Live at Pappy & Harriet’s March 28th
By Robin Linn
Spindrift is a psychedelic western rock band based out of LA founded by singer, songwriter, composer, producer Kirpatrick Thomas. Kirpatrick’s passion for Spaghetti Westerns and his experimental approach to songwriting and composing makes for some truly unique and inspired musical productions. The band also features James Acton on drums, autoharp, vocals; Henry Evans on bass, baritone guitar, upright bass, vocals; Michelle Vidal on vocals, keys, and percussion and newest member guitarist Thomas “Espiritu Sanctu” Bellier.
When listening to their latest record, Ghost of the West, one feels they have been transported into a dark Western setting. Images of scorpions, horses, wild burros & bulls, bottles of half-drunk whiskey, tough women, tougher men…all fill my mind as I listen to songs like “Gun Fighter”, “Blood on the Saddle”, “Mudhead” and “Cool Water”. All of the songs on GHOST OF THE WEST are chalk full of sexy, vibey guitar work, gorgeous instrumentation, all beautifully produced. I find Spindrift to be absolutely intoxicating.
Spindrift has toured Europe and the US for decades. They have developed a close relationship with Joshua Tree based band Gram Rabbit. In 2013, both bands took part in the prestigious SXSW festival. Performing at festivals, intimate hip venues, criss-crossing the nation, and working scoring films, Spindrift has carved a niche out for themselves both as musical artists and film composers.
The feel of the music conjuring up images of a Quentin Tarantino film isn’t by chance. Spindrift’s music has actually been featured in QT’s 2008 production, “Hell Ride”. They have also scored independent films such as Ward Robert’s “DUST UP”, a film I look forward to seeing out at The Palms (March 29). Perhaps I have lived in the wild of the high desert too long…but the film’s plot which takes place in the high desert isn’t a stretch for me at all. It tells the tale of Jack Truman, a shell-shocked soldier seeking refuge in these parts as a handyman, and it all goes terribly wrong. Part comedy, part shock film…it’s not for the faint of heart. A different Roberts, producer Burke Roberts, is behind the scenes of the Spindrift film, “Ghost of the West” scheduled for release this summer.
The film follows the band around the West as they visit its many ghost towns. Their travels took them to Tombstone, Deadwood, and Bodie, CA while making this film. I can’t help but imagine them stirring up the powers that be out in the lonely and sometimes spooky western settings they visited along their journey. They induce a mindset that is pure west, both old and new. Some ideas seem familiar, like putting on a comfortable pair of cowboy boots, but the psychedelic twist and the sheer raw beauty of it all is unique unto itself. I was swept away again and again by the selections from Ghost of the West and soundtrack selections from “Dust Up” and “Legend of God’s Gun”. The band has five LP’s in their catalog and a fantastic website to get to know what they are all about. It has been a wild journey that won’t be completed until I see their live show! We have two chances to do just that—-March 28th, when they perform at Pappy & Harriet’s, a high desert road house as unique as Spindrift. A film about P&H will be screened at this year’s SXSW in Austin, proving I am not alone in my infatuation for the venue! On March 29th, a completely different and authentic live experience will follow at a camp-out during the Rock Formations Fest at The Palms in Wonder Valley. I predict two completely different experiences…each exciting and unique.
The cinematic approach to the songwriting and the fascination for the wildwest has me curious about a number of things, including the mind-set of the writer’s creative process. I also wondered what compelled a group to tour ghost towns and record, so I asked Kirpatrick Thomas a few questions.
RL: Tell me about your connection to film, your passion for Spaghetti Westerns and how it has influenced your music?
KP: My prime inspiration for composing began around 1999 while SPINDRIFT was still located in the small town of Newark, DE in ’92. It is home to the University of Delaware and there was a decent college music scene back in the 90’s. However, being from Delaware, we were quite secluded. I believe this gave birth to our unique outlook and helped us to develop our style over time. Like a hibernation period. We went through many changes ranging from experimental shoegaze noise blues acid space-rock to 80’s electro influences (we covered Gary Numan’s “Cars” and some Wall of Voodoo for quite a while there), but it wasn’t until we saw Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon A Time in the West” with Ennio Morricone’s epic score that we were hooked. From there (after a brief stay in Tokoyama, Japan) a friend of mine, Chris Tucker, convinced us to try Los Angeles. There was Beck, The Brian Jonestown Massacre (whom I moonlighted as a roadie and guitarist for several tours), The Warlocks, B.R.M.C., X, The Doors, LOVE, The Music Machine, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and so much more to discover! Three of us went including me, our bass player Joe Baluta, and drummer Zac Hansen. Once we had things in place, we wrote the album Songs from the Ancient Age, which had a few tracks from the East Coast psychedelic version of the band, mixed with other tracks from the newly influence Spaghetti Western “Acid tripping in Death Valley” style.
