Spirit Valley – Music Interview
Oliver Heath has a chat with Dave and Chris from Sydney band Spirit Valley ahead of their free gig this weekend. They talk about baddass drumming, how they came to play some shows with Metric and about what they’ve got coming up for the rest of the year:
How did the Metric support come about?
Chris: Emily Haines walks into a bar…. The long version of this story as follows: Emily Haines, the leading lady from the hit band Metric founded in 1998 in Toronto, was strolling the streets of South Yarra, Melbourne on a few nights off before their Australian leg of the tour kicked off. She eventually stumbled upon an interesting bar called the Sweetwater Inn, which happens to be co-owned by an old friend of ours, Mark Catsburg. Anyway, Emily and Mark got to chattin’ and eventually got onto the topic of Spirit Valley as he had our bandcamp site up on his phone from the night before. She asked “are they good?” – he spoke very highly of us as he must of had a whiskey-tasting that afternoon or something, next minute she was calling me from his phone asking me if we wanted to join the tour. I don’t think she even listened to our stuff! I said I’d look through our schedule and rustled loudly through I think some old receipts that were in front of me at work and said “yeah sure David and I would love to”. We were in Melbourne two days later playing the famous Forum Theatre supporting the loveliest dudes and dudette in the universe. Then we somehow ended up in Brisbane with them, then back to Sydney for the last show at the Enmore. Rather enjoyable.
I’m a fan of your droney pirate dirges, but there seems to be some new qualities emerging in your most recent stuff. If I’m not imagining things, how would you describe this development?
Dave: Your not imagining things Olly, good observation cobbah. It’s called Doomshine Boogie. Kind of a natural progression from the former self-claimed genre of Doomshine Blues. Basically we started naturally steering towards writing more upbeat elements into the dark aesthetic of our music because that’s the path we were enjoying and the music we were listening to etc, and that turned into more of a conceptual idea of how to approach our live shows and recordings. Still a working progress so stay tuned, I guess.
Chris: We just want people to dance. Yesteryear our music was mostly dark and a lil bit dancey. Now it’s the other way round. Dark and dancey, we want people to dance and have a terrible time basically.
Stabs has his drums setup on stage lower and more spaced out than what I’m accustomed to seeing from other dudes, it adds a physical element where he’s reaching for every hit. More like some kind of percussionist in one of those martial drumming troops. Is this an established style, or is he just really baddass?
D: He’s the Chuck Norris of drumming. I heard his rim hits cure cancer.
C: I heard my rim hits actually cause cancer. I don’t use a rack tom, just three floor toms set out not so much lower than most, but all perfectly flat, so I feel like a french painter with one of those cool wooden palettes that you stick your thumb through. But instead of acrylic paint, it’s drums, literally. And instead of a impression of the French Riviera, its a juicy jungle jangle for your earlobes and dancing foots.
Can you tell us about the drone box you use, or is it a secret?
C: It’s a little white box with about five buttons on it, which digitally emulates the Indian stringed instrument called the “Tampura”. A Tampura’s purpose isn’t to play a melody but to support a melodic instrument or singer by providing constant textural drone. Basically it’s a cool as fuck indian bass guitar. It’s commonly used to prayer to in Indian temples, having a really entrancing spiritual sound. Our little digital version has a setting to choose what key you want it to drone in and a convenient output for a P/A system that allows us to use it for sacrilegious, psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll purposes. I have it hooked up to various guitar pedals (none of which I’m gonna tell you about!) and a kill switch next my hi-hat pedal at my left foot which I kick on and off through-out songs for added fabulousness.
It’s like the third member, does it have a anthropomorphic name?
C: It’s called Raajini and yes I’d love an actual Tampura player to join Spirit Valley but I don’t think that person exists in this hemisphere.
You have such a thick sound for any band, let alone a two-piece. Have you tried playing in other configurations? A duo acoustically? With extra people electric?
D: We did play a song where I used an acoustic but our friend Sam smashed it at a show once so that was pretty much that. Personally, I really enjoy the restrictions of playing in a two-piece, like there’s a box around you that you’re constantly trying to figure out ways to make bigger.
C: The restrictions of playing in a two-piece push you to try different things that widen the sound, many of which you probably would never have tried with our the initial restrictions. Also, there is more space sonically which allows you to experiment with these so called “things”. In some cases you end up sounding louder than the average three-piece.
I really love your music and I have awesome taste, why aren’t you guys huge yet?
D: We’re trying but Australian Idol keeps knocking us back. We currently have a crack team studying their marking criteria so we can fully assimilate into what they need. Then they’ll have no choice but to finally make us huge. praise the lord.
C: I’ve started praying to the Raajini when I’m alone in the night time so maybe that’ll work with a bit of faith.
Can I have a free beer and/or coffee next time I see one of you dudes at work?
D: Of course.
C: I’ll make you a lychee flirtini with smoked peach skin and home-made march mellow essence bitters.
What do you have coming up?
C: Recording! We’re back in the studio mid-May to record our next release. Really excited about it as, so far, we’ve not done it for the sake of doing it. Our last release dropped two years ago at least. We’ve waited for as long as it took (until now) ’til we’ve had the precise frame of mind and set of songs to record. Dark and Dancey. Apart from that, plenty of shows including this Saturday night at Visions with Zeahorse and Bad Jeep. Hollaaaa!
Catch Spirit Valley this weekend (May 3rd) at the Standard Bowl in Sydney at VISIONS. They’ll be playing with Zeahorse and Bad Jeep with DJ sets from Splashh (USA), Deep Sea Arcade and Velvet Cave DJs. It’s free, it’ll be ripper.
Spirit Valley interview by Oliver Heath.