Ghost Riding an Econoline: Spell Talk Cruises Into Craft Lake City

Jared Phelps, vocals/bass/keys, & Dylan Roe, guitar/harmonica. Photo: Dave Newkirk

Walking into the home of Andrew Milne and Jared Phelps is like walking onto the set of an independent film about hometown rock heroes on the verge of making it. The walls of the kitchen are decorated with hand screen-printed flyers promoting past shows. The living room boasts a massive collection of vinyl and a record player. They share their home with a dog named Wild Bill, a spider that lives in an ancient converted television set, and one of my fellow SLUG writers. A run-down Econoline van sits in their driveway stuffed with various pillows and sleeping bags—still packed from their most recent West coast tour. It’s a Monday night and they all seem to be in a state of semi-recovery from the weekend before. Milne spent his Saturday in a red dress and apparently “took a lot of acid.” Another band member, Sammy Harper, woke up to an unfinished keg, which was followed by massive amounts of day drinking at a local reservoir. Despite their various states of weekend disrepair, they manage to pull their shit together long enough to make spaghetti dinner with homemade pasta sauce, set the table and pair each meal with a cold can of Olympia beer.


Longtime friends, Milne, Harper and Phelps formed Spell Talk in 2007 while living in an Ogden neighborhood where drive-by shootings and molotov-cocktailed cars were commonplace. “I remember playing in that basement a lot and it had a really eerie feeling. I think that helped our rock n’ roll,” Harper says. Shortly after the band’s first West Coast tour, they moved to Salt Lake City to join what they saw as a more active music and art community. “When I was in Ogden I just felt like I got on this page and I never got off that page. That’s why I wanted to move. Here everyone is doing things … it’s a creative place,” says Phelps.


In September 2009, the three piece became four when Dylan Roe joined the band playing second guitar, harmonica and helping out with vocals. Roe says that he feels hailing from Ogden has had an affect on the band’s sound that makes them stick out in the Salt Lake music scene. “Everyone knows Ogden has a big blue collar thing. These guys definitely have … something really charming. It’s hard to explain,” Roe says.


Spell Talk plays blues and psychedelia-infused rock n’ roll in the vein of groups like Dead Meadow, The Black Lips and The Entrance Band—who the band cites as a major influence. “[Guy Blakeslee of Entrance] got the delta and the piedmont, playing more than one style of guitar all at once,” Roe says. “And then he’s psychedelic, which is another thing that we’re really into,” Milne adds. “It’s a real honor to be compared to those guys … because they’re good, dude … that bass player is good ...”


Since the spring of 2010, Spell Talk has become one of the bigger fish in the small pond that is Salt Lake’s music scene—and for good reason. In February they won first place at the 2010 CWMAs. In March, they recorded Ghost Rider live on Circus Brown’s Not a Side Show radio program on KRCL 90.9 FM. After opening for Imaad Wasif at Urban Lounge on April 5, they were asked to accompany him on tour throughout the southeastern United States during the first part of May. Before hitting the road with Imaad they released Ghost Rider. June put them back at KRCL 90.9 FM playing a station benefit, before hitting the road again solo during the first weeks of July for a West Coast tour.


“We do everything that we can to promote and get people to our shows and share our music with everybody,” Phelps says. This work includes the man-hours that the band puts in to create hand screen-printed album covers, bags, posters and t-shirts—something that has been made possible due to Milne’s job at local screen printing company Spilt Ink. “I get to use [the print shop] on my own time. It really helps, that stuff can get expensive—being able to get it at cost has helped us a lot.” Spilt Ink isn’t the only thing that they credit for their success. “We have a lot of friends in high places,” Roe says—Bad Brad Wheeler, SLUG Magazine, KRCL in general and Jeremi Hanson of Band of Annuals are a few that they rattle off.


A striking feature of Spell Talk is that they don’t quite seem to realize how talented they are. When talking about their live show, the band uses the now-defunct Vile Blue Shades as the local barometer. “I think every band in Salt Lake probably aspires to have as much energy on stage as Vile Blue Shades. They are the standard that every band in Salt Lake holds themselves up to as far as a live show goes,” Roe says. “I’m happy with the direction we’re going, but there is always somewhere we could go. We’re always trying to press on to that.”


Although Spell Talk enjoys playing Salt Lake and doesn’t have any tours planned in the near future, it’s clear that they are eager to get back on the road. “[Touring] two or three times a year sounds awesome. Seriously, whenever it’s possible,” Milne says. “The opportunity to be able to go out, it’s pretty much a unanimous decision between all four of us that we want to go.” Harper adds, “It’s pretty awesome going to some other city and just doing what you want to do with your best friends.” If Spell Talk was simply a band in a film, this is where the director would introduce their tour montage.


Even though the band is grounded in Salt Lake for the time being, they are far from stagnant. August finds them playing the local mountain music festival Uncle Uncanny’s on August 13, SLUG’s own Craft Lake City at the Gallivan on August 14 and opening for The Growlers on August 29 at Urban Lounge.


Looking into their future, the band has even bigger plans. First they plan to use the free studio time with Back Bone Studios in Colorado that they earned from playing Desert Rocks Music Festival in May 2010. Recording is only the tip of the iceberg for Spell Talk, though. “[We’re] all really sick of all this rent we’re paying. We want to get a bus, a tour bus with veggie oil and just travel and play music,” says Phelps. “This tour we’re going to try to do the whole United States.” The tour in question won’t start until next spring, a decision that Harper says is so the band has plenty of time to save money, book the tour out and, of course, buy a veggie-oil powered bus.

Jared Phelps, vocals/bass/keys, & Dylan Roe, guitar/harmonica. Photo: Dave Newkirk Sammy Harper, drums, & Andrew Milne, guitar/vocals. Photo: Dave Newkirk