Songs from the Ancient Age was an interesting album in this effect as it was written, influenced, and recorded on both East and West Coasts. I was flying back and forth, doing shows and recording sessions in Delaware, Philly, and New York as well as recording in Las Vegas and Echo Park in LA. From there we expanded the band and wrote the Spaghetti Western homage album “The Legend of God’s Gun”. I wrote a treatment for the film and passed it around to some independent directors, all the while performing live versions of the “Soundtrack” at warehouse parties. It was in Sept. 2004 while performing in New York at The Mercury Lounge that we met bass player for the Low Flying Owls, director Mike Bruce. We hit it off quite well and immediately went to work on The Legend of God’s Gun film in Joshua Tree, CA with a pretty haphazard cast and crew (which was basically Mike with a camera and the band as “actors”). From there, it’s all been about a never ending love affair with The West.
RL: I feel like I step into a dark twisted western when I listen to compositions like “Buffalo Dream” and “Hell Bound”. Do you create music with the intention of providing a soundtrack atmosphere? Elaborate on the term cinematically-driven.
KP: I’ve always been a fan of a great melody. I think lyrics are very important to connect with the listener, but what really grabs anyone’s attention is first the melody of the song. That’s what draws you in and says…Oooh, I like this…It sounds twisted, dark, evil…sexy. I’m the kind of writer who is stuck in the middle. Part of me says, “Your song should stand on its own, without lyrics” and the other says. “Hey, tell the people how you feel”. Ultimately, the melody side wins me out. That’s probably because I’m inherently shy. I watch people talk and talk and talk and wish many times they would just shut the fuck up. Why say anything? Another anomaly, and this is where the weird “I grew up in the middle of nowhere” Delaware thing comes into play is that when recording, we had very few people around back then to record with. I developed a high soprano style vocal range mainly out of necessity. To answer your question about the “dark and twisted” sound…The Doors were a big influence, as well as the slinky, sexy sounds of many various Latin surf guitar sounds.
RL: What was the experience like touring the ghost towns of the west and creating music there? Did you ever feel you were being haunted or visited?
KP: Well, visiting the old county court house in Belmont, NV and discovering Charlie Manson’s engraved signature was truly a haunt!
As well as seeing a black floating orb near Area 51 and then immediately running into a full grown elk thereafter was a full blown shock. Being stuck in a dried up river bed for 8 hours surrounded by scorpions waiting for a tow truck while on major illegal alien drug trafficking territory in Arizona was a bad mishap as well. I’ll tell ya though, I think the scariest place was Bombay Beach in The Salton Sea. Apocalyptic. Stay away. You can imagine that being in a band with a love of all things weird, wild, and Western helped us to create some strange music out there. Fortunately, it’s all documented to the fullest extent. For 5 weeks we hit the road with Director Burke Roberts and Cinematographers J.T. Gurzi and Rich Ragsdale…filming and recording all along the way. It was a dream and it’s going to look and sound phenomenal.
RL: What was it like working with Ward Roberts on the film “Dust Up”?
KP: I’ve worked with a good amount of directors, and those guys have it rough. I think all directors have to be a little bit crazy to do it. It’s such an adventurous and ambitious endeavor. People try to make it formulaic but the truth is, I don’t care if you’re Ridley Scott or Spielberg…When you just get in a van for 5 weeks and search for “Ghost Towns” and places that supposedly don’t exist, you just can’t follow any kind of expectation and things will always be spur of the moment type rapid fire shots as discovery is always the main theme your dealing with. Ward Roberts is an awesome guy with lots of energy, passion, and ambition. I recall him telling me that his prime motivator for the desert-xploitation film “DUST UP”, was seeing our film, “The Legend of God’s Gun” (Directed by Mike Bruce) premier at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, CA in Oct of 2008, as a Drive-In Theater experience. Funny thing is, the portable “blow up screen” and sound system we used was created and provided by director Burke Roberts. It’s one of his amazing creations called “The Engine Theater” and runs off generators and a full size pop up movie screen, giving the ability to screen a theater style movie experience anywhere at any time.
RL: What is the live Spindrift experience about?
