A jittery outpouring of nervous energy, Spiritual Cramp is like little else I’ve heard in the last ten years, yet draws influence from so many places and sounds I’ve been wanting to revisit.
This isn’t a silly punk rock band with irreverent lyrics and junior high school humor, this is Richard Hell and Johnny Thunders at an after hours club, full of too much bravado and self conscious insecurity all at once. Spiritual Cramp is equal parts dark, sincere, cynical, and unapologetic, wrapped up in smoldering attitude with a side of healthy disdain for authority. Frontman Michael Bingham croons with vulnerable honesty while recounting harrowing experiences and personal insecurities, all to the backbeat of 70s inspired punk that’s as magnetic as it is infectious.
Spiritual Cramp released their first recording, Mass Hysteria, in 2017 and their momentum has been building ever since. If you’ve been lucky enough to catch one of their high energy live shows, you know why. They’re a creative powerhouse embodying the DIY ethic that is the calling card of punk and hardcore, from self releasing their music to hand screening their own merch, and I can’t wait to see what they do next!
Michael Bingham took the time to answer a few questions about Spiritual Cramp, the importance of community and identity, and what it means to be fearlessly extraordinary.
*The original text for this interview appeared in Today Forever Issue 01 in July 2022.
**All text and photos copyright Today Forever 2022, please do not duplicate without expressed editorial permission.
Nikki: You just finished playing SXSW as a precursor to a larger national tour. You’re selling out shows and running out of merch – is it safe to say, after a forced pandemic hiatus, Spiritual Cramp is taking off?
Michael: Ha! I certainly love the idea of being painted in a successful light. We are trying as best we can to make things happen and work hard. It did feel like, on our most recent tour, people were paying attention more than they have in the past. Or, maybe, I just started paying attention. Either way, it does feel like there’s some momentum behind the band right now, which is encouraging.
How does it feel to be on tour after the last couple of years kept everyone home?
It feels great. There’s this whole community of people I am lucky enough to be a part of that’s really centered around going to shows and making art. During the pandemic, I realized that a lot of those people aren’t people I would necessarily call all the time to chat, but we have this one specific thing in common, and that thing is creating art and facilitating/filling spaces that nurture that. So, it’s nice to see those people again and get back to work, so to speak.
To begin with, how would you describe Spiritual Cramp? What’s driving your sound?
I don’t really have an elevator pitch for the band, but I could say we pull influences from places other bands don’t, or try to and fail. We love The Clash, The Talking Heads, Undertones, Cock Sparrer, Happy Mondays, The Business, [The] Stone Roses. A real mixed bag, but we try to mix it all tastefully into our own sound. In my opinion, what drives our sound is our bass player, Michael Fenton. The guitars in most of our songs serve as the rhythm section, in addition to the drums, while he plays most of the “leads,” and I yelp about my problems into the mic.
One thing that really stands out with Spiritual Cramp is the inclusivity, not only of your music, but your live performances. Seeing you play, it’s evident that we’re all in this together – that’s a vibe you really project from stage. Is it important to you to really connect with your audience rather than lord over them from the stage?
This is tough because I don’t want to invite everyone who hears our band to come up and talk to me. I’m a pretty guarded person in real life, but when it comes to the music I make, it’s really brutally honest.
But, the flip side of this coin, and, arguably the most important part of it, is what hearing or watching a band can do for someone’s life. I remember being young and finding out about music. I didn’t have many escapes from my pretty dismal home life when I was young. I also never saw anyone in my life do anything extraordinary. But, when I started listening to bands, reading the lyrics, and seeking out that culture, it taught me that you can be great, and that I wasn’t alone. It gave me an identity. If I can help give someone an identity that is going to set them on a path to greatness, or, even better, a path toward a community of people who will make them feel less alone. I feel like I’m doing the work I need to do to be in service of those who need help.
In both your lyrics and musical style, you exude a really magnetic quality. During your sets (and even streaming your music alone in the car), everything feels a little dark, a little unpredictable. Is that something you’re consciously working into your sound – a sort of dark, gritty vibe? Or are you just following the music wherever it goes? What or who influences your sound?
Thanks for saying this! Maybe I’m just a dark, unpredictable person. I’ve certainly got a lot going on inside of me. I really try to use my role in the band to get whatever I have inside out into the open. Obviously it’s not the prettiest thing, but I try to be as honest as possible.
