Spirit Mother, Lovers of Heavy Psych and Sardines, Canned Wait to Play Boise Tonight

Spirit Mother

What’s that you smell? Whiffs of psychedelic rock and roll wafting through Boise after Patton Oswalt and “Weird” Al Yankovic unloaded their scatological, puerile, yet admittedly golden nuggets of humor at the Morrison Center last Saturday and Monday? Indeed, it’s true: This evening, the Neurolux Lounge is clearing the air with three of the finest heavy-psych posses that the Pacific Northwest has to offer: Blackwater Holylight and Spirit Mother, from our dear Oregonian neighbors to the West; along with Boise’s very own, beloved Ealdor Bealu.

The Bad Penny recently had the pleasure to catch up with Spirit Mother frontman Armand Lance (vocals, bass) while he was chugging along in his band’s van with mates SJ (violin, vocals), Sean McCormick (guitar) and Landon Cisneros (drums). While the band only has one studio album to date —2020’s Cadets — tonight’s gig will be the band’s second in the City of Trees, with a third lined up for later this year.

Lance graciously shared some time with us to gab about topics you probably wouldn’t expect to hear psych-rock musicians voluntarily discuss: Leonard Cohen, his grandmother and sardines. Our conversation went a little something like this:

Hey man, how are you?

Armand Lance: A little tired. We’ve got a long drive today. Not on a whole lot of sleep. By the time we got through the show, it was like 2, then we finished loading after 3, then we got eight or nine hours of driving today. God forbid we party after. I think we’re in Wyoming now. I think that’s right.

How did you feel heading out on this tour? Was it nerve-wracking, amid COVID and the generally horrible climate in this country right now?

Lance: Well, this is the longest we’ve ever had a tour booked. We got booked for this tour probably a year ago. So we’ve actually been counting down the days. We’ve been stoked for it. And Blackwater kills it every night.

So you were really familiar with those guys before you hit the road?

Lance: We played with them once in L.A. [at Lodge Room]. It was, coincidentally, the last day of live music in Los Angeles [March 11, 2020]. The city shut down the next day.

I did some digging into your tour history, but it appeared kinda sporadic. You played Portland in 2019, L.A. in 2020, Mojave in February 2021, St. Paul this year… what has your tour background been like until now?

Lance: Well, other than weekend runs, not much. Tours where we’re going across the country are new for us, so we’re very excited to play in front of all the people who are gonna show up.

What’s the highlight of the tour been so far?

Lance: The craziest stop we had and that I probably won’t forget for some time was … in order to meet Blackwater on their tour, which started for us in Chicago [on June 1], we had to … go through Montana and …. the Black Hills area of South Dakota. I get a call from the promoter the day of the show saying there’s a venue change and that we’re playing at the mouth of a cave now. And we’re like, “What?” “Yeah, it’s more of a DIY thing.” “Right.”

So we go up into this 20-something-acre property in the Black Hills … we didn’t know it at then time, but the promoter lived there. We pull up to this shack which served as the mouth of this cave, and the cave goes down and down and down and down. I believe it’s charted for a mile, but it just keeps going into the mountain. The people there were the sweetest, kindest people. They put us up in their house. We came to find out later that Dinosaur Jr. had come there and played inside the cave, so we had to play a couple of songs in the cave as part of our set. It was just a really weird, really great experience. I don’t know that talking about it really translates, but I did my best.

The acoustics must’ve been … distinct.

Lance: It was sterile as fuck. You heard every single mess-up we could ever play.

Well, hopefully your Boise show will go more smoothly. Have you played here before?

Lance: Yeah, actually. We played at the Olympic just on our own. I think it was our first time ever being in Boise. This fall we’re going to return again with King Buffalo [on November 8] again, at the Olympic.

What recollections do you have about being in Boise?

Lance: You guys are all Vikings and shit. You’re in T-shirts and shorts when it’s 30 degrees out. That’s something that stuck out.

Well, you guys seem to have a woodsy persona too, and yet you were living in Long Beach for the longest time. Did it feel natural to relocate to Oregon?

Lance: Oh yeah, it felt right. [He laughs.] I mean, Long Beach was great, and I credit that to how the bad got its start, and luckily we had our heads down and grounded them hard enough and when the opportunity came to move, we found a place where we could take a little more creative freedom and space and time. We were still able to not disappear and make tours happen and continue. It really has been big for us.

The way we practice now, rather than going somewhere and stressing out when we get there as much as we can to get our money’s worth, we play for free, but then we’ll spend about two weeks preparing for tour. In those two weeks, if you do the math, we’re doing five, six hours a day, and that’d equate to about six months of our city practice schedule of an hour twice a week.

And that’s because you’re hunkering down?

Lance: Yeah, we’re hunkering down, we have the space, the time, no one’s getting mad at us or telling us we’re being loud. It’s a nice way to prepare for a tour, definitely.

Can you elaborate more on that? So you write, the band comes in, you show them what you’ve written … how does it all play out?

Lance: I’ll write the bones: chord progression, melody, basic structure. But the great thing about the band is that, when we put these things together, it takes on a new life almost every time, and that’s what our sound is.

Is there a certain direction that the sound goes in that you’ve come to expect, or does it take a different turn every time?

Lance: It’s not something that I expect. I do my best not to have expectations in a creative setting. But everything we do sounds cohesive, so there is something cooking between the four of us. I don’t know if I can identify it for you.

I was looking at your roster. Is Camille [Getz] an official member of the band?

Lance: Oh yeah, she’s a member. People get confused about that. [The band’s website doesn’t list her as a member.] She signed up to fill in on a tour, and [she joined] after that.

