Caterpillars and Creation: A Conversation with Squitch


When Emma Spooner was in eighth grade, she wrote her first song – a “gooey” ballad for the boy whom she had a massive crush on.  She sent him a link to the song and expected loving adoration, but alas, she received none.  The boy rejected her; but rather than accept defeat, Spooner wrote him a second song detailing just how much the interaction shattered her fragile tween heart.  “It’s a really embarrassing story, but the first two songs I wrote were about this one kid; in one song I was like, ‘Wow, you’re amazing,’ and in the next I was like, ‘Wow, you piece of shit!’  I don’t remember the names but they were on YouTube at one point.”

Thus begins an evening with Emma Spooner, the guitarist and lead singer of Boston’s Squitch. With music like The Frights and The Growlers mumbling quietly through a speaker, she sits on a kitchen stool and drinks a glass of tea with ease, ruffling her hair as she reflects on her musical growth and experience. After recounting the story, she defensively clarifies, “I started a band years after that.”  


Squitch officially began Spooner’s junior year, although she wrote acoustic singer-songwriter material during her time as an underclassman.  In the middle of junior year, she started writing more versatile material, and her friend Denzil (Squitch’s current drummer) helped record the music and develop her newfound ideas. The pair then recorded Squitch’s debut record, Caterpillar Killer, during the summer of 2016.

Over an ambient song, Spooner mentions many talented female musicians she looks to as inspiration.  She lists names with vibrant fervor – The Breeder’s and The Pixies’ Kim Deal, Palehound’s Ellen Kempner, and Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos, for lyrics.  Pausing, Spooner adds enthusiastically, “For my math rock influences, Polvo. It’s just a wild experience; it gets me rolling.”

While she draws inspiration from these artists, Spooner’s own personal experiences always creep into Squitch’s music.  However, she points out that although the lyrical content stems from a truthful place, the final message grows more fictional. “It stems from a place of truth and then I embellish it and make it fancier,” she explains.  She based Squitch’s 2016 single “Walk All Over Me” on her mildly sexist friend.  “The song is very angry, and I yell at him,” Spooner tells me, “But our experience wasn’t that bad and it’s not really true; it’s just for the song.”

Many lyrics come from her journal, whether it be a poem or a simple stream of consciousness. “I also find myself getting lyrics from pictures that I’ve drawn, which sounds weird,” she comments. “I’ll draw something dumb, but then I’ll look at it later and be like, ‘Well, that’s a good idea.’”  Many songs come from tiny things, she notes, “like little lines that pop into my head.  Then I find a way to connect them.”  

She shows me a few pages from her journals; humanoid creatures and bugs occupied the pages.  Words or phrases, possible song lyrics, swim between her doodles. She makes note of a recurring cartoon series, called “Feeling Bots.”  Flipping through the pages, she explains,  “I write out my feelings through drawings of cartoon robots.  It’s weird, but I guess it’s easier than speaking.”

After closing the journal, she notes one song in which lyrics and music came simultaneously.  “Caterpillar Killer,” the title track from Squitch’s debut record, seemingly came “all at once.”  Spooner messed around with various guitar chords, and, upon striking an agreeable progression, wondered, “What would go good here? Oh! ‘Caterpillar Killer!’ Then everything came after that.”

While the phrase may seem somewhat random, the song’s history is true.  Amused, Spooner recounts the childhood story of the pet caterpillar she accidentally murdered.  Though perhaps the song began in good fun, she says, “It came to mean something that I agreed with.  After the second verse it kind of makes sense – ‘I think I’m fine, living like this/ Never leaving my chrysalis.’  That’s like, an ‘Am I growing up too fast?’ type of thing; Am I killing a caterpillar before actually becoming a butterfly?”  

Much of the album, like the song, revolves around the idea of “growing up” vs. “not growing up.”  (One song, Spooner mentioned, is called “I Peaked At Three Years Old.”) Spooner cites the absence of her older sister, Abby, as a large influence.  Three years older, her sister left for college in Savannah, Georgia, while Spooner was a high school freshman.  For Spooner, songwriting provided a method of dealing with the struggle, and from the experience she developed Caterpillar Killer’s coming-of-age themes.  “Growing up with my sister was very important to me,” she laments. “I didn’t appreciate her till she left, and then I was like fuck!”

Spooner’s favorite song, at the moment, is a double single, “Wonderful/Pitiful,” that Squitch released over the summer.  Both songs are a strong feminist response to the recent polarized political climate.  She smiled ironically at the phrase, but her expression grew solemn as she continued, “[The songs are] specifically about microaggressions I’ve experienced as a queer person and as a woman, so it’s much more me and less poetic or an imitation of other artists.  I feel like it’s more mature.”

So pure emotion?

Spooner laughs at the question.  “It’s pure emotion, and it’s more to say [my bandmate] Denzil wrote ‘Pitiful’ with me too.”

While a queer woman in a vastly male-dominated society, Spooner doesn’t feel particularly individually “special.”  Though she values the importance of queer representation, she jokes, “It ain’t just me.  It feels good and important [to contribute my experience,] but it’s more that I feel like I’m contributing my voice to a group of many voices.  I can’t say I’m doing something original, but I’m explaining my experience and having a lot of fun, because those songs are really fucking fun.”

And Spooner truly does consider Squitch as much fun as it is therapeutic.  Getting words out onto the paper, she tells me, helps make sense of the world.  Creating may not solve the problems, but it helps in thinking things through more clearly.  “I’m very scatterbrained,” she says.  “I can’t make sense of anything unless it’s laid out in front of me and I put it there myself.”

But as many artists do, she admits to neglecting music when faced with stressful situations.  Smiling sheepishly, she says, “It’s very much therapeutic, and I have a tendency when I’m busy not to touch my guitar or write songs.  But when I do play when I’m very busy; it helps me a lot, so I should do that more.”

As a woman artist, Spooner views music as an important aspect of her identity.  “Whenever I don’t write songs for a couple months for whatever reason, whether it be I’m not feeling good or I’m too busy, my life gets significantly worse.  When I’m creating, everything’s improved.”

However, she says, her identity does not have to revolve explicitly around the band.  “Not particularly Squitch, just music in general, because I know my taste in music is going to change, the way I write is going to change, and Squitch already has changed and will keep changing,” she says, then adds, “I don’t know what’s in the future, but right now Squitch is a big part of who I am and what I’m doing with my life.”

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