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Spindrift: Ghost of the West, and interview with Kirpatrick Thomas

Get ready to saddle up and take a journey through the Old West, just like of the pioneers, cowboys, miners and gunfighters might have done in the 1800s. On August 3 and 4 at the Star Theater, the self proclaimed “psychedelic western influenced cinematic rock band”, Spindrift, will be passing through Portland as the band screens for the first time, their 2012 film, Spindrift: Ghost of the West, that was shot on location throughout their 21-ghost town tour of the West, and providing a present day reflection on their journey back in time; filmed in the present day.

Spindrift - Ghost of the West
Spindrift

Over the band’s twenty-plus year career, Spindrift has experienced numerous changes, both personal and personnel, from its beginnings in Newark, Delaware in 1992, to the band’s move West in 2001 to Los Angeles. Today, founding member, band leader and current wagon master, Kirpatrick Thomas, has been the guiding force of its ambitious film and music projects. In addition to holding down his songwriting, composing, producing and acting duties, guitarist Thomas will be joined by Henry Evans on bass and baritone guitar, Parisian Thomas Bellier on guitar and vocals, and James Acton drums and autoharp.

Their current press release reveals more about Spindrift’s film project, a ghost town tour of the Western U.S., performed live at national parks, historical sites, vast deserts, and strange and forgotten locations. Bringing a director along with them, they put together an original film— Spindrift: Ghost of the West -- which is full of hauntingly gorgeous landscapes set to a soundtrack of trippy, reverb-soaked tracks. The official soundtrack was released last year on Tee Pee Records, but this summer marks the first-ever screenings of the film.

Heavily influenced by such bands as The Doors, My Bloody Valentine, Hawkwind, Bruce Haack, and Chrome, Spindrift’s early stages were heavier, experimental, and differed greatly from their present Ennio Morricone inspired sound. In a recent phone interview with Thomas, he elaborated about Spindrift’s musical journey and his excitement about the upcoming tour. He shared his personal revelations and transformation of the ghost town experience, and the intrigue and allure of the American West.

Starting with what Thomas’ and Spindrift’s inspiration has been after twenty years of performing he replied, “I'd say it’s a labor of love that has paid off in all sorts of ways. It’s crossing the boundaries of something I do out of passion and the need to do music. But it’s also now turning into a small business of sorts”, citing their recently signed publishing contract with the major licensing company Chrysalis/BMG in April.

Thomas enthusiastically continued, “We really get a kick out of doing projects about the western United States in particular, and western cinema, that’s what our expertise has been and where our passion lies. And it goes from wanting to do the kind of music that has an expansive sound, and searching for a style of music that is large and widespread when you hear it – big twangy guitars, big, wide, deep vocals. Like epic pieces of music that are slow and make you feel you’re somewhere else -- some vast, giant, endless sort of place -- that’s the kind of thing we like to portray with our music and I think the West does that the best.”

When envisioning the Old West, there were many characters in its history. Where does Thomas fit in with those characters? He thoughtfully responded, “I am a traveler, an anonymous witness recording and reporting what should be spoken about, sung about, and with a melody. A person that needs to report on what’s out there, and my best form of medium of communication is music.”

Asked what was Spindrift’s Manifest Destiny to the West was and Thomas explained, “One of the reasons I left the East Coast is because I felt that Spindrift was being constricted. I didn’t feel like it was a place we could grow. We needed that expanse to grow, which was good for us.

Thomas continued, “It’s interesting, the band started on the East Coast, making our way to the West Coast. And how are careers as musicians opened up; and as people, and our lives. It’s the classic pioneer goes west, 'the grass is green on the other side', you know, or the grass is browner on the other side”, adding with reflective laughter. “And that’s interesting to say. It was a classic American type of trip. Our journey when Spindrift went from East Coast to West Coast, all happened the usual way you kind of read about, like with the pioneers. You go through the ups and downs, you go through the rocky terrain making it out to the West. Then, you gotta make due for yourself once you’re out here. You’ve gotta stake your claim and I think we’ve done that. Definitely moving out here is the greatest thing I could have done for myself. It’s changed my life completely and I don’t regret it one bit. Nor do I regret growing up on the East Coast and getting the band started over there. It’s just been what the journey’s been all about."

Spindrifts’ embrace of cinematic musical scores have an infused western music element, and has been featured in numerous films and shorts including The Legend of God’s Gun, The Legend of Widower Colby Wallace, and Dark Mountain, the later which will be shown as part of the August 3 presentation, and speaks to the Spindrift experience. Thomas shared about how that inspiration came about before saying, “I think when we moved out West, when I saw the expanse and horizons on all kind of levels, the music started to really, really transcend what we were looking for. In that sense, musically interpreting what the West is about, and the views that I see is what’s most important for Spindrift. But as far as reporting on the West, I’m also intrigued by the history of the West, and I’m also intrigued by how it’s perceived, and where it can go and what it will be in the future.”

