Spirits Having Fun
Spirits Having Fun records are ones made from and for shows and spaces—arrangements rooted in a deeply collaborative process that come to life through intuitive and locked-in live improvisation. Following their 2019 debut Auto-Portrait, Two finds the New York and Chicago based four-piece continuing to challenge ideas of what a rock band can be, pulling apart their musical experiences and reimagining them as kinetic compositions, equally studied but palpably organic.
Out September 3 via Chicago’s Born Yesterday Records, Two is constructed around gut feelings and strong grooves, elastic rhythms and playful pacing. Its twelve songs expand, contract, and make sharp turns between melodies under singer-guitarist Katie McShane’s meditative lyrics. “Broken Cloud,” which was also released last year on a compilation in support of Chicago Community Jail Support, offers a glimpse into her reflections on the natural world: "A city grew out of the ground / to a mountain it's only a blur."
True to its name, the internal logic of the band is also just a lot of fun, built on trust and deep-rooted musical relationships. Before there was Spirits Having Fun, McShane, bassist Jesse Heasly, guitarist-vocalist Andrew Clinkman, and drummer Phil Sudderberg had performed together in various arrangements over the years. McShane, Heasly and Clinkman met in a specific corner of the Boston underground in 2013, a time when a scene had coalesced around students from local music conservatories frequently collaborating with punk bands and noise artists, exchanging ideas and warping musical worldviews. Heasly and Clinkman played together in Cowboy Band, making mutant, free jazz-inspired takes on old country tunes. When Clinkman moved to Chicago, Heasly and McShane played in experimental groups like EKP and Listening Woman; in Chicago, Clinkman met Sudderberg playing in projects like jazz scene fixture Ken Vandermark’s high-powered band Marker.
Spirits first came together as an attempt at a long-distance collaboration among friends in 2016, driven by the simple feeling of missing each other; they’d meet up for marathon weekends here and there to practice, playing small loops through dive bars and art spaces around the Midwest—just enough for McShane and Heasly to afford plane tickets back home. Being split between Chicago and New York forced the project into a deliberate pace. “We tried to take it slow and let it be what it was,” said McShane.
That sense of patience unexpectedly prepared them for March of 2020, when their planned tours and the release of Two were indefinitely delayed.
Two was mostly recorded in the summer of 2019 with the help of omnipresent Chicago engineer Dave Vettraino and DPCD’s Alec Watson, whose contributions on organ, synths, and piano are laced throughout the record. The album reflects a synthesis of solitary and communal songwriting processes—each song drawing on fragments written by individuals, which McShane threaded together and shaped through her distinct compositional lens, making the songs whole before returning to them to the band to mature collectively. When composing, McShane writes first on the keyboard before adapting parts for guitars played by herself and Clinkman. Their dueling approaches to guitar are complementary: McShane, being a newer guitarist, brings a freshness to the project (“I'm just discovering the whole time,” she says) while Clinkman has been playing since childhood.
“There's a lot more collaboration on this record,” says Clinkman, “in terms of all of us letting stuff bloom a little bit more.” The record’s first single, “Hold The Phone” is a good example of this process—it started with a playful intro riff from Clinkman, a melody and bridge added by McShane, a wobbly outro groove added by Heasly, which Sudderberg brought to life. Another single, the dynamic “See a Sky,” written primarily by Heasly, underscores the rhythm section chemistry at play across the record, the song ebbing and flowing around Heasly and Sudderberg’s eclectic percussive palettes.
- Liz Pelly