Photo: Alexis Gross | L-R: Alli Logout, Ruth Mascelli, Nathan Cassiani, Maria Elena

Interview: Special Interest and their intense and intentional new album Endure

On the release day of their flamboyant new album Endure, New Orleans quartet Special Interest were in London to play a scorching show. Rob Hakimian caught up with them before the performance to learn about their time in London, the new album, New Orleans and more

Special Interest have never lacked intent in their music, but when offered the opportunity to radiate their messages to a whole new audience through signing to Rough Trade, they stepped it up. Gripping the chance with both hands, they delivered Endure, an album that maintains their searing punk ethos and propulsive electronic inflections, but brings a whole new level of sonic finesse that makes their bombs land all the more explosively.

Meeting them on the day of the album’s release, thousands of miles from where it was recorded, there is a crackle in the air. While they acknowledge the excitement of seeing Endure out in the world, they’re more focused on looking ahead: to the performance in a couple of hours and all the following tour dates that are undoubtedly going to become more packed now that the new record is spinning heads the world over.

On the precipice of this new chapter, the foursome – Alli Logout (vocals), Maria Elena (guitar), Nathan Cassiani (bass) and Rith Mascelli (electronics) – told me about their time in the UK, the creation of Endure, life in New Orleans and other artistic dreams.

I guess I should start with saying congratulations on album release day. How’s it feel? 

Alli: Wild! 

Maria: Really wild. Far away yet so close.

What do you mean by far away?

Maria: Because most things you don’t actually perceive really like… what’s real life?

Ruth: It feels like really old hat to me… it feels like it takes forever.

When did you officially finish recording?

Alli: Almost a year ago, I guess. We were putting the finishing touches on things.

Have you been impatient for today?

Alli: I think we’re just having a nice time taking it in. Yeah, it’s surreal; we’ve been working and listening, we’ve been tweaking these things for so long, and now people are hearing it. There’s also been so many singles, it just feels like everybody’s heard it already.

Maria: Yeah, and that’s new.

You played in Bristol last night, are you enjoying the time in the UK?

Maria: It’s not as cold as I thought it would be.

Ruth: I’m actually very into the gloomy weather. I’m like, really actually loving it. 

Any highlights from your trip?

Alli: The BBC [6 Music radio] recording was a really special. It was a surreal experience as well; it was really cool to be in a place that has so much history [Maida Vale Studios]. I think some of us – and really by some of us, I mean me – really suffer with impostor syndrome, and to be in that space and recording in that space… it was like, ‘oh, okay, this is real’. It was just a great experience and the person who mixed it and everybody on the staff was really wonderful. We also just loved Mary-Anne Hobbs. She’s so great.

Nice. Anything you’ve discovered about London that you didn’t know before?

Alli: it’s just an expensive city, which blows.

Nathan: It takes a really long time to get everywhere. Especially if you’re staying in the southwest.

I haven’t been to New Orleans, is it easy to get around?

Nathan: Oh yeah it’s tiny.

Did that help in meeting each other?

Maria: It’s a small scene. In the smaller cities, [the music scene] is kind of just like everywhere.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other acts from New Orleans…

Nathan: Fats Domino. 

Maria: Big Freedia. 

Nathan: Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled.

Ruth: Ernie K-Doe.

Nathan: Irma Thomas.

Maria: Irma Thomas! The Dixie Cups [starts singing “Going To The Chapel of Love”].

I have homework to do… Anyway, let’s talk about your new album. Did you feel like there’s an added pressure this time because of being on Rough Trade? 

Alli: Absolutely. But the pressure is more like, we have a deadline. And that sucks. But it’s also nice to have confines, a bit.

Ruth: I never felt like we were pressured to make a certain type of record or anything creatively like that. It’s just like, there’s just a lot going on, like doing these interviews all the time and like, all the other builds ups.

Did you put pressure on yourselves, like ‘Oh, we’ve got a big shot. This time we need to go bigger’?

Ruth: We’d already written so much of the record before [Rough Trade came in]. But then yeah, halfway through, we kind of…

Nathan: All this stuff that we wanted to do differently, it was stuff that – at least for me – I already wanted to do differently going into making the record.

