Spencer Hall Interview
Dunedin is a cold fucking place at the bottom of the world, with shit all to do but try ignore insufferable lads and chads and go to see the same 5 bands play at the same 3 venues. It’s actually pretty neat, and I find the whole little town quite charming, but traversing from that little euphonious haven to the apogee of Quebecois culture is a weird experience to say the least. Which is exactly what Spencer Hall has done, taking the undistilled essence of what Montreal offers, and continuing to make zines all the same. He’s recently released the first issue of ‘Scraps’ featuring these adventures, and I’ve been hanging out with the guy like a leech, trying to suck the knowledge from his febrile brain and work out how it ticks.
Spencer: Just a bit of context for the start of the interview. Before we started recording, we were trying to make this really cool piano/organ hybrid work, and the handle that was on it snapped off because part of it was eroded. And earlier we broke into (by accident) my old work because I was trying to return a key to them and I assumed that there were people there because all the lights were on.
Jesse: This is the oldest cinema in the oldest city in North America. Neither of those facts are true, but what Spencer thinks is that he can fucking rob this place. He was trying to strip the copper from the walls. He was trying to steal the 200 year old tiles from the ground and sell them on Kijiji. It was daring and brazen, and I didn’t want any part of it but I came along anyway because I was bored. And then after all this, Spencer punches a hole in the window of the entrance! I don’t know why. He was just trying to impress me. And then the alarm goes off and he says ‘How did the alarm go off?’ so I go ‘Well it was probably because you punched a hole in the window’. So we run out, and Spencer pisses on the door. Once we get back to my sublet, Spencer sits on a chair, which then immediately breaks, and then he-
Spencer: Smashes the piano.
Jesse: I can attribute this all to the fragility of Montreal. Spencer smashes the fucking sublet piano, so now I have to answer for his crimes, which I think break at least 7 Geneva conventions.
Spencer: You can’t even read the zine I made because I broke it.
Jesse: He fucking guillotined my zine. and then he pissed on it! I had to read this pee-soaked guillotined zine.
Spencer: I think you should put a ‘sarcasm/parody’ warning on this.
Jesse: What are you talking about??
Spencer: I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the people who run the theatre.
Jesse: You should have thought about that before you pissed on their door.
Spencer: I hope I don’t break your recording
Jesse: Very funny
Spencer: I like what you said before how it’s Montreal’s fault for being too fragile
Jesse: Yeah, it’s a bit on the nose about it’s dainty European fragility.
Jesse: How do you see yourself as participating in zines as a form of oppositional culture?
Spencer: I think zine making in its very definition is oppositional culture. Right?
Jesse: Because it’s free publishing?
Spencer: Yeah, I feel like just going against the mainstream is oppositional in and of itself. I think it’s a question of DIY being an oppositional tactic and tool. If I was publishing stuff in any other platform, for example a magazine, it would have to be channeled through an editorial body outside of myself. So things would have to be chopped up and diced in seperate ways that would water it down or change the angle of what i’m saying in some way. Zines are so direct in the sense that they are self-publishing.
Jesse: So what, you’re like a dissident Samizdat writer?
Spencer: I mean I don’t really go out of my way to be opposition in the things I make. That’s not what drives it. But it depends on what the project is. I feel like there’s a bit of cultural jamming involved in, say, that ACAB zine. Printing something that could be mistaken as the bougiest adult colouring activity book and then taking it and sneaking it into places that sell these kinds of books. Then whoever finds it sees that the content is anti-cop but in a more playful sort of way. But I mean I don’t really think of it in terms of being oppositional.
Jesse: How do you fit into the culture of zines in Montreal?
Spencer: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I think it’s a very splintered community. The people that I resonate with here are the cartoonists, so I guess that’s more my side of things. I feel very distant from everyone just in terms of being an outsider because I’m not from here, and I don’t speak the language. But even so, a crew of us got to know each other quite well through Expozine and other small press things. There’s a pretty good contingent of cartoonists here including Dietrich Rosteck, Julian Peters and Keenan Poloncsak whose one of my favourites, one of my best friends here. He’s put out some really great zines, books and comics over the years, like the Squid-Gee Octology, and Pro-Can. I like to think that I’m part of their scene. Unfortunately some of those people shifted away and I also feel like I’m still very much more attached and embedded in New Zealand zine circles. I haven’t really sold too many zines here, but I’ve sent a lot back home.
Out of the older cartoonists (because I like to seek them out as well) it’s been really good connecting with Julian Peters, who just put a book out called Poems to See By, as well as Raph Bard and Rick Trembles. I got to know them quite well through the comic jams that they used to have every week at a Montreal bar. It had a really nice comics community vibe and reminded me of doing comic jams in my comic shop back in Port Chalmers. I also got to know Billy Mavreas a little bit as well but he kind of rubbed me up the wrong way, which is a shame because I really admire his work and his shop that stocked a lot of zines called Monastiraki on Saint-Laurent.
Jesse: How did you fit into the zine culture in New Zealand?
