From Romford to East Nashville, SPENCER CULLUM has taken a peripatetic journey from pedal steel to pastoral psychedelia. Tom Pinnock chats with collaborators along with the sonic upstart as he propels in bold new directions. “It’s more about gradually trying to find my identity…” in the latest issue of Uncut magazine – in UK shops from Thursday, January 12 and available to buy from our online store.
“I’m not the biggest fan of Vegas,” says Spencer Cullum, hunched over his laptop high in a hotel over Nevada’s Sin City. “I’ve already seen two vehicles on fire from my window. One of them was a party bus in flames at 4am, right near a gas station! Downtown here is just crazy.”
Cullum, born and bred in Romford, Essex, is about to release his second album, Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection 2, a sublime set of eccentric folk and psychedelic exploration. Such music, however, doesn’t get your name in lights in Las Vegas alongside Adele and Penn & Teller: so right now Cullum is here as the pedal steel player for country blockbuster Miranda Lambert.
“She writes great songs,” he explains, “and she lets me play what I want, but it’s still bizarre, these massive crowds. It’s nice playing for a female country artist, though, because the crowd doesn’t go into that ‘bro country’ territory that seems to be taking over America.”
“It is a bit of an anomaly, isn’t it, Spencer in Las Vegas!” laughs BJ Cole, pedal steel maestro and something of a mentor to Cullum. “An ongoing gig with somebody like Miranda means you don’t have to look around for work too much – you can relax and do your own thing.”
Most of the time, then, Nashville-based Cullum is playing country music, but over the last few years he’s branched out with his more eccentric Coin Collection project. On their self-titled album and its follow-up, due in April, Cullum explores the pastoral psychedelia of Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers, and the more austere folk-rock of Fairport Convention, with a naïve and easy-going charm.
“This whole phase of my music is new to me,” he explains. “Writing songs with lyrics and doing – I don’t even like saying it! – the singer-songwriter thing, still feels uncomfortable. But I like that feeling of fear… I’ve had a lot of help from really good singer-songwriters in Nashville, like Andrew Combs and Caitlin Rose.”
Collaboration is key to the Coin Collection records, and Cullum has assembled a group of likeminded souls in East Nashville: Americana artists keen to explore stranger sounds away from their own careers and the pressures of the city’s ‘country machine’.
“Spencer is a magnet,” says Caitlin Rose. “There aren’t many people doing what he’s doing in Nashville, but there’s people who understand it. Sometimes I think Spencer is like this weird time-travelling spirit; I think that’s why a lot of what he does feels authentic. He’s not apeing anything, it’s more that he just embodies [the feel of classic records].”
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