Over the last ten years, Spindrift has pioneered a cosmic Wild West sound that influenced a new Western swinging scene in Los Angeles. We spent 24 hours in the desert with Spindrift at Hicksville, an unusual oasis—a themed trailer park resort/recording studio hidden among the outer limits of Joshua Tree. Here we shot BB guns and played ping-pong while the band laid down tracks for their new album, Classic Soundtracks Vol. 1, with an all new lineup of unique musicians, full of desert fantasies with a soft spot for psychedelic science fiction. Classic Soundtracks is nout now and available from Xemu Records. Kirpatrick Thomas is the ringleader, the man in black. He’s walking in the desert, barefoot. He speaks first. These interviews by Daiana Feuer.
What do you think pulls you to make psychedelic music?
I think I got turned on to psychedelics probably around 1991 and, you know, it sort of opened everything up and there were a lot of other bands I started listening to. I didn’t know about the whole underground garage rock scene. I lived in Delaware so I wasn’t from California or any kind of metropolitan area so all this stuff I had to discover for myself. This is the 90s. You didn’t really have Internet and you couldn’t check all that stuff out. You had to go to the record stores and try to find it. The one band we had was almost like a heavy metal band and then a prog metal band and all that kind of stopped and we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do something kind of heavy and psychedelic and we can always change it up.’ I just think it’s a good type of music to expand on. You can do whatever you want with it.
What do you get out of it?
I don’t even really look at it as a kind of music. I think it’s more just what interests me the most is writing a song about something or having it kind of have a feel of something that I’ve never done before. I more enjoy moving from one type of music to the next. Like unconquered territory is the main thing. I like writing spaghetti western type stuff but I’ve always been into the Bollywood scene in India, and Eastern music. ‘So let’s do a song like that because that sounds fun. Let’s do something that’s kind of funky that you can dance to. And let’s do something that sounds like a surf Joe Meek song because he’s awesome. Let’s do something that sounds like a trucker song. Let’s do something that sounds like Spacemen 3. Let’s do something that sounds like Jello Biafra.’ We vary a lot from song to song. You could listen to some of our stuff from 1994 and just be like, ‘That’s a completely different band,’ but my voice comes in and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s Spindrift.’
There seems to be a sense of humor in your lyrics. There’s sort of a play with the cosmic cowboy that’s a little bit funny.
Yeah, it’s kind of satirical. Sometimes cynical. I think that’s just the nature of our personalities. Maybe some previous versions of the band were a little darker. But I think that generally we’re a pretty humorous and jovial kind of band with sort of an interest in the dark side of life. I think with everything there’s a yin and yang. Like, write a happy song and on the other side you write a sad song, you know?
What are some of the movies you’ve been screening in the studio for inspiration?
This next record is called Classic Soundtracks and it’s all the movie themes we’ve done. As long as we’ve got some visuals going on there it basically helps to keep your mind away from the fact that you’re in a studio with a bunch of microphones around you and what you record is going to be indefinitely what people hear. You kind of just do it more like, ‘OK, I’m just watching a movie and playing to it.’ It kind of brings it closer and even closer than that—it’s being in the desert. Recording in this setting makes it very natural and takes it home.
You picked this environment because you wanted the stars and the desert and all this stuff to feed into the creation of this album. Now that you’re almost at the end of the week, have you reflected on how it’s infiltrated the album to record it here?
It’s amazing waking up and walking out of your trailer and thinking, Wow, I’m in the desert, and then looking over at the studio and thinking, Wow, I’m recording an album, and then you look at the pool and you’re like, ‘I’m going to jump into that pool.’
And then go shoot stuff.
And then you can go shoot stuff. You can just kind of say, ‘This is life. This is as good as it gets.’
Sasha Vallely’s voice leads the new Spindrift album and she plays a mean flute, among many other instruments. As we speak, she’s wielding a knife in the kitchen.
How did you end up in the band?
