Interview: the Spirit Family Reunion

Spirit Family Reunion, interviewRelatively unknown, the Spirit Family Reunion gave a break out performance at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. Brandishing weapons and threatening bodily harm, Surviving the Golden Age beat out lesser hack journalist from Spin and Rolling Stone to bring you this interview with the rhythm section. In an StGA exclusive, Stephen Weinheimer and Peter Pezzimenti share a moment, with each other and us, to talk drums and speak about the history surrounding the Newport Folk Festival.
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Tell us a little about yourself.

Stephen: People call us a blue grass band, but were not, we play old time music but we play it a little faster and we make it our own.

So tell us a little about No Seperation

Stephen: It’s our first LP, we released an EP several years ago but it took us over two years to finish the full length record. Well… not to finish, honestly we didn’t even start it. It only took us a couple days to record, we just never had the momentum before to get down and actually do it until now.

Was that a good thing or a bad thing?
Stephen: You can say a lot of things about being spontaneous, and sometimes theres a gonzo feeling that’s amazing, but at the same time we needed to take our time to hash out the ideas and fully form the concepts we touch on in the tracks.

Most of the groups at Newport are playing variations on folk music. Take Deer Tick or the Alabama Shakes who are blending something similar with elements of country or rock and roll. It seems like there’s a spiritual element to SFR’s music that might be closer to the original or else founding spirit of the festival. Is this accurate?

Peter: Don’t let anything about our name or anything that’s been constructed as our image interfere with the music. Basically the way I feel about it, just like so many bands that are out there keeping this music alive, some people really pay homage to their heroes the way certain classical musicians stay very, very close to their own heritage. The same exists here. A lot of the bands people are getting excited about have members that come from differing backgrounds. And they all meet and come up with this really… new kind of music. It’s only natural. Its a hard thing to put any of these bands into a definite category. For example, if you think back to when artists were making impressionist painting it wasn’t being called impressionism at the time.

Well if you look at music in general, the recording process in the last ten years has definitely shifted towards digital manipulation as opposed to a focus on musicianship or any type of raw talent. You guys, along with a lot of the other groups play almost exclusively acoustic instruments. Are you kicking out at the industry or is this a natural progression of your training?

Stephen: It’s simpler than that. It’s what we do because it’s what we play. Pete plays mean drums, but he’s traditionally a jazz drummer. And he didn’t have a forty piece perk kit, he had small things…

Peter: Yeah small things make it happen. A lot of that comes from before I got into playing jazz drums. I was a burlesque drummer before. It was a wild time. There was a vaudeville aspect to it, you had to gypsy pack up and gypsy break down, y’know get out of there quick and hopefully paid or else you might get kicked out. It was like an old minor league baseball team or something. But with Spirit Family Reunion its a different story. Stephen is an original member of the band. I didn’t join until later. Stephen had different approaches, he would be playing kits, or playing his field drum, what I was playing earlier, also called a side drum because it could be played while soldiers were marching

Right to their deaths…

Peter: Yeah but we also have a matching parade drum which is the bass drum Stephen plays. When I joined the band he took up the washboard and the deep bass, and I picked up the kit. After a while we really found a good formula, and now, now I really can’t play without him there. It’s two sides of a coin and the sound just doesn’t work without him.

(There’s a touching moment where they look at each other like something out of a romantic comedy.)

Stephen: Aww

Peter: But that doesn’t really finish the question. All these bands and the scene, we’re all basically working together. How can you not?

Stephen: Exactly, we’re all creative and we’re all bringing something new to it, but I think people are starting to realize in the context of the festival that we’re part of something bigger.

Peter: It’s important to keep that in mind.

Stephen: Yeah, Newport’s been going on forever. People think of the festival, and its like, ‘Oh, in 1960 Muddy Waters played here,’ but the story is still going on. We were just waiting our turn.

Peter: Right when I was pulling in today, I was thinking, did Max Roach park here?

Did that add an element of intimidation when you took the stage? Did the history affect you at all?

Peter: Quite the contrary, I felt empowered and I felt privilege. I wanted to do my best to entertain the crowd and to make the night for everybody, but at the same time I felt like I was playing for some of my heroes.

Stephen: We knew what we wanted to do here. We knew what we wanted to prove and we did it.

So the hard work’s over, your set’s done. You got time to chill, which acts are you looking forward to seeing?

Stephen: I’m really looking forward to Trampled by Turtles.

Peter: When does Drake and Kanye go on?

They’ll be live on the jumbotron straight from the Olympics at six o’clock GMT.

Stephen: Oh! The Alabama Shakes! They have this raw almost punk rock sound and you can really tell they’re playing because they love to play.

Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?

Stephen: Go Yankees!

Peter: Go Kanye! Go Drake!

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