How did Spirit Mother — Live in the Mojave Desert Volume 3 come about in 2021? That happened shortly after Cadets in 2020, right? Was that an opportunity you sought out, or did it just fall into your lap?

Lance: [He laughs.] It fell out of the fucking sky. I’m real good friends with Lance Gordon from the Mad Alchemy Drip Liquid Light Show. I love that guy, and he was part of the Mojave Desert thing. We had talked about it, and he was like, “Man, you guys would’ve been a great fit for that.” And then they had a last-minute cancellation two days before shooting. I was at a bar and he called me and said, “All right, Armand, before I even tell you what I’ve got for you, you have to say yes.” So I did, and then he told me what it was, and that’s how I met Ryan Jones — the mastermind behind it, who did an amazing job, real great guy. No one knew we were in Oregon, everyone thought we were in L.A., but we said, “Fuck it,” drove through the night and got there.

Do you feel like that experience changed the trajectory of the band in any way?

Lance: Yeah, I would say that greatly. Ryan Jones put out that record for us through his label [Giant Rock Records], and now he’s in more of a manager role. Through COVID, I hadn’t seen Lance in years, so seeing everybody and putting out music and everything, yeah, I’d say it did change the trajectory of the band.

The video for “Black Sheep,” which is very well-produced, features a ton of credits.

Lance: There are a ton of credits, you’re right.

Did you meet most of those folks through Ryan?

Lance: No, we were approached by one of Camille’s friends to do a music video, and we met everyone in those credits through that. [He laughs.]

Did they shoot it pro bono or did you have to shell out a lot of money?

Lance: Well, we didn’t pay for the production. We paid to be there — the travel expenses, all the little things like that. We were extremely grateful to [director] Clarence [Deng] for putting the whole thing on and knocking it out of the park. And actually, Camille edited it, so it felt like a family, in-house thing.

It looks phenomenal.

Lance: Thank you. I’ll tell them.

Something else that strikes me about the choices you’ve made as a band is to cover Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.” Why him and why that song?

Lance: Well, Leonard Cohen is by far my favorite songwriter of all time. He definitely informed the music we make. Everybody knows it’s my favorite set of lyrics. Before I knew they were lyrics, I thought they were a poem, and when he died … believe it or not, it’s an old recording that was sort of an out-of-the-vaults thing. When he died in 2015, I had the unique opportunity to make a unique homage to him in a recording studio. So I took full advantage of doing that.

How did that opportunity come about?

Lance: This studio in Southern California was putting together this comp, because if you remember in 2015, a lot of musical greats died. So there was Motörhead, David Bowie, Merle Haggard, enough to make an entire comp. Mine was Leonard Cohen. But then, the project never really saw the light of day, it just got put in the vault. I got my hand on the master and put it out. But the studio we recorded at did such a great job. I loved working there. I thought the quality was great. And it was a live recording, too.

How did you discover Leonard Cohen in the first place?

Lance: My grandma. She was like, “You need to listen to this, boy.” [He laughs.]

Do you remember the moment she gave you a record of his or told you to seek him out?

Lance: I remember she told me I had to listen to the song “Bird on a Wire,” which was her favorite Leonard Cohen song. And so I did. Then I got deeper into his books of poetry.

So, inevitably, I have to ask you about COVID. Did you find that the lockdown worked in your favor to a degree or did it really worked against your plans?

Lance: I think it was what you made of it. If you had asked me in 2019, I would have said it ruined our plans, because we released our first album, Cadets, on March 1. By March 15, we were in full shutdown, and all our tour plans obviously got shut down. So we didn’t get the promotion on that first record that we wanted. But we were lucky enough to put our heads down and make use of the downtime, and something like the Live in the Mojave Desert series wouldn’t have come out if we weren’t in that unique point in time. So it just was what you made of it.

Because it is so unusual to put out a live record after a debut … that wouldn’t have happened were it not for COVID, right?

Lance: No. I just got with what happens. “You want to make a live record?” “Fuck yeah, dude.”

What excites you the most about playing live right now? What are the audiences like? What are you getting the most out of performances these days?

Lance: On a personal level, I’ve been getting the most out of playing new songs on our upcoming record. Most bands will record an album, put it out and play the new songs. Then the songs tend to age as the bands play them. We decided to do the opposite: We took a few songs on our new record, and we’re playing them every night. So we’re trying to age them before we record them, instead of after. So I’ve been wanting to play them live and see how they resonate with people, that sort of thing. But on a grand level, it just wakes you up.

Which songs have you found have changed the most over the course of these performances?

Lance: Well, there’s no new chords or lyrics, nothing like that, you just sit with it, and maybe tones change with time as we sit with it. Our first record, we play it heavier now than when I recorded it. But our new songs are even heavier than our older ones.

Did you feel you needed to play your new material in front of crowds before recording it?

Lance: We didn’t play through Zoom or anything like that. After we wrote the album, we meet up to do an initial run-through of it.

Last question — What’s the craziest incident that’s happened to you on the road so far on this tour?

Lance [He asks the whole band, who are with him in the van.]: Something we do on the road is bring as much food as we can, and we found that canned sardines last a long time. So we’ve been living off canned sardines this entire tour.

Oh my God.

[Laughter ensues.]

Lance: Believe it or not, we like it. 


Lance: Yeah, actually! [More laughter ensues.] Somehow it sits well with all of us.

Spirit Mother play tonight at Neurolux in the feature spot, along with headliners Blackwater Holylight and Ealdor Bealu. Go here for more tix and more info.

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