In the pecking order of rock-n-roll instruments, the supremacy of the guitar’s screaming array of crunchy chords and searing solos is rarely questioned. However, despite many years as an electrifying axeman in previous bands, singer/bassist Armand Lance of Spirit Mother isn’t delusional about who the real rockstar in his band is. Hint: It’s not the guitarist.
Sipping IPAs on a cold night at 10 Mile Brewery in Signal Hill, Lance shyly points to the casually cool, classically trained violinist Sarah Jane “SJ” Long while explaining the X factor in their mix of pummeling and atmospheric sound.
“I met so many classical musicians who were incredible but for a lot of them, as soon as improvisation came into play, there was just a complete wall between them and their instruments,” Lance says. “That’s one of the main differences between a pop musician and a classical musician and [Sarah] can bridge that gap.”
Starting with a handful of jam sessions between Lance and Long over a year ago a new project took shape and garnered attention from the Long Beach music scene and Thrasher Magazine. The global skateboard publication used several of the band’s songs in their King of the Road web series. Their blend of psych rock, punk attitude and out-front violin is primed for a debut album which is almost completed. Though Lance’s prolific songwriting keeps him busy, he reminds himself to give his lyricism and playing style room to breathe and “not get too wordy.”
“That’s something younger musicians do a lot, they like showing off their chops and writing really complex music that isn’t as much for the sake of the song,” Long says. It’s sage advice, considering that her instrument is central to songs like “Space Cadets” and “Black Sheep” (two of the new songs picked up by Thrasher).
Whether playing in staccato or flourishes of bowed sound, Long’s parts are the stitching that hold Lance and current guitarist Sean McCormick and drummer Landon Cisneros together. It’s congruent with her life outside of music as an EMT in LA County. Specializing in critical care and psychiatrics, her graveyard shift horror stories run deep, yet music provides a welcome respite from bouts of on-call, late night chaos.
“Practice is a nice getaway from that kind of stuff, a lot of the people I deal with and see ends up reminding me that shit’s pretty good,” Long says.
Earlier this year, the band began working with producer Jonny Bell at Jazz Cats Studios in Long Beach to take their skills to the next level.
There, the seasoned artist and Crystal Antlers frontman encouraged the band to try techniques that bought the vitality of their live show into the studio setting. Offering a wide array of vintage pedals, amps and other gear, the band played around with Long’s acoustic violin sound to cultivate its dark, looming presence. Her go-to pedals on her effect board Lance built include a loop station and reverb run through a tube amp as if it were a guitar.
“The nice thing about it is that there are some rock violinists out there but not a ton so it’s not like I have a ton of competition so it’s easy to stand out,” Long says. “With violin it’s easier to find your own sound.”
Opting to put off releasing their completed album right away in favor of releasing singles seems to be working out well, as Spirit Mother continues to grow at their own pace.
“We’re in the process of learning how to do it properly and we’re proud of it and we don’t want to waste it,” Lance says.
Sipping casually on his beer, Lance looks knowingly at Long who, even in casual conversation, feels that the band is on to something. They have a sound worth sharing but they also guard it as closely. It’s a reminder that a band shouldn’t be so loud that it’s unable to listen to its own gut.
“We’re just trying to be patient and figure out what’s best,” Long says.
Spirit Mother performs with Bundy, Forest of Tongue and TV Heads at Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292, http://www.alexsbar.com., Thursday, Nov. 29, 8 p.m., $8, 21+.