Back in 1991, Spencer Cobrin rode in the back seat of Rolls Royce Corniche II, driven by his new boss, former Smiths frontman, Morrissey in the video for his single “My Love Life.” Barely in his 20s, Cobrin and his fellow bandmates had just recently joined up with Moz, and would be crucial to his new, heavier sound that would come into full effect on the 1992 Mick Ronson-produced Your Arsenal. Cobrin’s drum work thundered and pounded in ways that no Morrissey-helmed project had ever before, creating a sound that was an original mixture of rockabilly, Britpop, and alternative rock. Before his final departure from the group, he would compose the music for a small handful of fan favorites that would launch the start of his composition career, which is eventually what led him to the Jingle Punks universe.
Today, Cobrin is a man of many hats, but one his largest and most notable is the songs that he tailor-makes for the synching world, which can be found in our Jingle Player. Originally from England, he now lives in Brooklyn and has a happy, private life, his years of touring the world to a ravenous audiences behind him. Despite his several years removed from being a part of Morrissey’s solo explosion, he is more than willing to reminisce with us about his years behind the kits, as well as his work since then – composing for films, and joining the JP arsenal.
How did you first get into composing music for media licensing?
I was networking around town (NY) trying to get into writing music for commercials — this was before music licensing really took a hold on the industry. During this time I came across Pump Audio. I sent Pump a batch of tracks that were accepted into the catalogue, which felt great after all the pavement I had been treading. I eventually did freelance in the commercial world for several years but then there was a big shift towards licensing and the devaluation of music. A lot of houses folded.
How did you discover Jingle Punks?
While doing research online, I found an article on JP landing a contract with Viacom not long after starting up, obviously a big deal, so I decided to send them my music.
What are some of the placements you’ve made?
House, M.D., lots of reality TV, overseas placements too such as Korea, bizarre but very welcome.
How do you feel about composing for licensing companies as a living? Is it lucrative enough, and if not, what else do you do?
I decided to direct my music towards TV placements as my other streams, such as mechanicals, touring, freelance composing, had dried up. I did change hats to A&R for a few years signing talent though, but I thought this would also be a good outlet for me creative-wise. I wouldn’t say I’ve been making a living from licensing, but having access to the potential of generating some income from music these days is very appreciated.
When did you move to Brooklyn?
In 2001, prior to that I was living in the EastVillage and thereabouts.
Did your moving here coincide with your departure from Morrissey’s band?
I was living in the East Village prior.
Did you depart Morrissey’s live band before or after the Maladjusted tour?
What caused your departure?
Well, this is old now, but we fell out. He wrote (faxed) some very nasty things to me, he crossed the line and I was heartbroken, completely shocked, and I was left with no choice.
Can you describe your professional/personal timeline in the aftermath of leaving the band, leading up to now?
To be completely honest it was really tough. I was broke and out of work until I found a lunchtime shift in a restaurant. I lived in a decrepit SRO on the Upper West Side with mentally impaired tenants, then with some guy who beat his cat, then to another SRO where the super tried to stab his wife with a kitchen knife, and of course all the couch surfing one could ever wish for. It was bleak.
When did your living situation begin to turn around and how?
I met an agent/rep for a jingle house at a film salon downtown and he asked to come by and meet the owner/head composer. I wanted to play him some “film music” I had written but he was more interested in my pop music, and he loved what he heard (the tracks were “Pavement Kisses” and “Hold Me” from the Elva Snow album I released with Scott Matthew) so now that I had his ear, I started to send him demos of instrumental .30s and the like. After a few months of sending him my efforts, he called me up and had a job he wanted me to demo for. I then started to get more work thrown my way. I won some jobs so I was able to live a little better. I had also moved in with my girlfriend around this time. I mean, isn’t that what we all end up doing? Ha! We broke up a few years later, she moved to Paris and I kept the apartment for several years sharing the space with a writer and numerous other people. It was a bit of a circus.
One early break you had gotten in terms of scoring was on the film My Child: Mothers of War. How did you come about composing for that?
I met the editor while working at the US Open one summer and she suggested me to the director. The director called me while I was trudging around Harlem and asked if I would be interested in writing some music for her film. Of course I said yes. I then went to visit my family in the UK and while there I wrote several pieces based on the conversation we had. The score was actually co-composed, music from two other composers was also used.
When did you officially become Andrew Paresi’s replacement in Morrissey’s band and what was your first official appearance with him as a full-time member?
