Back in 1993 (if memory serves me correctly) I was watching the late night alternative show Mtv had on Sunday night when my ears were caught by a song called Noel, Jonah And Me. A lot of what the tv show played was mainstream "alternative" music but once in awhile they would sneak something like The Spinanes in. People who have grown up with the internet have no idea what it was like to be interested in independent music before everyone had access to it along with blogs and myspace etc etc etc. If you were lucky enough to get reception of a college radio station you had a fighting chance, or if you happened to have a good independent record store in your area you might get recommended some music you probably wouldn't have heard on your own. Otherwise you needed a disposable income and luck along with some sort of knowledge of various labels putting independent music out. I was lucky in the sense that I had college radio reception a good amount of the time, a pretty good mom and pop record store, and friends who were also music nerds. Most of the time if I had committed to buying a record I knew I would like it. You may have guessed that I had no money to just buy things on a whim! Anyhow, I would watch this Mtv show regularly hoping to find out about new (or at least new to me) bands.
My reaction to The Spinanes was quite strong. It was incredibly catchy and fun - I could hardly believe that it was just guitar, drums, and vocals. I can't say for sure but they may have been the first rock band I had heard without a bass player. I had a pretty strong suspicion that I would like the record so I went and bought Manos from my local mom and pop record shop. The expressiveness of Rebecca Gates vocals coupled with her amazing ability as a lyricist were awe inspiring to me. Her guitar playing was inventive and suited the songs perfectly and Scott Plouf's drumming was simple but powerful. I was in love. Over time my favorite song from the record became a song called Sunday probably because of the chorus simply being the line "But you know how far away we are" repeated over and over. I'm a sucker for a simple yet meaningful lyric.
Now we have to jump around a bit. Between their first and second albums I started working at a mom and pop record store (Spirit Records in Rancho Cordova, California for those who must know) and volunteering at KDVS which is the UC Davis college radio station. In the record stacks at KDVS I discovered The Spinanes releases that were only on 7" at that point. Of course now you can purchase the cd The Imp Years instead of tracking down the vinyl. One of my very first shows I played what is considered by many fans to be the classic Spinanes track. Maybe because it tells the most vivid story and has the most heartbreaking chorus of any of their songs. Once again just a line repeated for the chorus.
Working at the record store and radio station were probably the best things I could have done for my music addiction. Hearing tons of new music, being introduced to old stuff that I would have probably never heard, meeting a lot of wonderful people who definitely inspired me to keep feeding my interest. My interest in queercore and particularly the Chainsaw and Candy Ass record labels led me to buy the Free To Fight compilation. It was a joint release encouraging women to fight back against attackers. Rebecca Gates had a solo release on the compilation. The song is haunting and beautiful and the solo performance really captures pain and loneliness.
Strand, their second album, was released in 1996 and was a big departure. The songs got less poppy and quite a bit slower. Less rocking out and way more mood oriented with the music. I'm a huge fan of bands that are able to switch gears and really surprise. I'm not sure if there's anything I love more actually - a giant and unexpected leap in greatness between albums. This album incorporates more instrumentation (keyboards specifically) and a lot more percussion which is a treat for headphone listening. Elliott Smith contributes some backing vocals which is how I was able to hook some people into this band! Nearly a minute and a half of tweaked guitar open my favorite track. This was not The Spinanes from 3 years before. This song is another amazingly vivid story. I think her ability to be so vivid comes from not being afraid of using words that most people shy away from in a songwriting context. This was not dumb bubble gum nursery school rhymes by any means.
Lines & Lines
By the time the last album under The Spinanes name came out in 1998 Scott Plouf had left the band to join Built To Spill. On this album she was joined by a variety of musicians, but probably most notable was The Sea and Cake's John McEntire and touring member of The Spinanes and current Jicks member Joanna Bolme. Arches and Aisles struck a balance between the up of the first record and the slow of the second. It was yet another move forward with the songwriting. I've always thought that Rebecca Gates is one of the most inventive songwriters out there. She just got better and more interesting with time. She's also terribly underrated. I feel that this song captures the mood of the last album quite well.
Kid In Candy
To date only one solo album has been released and that was back in 2001. However, it appears that she is writing and recording another one. I saw her perform at The Knitting Factory a year and a half ago and it was wonderful. She's one of the most engaging live performers I've ever seen. She's the right mix of funny and weird with the banter but all business with the songs. I wanted to post this song from The Ruby Series because it's a re-working of the song from the Free To Fight compilation. I find it interesting when songwriters go back to earlier material. Truth be told, I do prefer the original! I'm terribly excited to hear that a new record is in the works.