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Spectrals Only (Want to) Write About Love

Louis Jones doesn't have much to complain about. As the 22-year-old in charge of Spectrals—another entry into the long line of bedroom-projects-gone-indie-buzz-bands—this isn't necessarily a good thing. "I don't have any problems in my life," he says. "I don't face any great injustice. I'm not interested in politics." Still, Jones does have one creative well—a relationship that went sour, and then set itself right—that he plans on drawing from for as long as possible. "The only thing I'm interested in doing is writing love songs," says the reserved front man, who comes from Heckmondwike, a small town near Leeds, England. "It might sound kind of strange, but if there's going to be any value in Spectrals at all, then people need to know that I can't write about anything else. It would be stupid of me to try, really, because then it would come off as dishonest."

The saga that drives Bad Penny, Spectrals' full-length debut, is a little tangled, but a quick summary will do the trick. Boy really likes girl, girl doesn't like boy like that, boy and girl stay friends, boy and girl have a falling-out, boy and girl reunite as boyfriend and girlfriend. In contrast to how everything turned out in real life, the songs—a charming, autumnal, sometimes glittery blend of indie pop, garage rock and doo-wop aesthetic—pull from the bad times. Jones can find only one positive tune on the record: "Confetti," a doe-eyed number that earnestly begins, "Girl, I'm glad we're going steady/I've had enough fun already/Enough to last me a whole lifetime." Otherwise, gritted-teeth cynicism runs amok, but hey, at least it's all inspiration. Jones describes the album as thematically using a variation of Alfred Tennyson's famous "'Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all."

Jones got his musical start in a hardcore punk act (he's fond of Cro-Mags, Sheer Terror and Bad Brains), but at 18, he began to embrace his parents' music, which shaped his current band's direction. "Around the time when I started doing Spectrals, My Aim Is True was a huge record for me," says Jones of the record by Elvis Costello, one of his father's favorites. "Musically, it's really kind of upbeat and pop, but then the lyrics are mean and negative, and that really appealed to me. That's the kind of thing I could carry forward from [my past]. The hardcore punk songs I had were really quite negative, but I could take the lyrical content of that, and then make pop music like I wanted to make."

Pessimistic perspective or not, thousands—maybe millions—of love songs have been written since the creation of music, which makes Jones' job of producing a novel or brilliant love song very difficult. No worries, however, as he's perfectly content to not say anything new. "Anything that you hear in [Spectrals], I'll have put a spin on it just because that's how I've interpreted it, or it's come from a real thing that happened to me, but I don't go out of my way to do something original or new because I'm just not interested in that," he says. "You'd be kidding yourself if you thought that you could add a new element to writing love songs. The only way to do it is to be honest, and if it actually happened in my life, there's a high chance I'm going to have written about it. It might not be new, but at least it's honest."


Spectrals perform with Cults at Constellation Room at the Observatory, Tues., 8 p.m. $16. All ages.


This article appeared in print as "The Power of Love: Spectrals devote themselves to one specific, age-old subject."


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