When I was in England I met up with the Warlocks and Brian Jonestown Massacre and we became good friends instantly. I just hung out with them for years every time they’d come out to the U.K. and they were always saying, ‘Oh, come out to L.A. It’s great, it’s great.’ Back then, in 2003, I think, Bobby Hecksher asked me to join the Warlocks as bass player but I was in my band so I didn’t want to leave it. My band split in 2007 and he asked me again to join because I think Jenny had just left so I came to L.A. to do that. I played in the Warlocks for a little while but wasn’t really vibing with the Warlocks. When I was out here, I met K.P. I was friends with Plucky and that’s how I found out about Spindrift and as soon as I heard them I wrote to them and was like, ‘Let me join! Let me join!’ This was about three years ago.
You’re contributing lyrics too, right?
I wrote one of the songs on the album, which is really exciting. It’s called ‘Shadytown,’ and me and K.P. have been co-writing some lyrics for the other songs. It’s really good that he allows me to do that because obviously it’s his baby.
Why does Spindrift exist?
I think it exists because it’s bringing the old and the new together. We obviously have a huge Morricone influence and 60s psychedelic music, but it’s actually creating a new genre that isn’t around so it’s bringing together something modern, something old, something new, something classic. …. It’s like creating another genre: psychedelic spaghetti western. Ever since I was a kid, my dad always wanted to be a cowboy. I always wanted to be an Indian, funnily enough, so it’s like I’m living my dream. I’ve always been into Native American culture and stuff and really follow that. It is kind of like being a big kid and playing cowboys and Indians.
Henry Evans is the other longest standing member of Spindrift. He’s the guy with long hair playing the double-neck bass guitar. We sit on the porch of the trailer decorated like a log cabin.
How do you think the band’s sound has evolved with the new members?
Luke [Dawson] playing pedal steel definitely has more of a country feel although one thing that I really like about his playing is that he plays pedal steel in a really psychedelic way as opposed to just straight Hank Williams-style country pedal steel. The addition of Sasha playing flute adds a lot to the band and her vocals are also really amazing. She and K.P. do a lot of duets on the new material. It’s really compelling.
I feel the cowboy and Western thing is a form of experimental music. This kind of delving into the possibilities of old-time …
Yeah, I agree. That’s something that’s really attractive to me about the music because I’ve always had a soft spot for Bob Wills and Gene Autry … you know, cowboy music. The cowboy music is what inspires me. The marriage of the old-time country or the old-time Western with maybe a more modern 1960s psychedelic sound. And obviously our influences range from Helios Creed to other contemporaries of ours like Black Mountain—who we’re friends with—and Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Angels. We have the album The Legend of God’s Gun, which is a straight spaghetti western soundtrack for a spaghetti western movie and the album that we did after that, The West, was really eclectic in terms of the influences. I think this album seems to me a bit more focused than The West, because it is thematic, even though the theme is that it’s a variety of different styles—at least the concept is that it’s all film music for different films.
What do you think draws people to music that might have more of a fantasy appeal about it?
For me, the music that we make … first of all, it’s not pop music but it does have a sort of pop aesthetic. A lot of it is catchy and sticks in your head. What I love about the music is that there’s a real sense of drama to it. I think that there are other bands that do something similar to us but somehow can’t quite capture that. But it’s another thing about this band that keeps me going. Obviously, not every song is a gem but the ones that we fully flesh out and release and play live—I think for the most part, there’s something about them that makes them compelling for people and I think a lot of that has to do with the drama and the power of it. If it were really easy to sum up and describe, I think a lot more people would be able to do it. It would be easy to write music.
Pedal steel player Luke Dawson sits on the astroturf by the saltwater pool.
Why do you like Gram Parsons?
