Spiller Whale, a relatively fresh Chicago 3-piece is gearing up to free the fruits of their labor into the recorded realm with the upcoming release of their EP, Fresh Tables on DIY label Uncle Grandpa Records. To celebrate, they are throwing a record release spectacle tonight at Subterranean, sharing the bill with RSTLNE and The Panda Band. Spiller Whale's inviting blend of post-punk, jazz, and synth-pop, will give fans of Fugazi and Menomena something to enjoy. We caught up with Sean, Keenan, Matt to quiz them on the new EP, Chicago, and what's on their playlists.
Download: Spiller Whale - "Maps With No Names"
How did you guys come together into this current three piece formation that is Spiller Whale?
Sean: All three of us went to Knox College as undergrads. While there, Matt and I played in a band called Daphne the Musical and Keenan played in a band called The Corners. Matt and I were always impressed by Keenan's knack for writing pop songs. After I finished some graduate school and we all settled in Chicago, we approached Keenan about starting a new band. Something semi-coherent developed around the first of the year. At the beginning, we tried to consciously merge our previous styles, pitching Fugazi and Les Savy Fav-esque rhythms against synth pop. After a few weeks, that became tedious and boring. By April or so, we started taking idiomatic song writing seriously and found ways to balance the organic with the mathematical. That's when Spiller Whale seemed to actually take shape.
Keenan: We just try to make it fun for ourselves because that’s what it’s all about, and people respond to that. I think we’re still learning how to do that too. It’s a process. It’s so easy to make boring music.
Anything behind the name?
Sean: Not really. I think it sounds sexual...like post-coital effluvia. Keenan came up with it.
Keenan: Yeah it’s totally sexual, and a little bit silly. I’m surprised it stuck. I like to think we were going the Gnarls Barkley route, with potential names like: Pain Gretzky, Cycle Jordan, and Dance Armstrong. But in the end, we decided to move into the animal kingdom. I think it has something to do with a yearning for the childhood we never had.
Matt: When Keenan said "Spiller Whale" I thought that it was going to be spelled "Wail" so I didn’t like it at first, but then I found out it was "Whale", and I decided that it was a good choice for us to make.
You are releasing a new EP Fresh Tables, how would you describe the sound and feel of the EP? How was the recording process and working with Mike Lust (of Tight Phantomz) ?
Sean: Being a three piece, there's always this sense of anxiety that our sound is never as full as it could be. To compensate, we found ways to use our primary instruments more effectively and sonically. When we started writing the EP, we definitely wanted to employ the "philspectorbrianwilsonborntorunwallofsound" method. When we got to the studio, we took it to the next level and went all out with multiple instrumentation. Julie Pomerleau/Monica Boubou (Bobby Conn's wife and bandmate) came in with a violin and a viola. A friend of ours, Galen Sjostrom, contributed some sax. We used vibes, a toy piano, an AM radio, bongos, spoons, and utilized the dynamics of Mike's drum room by singing at various distances from the microphone. We were also drunk most of the time.
In the end, the EP's sound is definitely full. There are places it sounds very consonant and smooth, but it also captures dissonance and atonality at odd points throughout the record. Mike thinks it sounds "epic." I believe his exact words were "It's like a soundtrack to a movie that's never been made." Lust is like a bro from another mo. He might be one of those rare sages whose work ethic increases the more Bacchanalian he gets. We're planning to work with him again in a few months to hash out an LP. We plan to be drunk most of the time.
Keenan: Mike Thrust, Bike Lust, Microphone Lust... more band names.
Matt: Working with Mike was special. He made me feel special and I am sad I am not with him now…
Why did you guys become musicians? Were there any early influences that propelled you into this field?
Sean: I've been playing music for most of my life. Early on, I wanted to be a Beach Boy. Then I pledged obeisance to Ian Mackaye. I guess I still play music in hopes of landing a date with Neko Case.
Keenan: I’ve always kind of played some instrument, but never seriously, until college. I think I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it if I wanted to. It ended up being a lot of fun, it turns out. As a child, I wanted to be in Queen.
Matt: I was an ADHD kid that was always getting scolded by tapping on his desk in class. Teachers were never terribly fond of that. Then my brother bought a drum set with the hopes of starting a band. Then I sat behind the drum set and played way more than he did, until the drum set became my own. It’s still one of those things that he holds against me. I have been in bands since I was in high school, and it just seemed like the natural thing for me to do. Even if I don’t make music my bread and butter, I know that I will always be playing music in bands for as long as I can.
How do you approach the songwriting process? Is it pretty collaborative or solely one person?
Sean: Our songs are always collaborative. Even if the central melodies are written by one person, we all have a hand in the song's creation.
Keenan: We all have a lot of ideas, and at first, we weren’t too good at focusing them. We tried to do everything in one song. We’re learning how to focus, which is important. Someone will always bring the beginnings of a song, hoping that everything will go smoothly. But eventually, the song gets ripped to pieces and rearranged. I think that makes it more interesting though. It keeps us alert.
Matt: We all have a certain vision about things, and we will argue from time to time, but in the end we always find ourselves happy with the final result, even if it wasn't what we originally intended. I know that all of us are not satisfied with a song until we know that it’s done, and we have come to a point where we can cut around the bullshit and get to that final product.
So, what do you think of the Chicago music scene?
Sean: Chicago is rad. Chicago gave us The Jesus Lizard.
Keenan: Agreed. I love Chicago. I think Chicago music is, overall, much like the Midwest. It’s sort of the nexus of the universe, where all these different ideas come together. It’s pretty diverse. I wouldn’t say there’s a “sound,” but you can definitely tell a Chicago band when you hear it. There’s a down-home charm to it. I think the people make Chicago music, and Chicago in general, a pretty rad place. People I’ve met are all so nice and supportive.
Matt: I love Chicago. While it can be intimidating at times, due to its size, and large amount of musicians, there is still a definite sense of community between musicians and bands and bars and clubs. Everyone that we've encountered as Spiller Whale has done nothing but help us out. We have some of the best labels around as well. I have been helping around the office at Flameshovel Records with James and Jesse for a while now, and it’s been awesome to see first hand how this part of Chicago music works.
Lastly, who are you listening to these days?
Sean: I really enjoy the new Jens Lekman record. I've also been listening to Stars of the Lid, Okkervil River, Pandelis Karyorgis, Tinariwen and Dinosaur Jr. Silver Jews are always on my playlist.
Keenan: The last thing I listened to was Chromeo. I’m on the verge of a dance music wave.
Matt: I just picked up this record by a Pittsburg band called Midnite Snake, its called Shaving the Angel and my mind has been completely blown away by it. It’s loud, noisy instrumental Post-rock shit, that just makes you want to go get fucked up or something. I just picked up the new Beirut, and that’s always a good listen. Uhhhh...there’s the Dirty Projectors also, they're pretty badass. As far as Chicago bands go, Mannequin Men released one of my favorite records of the year, Fresh Rot which was put out by Flameshovel. They put on an incredible live show and are damn nice guys.
Thanks for your time, guys! You can check out Spiller Whale and friends at the Subterranean tonight, November 30th and pick up their new EP in person.