Thomas continued, and reflected on what the Spindrift: Ghost of the West experience meant, I think doing the ghost town tour we did in October 2012, where we traveled across the American West for five weeks, we played in 21 different ghost towns (including stops in the Mojave Desert, Brisbee and Tombstone, Arizona, up through Wyoming and on to Deadwood, South Dakota), and some western museums and monuments (Cathedral Gorge State Park and Arizona’s Sonoran National Desert), and we filmed and documented the whole trip (with Director Burke Roberts, Cinematographers J. T. Gurzi, and Rich Ragsdale). It was done out of the love of the old-style western music, the old cowboy songs -- that was number one. And number two was, the love of the history and being in the West. It’s one thing to be in the West, to take those songs back to where they were born and perform them in the towns where they grew. Perform them on the range, on the trailheads, to perform on the reservations.”

With a 4x4 and film crew in tow, they captured the group traveling, performing and visiting each destination. Thomas recalled some of what the "observer” experience was like. “We were alone for quite some time playing to nobody but ghosts and cows. And every once and awhile, the strange onlooker that would just show up, you know. A lot of places we had to travel by a 4x4 vehicle. Then we had our van and it would get stuck in the desert and we’d wait for a whole day to get the thing towed out, probably typical things the pioneers went through, except without the cell phones."

Getting back to Spindrift’s sound one might combine country and western music into one category but asking for musical clarification to the differences, Thomas provided the following insight about the Western genre.

“I see Western as being more bent towards the cowboy way of life. And Western music is closely related to folk music, as well as other musical influences that come from other pioneers crossing the West. You could say the music of the Appalachians, which was the early West, and then Celtic music the cowboys were carrying across the plains during the cattle drives. I think that anyone who writes a song is influenced by their surroundings, and the way you perform a song is influenced by your surroundings, from primitive to advanced, especially with primitive. You only had the tools to use to make your music, and it reflected what the environment sounded like.

But for the guys doing Carry Me Back to the Prairie, a classic western song that is actually an old Celtic-Irish song, I also think that Western music is the state of mind of the cowboy, the heroic cowboy, and the stories that follow, and where a song might be written about to tell the tales of the cowboy. And obviously, you have the music of the cinema -- the genre of the Western -- like the Great Train Robbery. All the way back to the beginning of film, starting with the Western, you have quite a bit of history from the Western cinema starting it all off, which is another form of Western that is totally unrelated but tied in with it, so there is a relationship.

And I would like to say that Spindrift is definitely a Western band. We do have country elements in our music, pedal steel guitar and the four-part harmonies Nashville-style, with some rockabilly influences. As far as Western, you can look at the classic cowboy myth that we’re in love with as well as the cinematic ideals of the Western.”

Even with the undeniable Western influence and stamp the band puts on its music, there is another distinct added element, psychedelia. Asked to expound on the band’s sound and how it applies today, specifically how does psychedelic apply to Spindrift’s music, Thomas replied, “Our earlier influences for Spindrift on the East Coast, as far as psychedelic is concerned was definitely an influence. We formed around college at the University of Delaware around 1991-92. There was quite a scene going on out there at that time and a lot of bands, in a little bubble of music was happening in the college scene. Every once in awhile these little towns have their time and place where they have a little thing that exploded, you know. And we just happened to be a part of that when that happened. There happened to be a good bit of chemicals floating around campus at that time, and definitely pushed us in a specific direction. It helped to create a more eye-opening experience to make definitively psychedelic music. I can’t deny that some our earlier songs were written under the influence of heavy psychedelics. We took that ideal and kept pushing it forward and touched to where it is now. Where you could say, there’s the idea of 60s pop culture, the psychedelic rock movement, and then there is how that influenced all the music that was happening at that time, everything from cinema to western cinema, like psychedelic western cinema from the 60s.

As far as our version of psychedelic, I would probably have to say that early on it was bent towards the actual chemically induced state. I also believe that later as we moved to the West Coast, honestly, we’d gone through this process and carried it with us, but now I think it’s more a state of mind, more a surrealist outlook. Being a fan of surrealist art and the movement, that was something I look towards as inspiration and how to come across with a new idea or new song, like a piece of music and throwing all these pieces together and making sense. That’s how this whole broad spectrum of psychedelic means to me. To some, it means one thing, and that is LSD, in another way it means an outlook that means you’re crossing the feelings – taste, smell, sight, and hearing, crossing all those senses and you’re creating a whole new bubble out of it. I think the term “psychedelic” these days should probably redefined in Webster’s Dictionary, because there’s such a vast, broad use of the term these days. They have psych fests going on, all these different psychedelic festivals happening, and it’s a very popular musical title to be called these days. It’s interesting to have started when we did, in the early 90s, and to see it change over time. I feel like we’ve always kinda kept it with us in some sort or another."

