If he didn’t have his latest album as hard evidence, the affable DJ, producer, composer, and remixer Sam Spiegel (a.k.a. Squeak E. Clean) might sound a bit delusional when he tells me how jam-packed with top artists The Spirit of Apollo is. When I meet with Spiegel (who, by the way, is filmmaker Spike Jonze’s brother) at a small editing studio in Santa Monica, California, he tells me how a creative community of artists, including Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Fatlip (formerly of the Pharcyde) and the late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard, came together to create the musical collaboration N.A.S.A. (North America/South America). “We were like, â€˜Hey Karen! You want to do the chorus for us?'” Spiegel says, recalling the conception of N.A.S.A., his starstudded joint effort with Brazilian musician Ze Gonzales (a.k.a. DJ Zegon). Karen O said, “â€˜Sure,’ and then we ended up getting ODB [on the same track] right before he passed away. That’s when the whole concept kind of clicked,” Spiegel says.
N.A.S.A.’s debut album borrows loosely from some of the nobler ideas behind America’s Apollo Program and the first mission to the moon: Ixnay on the Cold War—the focus here is “unity and venturing forth,” Spiegel says. Each track on the album, a self-funded project that took nearly six years to complete, is a union of unlikely sounds and characters. For example, “Spacious Thoughts” is an unexpected musical alliance between rapper Kool Keith and legendary rasper Tom Waits. And N.A.S.A.’s roster of surprising co-workers continues, with names like Kanye West, M.I.A., George Clinton, David Byrne, Ghostface Killah and Chuck D, to name a few.
“Seriously, how hooked up are you?” I ask Spiegel. “And is this intercontinental network of artists really as supportive and lovey-dovey as you make it sound?” Given his shiny disposition, I’m not surprised when Spiegel’s reply is cynicism-free: “If I like somebody, they probably like what I’m doing. If I want to collaborate with them, they probably want to collaborate with me,” he says. “I’m social about the way I make music. I just like people. The artistic community has always been there, but in our own little way, we’ve contributed to it. We’ve certainly introduced a lot of people to each other, and that’s awesome. I love the feeling when you introduce friends and they get along,” he adds.
The Spirit Of Apollo will also coincide with the release of a feature-length making of documentary featuring interviews, candid footage and a look inside reggae musician Sizzla Kalonji’s Jamaica compound (spoiler alert: spliffs). “Sometimes you want a little simplicity. Like, there’s plenty of midcentury modern architecture, which you appreciate for its simplicity. It’s very stark and classy and elegant,” Spiegel says. “But, I guess my style is: â€˜I love all this shit! Let’s just heap it together! Let’s do music, and let’s do a film!'” he yells. I ask Spiegel about his famous brother, who wrote storylines for several N.A.S.A. music videos. Spiegel says, “He’s always helping out conceptually. He’s a great advice-giver.”
And don’t forget graphic art. The album features five different covers, each created by a different artist, as well as animated music videos produced by a variety of talented directors paired with highly regarded street artists such as Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee and Sage Vaughn.
As N.A.S.A. prepares for take-off, Spiegel’s hopes are high: “I want people to listen and watch and take in the record. I spent six years of my life on it. As many ears and eyes on it as possible—that’s my ambition,” he says.