What kind of stuff?

Nathan: Well, I just didn’t want to make the same record again. I wanted to explore sounds a bit more with this record and not just have it all be everything up as loud as possible; everything kind of sounding the same the whole record. So we decided on bringing someone else in to mix it, just to get a fresh set of ears. 

Interesting, because I made the basic connection of being on Rough Trade meaning a bigger budget meaning a better recording sound.

Nathan: Well, there is no way we could have afforded to do any of that without… 

Maria: I think I was the only one employed when we got approached by Rough Trade. So it was like, ‘fuck it, why not?’

Alli: It was a full ‘fuck it why not?’ We didn’t have money in our personal lives, so it was like, oh, this thing we do for fun…

Nathan: We did, we were on Covid unemployment! [laughs]

Maria: Oh yeah, we were the suckers – they were getting paid more than us

Nathan: Actually, maybe by that point I had been kicked off.

Alli: Yeah I think I was kicked off too. I didn’t get it all the way through the end. God, that was so good…

Maria: But it also was fun to say ‘Sure, we’ll do it’ knowing we already had written most of the album. And then I will say, when I went into the studio I was scared shitless. It’s just like always a battle to get over insecurity.

What were you unsure about?

Maria: Just because we didn’t get to play the songs live. And then when you’re listening on headphones, you’re like, ‘I know I always go [makes squealing guitar noise] but what is this really what I should be doing right now? I should’ve learned more, man!’ This is what happens when you’re recording…

Is this the first time you recorded in a studio?

Ruth: No, we actually recorded with the same person who recorded our last album. The big difference is the mixing; I would say it made a huge difference. Also our on approach to it; we were much more intentional and did a lot of overdubs and really used the studio more as a tool. But yeah, it’s the same engineer, James Whitten, who recorded our last album, and the same space, High Tower Studios in New Orleans in an old motel overlooking the freeway. It’s very vibey.

Did you consider going out to a different city? Or did you want to stay in New Orleans?

Nathan: Eventually we were all vaccinated, but when we were making plans to do it none of us really were, so the idea of traveling to do something like that wasn’t really even an option. And we knew that we could get good results working with James.

Maria: We just wanted to make sure we had a specific person for mixing, which is Collin Duppuis [Angel Olsen, Yves Tumor, Lana Del Rey].

Do you think being in New Orleans had an effect on the sound?

Maria: I think it affected us emotionally. And that absolutely affects how we play.

What do you mean it affected you emotionally?

Maria: How does any place affect you emotionally? Like think about very British music; that’s the other thing about being here, you all of a sudden get all the songs. It’s like Nick drake – come on… I mean I always loved Nick Drake but…

It’s now another level

Maria: Yeah, I mean place absolutely effects music. Period.

What were your most recent day jobs and how did it feel to quit? 

Alli: I don’t work. 

You’ve never worked?

Maria: Well, Alli’s a full time artist.

Alli: I work a lot, but not that kind of work.

Ruth: I’m still employed. I am a medical actor and I work at a med school and pretend to have different conditions to teach the med students how to have better interpersonal skills.

Wow, such a niche job! Which illness are you best at acting? 

Ruth: I can’t say that because then they could cheat on the test if they read this interview [laughter]. But I will say I like having stomach issues cuz I get to lie down the whole time. [laughter]

What kind of art do you do, Alli? 

Alli: I’m a filmmaker.

Interesting, I was gonna ask, because “Love Scene” starts with an “Interior. Bedroom. Night”.

Alli: Yeah, that song is a narrative. It’s a film.

How much time do you get to dedicate to that?

Alli: As much as I want. I’m kind of just like a odd-jobs and trying to make artwork kind of person.

Do you have any other favourite mediums?

Alli: I would really love to figure out some sort of visual art situation, I just have no taste in that regard. But I’ve been wanting to attempt to paint, honestly, after seeing Derek Jarman’s paintings; I’m like, ‘I’ma do it’. I saw a lot of his last works in New York at an art show, like two years ago, and they were so good.

What was it about them that you liked?

