Culture Shock 2016: Talking with Spissy

Spissy is what you might call an “indie” band from Bloomington, Indiana, consisting of Aaron Denton and Ben Lumsdaine. The duo will be releasing their debut, self-titled LP on March 18th. Additionally, Spissy will be performing at this year’s Culture Shock, located in Dunn Meadow on April 9th. Here’s what the guys had to say to some questions I asked them:

M: So for starters, being located in the Bloomington/southern Indiana area, did the so-called “local music scene” influence you at all down the line?

A: Yeah. Bloomington has so many good bands, and always has. It keeps me on my toes.

B: I grew up in Bloomington pretty much, and I spent a lot of time going to shows. Probably all of the most important musical moments in my life happened here.

M: And for your music, is there more of an influence from contemporary artists or artists from year’s past? Or is there really an equal distribution? And do other sorts of media and whatnot give you inspiration as well?

A: Yeah, it’s a lot of both.  I’d say I listen to a pretty equal distribution of contemporary and older music.  As far as inspiration for Spissy, I probably take the most cues from bands that were active in the mid-80s/early 90s.  Stuff like Felt, The Clean, Orange Juice, The Smiths, Talk Talk, The Go-Betweens.

B: When I’m writing parts I usually end up directly ripping off whatever I was listening to most that week. Lately it’s been Ultimate Painting, Broadcast, and Roger Miller.

M: And sorry, but I had to ask: where did the group’s name come from?

A:  It’s hard to say…I think Ben came up with it. I remember thinking it sounded unique and, perhaps more importantly, wasn’t already a band.  It was around the same time I had watched the David Lynch movie, The Straight Story, starring Sissy Spacek and I thought it sounded like a combination of her name.  Band names are so arbitrary, I figured if we could find a word with a blank slate we could co-opt to represent our music.

M: Also wanted to point out that, Aaron, there’s a guy here at WIUX who wanted me to tell you that you look like Dale Cooper from the 90’s television show Twin Peaks; have you ever watched it?

A: Of course!  I love Twin Peaks.  I’ve never gotten Agent Cooper.  I get Toby McGuire sometimes, and someone said I look like Townes Van Zandt’s son, John Van Zandt.

M: So you guys have your debut album being released this month, if I’m not mistaken on March 18th. A cliché question, but can you detail the experience recording the album?

A: We recorded the record in two chunks over the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015.  We tracked 19 songs, and then chose the best 10 for the record.  Going in, I had about 3 years worth of song writing to record, so it was super exciting to see these sketches come to life after being in hibernation all that time.  It felt a little different in that I had never recorded anything in a proper studio.  We tracked at Russian Recording here in town with Kyle Houpt, and working with him we were able to move quick and get good sounds fast.  He knew what we were going for and had the skill to hone that in.  With Kyle, I could focus on the songs as opposed to wrestling with some kind of broken recording equipment, which I had been doing up to that point.  I found the experience of being in a studio refreshing and inspiring, but I still love recording on my shitty gear.

B: Kyle also had a lot of input and good advice when it came to arrangement and production stuff. I feel like he was a really important addition to the record.

M: You guys have a music video for your song “Her Heart”; in it, a woman appears to be signing the lyrics of the song, not singing. And it also has a lot of double exposures and soft fade ins. Where did the concept of this video stem from?

A: It’s a song about translation. A friend of mine was having some relationship problems that I felt weren’t being helped by his insistent effort to make things work.  My attitude was: you can’t change the way someone feels about you, so why try?  It’s a dead end.  But, in the end, the song became about my own emotional deafness to what it was this person actually needed from me; namely a witness: someone to express something to.  I made the video with my partner, Anna Teeter, and when we were thinking of ideas my mind naturally went to having the song signed.  I quickly discovered I couldn’t learn how to do it myself, but as luck would have it a friend of mine’s fiancée is an ASL interpreter.  The song had a dream-like vibe to it, so we thought the double exposures were a good match.  I’ve also been deep into a Stanley Kubrick phase for a while now, and I love the super long fade-ins that permeate his films, so I wanted to do something like that in the video.

M: When I search Spissy on YouTube, the first video that pops up is a music video by a rapper named KZA Spizzy. In the video that’s markedly lo-fi he stands in front of a McDonald’s parking lot, rapping about watching anime among other things. Have you ever listened to KZA Spizzy?

A: Nope!  Never heard KZA Spizzy.

M: General question, but do you believe it’s a necessity to prescribe labels to music in the form of genre-tags; for example “Dream Pop” or “Nu-metal”.

A: No.  I don’t think it’s necessary to label music at all.  It is probably helpful though, since there’s so much of it.  I’ve found that in the past decade labels have become a real signifier for bands, which is a shame.  I wonder if it’s always been the case, but it seems recently that bands have to have that little tagged description to get traction anywhere.  When was the last time you took a chance on some music before knowing sort what it was going to sound like?

M: Good point, and with a lot of 2016 still ahead, what is Spissy looking to do as the year progresses post-album drop?

A: We’ll be touring this spring and summer.  Then we’re going to focus on recording a new record come fall.  About half of it is written right now.