Spencer: Well the zine culture in Dunedin was pretty small before Zinefest, but I guess it comes and goes in waves. The first Dunedin Zinefest was in 2011 and there were only a few of us stallholders and then I took over organizing it after that, so I got pretty heavily involved with getting to know each person who had a stall and organizing other zine events like workshops to show people what zines even are. I got involved in the Storylines Festival, getting the kids to make zines at the public library and doing workshops for schools and the New Zealand Book Council. I also ran a comic shop for about a year in Port Chalmers which had events like weekly comic jams so that there was a place for people to come and hang out and make zines.
Jesse: How did you run your store? Did you rent out a place?
Spencer: Yeah, I rented a place on the main street called DUD Comics and it was just a small comic shop but we had art exhibitions in there as well as the workshops I mentioned. My idea was to make it a sort of a beacon for like-minded people to come in and buy, sell and make some zines. But I was also self-publishing anthologies of comics and trying to act as a bit of a lightning post. I wanted to create a place to bridge the gap between different creators, and maybe that sounds a bit high and mighty of me, but the idea was to try and foster a community by making people aware of each other. And you know, since then some really great creators have been continuing to do that as well, like Abram Hunter who just released his new anthology ‘Battle’.
Jesse: You organized Zinefest? What was it like before?
Spencer: I didn’t organize it the first year I went (which was 2011) but I did a talk. There were also some of the bigger New Zealand zine makers that came like Kerry Ann Lee, Brent Willis and Bryce Galloway who gave talks too, and I think that was the first exposure for a lot of people. We got to know each other through that. Carmen Norgate who organized it that year shifted away so a group of us took over and organized it the next year. We were all responsible for different small magazines and gig guides, and then after that they kind of shifted away as well so I took over. I’m thrilled it’s still going! feel like it’s the biggest zine event in Dunedin but luckily they’ve got other things going on like the New Zealand Young Writers Festival, and some of the Dunedin Zinefest crowds have been tacked onto that. One year we also had the Teeny Weeny Ziney Theengy.
Jesse: What was your formative zine related experience that got you into making zines?
Spencer: Carmen Norgate who organized the first Dunedin Zinefest also ran some zine workshops at the Dunedin Public Library and those were definitely formative experiences. But I mean I just love filling sketchbooks but never felt the urge to go the extra level by photocopying and stapling them, and giving them out to people. I didn’t think anyone would be interested. I guess that’s the thing about small town New Zealand. Maybe it’s different now with the internet but it was easy to just think that no one else is similar to you, and no one else would be interested in the things you are. And that’s what zines are really great for. I mean in a way, that’s kind of where the culture came from.
Jesse: We’re both New Zealanders and we’re stuck in Canada during a global pandemic. Tell me about why it sucks that National is proposing charging us $3000 to come back home.
Spencer: They’ve actually changed that. The bill that the Labour government is bringing in is that anyone who has left since the announcement was made has to pay, and anyone who returns temporarily. For them that means 90 days or less. Which, you know, is a far cry from how National was suggesting that anyone who comes into the country has to pay 3 grand. I think it’s ridiculous to expect us to line the pockets of Auckland hotels.
Jesse: You think that’s what it was for?
Spencer: That’s what’s happening. They say that the cost for housing people in these 4–5 star Auckland hotels is 4 grand for two weeks. Maybe if there was a budget option alternative it would be ok, but a lot of us overseas have lost our jobs or and don’t have financial stability at all, or have been kicked out of our flats and I think it’s fairly heartless to dump an extra 3 grand fee on people who are just trying to return home and regather their bearings. It seems that the government are under pressure from New Zealand taxpayers saying they shouldn’t have to foot the bill of people having a two week luxury stay in quarantine when they’ve had plenty of time to uproot their lives and head back to New Zealand and fuck em for giving up on New Zealand and leaving in the first place. No compassion.
Jesse: The idea that we fled the country is fucking bullshit huh?
Spencer: Well yeah, no one saw this pandemic coming.
Jesse: By fleeing to another country where it’s 200 times worse.
Spencher: Yeah. People complain about the brain drain in New Zealand but you have to remember it’s a tiny country, and like we were talking about the other day, if you’ve got the opportunities of a much larger country with a bigger economy then maybe you are better off going there than staying in a place where there might just be space for one person who does the thing that you do.
Jesse: I remember in 2013 when Lorde just got big, and all these bullshit music journalists were pretending it was going to start this new wave of New Zealand pop artists getting international success, and it was obvious that wasn’t true, and it obviously never happened. It was just Lorde no one else, but she got this hilarious credit for starting this imaginary wave. Do you remember that? There were all these articles and buzz about how New Zealand was producing something and nothing happened.
Spencer: Yeah, and that’s kind of funny related to the last question. In order to be really successful she had to go overseas. She’s only successful because she’s successful in the states and elsewhere.
Jesse: And also because she’s from fucking Devonport! Hardly representative of the average New Zealander.
