Hiding behind faux-fur coats, brightly-colored nail polish, and dark retro shades, Spacehog adopted a truly cavalier outlook that allowed them to survive in spite of personal and professional frustrations. A band accustomed to shrugging off misfortune, the band’s members endured working-class upbringings, sexual abuse, and snide remarks by critics to rein in mainstream audiences with their flamboyant, glam-rock style and spacey, distant, and subtly humorous music. Spacehog’s 1995 debut album, Resident Alien, which contained the hit single “In the Meantime,” earned gold status, while their follow-up, The Chinese Album, won rave reviews. All this success from a group whose members fled their hometown of Leeds in Yorkshire, England, to settle in New York City’s East Village, a haven for the pretentious and unaffected.
Spacehog, who realize that they don’t fit in with other 1990s rock acts, go out of their way to look and act different, taking on the outrageous mannerisms of their heroes from the 1970s. “The most important thing is not to take yourself too seriously,” guitarist/vocalist Antony Langdon said to Jon Wiederhorn in Rolling Stone, explaining the group’s eccentricities. “To me, Spinal Tap was the greatest truth. It was like a handbook
Members include Leeds, Yorkshire, England natives Jonny Cragg, drums; brothers Antony Lang-don, guitar, vocals, and Royston Langdon, lead vocals, bass guitar; Richard Steel, lead guitar.
Addresses: Record company —Sire Records, 936 Broadway, 5th Floor, New York City, NY 10010, phone: (212) 253-3900, fax: (212) 253-2950.
book for being in a rock band. I think that we all admired those big, dramatic bands in the 70s, and I think one of the vital things that all the great ones had in common was a highly developed, sardonic sense of humor.” However, “We’re very serious about our music. But at the same time it’s insane not to have a good time with it. We are certainly not like a lot of what’s happening out there today,” lead vocalist and bassist Royston Langdon, Antony’s brother, noted for the Spacehog Site. “We sort of exploded with our own kind of hostile style.”
Royston, a confident singer/songwriter with a crisp, theatrical vocal style, and Antony Langdon were born and raised in Leeds, where they went through tough times beginning at a very young age. Their negative experience began in the early-1970s, after they joined the choir of their local church. “The slogan of the church was ’We will live a godly and sober life, ’” recalled Antony to Wiederhorn. “And meanwhile, some of the masters of music and their assistants and priests were either banging each other or banging the choirboys…. At the time, none of it seemed at all traumatic, but I think I struggled through my late teenage years and early 20s coming to terms with what it all meant. Suddenly I didn’t want to be a part of Leeds and what Leeds was all about—going to football matches and all that—but I wasn’t gay either. I was just a bit confused for a while. I still am, really.”
After moving from Leeds to New York City, Antony by chance met a fellow Leeds native, drummer Jonny Cragg, who was working at an East Village café. Cragg recalled fondly the day the two met for the first time in March of 1994. “I was working at an espresso bar killing rats in the basement,” he said for the Spacehog Site. “Ant came in, I never met him before, but I recognized the Leeds accent and thought it was worth a cup of tea.” Soon after their initial meeting, the two British expatriates started jamming together, and before long, Antony had recruited his brother Royston and lead guitarist Richard Steel, both of whom were still living in Leeds, to move to New York to play in the band. They originally called themselves Grass, but later changed their name to Spacehog when the band Supergrass made their breakthrough in Great Britain.
With the Spacehog lineup complete, the foursome began to develop their sound, noted for its swank and melodic vocals, as well as an overall feel that lies somewhere between grunge-rock and bubblegum pop. Spacehog also picked up a flashy wardrobe and developed a pretentious stage presence, then cultivated their reputation in the fertile East Village music scene, where they became instant local favorites. Despite their later acceptance back in Britain and Europe, Spacehog always felt most comfortable in their adopted city. “We went back to England this summer [to support the debut album] and got a very healthy feeling, but New York is a lot better scene than most people realize,” said Antony Langdon, as quoted by the Spacehog Site. “In New York, people can tell a good song and they let you know it.”
One year after joining forces in New York, Spacehog, in early-1995, signed a deal with Sire Records and entered the studio to record an album. Proving their musical and commercial capabilities, Spacehog’s 1995 debut entitled Resident Alien went certified gold soon after it hit store shelves. “An engrossing album,” wrote Liv Cecilia in Rock: The Rough Guide, “veering between energetic romp and slow emotional ballads, Resident Alien created a trippy ambience of infectiously happy, psychedelic guitar riffs, compelling vocals and perceptive lyrics.” Obviously influenced by David Bowie and Queen, two of the group’s most prominent inspirations, critics also drew comparisons to the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and the Velvet Underground, though some complained that Spacehog relied too heavily upon their predecessors.
“We’ve grown up in a world that’s saturated with music,” said Antony Langdon to Wiederhorn, explaining the record’s similarities to the above-mentioned 1970s acts. “It’s all around you, and it’s all influential. Bowie would never have recorded Resident Alien any day of the week. It’s just not an accurate comparison.” Steel further added, “This is only our first album. You can’t look at one picture and think that says it all.”
Regardless of the negative criticism, Spacehog, infamous for their interview demeanor, wild clothes, and on-stage antics, became media darlings. The band’s hit single from their debut, “In the Meantime” became a rock and roll hit in both the United States and Britain, and Spacehog subsequently gave their first concert back home at London’s Paramount City club. Upon their return to America, Spacehog saw their debut top the Billboard Heatseekers chart, leading the group to sell out venues such as New York’s Irving Plaza. Then, Spacehog set out as the supporting act for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the spring of 1996.
In 1998, Spacehog returned with their sophomore effort, The Chinese Album. Although it failed to sell as well as their first album, The Chinese Album, which displayed the group’s musical growth and maturity, earned critical support. Cecilia, for example, described the work as “A beautifully crafted masterpiece, intelligent, edgy and eclectic.” With their second offering, Spacehog maintained a 1970s feel, but also built in elements of jazz, blues, rockabilly, reggae, vaudeville, and even a touch of opera, resulting in a more original sound all their own. The Chinese Album also featured guest vocalists such as David Byrne, Brian Eno, and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who sang the lead on “Almond Kisses.”
Also that year, Antony Langdon appeared in the Todd Haynes film The Velvet Goldmine. The Langdon brothers were also known for their relationships with high-profile women; Royston dates actress Liv Tyler, while Antony is linked with super model Kate Moss.
Resident Alien, includes “In the Meantime,” Sire, 1995. The Chinese Album, Sire, 1998.
Buckley, Jonathan and others, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Billboard, February 24, 1996.
Guitar Player, June 1996.
Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1996; March 16, 1998.
Melody Maker, December 20-27, 1997; February 7, 1998; May 2, 1998.
Rolling Stone, May 16, 1996.
Spin, February 2000, p. 36.
Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com (June 4, 2000).
The Spacehog Site, http://www.spacehog.simplenet.com (June 4, 2000).
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