As far as singers and front people I admire, there’s so many it’s hard to pin just one down. I’m definitely stealing moves, though. Had a lot of really talented people show me the way. Ross from Ceremony has a lot to do with [me] feeling comfortable absolutely losing my mind. I learned a lot from my peers when I was young.
You often play very diversely billed shows, reminiscent of punk and hardcore shows when I was younger. Do you enjoy playing with a variety of different style bands? How do you find audiences react to Spiritual Cramp?
We love playing diverse bills. We’ve never met a crowd that wasn’t into us. We can play with any band and their crowd loves us.
Your lyrics seem very personal. You touch on everything from intense personal anxiety, questions of self worth, your experiences living in San Francisco, even friendships and relationships. Was it always your intention to share so much of yourself through music? In your writing process, is anything too personal or are you putting it all on the table?
I just try to write about what’s inside of me. I know that good art is always honest, so I just try to be honest.
I definitely have lots I keep to myself. Tons of things I don’t feel comfortable speaking about in public. To be specific, the root of all those things I sometimes sing about, like anxiety, have particular origins and traumas attached to them, you know? Those aren’t things I’ll ever share with people on a public platform.
Spiritual Cramp hails from the Bay Area (my own home scene) and there are definitely aspects of love letters to San Francisco and the Bay that find their way into your music. How is the Bay Area music scene in 2022 and where do you see your place in it?
It’s a wonderful and diverse place and we are proud to be a band from San Francisco (although I currently live in LA).
There are tons of good bands, venues, and hardworking artists everywhere you look. There’s hardcore kids, mods, skinheads, metal heads, and hipsters everywhere, and they all play in each other’s bands. They’re all starting new bands. There’s always some new person to meet. There’s always somewhere to go.
Spiritual Cramp isn’t just creative in a musical way, you’re out there making your own merch and stamping your own records, truly working as independent artists. Every time I see a new instagram you’re cutting and pasting and creating something new, all in the name of Spiritual Cramp. What inspires you to be so independent and DIY?
Because I don’t have anyones help. That’s the only reason. If someone asked me, “Hey, you want to do something else while I hand cut all these tapes?” I’d say yes in a heartbeat. They’d need to be people I trust of course….but, right now, it’s just me and the band and we’re doing everything we can to create something out of nothing.
A lot of people in bands sit around wondering why it’s not “happening” for them. It’s because that’s not really how things work. You kinda gotta make things happen for yourself. Want a banner? Make one yourself. Need a record? Learn how to press it. Want it on a Spotify playlist? Go figure out how the fuck to do that.
Punk and hardcore are, at least to me, more than a musical style, but a form of complete expression and an attitude to go with it.
What does hardcore or punk mean to you?
Punk rock gave me my style. It taught me about art and music. It taught me that it’s okay to question literally everything around me. It taught me that if you don’t know how to do something you can learn it yourself. It taught me how to network with people. It taught me that creating something out of nothing is possible. It taught me that I can build my own foundations for success and help the people around me succeed too.
Spiritual Cramp has put out quite a few recordings, both under other labels and as independent artists. Do you have any plans for new music?
We are currently talking to labels and producers in hopes of recording a record in late spring/early summer.
It’s clear from your music and social media, you have some thoughts on politics and our current (sad) state of affairs in America. You’ve made comments on wealth inequality, anti-establishment sentiment, and a lot of other hot topics. Do you hope to inspire any kind of social activism or political awareness in your audience?
I think the moment you start trying to wave the flag of activism or awareness some art school/trust fund kid from Walnut Creek who claims Oakland and shaves their eyebrows pulls out their magnifying glass and starts trying to find the cracks in your foundation – so I’m careful to use those words.
But I believe in social equity, consciousness, and freedom. I believe that people who have more privilege should help those who need it and [I] always strive to listen to marginalized voices and give those people a platform. Consciously inclusive. Granted, some people just want to be seen as marginalized (*see above reference to Oakland native*) so it can sometimes be tricky who to listen to. I just want people to open their eyes!
What are you listening to these days? When you’re all in the van on tour, what’s something everyone can agree to put on the stereo?
We’re a diverse group! There’s a band called Afflecks Palace based out of Manchester I’ve been listening to a lot. A lot of UK Garage, Section H8, Rancid, High Vis, French Oi, Goo Goo Dolls, Cherry Glazerr. It’s really all over the place.
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about, promote, or share with readers?
Fuck the police. Fuck the US government. We don’t want no war, we want peace! We want peace! Love to everyone who reads this and thank you so much for taking an interest in the band and asking us to be a part of this.