months in the studio, tensions over creative balance began to swell. Whereas with #1 they worked sporadically over a few years, Fischer would program the music at his apartment and Casey would similarly hammer out lyrics alone, only coming together when it was time to record vocals. For Odyssey, the two would work together intensely in the studio critiquing and pushing each other. Inevitably conflicts arose as their diverse musical perspectives began to clash. “At first it was really uncomfortable to have my process exposed, I’m used to writing by myself and suddenly I was getting feedback on unfinished tracks,” says Fischer “but I realized you get to better ideas sometimes because you get pushed.” Spooner adds, ”We both went a little crazy making the album. We really had to grow as artists and to grow you have to change. Change is never easy”
In the final stages they looked to French producer Mirwais (Madonna’s Music, among others) to help put the finishing touches on the album. “I really liked his solo record and the way he’s maintained his integrity with massive pop success. We had been working on the album together for over a year, almost at our wits end, and he brought in a huge burst of creative energy and a fresh perspective,” says Fischer. Also adding to the final inspiration was a weekly, private Salon series they hosted throughout the summer of 2004 to showcase new music, visual ideas and dance to the Williamsburg scene that spawned the project. The energy and vitality of the eclectic following that developed around the weekly events fed back into the album’s quintessentially New York style.