The time that I first heard about him was a pretty big moment. I had just moved from the suburbs of Dallas, where I’d grown up, to Denton, which is 45 minutes away and that was a big move for me. … About that time I wanted to get more into country because it was always kind of there but I never gave it a shot because of all the new stuff that floats around. I started digging deeper. Obviously I had known about George Jones and Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings and Ray Price and all those cats but I never gave it much. I was 20 years old and didn’t know shit about shit. That led me to Gram Parsons. A friend of mine told me about him. He was like, ‘If you’re into country, maybe you’ll like this sort of psychedelic country,’ and I was like, ‘There is no such thing as psychedelic country. Get the fuck out.’ ‘Check out the Flying Burrito Brothers. Gilded Palace of Sin.’ And I did and it changed everything. Yeah, Sneaky Pete was the first time that I’d heard psychedelic pedal steel. That’s kind of what drove me into playing pedal steel. I was familiar with the traditional, awesome, beautiful stuff coming out of Nashville and Bakersfield and everywhere else but I always sloughed that off as something I would never be able to do. Then I had an epiphany when I heard about a Space Echo and what that thing could do. I was like, ‘Why doesn’t anyone put the pedal steel through the Space Echo and make it psychedelic?’ I stewed on that idea for maybe three years before I even started looking and once I did find one, I played it for about six or seven months before I told a soul that I had it. It’s a very communal vibe in Denton so everybody plays on everybody’s records and I didn’t want anyone inviting me to play when I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. First thing I did was put it through a delay pedal and that’s just kind of how I got away with getting into it, kind of leaning on the psychedelic stuff that I already knew how to do because I was holed up in my apartment with a guitar on my lap and a slide and running that through and making it as crazy and tripped out as I could. It was kind of a natural progression.
How do you approach what you add to a song when you’re adding accents?
Where and when to play and what to play? I don’t know. With pedal steel it’s really important to be on pitch so, naturally, I’m going to do things slowly. It’s like the longer you take to get to a note—sometimes, as long as you get there in time, it works and it can also work to your advantage if you’re not a very skilled player. I will just look for little pockets that I can fade something in to fill it up. In my head, that’s what I always want to hear. Something tripping out. Somebody heavy on the reverb and echoes and such. It’s just naturally what I gravitate towards.
How did you meet K.P.?
It was early November, I guess, at the Halloween show over at Pappy & Harriet’s with Gram Rabbit in 08. That was their last show with that formation and then he came out a couple weeks after that so it must have been mid-November. It was a slow night up there and I had just moved to town six weeks or two months prior. I’d gotten into the habit of going up to Pappy & Harriet’s whenever I could, especially on Mondays because they have dollar draft night. Dollar Budweisers. I’d go up there and he was up there and I didn’t think much of it but the friend I rode in with was talking to him. … I was telling him why I was in town because I’d moved from Texas to get the hell out of there and he was like, ‘Well, you play music or anything?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a pedal steel and I’ve been playing it for about a year steady but it’s nothing that you’d probably like to hear. It’s really psychedelic, not traditional by any means.’ And he was like, ‘Aw no, what, are you serious?’ and his eyes got pretty big and he got excited. We exchanged numbers and on the way out I was like, ‘Oh, man, I didn’t even ask what you do,’ and he was like, ‘Oh, I’m in this band Spindrift,’ and then my jaw dropped. I was like, ‘I’d heard about you guys a long time ago out in Texas of all places where nothing ends up really, at least for a younger kid that doesn’t know where to look.’ So that was pretty cool. … He called me three days later and I packed up my stuff and got a ride into L.A.
Why do you like playing with Spindrift?
It’s the perfect combination of all the music that I like. I love the old country stuff and Henry knew more than I did about the traditional 50s and 60s country, and that blew my mind, so we had an immediate rapport. K.P. loved anything that I was doing because I didn’t really know where I was going most of the time, just making psychedelic sounds and he was loving it. So it’s really nice to play with someone who really knows what he wants to hear and we kind of hear the same thing. I don’t know, everyone lacks ego completely in this group and we all get along really, really well and we can easily stay in a van together for five weeks straight and nobody wants to kill each other. I think that’s the greatest part about it.
The reason drummer James Acton isn’t heard in this article is because we all went to shoot shotguns instead.
SPINDRIFT’S CLASSIC SOUNDTRACKS VOL. 1 IS OUT NOW ON XEMU. VISIT SPINDRIFT AT SPINDRIFTWEST.COM.