Wandering into the Wild West: Spindrift Returns to Salt Lake City

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The psychedelic desert dwellers known as Spindrift return to The Garage on May 22. Photo: Trever Long

It’s a rare treat to find a band who so easily transports listeners to another place. It’s even better when the experience is enhanced during their live sets. On multiple occasions while watching LA’s Spindrift perform, I’ve felt the transformative and utterly delightful power of their mostly instrumental and moody spaghetti western songs. The music is driven by its imagery, and surprisingly, it is done without the use of many lyrics.

“When I first started composing songs … I [always] saw it more as the instrumentals telling a story,” says Spindrift’s guitarist, Kirpatrick Thomas. “[The instrumentals] put you in a different place. For me, that was more important than what the lyrical content was.” Driven by ethereal melodies, Spindrift’s music paints a vivid picture of life in a romanticized Old West. During their show at The Garage last November, as they played through their set to a packed room and I stood on top of one of the booths to see over the sweaty masses, the performance became playful and one of the most memorable of any band I’ve seen. My friends and I staged fake gunfights, roped cattle, rode horses into the sunset, saved damsels in distress from railroad tracks and, of course, walked through imaginary saloon doors to shoot whiskey and claim a whore for the night. Sound absurd? I’m sure that’s how we looked, but as Spindrift played through their set, the film reel that clicked through my head was beyond epic.

It’s not surprising that Spindrift’s music has a cinematic quality—an interest in working in the film industry is actually what led Thomas to relocate Spindrift from Delaware to Los Angeles in 1998. “We weren’t breaking any ground as far as moving the band ahead with a following,” says Thomas. “We wanted to get involved with soundtrack composing. We decided the movie industry would be the place to get started with that.”

Their music has appeared in HBO’s East Bound and Down, Quentin Tarantino’s Hell Ride and their own film, The Legend of God’s Gun, based on their album of the same name. In 2012 alone, their music is set to appear in a new Christian Slater film called El Diablo and director Burke Roberts’ The Legend of the Widower Colby Wallace.  Thomas says he believes that it is through the band’s extensive touring that they’ve landed such gigs. “I think [touring] is the only reason that people have chosen Spindrift as their act to score something or heard our music [and wanted] to place it in a film. I think those go hand in hand—playing live and refining your music, getting exposed and writing new material that’s awesome and creative,” says Thomas.

The move to Southern California obviously opened the door to work on soundtracking, but Thomas says relocating from the East Coast to the western desert

also influenced the group’s sound. “When we moved to the desert, it redefined the whole thing and gave it purpose. It was the expanse and the myth of the desert that really helped us to identify with what we were trying to grasp beforehand.” Since the move, the band has had some significant lineup changes (many of which occurred in 2009) and currently consists of Henry Evans on bass, Luke Dawson on pedal steel and guitar, Sasha Vallely-Certik on vocals, mellosonic and flutes, and Utah native James Acton on drums and autoharp.

Although Spindrift has made a name for themselves with eerie, electric-based songs that score contemporary grindhouse films and westerns, Thomas says their newest material ventures off the dusty, beaten path. Thomas, who was sitting in his home-studio when I spoke with him, is currently at work on a new Spindrift album, which he hopes to release by fall of 2012.  “This record is more of a home studio project, stripping down some of our qualities to make them more up-front, more intimate and close sounding,” he says. “I think it is a unique thing, kind of a crossover record. We are moving into more Western territory as far as folk, but still retaining some of that classic spaghetti western sound.”

Despite having a new record in the works, Thomas says it is unlikely that they will play many of the songs on their upcoming six-week tour because so many members have adjusted their instrumentation for it. Evans, who typically plays a double neck bass, learned to play a stand-up bass and Thomas says many of the tracks feature an acoustic instead of an electric guitar. “There are all kinds of minimalistic qualities on the new record that we are going to have to figure out how to adapt … to get it out to the same audience,” says Thomas.

On May 22, these psychedelic desert dwellers will return to The Garage at the tail end of their six-week headlining tour. Bring your boots, an imaginary rope and be ready to slap yourself onto an invisible saddle—Spindrift will take you on one hell of a ride.