Spinning Coin on Permo and the Glasgow music scene

As Spinning Coin's exhilarating debut record finally becomes reality, we catch up with singer and guitarist Jack Mellin to talk origins, politics and the band's own unique place in the city’s musical history

Feature by Joe Goggins | 03 Nov 2017
  • Spinning Coin

"We actually had to go back and listen to some of those bands once people started comparing us to them. We weren’t raised on them."

Like it or not, Spinning Coin are on the verge of joining the pantheon of Glasgow guitar bands. Stylistically, they very much follow in the hallowed footsteps of the likes of The Pastels, Orange Juice and The Vaselines – the guitars flit between noisy and melodic, the vocals are unvarnished, and the songs in general zip along with irresistible fizz and crackle. The five-piece are plucked from all over; singer and guitarist Jack Mellin is a Glasgow native, as is bassist Cal Donnelly, but Sean Armstrong – also on vocals and guitar – is from Rome via the Hebrides, and drummer Chris White hails from Alloa. New keyboardist Rachel Taylor was a transatlantic addition, from Toronto.

The band release their eclectic debut LP, Permo, via the Pastels' Domino imprint, Geographic Music on 10 November, and just wrapped up a tour with fellow jangle-merchants Alvvays in September. The songs themselves have been percolating for some time, but the group were willing to wait until the right moment to put out a full-length.

"We had quite a lot of songs quite quickly," says Mellin over the phone from Glasgow, "so after the first year, we probably already had enough for an album. We ditched a few of the earlier ones after that, wrote a few more new ones that we liked, and then put the first single out. There was talk about putting out a full album with the label we were on [Winning Sperm Party], so we gathered up the songs we enjoyed playing the most and recorded all of them. We didn’t pick which ones were going on the record until afterwards, but even then, we had something ready pretty quickly. It’s just that we’ve taken our time putting it out."

On working with The Pastels' Stephen McRobbie

Even if the band seem baffled by comparisons to Glasgow outfits past, it’s not difficult to understand why they’re being drawn; for a start, some of the songs on Permo were recorded with Edwyn Collins, up at his newly-opened AED studio in Helmsdale – a veritable Highland retreat overlooking the Moray Firth. 

"We’re signed to Geographic, which is an offshoot of Domino that’s run by Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels. He’s pals with Edwyn, so he suggested that we maybe work with him because he’d just set up this new studio. We did that, and then we also did some work at Green Door in Glasgow, which has always been our favourite place to record. It just seemed like a good idea – like it sounded better – to combine songs from the two different sessions to form the album. We didn’t want to leave the Green Door sessions out of it; we thought maybe those songs would lose something if we re-recorded them."

Their relationship with McRobbie – a man who so much of the Glasgow music scene seems to have revolved around for so long – came about in similarly organic fashion. "Stephen works at Monorail," explains Mellin, "which is the best record shop in Glasgow, and a bar and a venue that we play at quite a lot. Sean actually works at the bar, and he puts up posters there, as well as around town. He was putting up one of ours in Monorail and got talking to Stephen, because he’d heard our very first tape, which we made and released ourselves through our own label, and we took some into Monorail to sell them.

"I guess that’s how he heard it, and then he’d probably seen us play in various other bands that we’d been in, so he might already have known each of us very vaguely. Anyway, he approached Sean after hearing the tape – he really liked one of the songs in particular that he wanted to put out as a single – and it went from there. Domino agreed to a second single and now the album as well, so we’ve worked with Stephen quite a bit and he’s been a big help."

Mellin acknowledges that the band’s close ties to such iconic figures within their hometown’s music scene is bound to invite people to draw parallels, but ultimately, Spinning Coin’s inspirations are even more self-contained than that. "We’ve not been directly influenced by that stuff, and we never gave too much thought to how we wanted the band to sound; it was more a case of having seen each other play in different bands and wanting to play each other’s songs. There’s nothing that goes further back, really, in terms of influence. It’s not as if any of us grew up on that stuff, so it’s hard to say why we’ve ended up sounding that way."

On the Glasgow music scene

Key to the band being able to hit the ground running when they first started to write together was how ingrained they each were within their own scene – and how familiar they were with each other’s past musical endeavours. "When I first started working with Sean, I just wanted to play some of his solo songs with him; it was a case of just finding out if he wanted help with them, or something, but he was much more keen that it become a band where he wasn’t the only songwriter.

"Chris came in, and myself, Sean and Chris, we’re all 30, so we’ve been playing in the same Glasgow scene or whatever for quite a few years at this point. It was much more about wanting to each get involved with what the others had been doing in the past. I think maybe the only thing we talked about was wanting to write 'proper songs', to focus the band around songwriting, because some of us had been in groups where it was heavy on improvisation, or just really noisy."

Where so many other UK scenes seem to adopt an 'every band for themselves' mentality, Glasgow is revered for having the kind of musical community that nurtures new bands and helps them out as much as possible. "I mean, there’s never any feeling of competitiveness, as far as I can tell," says Mellin. "Everybody always seems happy when a new band comes along – it’s a good thing. We all work together to put on gigs, and there’s such a wide variety of bands in Glasgow now – it’s a really diverse scene."

Perhaps inevitably, given the climate in 2017, there’s a political tilt to some of Permo’s tracks. "There was never any plan to make this into a political record. Obviously there’s certain tracks, like Money is a Drug, where we can’t deny that they’re political, but that just stems from whatever was on our mind at the time spilling out," says Mellin. "I’d quite like people to make up their own minds about what the songs [are] about as well. Honestly, me and Sean never think about these things too deeply when we’re making and writing music; it’s much more a case of letting it flow, and that goes for the lyrics, too. It’s a case of singing from the heart, so they’re personal, for sure."

Elsewhere, the band are in a more reflective mood, and on the Mellin-penned Starry Eyes, he wrestles with the awkwardness of wanting to celebrate while surrounded by so much bleakness. "That’s kind of just who we are, too," he admits. "I think there’s some sort of level of guilt about being able to do this; about being so privileged to just play music with my friends. It’s like I can’t just sing about having a good time, you know? I need to sing about something that I feel is wrong, or something that should be better, or that bothers me, or some injustice."

With Permo finally seeing the light of day, Spinning Coin plan to keep the ball rolling – and the tour van moving – well into 2018. "The plan is just to keep the momentum going as much as possible. Hopefully, there’s going to be some more headline shows, and we’ll try to get to Europe again and maybe even America. We just want to play and do as much as we possibly can, and with a bit of luck, that’ll lead into another album next year. We’ll see!"

Permo is released via Geographic / Domino on 10 Nov
Spinning Coin play Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, 14 Aug as part of Edinburgh International Festival's Light on the Shore series