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The Power of Being Creative: CVLT Nation Interviews SPENSER GRANESE

Spenser Granese is a musician and actor from the northern suburbs of Boston. Though he’s best known for his roles on Pam & Tommy, Better Call Saul, & Fear The Walking Dead, he also plays guitar in S.W.A.T. and does vocals in NYC powerviolence band Compassion. After catching a preview of the upcoming Compassion EP, I decided to sit down with him to find out more about his life, career, and everything else.

You play in S.W.A.T. & Compassion. Who else plays in the bands, and how did you get involved in the projects?

Spenser: Compassion is a two-piece. I play guitar, Calder plays drums and we share vocal duties. More or less, I wanted to do a band like this for a while. I sent him a couple of rough tracks I strung together, he found some time in his schedule and we made it happen.

SWAT was a bit more kismet. The band is Ian Shelton, Patrick Kindlon, Mac Miller, Kevin Hart, and myself. I escaped from the apocalypse in NYC to LA in the summer of 2020 for a couple of weeks. Ian and I got some street tacos and he told me about this new project he was starting/recording soon and asked if I wanted to play guitar on the demo while I was out there. That’s how that came to be. 

Both you and the other members of your bands are pretty busy, are there plans for either to play in 2022?

Compassion is playing our second show ever (our first was in fall 2019) this June in Brooklyn at Saint Vitus. Opening for Hatred Surge, Iron Lung, and Scapegoat. I couldn’t think of a more ideal bill as those three were major influences on this band from the start. With SWAT, we keep trying to make a show happen but it just hasn’t been in the cards yet. One of these days shit will line up. 

What got you into punk & hardcore? What were some of the first shows you saw?

I think, ground level, it really all started when Green Day dropped Dookie when I was in 4th grade. I didn’t have a cool older cousin or sibling who had their finger on the pulse of the underground scene so that was my catalyst. I went through a myriad of phases through my early years but I was always making mixtapes with whatever punk and metal songs I knew about. Did the typical digging through liner notes and magazines. It’s always been a mainstay. Ever since then, it’s been all about mining for the most extreme shit I could get my ears on. 

Honestly, I feel like I missed out on a lot of great shit of the era because I was moved to a small Virginia town when I was 14 and no one of real note came through often. The first real hardcore show that felt formative was seeing Converge in Richmond, VA. I believe in 2002 promoting Jane Doe. I can’t recall the venue but it was a pretty small space. I remember leaving with a bloody face and feeling transformed after “The Saddest Day” pile-on. 

You moved around a lot as a kid, where have you lived and how has that affected your worldview?

Oh man, sure did. I lived in close to 30 towns in Massachusetts by the time I was 14. I lost count at this point. The growing pains were spent in Virginia, then I lived in Florida for a few years and been in NYC for 10 years this fall. I would say on the positive side of the spectrum, that it’s made me an extremely resilient and adaptable person, plus it opens you up to the world more. On the other end, it was tough to have to make new friends all the time, among other personal obstacles. 

What got you interested in acting?

Well, my dad is a huge cinema freak. We would go to the movies on a weekly basis. So that certainly influenced my interest but to be candid, I knew I wanted to be an actor since I was probably 5 years old. I saw River Phoenix and Corey Feldman in Stand By Me and it was a wrap. I was sold. I’ve known, deep down, that’s what I’ve wanted to do forever. That said, I didn’t have the confidence or compass and wasn’t pushed into believing that was even remotely close to a tangible goal. It was a pipe dream for most of my life. I didn’t ferociously start pursuing it until I was almost 30 years old. It’s been a fucking hell of a road and most likely, always will be but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

Roeg Cohen

For some folks, subculture has a strong hand in shaping their identity, for others not so much. Have you brought any values from punk and hardcore into your career as an actor? (Either way, try to be fairly elaborate here)

Well, I think some people would argue that being an actor is the antithesis of punk. I can understand where that sentiment stems from but it doesn’t negate the fact that I live my life by the same ethos I have since I was a teenager. At the end of the day, I believe my core human values have always innately lined up with a lot of what true punk stands for, which probably explains my natural gravitation toward that world. I just aim to be a kind person to everyone, take little shit, and reclaim as much control over my career as possible. I think some of my D.I.Y. tendencies come to the forefront but that’s mainly when it comes to making your own projects. It’s tough to “do it yourself” when you literally need a horde to give you the green light to board legit projects. 

I think I’ll always feel somewhat like an outsider, though. In life and even on set sometimes. That’s not to say I don’t feel like I belong there. Once the cameras roll, it’s on, but the only place I ever feel like I’m fully accepted is when I’m at a show or a gathering with others who think and look like me. I’m pretty sure that will never change. It hasn’t yet anyway. 

What roles do you have coming up? What are you most excited for?

Well, I just did a recurring guest spot on Pam & Tommy for Hulu. I’m currently playing a villain in the new season of Fear The Walking Dead which comes back April 17th on AMC. That was a blast. Next week, I’ll be heading to Mexico City to shoot this indie feature with an actor I deeply respect. I’m hyped to start that one. The script is one of the best I’ve ever read. Who knows after that. Grind forward. 

Lauren Lo Smith / AMC

Acting can be very demanding of one’s time, has that had an effect on your social life?

I think maybe in some small ways? My social life isn’t what it used to be but that’s mainly due to the aging process. I’m such a homebody these days. I don’t go to as many shows and certainly not the bar. I do think location jobs can get a little solitary at first but you connect with your co-stars and that shifts pretty quickly. Some friendships have fizzled, organically. It’s not intentional, just the natural flow of life. You do realize who’s truly in your corner as time goes on, though. I think the pandemic was the ultimate culprit in that case. It’s all love. No bad blood. 

We’re living in a time when most of the world is increasingly aware of underground music. If at all, how has the film industry responded to your involvement in subculture? Has that changed in recent years?

I don’t think they’ve really responded, to be honest. At least not the industry, at large. I have connected with a handful of actors and crew who come from, or at least, have a sense of this community. We find each other as it’s not typical that actors know what the fuck grindcore is, haha. Maybe that’s generalizing but it seems to be the consensus. It’s never been a topic of conversation in the grand scheme though. When it comes to the people who hire me, it’s more a concern of what I can do more than who I am. At least initially. It would be wild if a studio exec was like “Oh shit, he’s wearing a Neurosis shirt? Hire that motherfucker!”

Similarly, how has subculture responded to your relationship with the film industry?

As far as I’ve experienced thus far, it’s been nothing but unwavering support from everyone in the community. I’ve always felt there’s a bridged gap between the subculture and the film industry though. Punks love movies. A lot of people find it intriguing and want to ask questions about the crew side or acting, as I have experience in both. I’m happy to talk to them about it, especially if they’re considering the pursuit of madness in some facet. 

I guess we will see as time goes on, though. There’s always some snakes. 

Last words are yours.

Thanks for asking me to do this, man. Appreciate ya. 

Written By

Matthew Green is a musician originally from a suburb of NYC, currently living in Johnson City, TN. He plays in Drïll Sergeant, Stud Count and Academy Order.

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