Alli: They were just so chaotic and messy and that’s like… I have really bad handwriting and I’ve always never been good at drawing or any of those things and got really self conscious about it when I was younger. With this band all like the self consciousness and insecurities are still there, but a lot of self-consciousness has faded away and so I’ve pondered what it could be like to attempt to do something like that for myself.

Do the rest of you do have any other artistic outlets?

Maria: We love art in this band. And almost everything we have visually was made by us. 

Who designed the cover art for Endure?

Maria: That was the first collaboration. It was Alli’s concept, the front cover and the and the inside cover too, but this is the first time we commissioned art for an album.

All of your album covers are monochrome. Is that a choice?

Alli: Yeah, we were trying to fade away from the monochrome but it didn’t feel right in the end, like literally the last minute.

Ruth: I think the music is so chaotic, and the palette is so broad that it’s nice to have a focused cover.

Alli: Really simple.

I was wondering about “Cherry Blue Intention” – is it cherry blue because it’s artificial?

Alli: Yeah, cherry blue is artificial

So who are these people with cherry blue intentions? 

Alli: Nobody… 

Ruth: Are they in the room with us right now? 

Alli:  [laughing] Shutup! You bitch! No, they’re not…

Maria: Everybody has cherry blue intentions sometimes. They might not even know it’s artificial, I think.

Alli: I think yeah, there’s way too many people who don’t know what’s artificial. I’m happy I’ve been able to recognise what it is, for myself and with others. 

I think with all the lyrics, I approach it the way I do filmmaking. So I’m thinking about characters and people and trying to like, dig into their head and what they’re feeling and experiencing. And that’s what I tried to do musically; try to channel my friends and myself and the things that we’re feeling and going through at those moments and times. They’re not really specifically about any particular person to be honest; it’s always a multitude of people or feelings.

Interesting, but “midnight legends”, you must have known one or two in your time?

Alli: Oh, yeah, they’re my friends – and they’re also me, they’re also everybody in this band. They’re all those people at some point… there’s a lot of grief… there’s a lot of grief…

What kind of spots do you go to in New Orleans to spend a night just hashing it out on the dance floor?

Nathan: I mean, I only go to one place; one party.

Maria: Give Me A Reason – that’s the name of the party.

What’s special about this party?

Nathan: I don’t want to put down other people’s efforts, but the person who throws that party is my friend Brett and he was just one person who stuck at it for a really long time. Because for a really long time, no one gave a shit about house music in New Orleans. And also, New Orleans has this weird relationship to music, where it’s like, there is a lot of music, but it’s almost like a lot of the time treated as a background while people go out to socialise and see their friends. And it’s like very classic situation where people would go to the bar, go pay to get in, and then they go outside and smoke cigarettes all night. And that bar has a huge outdoor area that is full of people all the time, but basically he has been putting on parties for years and at some point people started getting into the music more. And now it’s like a really special party. It’s small. I mean, the dance floor is small, but it’s a devoted crowd.

And you’ll end up being there until the early hours.

Nathan: Usually. Last time I was there until 8 in the morning.

I was gonna ask about sequencing the album – who decided on that? 

Ruth: We collaborate on everything pretty much; it’s all very collective decision making. We thought about [the sequencing] like a narrative arc; you’ve got to take people on a journey. I think we’re just thinking about it more in terms of vibe and like which vibe follows the next one, thinking about like a really good mixtape or any great album that’s just like one you want to listen to start to finish.

You stuck “Foul” in between “(Herman’s) House” and “Midnight Legend” – that really throws a curveball.

Maria: Well, that’s a good mixtape. It’s like a big punch and then you transcend.

Let me just finish by asking what other influences are on this record apart from the obvious musical ones?

Alli: Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown [Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios] by Pedro Almodóvar. That was the inspiration for the inside cover, but also I think we’re all just kind of living on the verge…

Ruth: Because it was during COVID I was watching a ton of like Euro horror – 60s and 70s films – and that kind of atmosphere, and the soundtracks obviously, were a huge influence. That kind of psychedelic sexual but creepy atmosphere as well definitely infused it.

Alli: Benedetta

Maria: Oh, Benedetta!!

Ruth: The modern day Euro sleaze

Alli: It’s so camp, it’s so camp…

Endure is out now on Rough Trade (read our review). You can find the band on Instagram.