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Spafford Breaks Out | An Interview With Brian Moss

By: Carmel O'Farrell (@carmelocorn)

What was the last nationally known jamband to come out of Arizona?  Hell, it's been awhile since any band has risen from the Grand Canyon State.  But I can assure you, Spafford is about to break out.

The foursome is about to make their first trip to the Midwest and already pre-show buzz has fans rabid about the big debut. In fact, tickets to their show at Tonic Room in Chicago (9/30) sold out in less than two hours.

Midwest fans take note, that's just one stop on a tour that will take them to four different cities in the region (five if you count Lincoln, NE).  We'll even set some of our readers up with a pair of tickets to their performance at Milwaukee's Miramar Theater on -- click here for details.

This Southwest based jam machine describes themselves as "electro funk therapy" and with five years of cultivating improv under their belts, they just might be the next big thing. This tour wasn't even in the books when the year began, but when the market practically demanded their attention, Spafford gleefully obliged.

Front man Brian Moss recently chatted with Tomorrow's Verse about the "Breakout Tour", the band's history, and the therapy they provide through live music. 

TV: Ok so first things first, do you believe in aliens?

BM: Personally, I do and the band does also. We've had some nights under the Colorado sky talking about other planets... but yes, we believe.

Now we can get into the nitty gritty. Tell me some of the back story behind Spafford. How and when did the band first form?

Well, Jordan (Fairless) and I met each other in Prescott, AZ. I came from a history of playing shows with live bands and a little bit of touring as well. He came from a gospel background and playing in churches. His father is a pastor, so back in Tennessee he would play drums and bass for the church.

We met up in Prescott and started playing some songs that I wrote. He was on the djembe and I was on the acoustic guitar. We hit up a bunch of open mics. Prescott is kind of an oldie sort of town and he and I were playing some new age stuff, really funky stuff and people were really starting to get engaged with it.

So a place that held open mics was looking for an act for New Years Eve 2009 and we were doing one of our sets one night when they approached us... but they were looking for a band. We were like, "all we need is a bass player and we can put together a band."

So they were like "Cool, we will give you $100." And we were like, "WHAAAT?! $100?! Really?! THAT'S AWESOME!" So we found a bass player through previous bands I've played with. We put together maybe 15 songs and we wound up just playing them that night with this bass player.

We ended up repeating "Midnight Rider" by the Allman Brothers like three times. We just didn't have enough material.

Was this a bar on Whiskey Row?

Yes it was a bar on Whiskey Row. The infamous Coyote Joe's which is no longer there, but it was probably the hottest place this town has ever seen. Right at the heart when we were doing all that stuff in 2010 and 2011 Coyote Joe's was the place to be in Prescott.

It is no longer here and it was devastating to the town. The place is still there and they keep opening up with new management but it just never has the same feel.

Is there any meaning behind the name Spafford?

Well, we were doing these open mic nights and we already let everyone know we were doing New Years. Then they were kind of like, "So what's the name of your group?" And that's probably the hardest thing to come up with. We didn't know what to do.

One of my buddies was going to law school and he called me up one day and said, "Hey Moss, I got a great name for a band. You guys should use it! It's called Officious Tortfeasor. It's a law term for a general wrong doer."

And I was like, "oh man that's so cool like we are kind of wrong doers some times and that's really awesome."

So we go to the next open mic night and there were all these people who had been coming to see us for weeks and we were like "Alright everyone we got our band name!" And they were like "Fuck yeah! What is it?" and we were like "Officious Tortfeasor!" and the place fell silent.

There were so many moans and murmurs. They said it was the worst band name they had ever heard. So on the mic I go, "You guys don't like that band name? Fine. The name of the band is Bob."

They were like "awe fuck you're killing us! No, just no." My buddy was in the crowd and I was looking at him and I ask, "Chuck, what do we do?" And he was like "I don't know!" Well Chuck's middle name is Spafford and we always thought that it was the coolest name ever. So I just decided in the moment that the band's name was Spafford. 

An improvised band name?

Yeah kind of an improvised band name. About a year after that Chuck started working for the band. He is now our lighting director and also writes a lot of poems that we try to turn into songs as well. Chuck is a very integral part of the band now and it just so happens we named the band after him before we knew how important he was to us.

What are some of the band's main influences?

Well everyone has different influences and it's really crazy how it all came together. I came from a background of listening to a lot of jambands like the Dead, Phish, and the Disco Biscuits. But I also studied jazz for awhile so I am really into guitar players like Pat Metheny and Wes Montgomery... Al Di Meola.

Then Jordan loves Dispatch and Incubus. He came from more of a rock background. Nick (Tkachyk) studied traditional jazz. He's our drummer. He is also into a lot of drum and bass and electronic music. He is also a DJ on the side. Then Red (Andrew Johnson) was into a lot of jambands as well... and a lot of soul singers and piano players. That whole combination is Spafford. Somehow it just works.

What about non-musical influences, what inspires you guys to create music?

(long pause)

Hello?

Yea.

Sorry I thought I lost you.

That is a very deep seated question. I wasn't expecting it to hit me as hard as it did, I've never been asked that before. Really, it's just life. We are just moving through this life and we are all seeing it through a different lens. Each song that we write or each night that we perform, each guy is kind of looking at it through a different lens. That just brings out emotions for each individual. The most magical nights are when we are all looking at life through the same lens. 

So when you travel and play in different cities, do you notice that come through in your music?

Absolutely. Touring is not an easy thing to do. If it was, everyone would be doing it. Being on the road, taking those long trips, loss-less nights of sleep and all that... it's tough. But each night becomes different by how we are influenced by our environment. Travel influences us to play each night a lot differently. 

