Spires is a brand-new band, by traditional standards. The band made its debut just after the first of the year, which, in the blogosphere, could be considered a lifetime ago. Regardless, you'd never know Spires was a freshly minted act just from listening to its self-titled four-song debut. The inherent sophistication of the songwriting, the way these four guys make such fragile music sound so huge, is beyond impressive — and, as it turns out, not entirely without explanation. Spires hasn't exactly emerged from nowhere.
"We didn't want to just be doing whatever," says frontman Justin Sharp, who formed Spires last year with drummer Marlon Chance, a bandmate of his in various endeavors over the past six years. "We had an idea what a Spires song would be. It started off as just like a studio thing, and we were just going to be making recordings in the garage."
But then last fall, when those recordings made their way to some other scene veterans — Ian Gassman, from Night Owl, and Jake Lueck — suddenly the quartet's lineup was solidified. Straight away, you can hear the influence of bands like Slowdive in the music of Spires, particularly on songs like "Two Lakes," which appears on the Act So Big Forest compilation Triton: The track captures the dreamy introspection and emotional intensity of early-'90s dream pop.
Spires EP release, with Radiation City, Hunter Dragon and Mischievous Mistress, 8 p.m. Saturday, August 13, Yellow Feather Coffee, donation, all ages, 303-825-1700.
"We were listening to Slowdive very heavily when we started writing 'Two Lakes' and actually started composing stuff for this band," Chance confirms before going on to list other acts like Echo & the Bunnymen, '80s-era Sonic Youth and R.E.M. as influences. "To me," Chance muses, "the '80s is kind of after the really junky recording quality of the '60s and '70s, but before the too-hyper-polished stuff of the late '90s and 2000s.
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"In between there," he continues, "you've got the '80s and your Sonic Youths and all that stuff, and you've got the '90s alternative rock, where it's clean recording. It's done well, and there's enough character to it, but it's not too hyper-polished; it has a lot of tone to it. They can write a pop song that doesn't sound like garbage. The largeness of the drum sound in an '80s pop song especially appeals to me. It doesn't have to be a heavy song for the drums to be really powerful."
Guitar tone is an equally important part of that era's aesthetic, and it's something Spires is keenly focused on. Sharp and Gassman both use Fender Twin Reverbs and delay pedals to create expansive, swirly sounds that transport the listener in a way that the clean sound favored by many pop purists never really can. "The actual arrangement of the song, and the sound that you're going for, is informed by your gear," Sharp notes. "A new piece of gear, a pedal, a guitar, an amp or something — it sounds stupid or cliché, sort of — but it can inspire you to move in a different direction and write a different sort of song."
The new EP, which is being issued on Patient Sounds (Intl), an imprint run by Matt Sage of Kick Majestic, is a bit of a landmark for the members of Spires because of their individual history with previous musical projects. Sharp and Chance first came together in the Fort Collins-based edgy dream-pop band That Silver Shell. "The first show we played," Chance recalls, "was anywhere from seven- to fifteen-minute instrumental prog-metal songs."
"If you can call it that," Sharp interjects. The four-piece eventually added vocals, and the songwriting expanded and evolved into something akin to a spiky version of Failure. But once half the band relocated to Denver in early 2009, things began to unravel, and That Silver Shell split. Immediately, though, Sharp and Chance formed Good Evening Titan.
"I thought Good Evening Titan was good," says Gassman. "But then their focus was on having Cody on the keyboards and organ and making it based around organ pop and that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, he wasn't as prominent as he should have been, and they wanted to add another guitarist. I was talking with Marlon at Bar Bar and said, 'I just got a Twin, and I can play guitar, so maybe we should jam.' They had me come over. Slowly, Cody and Dan decided to dissolve away from that band."
From the formation of Spires to the completion of the new EP, the band's progress thus far represents a rather significant breakthrough for everybody involved. "We've always thought we had a curse," bemoans Chance. "With That Silver Shell, we got ripped off for like five hundred bucks trying to record. With Titan, every time we've tried to record, gear failed."
"Either the band falls apart, something blows up, or some super debt happens," Sharp chimes in.
"Everything I did in Night Owl, my previous band," says Gassman, "we didn't take the time, and it didn't sound quality. With this, it wasn't like it was a ton of time. I just think Justin and Marlon know what they're doing, as opposed to before, when a bandmate of mine tried to take everything over and didn't really know what he was doing. I think these recordings came out really well, and hopefully we'll have more and more. Now we have the garage and gear, and we can keep recording and recording and keep it going."
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Spires happens to be an exceptional batch of recordings, an accomplished, lush group of pop songs worthy of any of the band's influences. The music leaves a strong emotional impression while simultaneously inviting a listener's own interpretation of Sharp's lyrics. Rather than offer an expository rendering of a distinctive experience, Sharp's words are impressionistic and don't attempt to impose meaning. "I think the lyrics, in a way, are mimicking the music," says Sharp. "It's a wash, not a linear, direct sort of thing. I've always been turned off by that sort of concrete-meaning thing. Even listening to music, it's hard for me to relate to that sort of lyrical approach."
For all the conventional gorgeousness of the music, Spires still considers itself a noisy band, but this may be because of its experience playing small stages, like Yellow Feather Coffee, where physical copies of the new recording will be available this week. "As far as the music goes," Lueck offers, "it's going to be noisy anyway, so there's not going to be that pristine characteristic that you can achieve in one place that we're going for."
"It always sounds weird up on a stage, because it's totally isolated from what the audience is hearing," concludes Sharp. "That's another reason why I like small venues. Most of the time you're standing almost in the middle of the room, there's no stage, and you're hearing exactly what everyone else is hearing, for the most part."
With such a massive and immediately engaging sound, you get the sense that these guys aren't going to be playing small rooms for much longer.