Apostille's Michael Kasparis on Choose Life
We speak to Night School Records founder Michael Kasparis about Trainspotting, George Michael and his latest solo record Choose Life under his Apostille moniker
As a man with a number of musical projects around town, Michael Kasparis is a name you'll likely recognise. Kasparis founded and runs the Glasgow-based Night School Records label; he’s also a member of hardcore punk bands Anxiety and The Lowest Form. Under the alias Apostille, his solo electronic project, he releases his second album Choose Life this month. When we meet up with Kasparis at a café in Glasgow’s Southside, Anxiety have just recently played their last-ever show; a point of transition that seems apt with the imminent Apostille release.
“We played our last gig… Saturday just gone in Bologna. I was doing double duty – I was touring Apostille and then Anxiety at the same time. So yeah, it was intense,” he laughs. “It would have been nice to do the last [Anxiety] gig in Glasgow, but that’s just the way it happened. One of the guitarists moved away from Glasgow, basically. We didn’t want to be like Iron Maiden and start drafting people in. It would just be a bit weird.”
Hardcore punk seems like a large leap from electronic pop, but as Kasparis explains, “the punk stuff is actually more new to me. Anxiety has only been going since like, 2016. I’ve always done stuff on my own, since I was a kid. The first thing I ever did was – I think my mum got me a guitar from Argos and I didn’t even know how to tune it – recording tapes and tapes of that.”
He continues: “I got a four-track when I was 16 or 17 and made loads of recordings. There was never any kind of style consistency… I didn’t really care about that. I got into Mogwai when I was 16, so I did all these tapes with loads of guitar. Then I discovered Leonard Cohen, and I was like ‘okay, now I’m a real ballad guy,’” he laughs. “I’ve always been doing stuff like that, but then I started taking Apostille more seriously in 2010. And that was just because I was playing in a hardcore band, and doing some other abstract music, but I think I actually just really love pop music. So I wanted to try and communicate that way." Kasparis adds, "I was never an expert or anything. It was trial and error. Mostly error, and a lot of trial!"
His Apostille debut, the self-released 2015 album Powerless set the template of Kasparis' electronic pop sound. Minimal yet packing an emotional, at times almost comic punch, the record employed skittering drum machines, thick walls of synth and vibrant basslines. Choose Life is by contrast a more personal and honest album. Kasparis lays himself bare but also demonstrates a new-found confidence in his voice, and embraces pop songwriting more definitively than on his debut. In the press release accompanying Choose Life, Kasparis explains, "Many of the songs were written as some sort of catharsis, an escape from a tumultuous couple of years. The album title was intended as ironic at first but as the writing process went on the album began to feel more playful, I was finding revelatory threads in it I hadn’t intended."
When we ask Kasparis about this need for catharsis, he tells us, “I suppose the whole thing has always been about music, but also for me – this is going to sound awful – it was a little bit more about self-realisation. It’s like any situation where you’re used to working in a group with a bunch of people, you kind of lose yourself in that a lot. And I suppose that’s the point, right? So the more I started doing [Apostille] stuff, I wanted to see how far I could push myself.
"[With a solo project] you can basically be as indulgent as you want – until people stop listening," he laughs. "It’s funny, when I talk to other people that write songs... they have a treatise about how to write songs. Whereas for me, it’s all kind of done instinctually. Especially with this record, I wanted to try and second-guess myself less. You know when you’re a kid, and you haven’t developed that self-consciousness yet, and everything is really exciting? I’ve been trying to have that approach to everything.”
‘These songs are much more personal than the last album’
Choose Life was recorded with Lewis Cook (of Free Love fka Happy Meals, The Cosmic Dead) at his home studio Full Ashram. Of the songwriting process, Kasparis says that “the most recent one is the title track, and that was co-written with Lewis. We kind of collaborated on it, he’s just such a whiz. Certainly with the newer songs, which were unfinished, he was integral to the process. And that’s the thing; with the last record, I did everything myself. Recorded it, self-released it, wrote the press release. It’s funny because these songs are much more personal than the last album, but I wanted to change the dynamic and get other people to help me with it.”
The album opener Fly With the Dolphin is a pulsing synth pop number whose uplifting melody counters the existential crisis unfolding in Kasparis' lyrics: he sings of wanting to swim, walk, drive and fly away, to press the ejector seat and leave everything behind. Feel Bad explores similar territory, while track titles like Hanging On and Without Me suggest a further process of introspection – before the redemptive titular closing track emerges.
“When I started writing the record, I don’t know, I suppose most people would say a ‘state of flux’ or something,” he laughs. “I mean, just the shit that everyone goes through; break-ups, feeling a little bit unhinged or whatever. So a lot of those songs were either written in the middle of that or just after it. I think songs that deal with subjects like that, you have to have some perspective on it; it has to have some structure.”
Finally, we have to ask, in the spirit of the title being as Kasparis himself says "kind of ironic, because I didn’t feel like choosing life at the time," whether Choose Life is a Trainspotting reference? With his trademark candour, Kasparis laughs, “Do you know what? It was stupid of me, because basically when I was at school we all did it for a reading project. You know when you do a reading report and all the kids choose [Trainspotting] because it has swearing in it. I didn’t even think about that reference until someone asked me whether it related to Trainspotting.
"But it was actually more of a George Michael reference. I’m a massive George Michael fan. The Katharine Hamnett kind of slogan T-shirts from the 80s. I think it was originally Choose Love. So, it became Choose Life."
Choose Life is released on 8 Jun via Upset the Rhythm
Apostille plays The Art School, Glasgow, 2 Jun