Interview: Spirit Family Reunion

Spirit Family ReunionSpirit Family Reunion‘s Stephen Weinheimer sat down with StGA’s Raymond Lee for a meandering interview that contains no facts or band information at all. Rather its a discussion between drunks about why you should turn off whatever crap you’re listening to right now and switch over to the greatest record ever made: Surfer Rosa. To set the scene for you, Stephen and I are accompanied by Tory Giardina, de facto publicist and Stephen’s surrogate who nears hysteria as the interview carries on. We’re at a picnic table cluttered with crushed beer cups and overflowing ashtrays. It is noonish. I’m drunk, and not from the three day cross continental bender that began in Toronto and up to that point ended illegally parked in some rich guys beach front back yard, but because the bar was open (in both senses) and I don’t even know what the word ‘professional,’ means. Hurray For the Riff Raff is rehearsing in the background, warming up for their set under the bluest of summer 1% skies. The temperature is pleasant, and the sun smiles down on us.

Stephen Weinheimer: Thanks for the interview last year. We really liked it. The introduction was good, it started with you shitting on a lot of people but you made us sound good. That was you right?

Raymond Lee: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t have a lot of friends. Have you guys released anything in the past year?

SW: Nope. (Laughs)

RL: Is Spirit Family even a band? Is this like a side project or something?

SW: No! This is our band. (Laughs) This is our full time job.

RL: I knew it took you three years to put out No Separation.

SW: Yeah, but the next one’s coming out early next year… And tomorrow we’re playing four, five, six new songs from the next record.

RL: Exciting…

Tory Giardina: And next week they’ll begin recording… (interrupted)

SW: That’s for the demo, but she’s our publicist so whatever she says goes.

TG: Has the interview begun?

RL: Sure, I’ll probably tie this piece into last year’s interview. The whole ‘one year on…’ Newport angle.

SW: Did we even discuss Newport last year? I thought we talked about the Olympics and Kanye? Oh, maybe you could include something about the new album [Yeezus] everyone’s talking about?

RL: Oh god! That piece of shit?!

SW: I don’t like it much either. People have been hyping it so much.

RL: I think you lose all legitimacy once you get a Kardashian pregnant.

SW: See, I don’t mind that. I don’t tie people’s personal lives into their art. I don’t mind that [redacted at Stephen’s request.] it didn’t really make Ike’s musicianship any worse. Ike and Tina Turner are probably the best band of all time.

RL: I would disagree with you, but go on…

SW: Check out Ike and Tina’s Show Live, volume one. It has a blue cover, there’s a couple copies of it on vinyl over at Mystery Train in Gloucester, if you want one. I would say that’s my favorite live record, possibly greatest record of all time.

RL: Get out of here.

SW: Oh it’s great. You said you’d argue against it, though. What would you say is the best record ever?

RL: Well, I’m a rock n roll guy so I would say the Pixies, Surfer Rosa.

SW: Oooh! (Excited) I was listening to that on the ride up at four a.m. this morning. The drums on that are flawless.

RL: The whole damn thing is great.

SW: There is this book called Perfecting Sound Forever, by Greg Milner about the history of recorded sound. The author talks about how Steve Albini did Surfer Rosa, and how it’s sonically just a superior album to Doolittle, the follow up and more popular record.

RL: Isn’t that the way this business works?

SW: (Laughs) You wouldn’t know the half of it.

(An applause rises as Hurray for the Riff Raff begin their set. The sound bleeds through in ecstatic, opulent waves.)

RL: I ‘spose we better get to the interview part since the music’s starting…

TG: Maybe now we could talk about the band?

SW: Oh fine, so we’re supposed to just ignore Surfer Rosa?

RL: We can talk about that if you want.

TG: (Exasperated) TALK ABOUT YOUR BAND!

SW: I’ll tell you what, last year we didn’t even talk about Spirit Family Reunion. We talked about the Yankees and Kanye.

RL: Yeah we barely even mentioned it.

TG: TALK ABOUT HOW GOOD YOUR BAND IS!

RL: Okay, what’s the next project’s prospective title?

SW: No title, but a full length record out early next year. And we’ll be touring with Hurray for the Riff Raff, I don’t know if we announced that yet. But it don’t matter.

TG: … and the Curry Brothers and the Tumbleweeds, but they’re called the Deslows now. Three good bands touring for seven weeks. We’re starting in Nashville, going out to the west coast up in Seattle, then back across the wastelands of the mid-west ending in New York.

RL: Okay let’s tie the future into the past here. It’s been one year to the day since we spoke last.

SW: Has it?

RL: To the day… What exactly have you been up to?

SW: (Scratches his head and looks off into the distance.) What have we done? [Long pause.]

TG: YOU’VE BEEN TOURING! YOU GOT A MANAGER.

SW: We were talking to some record labels.

TG: A TOURING MANAGER, A BOOKING AGENT, AN NPR TINY DESK CONCERT…

SW: We didn’t like any of them.

TG: Alright this interview is done for you. I’m taking over! They got a manager, Danny Goldberg and they’ve been touring like crazy.

RL: We’re you on the road with them?