There was never an official statement of becoming a full-time member, it just rolled along. Our first appearance was at the Bull Ring in Dublin. It was incredible, the volume, the energy. To say we were about to throw-up before we went on stage would be an understatement. Everyone was going through the roof, the nervous tension was coupled by an intense excitement. It was amazing.
What were you doing before then?
I was playing in rockabilly bands along with [former Morrissey band members] Alain Whyte and Gary Day, Born Badand the Memphis Sinners. We were playing all over North London — I think Gary had started to play abroad too. Gary and I were in different psychobilly bands earlier on. I must have been around 18 then, oy!
You’re thanked in the liner notes of Vauxhaul And I, and from what I believe, toured the record, but Woodie Taylor plays on the album. Is there a reason you’re not on that record?
I was “let go” along with Gary prior to Vauxhall though asked back to rerecord drums for some b-sides at Abbey Road, then we went on the road to tour Vauxhall (sans Gary).
Was it the “Boxers” single that saw your return to the studio or was it Southpaw Grammar?
Aside from the Abbey Road recordings, which I think were only a couple of tracks, Southpaw was my real return. We went into the studio straight after finishing a tour, so our energy and playing were up. It was a good move, you can hear it on the album. The energy is really forward.
What was it like to work with producers like Steve Lilywhite and Mick Ronson in the studio?
Steve is an easy-going guy, but he did push me a lot. It was exhausting and at times frustrating, but he wasn’t a dick about it and I really enjoyed my time in the studio with him. Mick was kind and patient. I was very insecure and inexperienced then, but one has to start somewhere.
Whose idea was it for that for that drum solo on the song “The Operation”?
It might have been Morrissey’s, or Morrissey and Steve. They played me some crazy drumming by Keith Moon and suggested that I should try something like it, my head spun around. Me? Are you sure? I had to pull something out of the bag.
Have you read Morrissey’s recent Autobiography?
I skimmed through parts and it seems that the timeline of events, at least where I am mentioned, is inaccurate.
There’s a part in the book where he says that you wrote a letter to him that included poetry by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Can you tell me about this letter and your overall communication with Morrissey when you were working with him?
I used to send him stuff out of fondness, appreciation, and gratitude. Communication on the road was minimal. Off the road we exchanged letters via mail. No tweets or email back then.
You wrote the music for three Maladjusted-era songs (“Wide to Receive,” “Lost,” and “Now I Am a Was”). Had you attempted submitting songs on earlier records?
I started to give Morrissey cassettes of what I had written a few years prior to Maladjusted. I was only then just discovering that I could write music, and my ideas weren’t at the stage that Morrissey could write to,but I kept plugging away. It was a journey of self-discovery I had started to walk. It had nothing to do with competing with other writers in the band or even thinking of earning any money from it.
What music have you been listening to lately?
Northern Soul, British guitar bands, Narcocorrido (that is some crazy shit I recently came across), ‘80s Freestyle for fun, and the odd adagio when I feel sad.
Our in-house composer/producer Jason Mater has many projects to his credit. Check out this track he just co-wrote and produced with Metro Station which which was released on iTunes today. Read about the recently reunited band on Billboard, SPIN, and Alternative Press.
Our first Meow Mix commercial has premiered, which features an EDM-style version of the classic jingle, made by our own Gabe Kirshoff. It’s a soft push by the brand but is already blowing up plenty of blogs, news sites, and Good Morning America. Can’t wait to see what the harder push is for our forthcoming Hipster Orchestra and Florida Georgia Feline ads.
This Friday, four Jingle Punks artists will be taking the stage again at Pianos in New York’s Lower East Side, for a night of great music.
Opening with a solo set by showtunes guru Trevor Cushman, Brady Oh’s alt-country group the Vacant Stalls will follow. Brady won’t be taking a breather though as he and Liam’s good-times-incorporated group Hunters & Runners are on third, with a closing set by the Harmonica Lewinskies featuring Maddie “once a Punk, always a Punk” Gioia. It’s gonna be a beautiful night.
Ben Seaward makes skyward-bound pop anthems that is a big spirit-lifter over here at Jingle Punks. Yesterday, he released a new track and video for the soaring “Deep Enough” which shows Ben performing at his apartment in California. Give it a look and listen, and check out Ben’s tracks in the Jingle Player.
Throwback Thursday: NYU stops by in 2012 for a composition workshop. Check out our old mural painted by Steve DeFino.