Although much of Oregon history is associated with Manifest Destiny, gold mining and settling of the West, did Spindrift’s 2012 Ghost Town tour include any stops in Oregon? “Oh no, I’m so sorry. After our performances August 3 and 4 we’re going to have a couple of days where we’ll get to visit some places. I gotta say though, there was one, The Safari Club (closed in March 2013). We did visit there and were trying to get a show happening there, and we were going to do that as a performance but it didn’t happen.

But not only did we play ghost towns but we also played Route 66 style places towns like Tucumcari, NM. It looks like a Route 66 “death town" where you film a zombie movie or something, you know. We were trying to do Route 66 novelty places and The Safari Club was one of the places we were looking into performing at.

"It was kind of incredible we were out for five weeks, 21 different ghost towns. We could have been out there a lot longer than that, there’s just so much, there really is, it seemed like there were places where we talked to the locals and they said check this out and check that out, and we’d show up at this place and nobody was there ever. It just seemed like it was set waiting for us to perform at, the most beautiful thing ever. I was looking at it like, you see all these videos with Rappers Pen Pen and rock stars living that lifestyle, but with Spindrift, if you’re going to do it that way, we’re going to do it this way. This is what our form of pimpin’ is, we’re going to go do this and it’s really going to be bad-ass. It’s our way of enjoying ourselves, and what the music can be and what it can do.”

Having played Portland a couple of dozen times over the year, Spindrift has a growing following in the Northwest, and is one of the bands favorite places to play and visit. With their upcoming show being a multi-media event what can fans expect? Thomas’ excitement continued by saying, “Got say, Portland is a very important place for us to present the film with the soundtrack. We’ve been to Portland many times, we’ve performed there many times, many times. Love it, love it. One of the best cities in the United States, I think. If it wasn’t for the rain and the grayness, I’d be up there more often, but that definitely not enough to keep me away.”

I think it’ll be a great show. The Star Theater is an excellent venue to see it at, where we’re doing two nights there. The first night, August 3, we’re going to do a double feature. The first movie is called Dark Mountain, which was scored by the band and features the song Red Reflection, and is a movie about the Lost Dutchman’s Mine out in Arizona. It’s kind of a suspenseful-horror movie and follows a group of hikers that discover how scary it can be at the mine. We have a song in that, which we’ll be screening, and then the band will perform music from both movies.

I also believe that the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival (online schedule currently not available) is going to present the film on that night so that’s pretty good too. Then on Monday were going to do a regular show with a good variety of all of our songs spanning our whole career and we’ll have some support, good friends come up & perform with us as well. We’ll have an ex-drummer and ex-guitarist/harmonica player up and will be joining up there on stage as well.

You can say this is a whole new presentation we’re going to have. They’re going to get to see a movie and see the band perform the soundtrack live, and that’s a whole new experience. Spindrift doesn’t make it up there as much as we would love to, but we’re doing two nights so everyone can come and check us out. There are probably a lot of people in Portland that haven’t seen us yet. So we want to make sure everyone gets a chance to see this. It’s something really special. And when this film comes out, I really feel it’s a good piece of work and think it will transcend what people think about the west, and it’s going to help address what it is. It’s not just a regular story or a western, this is a story that happens in the West, this is more a story about the West -- what it is now, what it was and what it can be -- and it’s possibilities. And it encompasses the whole thing. I hope everyone can be there to witness what we’re coming up to present, and show some love up there.”

For the very special presentation from the country’s premiere psychedelic western influenced cinematic rock band, Spindrift, and their inspired vision of the glorious Old West, past, present an future, be at the Star Theater August 3, which includes the screening of Spindrift: Ghost of the West, with separate questions and answer sessions with the band and director Tara Anaise. The August 3 schedule is as follows:

5:30pm: Doors
6-7:30pm: introduce & screen Dark Mountain
7:30-7:45pm: Q&A
8-9:15pm: introduce & screen SPINDRIFT:GHOST OF THE WEST
9:15-930pm: Q&A
9:30-10:30pm: SPINDRIFT performs the soundtracks LIVE (plus some other tunes of choice)

The August 4 show that will feature music spanning Spindrift's catalog with Special Guests and former Spindrift band member. Tickets for August 4 are $12. 21 and over.