Spencer: Yeah, that also helps. But I mean it’s like I guess it’s a question of what you really call success. I think there’s a lot of really successful amazing bands that I’m a huge fan of in New Zealand but just because they’re not big on the charts or not touring the US and Europe, doesn’t mean I think they’re any less successful than Lorde. Artistically that is.
Jesse: What’s it like being in Montreal while everyone in New Zealand is having a blast not social distancing?
Spencer: Hahaha well it’s Summer time here so fuck them! (Don’t put that in). I am awfully homesick for my friends back home. The other thing is that I really do miss the music scene in New Zealand. Playing in bands with people, and having a community. I haven’t been here long enough to really settle in properly, and COVID hasn’t helped with that. And people are pretty unfriendly here.
Jesse: You just put out the first issue of your zine ‘Scraps’ in which you proceeded to guillotine the sides off my issue. Please tell me about ‘Scraps’.
Spencer: Well, to be fair you paid a fraction of the price so I feel it’s only fair you only got a fraction of the zine.
Jesse: Biblical logic here.
Spencer: I think for the second issue I’m going to try and avoid any guillotining. Because it definitely makes it a hell of a lot longer to make these things. It has three different types of paper stock in it, and I wanted to have full bleed on some of the pages, namely the inner 16 page comic about the massacre in Linwood and my reaction to it as someone who lived in that neighborhood, and being far away from home when it happened. I guess I’m trying to have some thematic resonance with that with black pages that have a full bleed, because I don’t think it works as well with the white edges. That’s just a small thing that other people might not pick up on.
In terms of the overall thrust of the thing, it’s basically about my first year in Montreal, what it was like, photographs I took with my mum’s old camera, and illustrations from my sketchbook. It’s also sort of like a letter I can send home to people to tell them what I’ve been up to. But a really in depth illustrated one.
Jesse: In it you wrote about this dogshit pizza parlor job that you dramatically quit. Why did it suck?
Spencer: The wages were terrible for starters, but the boss was also just a nasty piece of work to be honest. It’s all there in the resignation letter that I wrote. It was highly stressful for no reason and her taking it out on employees was contributing to a really poor workplace culture. It was a very unpleasant place to work. That’s the thing that I took issue with but there were so many other things, like some days I’d go in and it would just reek of shit. There was some sort of grease trap problem. The last day I worked there, there was a power cut and she just talked to me like a dog. She yelled ‘Go home!’ at me, and it wasn’t like ‘Oh hey, we don’t need you.’ It was ‘Spencer, go home!’.
I was lucky that I had two other jobs that I could pick up hours at (well I don’t know if ‘lucky’ is the right word for it) but I was glad to leave that place. On the plus side, I met one of my best friends in Montreal who worked there, so that was a positive thing that came out of it, and I was also putting the different pizza cooks against each other to see who can make me the fanciest pizza. They were putting all sorts of crazy stuff on them.
Jesse: You saw Daughters play last year, how was that?
Spencer: It was amazing. It was one of the best shows I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and I’ve been to many good shows. I think the best one though was Guerilla Toss for sure. But yeah, the Daughters show was fantastic. I’ve listened to some of those records for years and actually seeing them perform live was something I’d never thought I’d experience. And the singer was also sticking stuff in his mouth, like the microphone and his hand.
Jesse: He stuck his hand in his mouth?
Spencer: Oh he also stuck one of the people in the crowd’s hand in his mouth. It was intense.
Jesse: That is a violation of social distancing.
Spencer: Hahaha well yeah, it would be now. I guess Daughters won’t be doing that for a little while.
Jesse: What do you think about Dunedin’s annoying nostalgia problem?
Spencer: Hahaha I wonder how much of that is projection from other people outside of Dunedin as well. I don’t really have any time for nostalgia. It’s something that I find problematic because I feel like culture should move forward and you should be able to transcend things rather than harking back to things that have already happened. That said, another part of this conversation is that I love the so-called Dunedin Sound bands. Like all those Flying Nun bands, but I don’t like them because they evoke the 80s or anything, I like them because they’re genuinely good. But yeah, it’s important to recognize heritage and all that sort of stuff, but at the same time I’d rather see a Coyote tag on a Chills power box rather than a Chills one.
That said, I was in a band called The Waltham Home Organ Society playing deconstructed covers of New Zealand songs which could be interpreted as a form of nostalgia but not for me. The legendary Karyn Hay who just got the New Zealand Order of Merit played our slow sad version of She’s A Mod we recorded as a tribute to Ray Columbus and said that she liked it so that’s pretty thrilling.
Jesse: Why did Drawn and Quarterly not hire you?
Spencer: Nepotism. Nah, actually I talked to a woman who was hired by them, and I guess I didn’t fit the template that they’re after.
Jesse: Right. French yuppie?
Spencer: Hahahaha I don’t wanna talk shit about Drawn and Quarterly.
Jesse: That’s all my questions. I don’t know what else to ask you.
Spencer: What the future holds?
Jesse: Nah, that sucks.