Sparky Deathcap

I Wrote That: Sparky Deathcap on his TikTok sleeper hit September

The multi-instrumentalist and Los Campesinos! member's 2009 track has clocked over eight billion TikTok views in 2023.

Eleanor Philpot
  • By Eleanor Philpot
  • 1 Nov 2023
  • min read

The day Rob Taylor became aware of his viral success started like any other: with a casual scroll of Reddit. That day he stumbled upon a random video of a moth hatching, which, to his shock, was soundtracked by his song September. It suddenly dawned on him that the wistful emo folk tune, originally released well over a decade ago under his solo moniker Sparky Deathcap, had taken on a new lease of life online. But he couldn’t even begin to comprehend the extent to which September had blown up.

‘A day or so later, I was getting an email from this guy telling me it was number two in the UK viral charts. I didn’t even know that was something that existed!’ Rob tells M with a laugh. ‘I’d noticed a slight uptick in Bandcamp sales [of September] but didn’t think anything of it. It turns out Wilbur Soot, a Twitch streamer, had started using it as his waiting room music, which kicked things off.’

Rob was quickly overwhelmed with offers from major labels in the UK and US. The dream he had nearly 15 years ago when he released the Sparky Deathcap EP Tear Jerky via Bandcamp had finally become a reality.

‘I always thought September was a legit banger, but people never really knew how to take it,’ he tells M. ‘I was really proud of it [when I wrote the song]. I used to walk around listening to it on my headphones, being like: “Wow, I feel like I’ve made a breakthrough”. So it was deflating when I put it out there and people were just like: “Oh, OK: cool.” There’s an assumption in music that only the most gifted people get to have big success, and I always thought that maybe I was too idiosyncratic as a musician. I remember passing copies of the album to people that worked at labels, and they were like: “What were you trying to do?”’

September came from a deeply personal place. Having gone through a bad break-up and moved to a new city, Rob, then 22, used the writing process as a way to navigate uncomfortable feelings of isolation, loneliness and betrayal.

‘It grew from a small idea. It was September, the trees were changing and my ex-girlfriend had moved on with someone else, which was hanging over me. I was working at Borders [a now-defunct book and music retailer] in London and feeling dreadful. I remember serving people and being like, "I hate my life.”’

But the creative inspiration Rob derived from this period of strife was strong, and he couldn’t help pausing throughout his shift to write down ideas on the shop’s order forms.

‘There were these yellow pieces of paper, and I used to get in trouble with the manager for writing my lyrics on them,’ he recalls. ‘But it was great because I could do this boring job and [still] have this internal world going on. I put the song together like a collage: I’d leave work with a pocket full of paper with phrases and lines on them, and then once I was back home recording I’d piece it all together. The other times I’ve written songs, I’ve really refined them: I’ll have them sitting around for years before I even record them. But with this one l was writing it while I was doing it and it felt very spontaneous.’

Of September’s evidently universal appeal, Rob adds: ‘I was trying to be as truthful as I could be, and I think it’s that earnestness, and the fact it’s quite analogue, that people have responded to. I recorded some of the guitar and vocals on cassette and played them back into Logic, and you can hear the hiss of that in the beginning. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and for a long time I was kind of embarrassed by the amateurish nature of it.’

The song’s raw emotional power will have definitely played a part in how it's taken TikTok by storm, where mental health is a popular topic (#therapytok, for instance, currently has two billion views). Rob admits that the strong response from fans both old and new has been a lot to take in.

‘It’s overwhelming sometimes, [like] the messages that people send you telling you about their lives and thanking you for the song,’ he says. ‘It’s great that it means a lot, but I never really know what to say as I feel like I didn’t really do anything.”

As Rob found, however, one downside of having a relatively little-known song suddenly go viral is that people will then use it without the creator’s permission and upload it to streaming services — all of which creates a minefield of copyright issues.

‘When I signed to Sony/RCA, they straightened out all the rights because it was a mess,’ Rob explains. ‘There was one version uploaded by this guy called Reno where he’d named the track September Sparky Deathcap, and that was the version that went viral. We didn’t want to take it down, so we had to try and wrestle control back. There was no way I could have done that without the label.

September was all over TikTok with different names and stuff [as well]. There have also been these “sound alike” covers which have been getting a few million streams on Spotify. It’s all legit because it’s just a cover, but I find it slightly threatening.’

Now that his solo project is firmly on the map, you might presume that Sparky Deathcap has become Rob’s primary focus. But he insists that Los Campesinos!, the cult indie band he’s played in since 2009, will remain his priority, saying they’re like a ‘family’ and that he can work the two commitments around each other. ‘I’ll definitely tour Sparky stuff and may even open for Los Campesinos!,' he says. 'I’d love to have my [Los Campesinos!] bandmates in my touring band, but it’s like learning a whole other set and I don’t want to burden anyone, so we’ll see.’

In addition to touring and the upcoming re-release of Tear Jerky on 1 December, Rob is also planning to release an album to kick-start a whole new chapter for Sparky Deathcap.

‘The album will almost be a Tear Jerky part two, but an old person’s Tear Jerky. [The] same sort of thing, but with the anxiety about buying a house,’ he says with a laugh. ‘I’ve had all of these songs saved up for years that I was planning to put out under a different name. I wanted it to be perfect, so I waited a long time to work on them, when really I should have just released them.

‘What’s been cool about this whole thing is that it’s made me feel like I can put out new music and people will listen to it. That’s quite empowering.’

Sparky Deathcap's Tear Jerky EP will be re-released on 1 December.