Achieving your dreams starts with the ability and willingness to take risks, even if you’re uncertain of where those risks will leave you. New York virtuoso Spencer. is living, breathing, beat-making proof of that phenomenon. Dropping out of college and relocating to Brooklyn in 2018, Spencer. hit the ground running full speed towards his musical career. Less than a year after his plight, his singles “Want U Back” and “To Be You” soared, collecting millions of streams on Spotify and a record deal with 4AD. Taking influences from all over the genre-spectrum, Spencer. bears a sound like no other. With characterizing drum patterns that bring every song of his to life, it’s easy to find yourself getting lost in a world meticulously ingrained into each song.
FRONTRUNNER was welcomed with open arms into the world and mind of Spencer. as he shared his upbringing, his creative processes, and his dreams of a collaboration with Hip-Hop sensation, Doja Cat.
So, paint us a picture. What was life like for young Spencer Allen growing up? Did you have any major influences that inspired your desire to create music?
Yeah I mean, I grew up in Rochester. I didn’t live in the city, I lived in a suburb outside of the city called Penfield. I moved schools a couple times and ended up at this public school in Penfield. Music has kind of been like a thing since I was a kid because my parents always had me play piano since I was like four, or something. I wasn’t really into it because that piano kind of sounded like shit [laughs]. But I really wanted to play trumpet for the longest, and as soon as I was able to in fifth grade, I started doing that. Then I got really good at that and started getting really into Jazz in high school. I started trying to get into different instruments and stuff because I wanted to play beyond the notes that were provided to me when I was playing trumpet. So I taught myself how to play bass and a little bit of guitar and a little bit of drums. Then I got back into piano after quitting for a couple of years.
When I was younger, my dad first staked my taste in music. He’d play a lot of gospel and R&B. I didn’t listen to rap until high school. When I was younger, he’d play a lot of new jazz and 80’s and 90’s R&B, like really some of the kind of corny stuff. But he’d be like super into the detail of the actual song itself and each of the instrumental parts where there would be like a drum fill or a weird guitar thing. He always was paying attention and I learned how to listen to music because of him.
I understand that your journey into the music world was a bit on the risky end seeing as you had dropped out of college to pursue your career. What led to that ultimate decision of leaving one pursuit for the other?
So when I went to school, I went to a college called SUNY Fredonia. It’s a state school in New York kind of close to Rochester, like two and a half hours away. I went for sound recording and we would do just a lot of mixing stuff. Because I had been doing recording on my own – specifically, I was making beats – I think in between my first and second year is when I first started singing and putting out my music. As time went on it was like, I wasn’t learning anything to apply to my music or anything I enjoyed and classes kind of seemed pointless. I didn’t really want to go to school in the first place; it was my safety school. All of that accumulated up and me being depressed there, not really making friends. All of those feelings kind of built up to juxtapose making music, which was going really well, but I was still in school so it was hard to take any opportunities. I don’t think I missed any opportunities while I was in school, but I felt like I was being held back.
With my parents, my mom is a first-generation college student. Out of her eight siblings, she was the only one to go to school. She was born and raised in Jamaica and education has been a really big part of her upbringing. So, it was very hard for me personally to face the decision to want to drop out. It was just as hard – or maybe harder – for her to face that too. After my second year, my friend who I went to school with a couple of years ago went to Pratt in Brooklyn; he was taking a year off and he was trying to get an apartment. So I kind of jumped in with him and decided to move to New York [City] in the Fall of 2018. I would say that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because not only was it good for my career, but it was good for my mental health and growth. The transition was for the better, definitely.
What was the biggest thing you learned from making the transition from being an overworked student to an on-the-rise artist?
Even though they’re in different lanes and I dropped out of school to have the other, I think they’re more similar than people would think. They were both rooted in music, but I think that I was meant to try new stuff and get work done. Because it is a career at the end of the day, there’s responsibilities that you could have. It’s the same thing as being in college and, like, being healthy. At first I was like, “Well I could put off my work and chill, or whatever.” I think the responsibility part and going into adulthood is the common theme the two share. I feel like it’s not completely different. You need the same work ethic for both, even if it is in a different world.
Your lyrics are honest and your music, as a whole, kind of stands on its own in terms of sound. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that you do a lot of the writing and producing on your own. How do your typical writing and producing sessions go?
I usually start with the drums and my main instrument is the bass. I feel like it’s the most important relationship in music. You have the rhythmic side and the harmonic side and bass is right in the middle of that. You have the melody of the bass-line and then the rhythm of how you play the bass-line and everything, you know? I feel like starting with the drums kind of dictates the mood of the song or what the rhythmic feel of the song could be.
It’s weird because I don’t really start from the emotional part when it comes to writing. I usually start from the musical part and I’ll make the beat first. So yeah, I’ll do drums and because of the drum and bass relationship then I’ll do bass. Then I’ll lay down a guitar or synth and if they groove, I’ll usually be able to think of a lot of ideas or thematic ideas for a song and what it’s about, or whatever is going on in my head at the moment that I’m writing. I never really go in with an idea of, “Oh, this is what I should write about”. But yeah, there’s a lot of ideas because I make a lot of different kinds of beats.
