Bubblegum Thunderstorm: Spell Talk Crackles and Booms

Spell Talk hits the road this October with a tour that culminates in a performance at CMJ Music Festival: (L-R) Andrew Milne, Jared Phelps, Elle Rasmussen, Sammy Harper and their dog, Billy. Photo: Peter Anderson

I barely beat the rain as I roll into an open garage where drummer Sammy Harper of Spell Talk shoots a game of pool on a worn down table. Bassist Jared Phelps shuffles about while guitarist Andrew Milne lounges on a couch next to new member and rhythm guitarist Elle Rasmussen, who quietly smokes a cigarette. The quartet is like a calm set of siblings on another stormy day, but they keep a loud secret in their pockets: a physically engaging album that will have you ready to stomp your feet and holler along with the band’s newborn thunder.

Touch It!, the fourth full-length since 2008, (the third under the current band name) features a faster Spell Talk with short, accessible sing-alongs that have gotten ladies and gents going wild at their recent performances. Phelps says of the style switch, “We stayed away from that really droney psych rock … We’re not going with that angle like we used to be. It’s straight rock n’ roll [now].” A couple of Saturday nights at The Jackalope have confirmed this shift—you can’t pass the stage without being engulfed by eddies of dancers getting their jig fix. “We started moving a lot more onstage, [too],” Milne says. “When you play that garage-y punk rock kind of shit, you can get down in people’s faces.” Though the new material is simpler, the stripped down approach provides a more energetic—and thus fun—experience for all parties involved. Harper says, “We’ve got to get [the crowd] going and then they get us going.”

What drove Spell Talk to up the tempo was Phelps’ and Milne’s involvement in the now-defunct Devy and the Diamonds with Rasmussen. Phelps became daft about the simple guitar work and the loud percussion of the Diamonds, and aimed to replicate that vigorous style in a new band upon DatD’s breakup. When he approached Harper about playing drums for the proposed project, they opted to incorporate two old Diamonds songs into Spell Talk’s set—“Drugs and Buds” and “Dirty Girls”—which Rasmussen played a major role in composing. Rasmussen thus began to occasionally accompany Spell Talk to create the same energy found in Devy and the Diamonds. Once former guitarist Dylan Roe left the band due to artistic growth in a different direction, the three chums asked Rasmussen to be a permanent fixture in Spell Talk to form a new, sexier lineup. Milne says, “Dylan’s guitar style is very unique … We wanted something a little more subtle.” They, however, hold no ill will toward Roe: “We love the kid. He’s fucking rad,” says Phelps.

“Elle brings a breath of fresh air of energy to the band,” Harper says. A strong familial vibe emanates between the four members as they reflect on coming together after being friends for so long. Harper says, “I don’t know if you have any idea how much homie-ness is with these four people!” When I ask Rasmussen what it’s like to play rock n’ roll with three stinky dudes, she demurely says, “It’s the joy of my life.” She turned down a job in Paris in order to keep playing with the band, help them kick off Touch It! and go on an upcoming tour. She says, “Music’s always been a big part of my life … I write some of my own things and I’m just jamming right now. This is what I do.”

With Rasmussen’s groove in tow, Spell Talk have taken on a new approach to song writing. Rather than building songs individually, they have taken to working out tunes together to create the organic energy that has burst through their live sets lately. As one of the hardest working bands in Salt Lake’s underground scene, they were quick to take the new material to Terrance DH at Counterpoint and pumped out the jams in a mere two days, except for the closing acoustic track “Drugs and Buds,” which they recorded at Justin Langford’s Great West Saloon in early September. “We’re still just busting through the grind to go get the ticket and do this kind of shit,” Milne says. The band released Touch It! at Urban Lounge on Sept. 30 with Max Pain and the Groovies and Dark Seas. Touch It! is Spell Talk’s first release on vinyl, which includes a digital download, but for those with broken record players like me, the release is also available on CD.

Make sure you pick up Touch It! as soon as you can, because Spell Talk has worked with Jeremy Hansen of Bear Talk Booking Agency for an October tour. Another reason to pick up the release pronto is for street cred: The band has worked with Zach Iser, a promoter in New York City, which landed them a spot at the CMJ Music Marathon that runs Oct. 18-22. Once those New Yorkers hear these tasty rock n’ roll jams, you’ll want to say you heard ’em first, right here in Salt Lake.

Although Spell Talk is lighting up the sky, they haven’t forgotten how they got here. Milne expresses his gratitude for the owners of Urban Lounge and Kilby Court: “Lance [Saunders] and Will [Sartain] have really helped us out … Without those guys in town, it wouldn’t be the same.” Rasmussen and Harper agree, which is only fitting—the four friends nurture a symbiotic, musical bond that keeps them going. “Every show we play seems to top it, every time. It just gets better,” Rasmussen says. Phelps encapsulates the sentiment in one phrase: “It’s bubblegum, baby.”

Spell Talk hits the road this October with a tour that culminates in a performance at CMJ Music Festival: (L-R) Andrew Milne, Jared Phelps, Elle Rasmussen, Sammy Harper and their dog, Billy. Photo: Peter Anderson