How does Spafford typically approach improvisation?

Essentially, there are some songs that just have a jam section. We go through our composed parts and then when the jam part happens there are several different ways to approach it. One way is that everyone listens to who is leading. Like if Jordan is on fire that night playing the bass, then we have to be able to follow him. Because if he is hearing something or feeling something, we have to be able to dedicate what we want to play to what he is doing.

We've all been playing together for a few years now, so when he starts going somewhere, we usually know what he wants to hear from the rest of us to complement him. That is generally where the improv goes... it's follow the leader. 

Tell me about the Cabin Jam on Soundcloud...

We were in Colorado in December of last year and we had access to a cabin.  The cabin is in Chuck's family and we'd talked about going up there for years. So we wound up there and kind of disengaged from life to hang out with just each other. To be honest we weren't even planning on setting up.

We got there and it was really snowy outside. We were playing old board games from the 1980's that were like stuffed into the cabinets. The house was really small and cozy, then we decided to pull out our stuff. We set up just like we would anywhere else and had our board with us and access to internet so we just went for it. We decided to throw it out there live.

I think it was a Wednesday night so the initial appeal from our listeners was big because who is really doing anything on a Wednesday night? So everyone was streaming it, but we didn't really think anything of it, we just played. The truth is, when we have practices that's generally how it turns out. This one was just captured live on audio.

For us it wasn't really anything different, it was just an opportunity for everyone else to really hear it. Chuck wound up setting up some lights in there and, just being so far away from everything, it was one of those moments were everyone was seeing life through the same lens and we all just let it go. It was very relieving. 

Do you think you will be doing something like that again?

It's something we don't want to force, but yes. Believe it or night we've had a few people call us to tell us they had cabins in various places around the country. So yeah, people are very interested in supporting the "Cabin Sessions" and we might take them up on those offers.

What is your favorite kind of jam sandwich?

What do you mean?

Like when you have a song then flow into another song but then go back into the original song.

Oh you mean like segues. Yeah, for me personally, I like anything we haven't done yet. Not all songs are easy to get from one key to the other so the joy is finding it out, especially with improv, how to modulate to the various keys you have to go into and then head back. That's when we really start going out there and segueing into really different songs.

Is that something you will plan out in advance or does it just happen when it happens?

When we write set lists down, they rarely get followed at all. Which is really difficult and that is why sometimes there is so much improv. Usually we are all feeling something and if we are all on the same page, then it starts going somewhere... maybe it's like a song or two down the setlist and I am like "Oh shit we are going into 'Ain't that Wrong' just get there" and we wind up making it happen. So really, the unexpected is my favorite kind of jam sandwich. 

You guys describe yourself as "electro funk therapy," what exactly does that mean?

We wanted a genre that really described who we thought we were. We love funk and it's almost a surefire way to get people up and dancing. The electro is also a lot of the inspiration; I use a lot of guitar pedals, Jordan uses a lot of effects, Red has four keyboards up there, and Nick has several different drums he uses with his auxiliary kit. So we have a lot of opportunity to go electronic if we need to and often times you can find us there. Then the therapy is the release from your day, all your worries and what you've been going through in life. Come with us and get some relief.

Does the "therapy" element help cultivate the community that surrounds your music?

Our following was something we didn't really ask for. To be completely honest, the therapy was originally just for us. I think that there are so many different people out there that connect with music without playing an instrument. That's what the fans are for.

I personally have never been a big fan of live music, I always wanted to be the musician on stage and that's where I connect with it. But I know a lot of people that can't hold a tune, but by God they understand exactly what the band is doing at that very moment. You know I will be in a jam and really connecting with the song. Then I get off the stage and a fan will be like that same portion of the song was what did it for me. That's where that connection comes from.

But yeah, initially that therapy idea was for us. Eventually, what was healing us started to really heal other people as well.

Let's talk about the "Breakout Tour" you guys have coming up in September. How did that come about? Why now?

If we don't do it now, we feel the Midwest might shun us for the rest of our lives!

There has been an overwhelming amount of people that have been asking for us in the Midwest. I am not entirely sure how our name got out there. I think it was just a few different people and word of mouth that made that happen. Basically, it's time to go and give these people what they want. There are a lot of people that know what we are doing and what a shame it would be to not fulfill their wishes.

What were some challenges getting to this point? What are some pros/cons of coming from so far west?

Honestly, the biggest problem that we face is transportation. Every bus and every van we've ever had has exploded on us. 

So all that is finally worked out?

No, not at all. We have no idea how we are getting there. (laughs) If anyone has a bus they want to loan us, we'll take it! We will be fine though, we will figure it out. If I have to ride a bike there, I'll fucking ride a bike.

Though you've been around for awhile, you are about to expose your music to a whole new audience. Is there any apprehension in that? 

No.

Alright, what do you want these folks to know about Spafford before they dive into a live show?

Don't have any expectations. I mean, we go into every night not having any expectations either. It allows you to open up yourself to what's about to happen.

If we wanted to dive deeper into your catalog, where should we start?

There are a bunch of ways. Archive.org is a great place to start. We have over 100 shows from the last five years up on there. We're constantly adding live recordings and highlights from shows to Soundcloud as well.

We've got a studio album and a few live releases available on Spotify and iTunes and we do our best to keep people up to date about new additions to these platforms via Facebook, Twitter and our website.

While we try to get get as much free music out as possible, we also like money. Our Bandcamp page has all of the Spotify and iTunes stuff as well as a March 2015 release that's only available there. The Bandcamp material is all about 5 bucks with the option to pay more if you want. So, if you feel like tossing a few extra bucks into the Spafford pot, we won't complain!

 

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