There’s definitely a sound that I’ve…I don’t want to say restricted myself to with my own artist project. I don’t think I’ve restricted myself, I think I’ve more so created a specific sonic score with the Spencer. project. But there’s a lot of different stuff I’m capable of when it comes to production, so I definitely feel like I want to start spreading out and trying to work to make songs with different beats. Recently, I’ve been trying to follow through with every beat and idea that I have. A lot of times, I’ll start and I’ll stop if I don’t feel inspired or if I don’t feel like it’s working. But lately some of my best ideas have been from me pushing through and being like, “Normally I would stop here, but I really like this beat and I really want to add vocals to the whole thing.” So it’s kind of just been experimentation and finding that sound. I guess a typical session for me is maybe 2 or 3 beats and then I’ll hit one that I want to power through the whole thing on.
You touched a little on the fact that you challenge yourself in your music and don’t stay stagnant in one zone. In your most recent song, “Hold It Down”, we can sense that a bit. Typically we get that kind of melancholic vibe, but this one is a little different. How did this sonic change come about?
The beat came first, and it wasn’t like a jump sample-type beat, it was just what I normally do. I just really liked the chord changes and recently I’ve been making Pop music. I’m like, “Oh I really like Pop music and I like listening to it so far, so why don’t I attempt to put my approach on it”. Especially because Pop can be the start of so many different things. It took me a while to see that and feel mature enough to see that Pop isn’t just like what’s on the radio. There’s so many other aspects and so many other people who qualify as Pop, but you wouldn’t think that based off of this idea of what it is. I definitely was like, this beat is like…I felt like I had the opportunity to make something that was a bit “lighter”. Well, I don’t know, that’s how the beat sounded to me. I’ve definitely been trying to make different kinds of songs because I know that I can make a wide range of music.
Last month was the last month on your European tour with Baby Rose! What was your experience like on tour? What were your favourite moments?
It was really cool because I’ve never been to Europe before. Norway was really cool because we played the festival there that wasn’t technically a part of the tour, but because some of my friends came through to Oslo, it was really cool to meet people there. My favourite moment. I really liked just driving through the city, because you get to see the architectural differences between the cities. It’s not even that tiny a detail of difference in each of the cities, but it was just really cool to see the cultural differences. Because you’re spending one day in Stockholm, and then the next day you go further south and you’re in Copenhagen, and then one day I’ll meet a stranger and we’ll hang out. Then they’ll show me around a little bit after the show or something. It was just really cool to be in different cultures. The shows were really fun as well [laughs] but the traveling experience for me was really cool.
Did you travel a lot before the tour?
The last time we did any extensive travel was when we did the Gus tour in the Fall. That was the first time I was ever in the United States, like, really going to every state. That was really cool and that tour kind of spurred me to travel a lot more, just because being in different places around the country and making friends in one city and going to the next was really exciting. So I kind of mastered that feeling I felt in me to go somewhere, which is why I was excited to do this tour with Baby Rose. I was actually supposed to stay in London for a month after, but then COVID happened and I had to come home.
I know COVID set a lot of people and festivals back, which has been really unfortunate. That leads into my next question: I know we’re in a quarantine right now, but if you could design your own tour, who would be your opener and where would you want to go?
I mean, I really like the US tours. Those were honestly the most fun for me, so I’d probably do another US tour. My friend Glen the Saiyan, who is a rapper from Sacramento but lives in New York, it would be really fun to tour with him. It would be super fun. We’ve only really had that much fun when we tour with people that we get along with. Like the Gus tour, we got along with them so well because we’re all from upstate New York and [we] all enjoy going bowling and drinking and we did all the same stuff on the tour. Same with Baby Rose, too. She’s really sweet and her band was really nice. We all really got along. But doing it with somebody that you’re friends with is really a treat because you get to travel the country with them.
On other artists, who do you hope to hop on a collab with in the future?
I feel weird about this, but because I do everything myself, it’s weird for me to think about what it would be like to collaborate with anybody because usually I haven’t really done that. But I thought about it the other day and I really like Doja Cat’s project a lot. Like I’m obsessed with that song “Like That” that she has.
I would love a Spencer. and Doja Cat collab [laughs]
Yeah it would be sick [laughs]. Hmm, who else. Oh, Rejjie Snow! Rejjie Snow is amazing and honestly got me into making music. He’s one of those people that influenced me to do shit. And Noname, because I think her voice would sound cool on my beats [laughs] and that’s about it.
That’s a pretty good list. Especially Spencer. And Noname, that would be so tight![Laughs] Right?
My last question is in regards to your fashion. Your music is fire, but your sense of fashion is too! Where do you typically shop for your fits at?
Thank you! I mean, I do a lot of thrift shopping. Obviously, that’s a big part of my wardrobe. I feel like being from Rochester is cool because the concentration at a thrift store for better clothes is a lot higher, like you can definitely find some cool stuff. But what’s also cool about being from Rochester is it’s super rural around here. Me and my friends sometimes joke about dressing like rednecks: like we’ll be in a checkered hat and then one really nice piece to stand out, and everything else is thrifted, or something. I also really like NOAH. NOAH is probably my favourite brand. Converse is fire, as well. Yeah, I really like NOAH, Converse, Prada, and Dickies stuff is pretty fire for me.