KP: It’s all about the collaboration of cinema and music. It’s generally high energy stuff…We keep the set exploding from song to song. The drums usually get smashed. It’s a psychedelic/sonic experience that transforms the band and our audiences into a frenzy. Every show is a bit different. I’ve Gotta hand it to our projectionist Miss Molly for providing the visuals on tours. Most common questions consist of, “Wow, is that a double neck bass AND baritone guitar?”, “Who’s that guy in the mask?”, “I didn’t know you sang all the soprano girl parts”, “Ha, there’s a stagecoach on the merch table” and “where did you get the cow skull?”
RL: What inspired the Rock Formations Fest?
KP: Rock Formations Festival sprung up after Terry, Thomas Bellier, and I decided to collaborate on something a bit bigger for The Palms in Wonder Valley. There we will screen the film “DUST UP” to close out the night. “DUST UP” was actually filmed at The Palms. It was turned into a cult leader’s meth lab/bar/party place and in the end, a small model was made of it and it was detonated. Kaboom! Things are gonna probably get this crazy during the Festival.
RL: There seems to be a supportive relationship between Spindrift and Gram Rabbit. How did that manifest?
KP: We really have to give Gram Rabbit the credit for introducing us to the wonders of the High Desert area. We’re kindred spirits. Last Feb and March 2013 we toured the USA together for 6 weeks. Their guitarist, Ethan Allen, is also an accomplished Producer and Engineer in the studio. He did Classic Soundtracks Vol. 1 with us (tracked at Hicksville Trailer Palace in Joshua Tree). Jesika Von Rabbit! H.O.T.! Todd Rutherford…Nicest guy EVER.
RL: What is next for Spindrift?
KP: Spindrift – “Ghost of the West”, the MOVIE! Should be on screens this summer! It’s our Ghost Town Tour musical documentary. Epically shot across the Western United States for 5 weeks! We’ll be touring the United States and Europe/UK around its release. In the more immediate future, we are about to sign a publishing deal with a very respectable company whom I can’t name as of yet until it’s official. This means you’ll be hearing A LOT more SPINDRIFT in some really good films. I think this may possibly be one of the biggest breaks we’ve hoped for. Beyond that, we’ll be performing with Jello Biafra (ex-Dead Kennedy’s) & The Guantanamo School of Medicine, April 5th at Characters Bar in Pomona, CA. New material is also being written as we’ve introduced new guitar player Thomas “Espiritu Sanctu” Bellier to the mix. He’s a younger guy from Paris, FR who has already collaborated with us quite a bit. I really feel we have the most solid SPINDRIFT lineup ever currently. It’ll be interesting to see what we come up with next for sure.
ROCK FORMATIONS, A MICRO MUSIC FESTIVAL IN THE HEART OF CALIFORNIA’S HIGH DESERT FEATURING MUSIC FROM THE LEFT COAST!
GHOSTS OF THE WEST, Jesika VonRabbit, DΛRKLΔNDS (ex-Spirit Vine), The Blank Tapes, Bonfire Beach, The Sibleys, Daydream Machine, The Hick-Ups, Hot Beat Pussy Fiend (acoustic), Santoros AND a special screening of Ward Robert’s film, “DUST UP”
To experience music in the wide open desert at The Palms is both amazing and surreal. Much of what I loved about the generator parties hosted by Mario Lalli in the low desert during the early nineties is what draws me out to the middle of Wonder Valley, a fewmiles outside of 29 Palms. But instead of cardboard stages and noisy generators, the absence of bathrooms, water, food….there is a fantastic, beautifully lit outdoor stage, bathrooms, a restaurant and full service bar. A guillotine to the left of the stage reminds you just how crazy the wild desert has been in the past. Its story is unknown to me…but the vibe it produces with its presence left an impression. Free camping affords you the opportunity to really let your hair down and not worry about traveling home at the night’s end. It is literally enchanting to hear original live music as it bellows across the desert sand dunes and disappears into the night. On March 29th festival promoter Terry McGuinness, Thomas Bellier and Kirpatrick Thomas are hosting ROCK FORMATIONS, featuring 9 bands, all completely unique and original, followed by a screening of Ward Robert’s film, “Dust Up” to be presented by his mother, Ingeborg Roberts. The psychedelic western soundtrack genius of Kirpatrick Thomas and Sprindrift, billed as Ghosts of the West, will be headlining the show. Jesika VonRabbit (our ultra-sexy high desert space cowgirl) will be performing her interactive, theatrical, genre bending fanfare. Flatlanders Zach Huskey and The HickUps will be unveiling their brand new original project which they describe as “Cow-Punk”. If you are a true lover of exotic desert musical experiences….join us for a night of unspeakable fun!
For details on camping and supplies you should bring in to fully enjoy your high desert music festival experience visit the event page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/201528456724151/
Take the digital tour of all the bands appearing at the festival on my blog at: rminjtree.blogspot.com