ISSUE #67 / July 11, 2019
Spirits having fun
We were lucky enough to catch Spirits Having Fun’s infectious performance at their album release party last Monday at The Empty Bottle, and they kindly answered a few questions we had while hitting dates along the East coast this week. Check out their new record Auto-Portrait while you read about how they make the long distance band situation work in their favor and the twelve hour instrumental session that became the new album!
CCS: Kyle Land
SHF: Katie McShane (vocals, guitar)
Jesse Heasly (bass)
Andrew Clinkman (guitar, vocals)
Phil Sudderberg (drums)
CCS: Did Spirits Having Fun start outside of Chicago? Can you give us a rundown of the formation of the band?
SHF: So Jesse and I [Andrew] met and started playing music together when we were 18 and living in Boston--we had a band there called Cowboy Band that was active for a few years. Katie moved to Boston in 2013 and started playing in multiple bands with Jesse. About the same time Katie moved to Boston, I moved to Chicago and started playing in groups with Phil. In 2016 Katie and Jesse's former group Listening Woman did a tour out to the Midwest, and I subbed on a few shows. The three of us realized we really missed playing together and that doing it long distance was not as impossible as it seemed. By then, Phil was a close collaborator and friend, and an obvious choice to join the group. We all started playing together as Spirits later that year.
You say in your bio the band philosophy is based on improvisation, but your sound seems so exact and calculated. How do you balance the dichotomy of these two disparate ideals?
SHF: Some of our songs have moments that are expressly open sections for brief improvisation, but in a different sense, even the songs with an explicit form get looser and more free the more we play them. We don't really set out to write calculated music- to us the asymmetry is usually intuitive in the writing process. Communication and interaction are a really important part of our collective musical relationship, so we're always working on our group telepathy.
Auto-Portrait is your debut full-length, out last week on Ramp Local. How did the recording process come together?
SHF: We tracked all the instrumental parts in one 12-hour session with our friend Dave Vettraino almost two years ago, and then Katie dubbed the vocals a few weeks later back in New York where she and Jesse live.
You have such a diverse background. What are the band’s primary influences, and how would you say they blended and evolved into the very original tunes on the record?
SHF: There's a ton of disparate stuff that indirectly sneaks its way into the songs in the writing process, and among that stuff, there really isn't a hierarchy of primary influences. Having said that, a thing I've been thinking a lot about lately when we get asked this question is, what influenced the way we play together and perform? Off the top of my head, early live videos of Earth Wind and Fire are super important to us just because of the insane amount of energy being expended to make the music come to life in front of you. Taking every set really seriously and working hard to make it an exciting experience is important to us.
The album title is perfect. When or how did you discover or arrive at Auto-Portrait?
SHF: As far as the album title is concerned, we just picked the song title from the bunch that felt most representative of the record as a whole.
Chicago has such an eclectic scene. Are there any bands you think are being overlooked at the moment?
SHF: We love our buds Floatie and DPCD among the many great [people] making good things in Chicago!