Monday, February 12, 2007

The Spinto Band

[after a less-than-satisfying piece with the group for the Times at the start of the year, Plan B offered me a chance to sink my teeth deeper into The Spinto Band's haywire world of invention]


Skub

A chilly winter morning in London’s Hyde Park. Enjoying their first visit to our shores, six young, scruffy Americans clamber upon venerated tourist trap Speaker’s Corner, honouring a grand tradition in a rather puzzling manner. Their unkempt hair writhing in the breeze, the group split equally into two warring factions, snarling and barking at each other, and thrusting home-printed signs, one proudly reading ‘Pro-Skub!’, the other preaching ‘Anti Skub!’, the word ‘Skub’ printed with a cross through it.

‘Skub’?

Your correspondent, profiling said rambunctious noiseniks for Another Organ, is befuddled. The sketchy explanation offered by Nick Krill, the Spinto Band’s dry-humoured, caterpillar-browed frontman, hardly clears matters up.

This whole ‘Skub’ issue is tearing the group apart,” he grumbled later, picking at some breaded cod with his fork in the snug of a nearby pub. “Half of us are ‘pro’, half of us are ‘anti’. It can cause conflicts.”

‘Skub’??!?

Fast forward a couple of weeks later. Your correspondent is killing time, checking out the latest installment of the Perry Bible Fellowship, a viciously acidic cartoon strip that makes out like Gary Larson’s Far Side with LSD rubbed on its irises – the same violently lateral attack Larson excelled at, before the licensed greetings cards dulled his subversion with over-exposure. (Perry Bible Fellowship is now syndicated in the Guardian, and can be found online at http://www.pbfcomics.com) I began to scan the site’s voluminous archive of strips, revisiting some of my favourites. Scrolling down the index, that word stared back at me again.

‘Skub’.

It’s the title of a strip that embodies PBF’s gift for the pointedly brilliant non-sequiteur. A faceless white figure stands frame-left, dressed in a yellow tee-shirt reading ‘Prro-Skub’; his opposite number, standing opposite him, wears a similar tee screaming ‘Anti-Skub’. A brawl breaks out between the two over the first three frames; the fourth and final frame depicts a tub of expensive moisturizing crème. The brand?

‘Skub’.

Some web-searching soon tracks Gurewitz back to Spintonic.net, a virtual community of creative friends: writers, film-makers, artists, cartoonists, musicians. It is also home to The Spinto Band.

Nice (And Nicely Done)

The Spinto Band aren’t like all those other faux-indie college-rockers currently flooding the market, the faceless, Pitchfork-favoured slew of scratchy guitarrorists who all sound like Pavement with all the loose ends tied, like they’re forever auditioning for their spot on the O.C. soundtrack.

They’re the sort of group you’d imagine six kids who’ve known each other since primary school would form, if they’d been raised on a steady diet of The Beatles, The Residents, and The Flaming Lips. A group bonded by the fact all their dads play in the same local Americana bar band. A group inspired by Krill’s discovery of songs written by his eccentric grandpa, Roy Spinto. Spinto, a guitarist, would scribble song ideas onto crackerboxes whenever inspiration grabbed him. Fittingly, Krill runs his own record label in his spare time, called Crackerbox.

“I didn’t know him well,” explains Krill. “He died when I was little… He didn’t make recordings so much as write down notations. We messed around with some of his songs in the early days.”

Krill was fifteen when he formed The Spinto Band, with some of his closest friends (the line-up numbers two sets of brothers – drummer Jeff and guitarist Joe Hobson, and bassist/singer Thomas and organist Sam Hughes – along with guitarist Jon Eaton). That slow Summer was spent noodling and doodling on their dads’ rickety four-track gear, making up nonsense songs and joke songs, songs that pondered what Puff Daddy got up to when he was lonely. They loved Ween, and it shows, in the wonky songcraft, in the dopey lyrics, in the playschool-Zappa sense of anarchy. They eventually concocted eight albums of this juvenilia, available via the internet.

“It was a fun thing do,” grins Krill. “We had a trampoline, our music, video games and the teevee, and we’d invariably be doing one of these four things at any given time.”

At some point, they stepped things up a gear. Krill is talking to me from the hospitality area of a grand amphitheatre in Nice, France. The Mediterranean is nearby, the sun is shining, and in a minute, they’ll be stepping onstage to shake through their charming songs for an audience of Strokes-fans with breaths baited for their heroes’ headlining appearance. Their debut show, at a high school talent contest many years ago was, they gleefully admit, an unmitigated disaster. Now, they teeter sweatily, enthusiastically towards some strange new shape of professionalism.


“We’ve gotten to the point of being able to circumnavigate the technical difficulties,” he grins, talking excitedly about the thrill of playing festival shows in the daytime, to audiences getting soaked by unseasonably we weather. “We have songs we play when certain instruments need fixing or restringing, to avert from certain disasters.”


It’s their ‘debut’ album, Nice And Nicely Done, that’s somehow flung this lovingly homemade concoction of pop into the rarefied airspace of yer Strokes et al. 31 minutes of fractured but cherishable pop that waltzes to its own peculiar step, its hypermelodic scribble ensnares Television’s screeching poetics, Pavement’s slanted-spectacle cool and ELO’s swooning whistlableness to deliver perhaps the least objectionable noise currently earning transmission on Xfm. Which is damning with faint praise of course; remember those days before a slew of so-so pretenders extinguished your love for lo-fi indie-rock like GBV and Superchunk? The Spinto Band are like some undiscovered relic of those times, capturing the era’s naïve fascination with spindly, addictive pop and delicious subterranean textures.


“We’re not control freaks, but we like to have a hand in pretty much everything related to the band,” explains Krill. “Radio ads, sleeve designs, little promo stickers, we like to write or design those ourselves. They’re like these new media for promoting bands, but we just look upon them as creative mediums we’ve not experimented with before. It’s a fun thing for us to mess around with.”


They’re creative kids. Tom is an accomplished visual artist, currently taken with photography, while Jon’s “a great writer, always doing his writing thing”. When not producing other bands from their home state of Delaware, Krill indulges his passion for film-making.


“We’re making a tour movie,” he laughs. “It’s like an adventure, a treasure-hunt movie. Tom and I are these mercenary thieves, and we’ve stolen a treasure map from Jon, who’s this high-society crime boss, and Joe, who plays a down-and-dirty mobster. Sam’s the police chief, and Jeff’s a double agent. We were editing some footage last night, and getting worried that nobody but us will get a kick out of it! But it’s fun…”


And that’s a large part of the Spintos’ appeal – that the music (effervescent and naggingly catchy) is only part of a bigger thing, the viral creative hub that is Spintopia. It’s not the latest fractional variation on the blazer’n’jeans blueprint, it’s something real and messy and loveable and fallible, an art happening you can be a part of, somehow.


“We’ve been discussing the Spintopia site a lot recently, all of us contributors, these friends of ours, on these huge e-mail conversations,” reflects Krill. “No-one has had time to update it. Of the core group, one or two were saying, with all these new people on there, who discovered the site via the band, that it’s not the same as it was. Someone else said, we should start up a private messageboard on the site, so it’s just us guys who know each other chatting with each other. But, that’s not the point! I don’t just write music for myself, I want to share this stuff, otherwise I wouldn’t tour.


It’s not the point to be an exclusive thing,” he concludes. “I get a kick out of seeing it grow. Hopefully, I don’t know… The in-jokes won’t be in-jokes anymore. They’ll just be jokes.”

(c) Stevie Chick 2006

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