TG: I was, and they recently sold out Bowery Ballroom, and a couple dates in Boston at the Sinclair. But the Bowery was especially exciting because that’s our hometown. Hey babe, any memorable tour stories? (She’s referring to singer Nick Panken who had just approached along with percussionist Peter Pezzimenti)

Nick Panken: We shared a bill with Pete Seeger.

(At this point the group members enter into discussion about band matters and I’m temporarily left to Ms. Giardina)

RL: Alright Tory, on behalf of Stephen, what question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview that never comes up?

TG: (Thinks) For Stephen specifically? Have you ever stolen any silverware that you used to play the washboard with?

RL: Alright Tory, on behalf of Stephen, have you ever stolen silverware that you used to play the washboard with?

TG: Definitely yes. (Throws a coy smile towards Stephen which catches his attention.)

SW: What was that?

TG: What’s a question you wish an interviewer would ask that never comes up?

SW: Do you consider yourself a man?

(Laughter)

TG: If you have to ask that question you already have the answer.

RL: Well Stephen, do you consider…

(wisely interrupts)

SW: A girl asked me that a few months ago. And I said, “Not really,” And then another girl told me to grow up while I was lying next to her in bed. But what question… I don’t know. One question I like is “What are your musical influences?” And I always like answering it, but that gets asked a lot. What do I want to be asked..? (Stares off again) Shit, I don’t know man.

Peter Pezzimenti: Why does your voice sound so funny?

SW: Because of the polyps on my vocal chords.

RL: I asked John McCauley that last year. “Hey are you sick man?” (In impression of the glass vocal’d singer of Deer Tick.) “No this is just how I talk.”

SW: [Redacted] Just kidding, I don’t know anything about that dude.

RL: He’s cleaned up a lot hasn’t he?

SW: All I know is he sings for Deer Tick and he has a lot of tattoos.

RL: He has a fair amount of tattoos.

TG: Stephen got three tattoos this year.

SW: It was only two and I don’t wanna talk about tattoos.

RL: (Turns to Pete.) It’s been a year since we sat down and spoke. What’s been going on?

PP: I put tall handlebars on my bike. Now I’m sitting upright. It makes me feel like I’m behind the drum set.

RL: (Turns to singer Nick Panken) What about you?

NP: Since last year?

SW: We learned how to make kombucha.

RL: I don’t even know what that is.

NP: It’s fermented tea. It’s great.

PP: You can fool yourself into thinking its refreshing, but its just good for you.

RL: Is that Japanese?

NP: Chinese?

PP: The stuff we make isn’t real kombucha.

NP: They sell it for like four dollars a bottle. It’s very popular right now. You can find it in all the grocery stores. The popular version is GT’s. It’s very refreshing and very nourishing. But its very expensive so we just started making it at home.

RL: I’ve never even heard of it.

(The amps turn up for Hurray for the Riff Raff’s set.)

RL: Hey guys, due to the sound bleed the rest of this interview might get obliterated. Is there anything you’d like to add to wrap this up?

PP: To end on a serious note, the only thing that is really remarkable is that SFR is finishing up what can only be described as a spell that in our opinion lasted the whole year. This two weeks was the longest break we’ll have this year. We’re going to focus on the downtime for creative purposes to make advances on the new record. The details of which are still unfolding.

RL: Will it be a departure at all from No Separation?

PP: I don’t know if there’s anyway we could do anything that isn’t true to ourselves. We have so many influences, that’s one of the things that’s often commented on by critics. That being said, we are trying to make something that has more dimension. Not just a folk version of a punk song or whatever…

RL: Has someone said that?

PP: Well not to digress, sometimes there’s ways of thinking about a song as having an objective, say to get people dancing, or to move people in another way. That’s another conversation. But we are trying to make things more dimensional. There will be more exciting rhythms, syncopations that add a bit more color, and we’ll be tipping our hat to some of our favorite composers.

TG: I think the new material sounds a lot different.

SW: I do.

TG: Some of the new songs are really surprising.

RL: And your ol’ mans (Nick Panken) the main songwriter.

SW: Umm… Co-writer on the new song.

TG: (Ironically) Umm… Actually this girl helped write that new song.

SW:(Ironically) Umm… I wrote two verses.

TG: (Ironically) Umm… And then we edited those verses. Stephen’s going to sing the new song tomorrow.

RL: Oh, you’re going to be singing?!

SW: Yeah, I’m going to try but I’ve got these vocal polyps. So I don’t know.

RL: I guess your busking days are over.

SW: I don’t really sing so much as yell.

RL: Well, you try singing too hard you’ll start singing out of tune.

SW: We’re on tour for two months, and I lost my voice but the last couple shows I tried to yell even though I didn’t have a voice.

RL: You gotta take care of yourself.

SW: Well I haven’t been singing, lately. I’ve been taking some advanced distribution medicine stuff. So we’ll see tomorrow what happens.

RL: You’re a big band anyway, so maybe someone can jump in if your voice begins to crack.

SW: We’re not a big band.

RL: Sure you are, you got what like six members.

SW: Oh… I thought you meant famous.

RL: You’re famous to me.

NP: Oh, We got some weepers on the next record.

RL: Well, we’re really looking forward to it, and StGA wishes you the best of luck. You’re kind of a pet band around the offices. Good luck and thanks for sitting down with us.

SW: Well good luck trying to make an interview out of this.