Spencer Cullum

Spencer Cullum

When you get multiple reactions from other musicians after posting a photo of a session, you know you just filmed a great musician. Not that I didn’t know that before, of course. But this happened with Spencer Cullum’s session, who brought along Sean Thompson and Rich Ruth, and played covers of Michael Rother’s (of Neu!) Silberstreif and The Incredible String Band’s The Tree and his own Out Of Focus.

Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection 2 – released in April 2023, featuring Erin Rae, Caitlin Rose, Dana Gavanski, Sean Thompson, Rich Ruth, Dominic Billett and others – sees the Nashville-based musician step further from the pedal steel and towards center stage. After releasing two records as Steelism with guitarist Jeremy Fetzer, Cullum has now released two Coin Collection albums on the evergreen Full Time Hobby label. His latest is a kaleidoscopic collection of folk, jazz, and pop, cut though with immaculately-rendered songwriting.

Spencer Cullum: “Michael Rother has been a constant source and influence on my music.”

Romford to Nashville is hardly the most well-trodden of paths, but – according to his Bandcamp page – for Spencer Cullum it was a way of getting to the essential heart of pedal steel, what was then and remains to this day his musical raison d’être. Growing up in the large East London town brought him early exposure to classic pub rock by way of his father such as Dr. Feelgood and Thin Lizzy, and farther-flung music by way of his mother, such as Talking Heads and Lou Reed. However, it was learning pedal steel from legendary English player B. J. Cole that set him on the path he still walks today. After touring with Nashville-based groups and hearing tales of “seasoned Nashville steel players”, the young musician upped sticks and found a “nice little crowd of weirdos” in his chosen city.

The first cover in his The Influences session was one that Cullum, Ruth and Thompson almost physically couldn’t do more than one take of. “Michael Rother has been a constant source and influence on my music. From his work with Neu! to his solo records. His way with minimalism and his exceptional precision in his playing is why this song we chose could have easily broke the band up at the start of our tour. So simple but such odd bar measures and structure.”

“With Mike Heron’s songs there’s always an undercurrent of somber darkness.”

Coin Collection’s modus operandi was ‘a very quintessential English folk record, but with really good Nashville players’, Spencer Cullum says of his latest album: “I wanted to be different. I wanted to try and pull away from wearing my influences on my sleeve… I was trying to pick out ideas that were new to me. You can never escape your musical influences but I wanted them to be more hidden sub-consciously than upfront.” 

The second cover of Cullum’s The Influences session, which we filmed at the office of the Grasnapolsky festival in Utrecht, is The Tree by the Scottish folk rock band The Incredible String Band. Cullum explains his choice: “The Incredible String Band are another wonderful group that on first listen sound very tranquil and peaceful but I love that with Mike Heron’s songs there’s always an undercurrent of somber darkness. The Tree feels like that.”

Single with Hollow Hand: O Caroline

Last week, Spencer Cullum released a cover of O Caroline by David Sinclair and Robert Wyatt, together with the English band Hollow Hand – whose The Influences session was published only a couple of weeks ago. In case you missed that: watch their covers of Michael Hurley and The Beatles right here.


Photos


Originals

The Tree (The Incredible String Band)
Tidal | Apple Music

Silberstreif (Michael Rother)
Tidal | Apple Music

Spencer Cullum

Website
Bandcamp
Apple Music
Tidal

Credits

Filmed & edited by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded & mixed by Matthijs van der Ven.

Location
Grasnapolsky’s office
Utrecht, The Netherlands

Thanks
Rich Ruth
Sean Thompson
Shep
Mariska Berrevoets

There is no better way to discover music than watching great musicians cover the songs they love. The Influences has been producing these videos ever since 2008.

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Keep watching

Thank you for watching and enjoying this session. You’ll probably like some other sessions from The Influences’ archive too, like these earlier ones by Spencer Cullum’s collaborators and friends Hollow Hand, Erin Rae and Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears (featuring Cullum himself).

  • Spencer Cullum

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    When you get multiple reactions from other musicians after posting a photo of a session, you know you just filmed a great musician. Not that I didn’t know that before, of course. But this happened with Spencer Cullum’s session, who brought along Sean Thompson and Rich Ruth, and played covers of Michael Rother’s (of Neu!)…

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