Interviews

[Interview] Spafford Talks Hulaween Experience, Improv Jams and Influences

Spafford Suwannee Hulaween 2017

The 5th Anniversary of Suwannee Hulaween was nothing short of groundbreaking for everyone involved – more specifically, Spafford; the most promising new jam band that has been gaining notoriety and fans like a wildfire.

The quartet, stemming from Prescott, Arizona, incorporates everything you love about live jam performances, and then multiplies it.  Comprised of Brian Moss (Guitar), Jordan Fairless (Bass), Red Johnson (Keys), and Cameron Laforest (Drums), these talented musicians seem as if they’ve been jamming together for decades.  Since Spafford’s beginnings in 2010 the band has come a long (and well deserved) way, from local open-mics, to headlining national tours incorporating the Brooklyn Bowl, Dominican Holidaze, and everywhere in-between.

There was not a dull moment at Hulaween, but in the midst of all the thrill, Brian, Red, Cameron, and their tour manager Don took some time to sit down with me while I picked their brains for a short while.

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This is Spafford’s first time at Hulaween and Suwannee Music Park, how stoked are ya’ll to play multiple sets here and what have you heard about this musical utopia we call home?

Red: I wanted to come to Hulaween since the beginning of it. To me it’s a great idea for a festival, on Halloween. There’s only a handful of places in the country you can do a festival on Halloween, and this is one of them. It’s a great time, a blast walking through the woods and seeing all the characters in costume. But more so, it’s a honor to be invited out here, and to play two sets. I’m super honored to be here.

And great set times too. You play at midnight tonight [Saturday], and you played the pre-party Thursday.

Red: Yeah it’ll be a fun one. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve.

[If you missed the set here’s video of just those tricks:]

Considering such an eclectic composition of music and superb live performance, many agree that your talents are reminiscent of Phish as well as other esteemed jam bands.

Brian: I mean we’re playing rock and roll music, you know. We’re just humans put on this planet that grew up listening to music that was provided to us on the radio and CD’s and sharing through friends. And that happened to be Phish and happened to be these other bands because that’s how we grew up. So it has these influences in our music that is inevitable. It’s rock and roll music and that’s the heart of it. We’re just up there doing what we love doing and having a good time with it. It’s nice that other people are enjoying themselves.

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Where do each of your roots stem from and how do you work such a dynamic arrangement?

Cameron: I grew up listening to 90’s rock; I love Foo Fighters, Nirvana, listened to punk and metal and all that stuff. Did Jazz band, drum line, I did a little bit of everything. That kind of made me the player I am today. Everybody’s got kind of a different background. Jordan and I are the closest in comparison to the music we listened to.

Brian: I ventured far out into the Jazz world, a lot of guitar player front man sort of bands. Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Djengo Reinhardt, I really delved into stuff like that. So it changed a lot of things for me because now I understand that Rock music has come from Jazz.  That connection has opened up a lot for me and what we can do in a Rock sense, because I learned a lot of Jazz stuff complied with Rock, and kind of reformulated to make our own version with it.

It definitely shows through in your music.

Brian: I mean for me I love to shred, but I also love to sit back and play soulful solos and beautiful melodies that really make you feel something.

And that’s the best thing about how ya’ll jam, something I want to touch on coming up. You guys are very tasteful with your jams, and respectful with each other, in turn the transitions are seamless. That talent is hard to come by and can make or break a jam band in the end; if you’re not good at playing with each other in such a way.

Brian: Well really I think it boils down to, as far as the jam goes, it’s about taking what I have (it’s funny we were just talking about the influences) but you take what is influenced in what we have to say musically and contribute it to try to make the best music possible in that moment. What we played last week, a month ago, two years ago, is gone. In fact, what we played in the first set is gone. We just play for the music currently, right in that moment.

Red: I came from a different environment as far as musical influences. I came from Southern Rock, and I grew up listening to a lot of Bluegrass, Allman Brothers, Little Feat, a lot of Grateful Dead. When I got sick of that I started listening to Ska Punk, when I got sick of that I started listening to.

Brian: Screw you if you sound like any of those people! [Laughs]

Red: Right, well I started listening to Techno, that’s how old I am we called it “Techno” back then. Then got into a lot of Funk, and Jazz, and Rock and Roll. I take where I come from musically and contribute it to the overall bigger picture.

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So what would happen if you guys called an audible and traded instruments on stage?

Cameron: It’d get weird.

Brian/Red: We could do it, I think we could do it.

Cameron: We’d have to practice a little bit.

Red: What would you play, Brian?

Brian: I’d want to jump on the keys!

Cameron: I think it’d be a straight switch between you [Red] and Brian, and then Jordan and I switch. He is the original drummer too, so that’d make sense.

I mean you gotta keep the rhythm section together.

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So enlighten us as to how the name “Spafford” came to be?

Brian: There was this meteorite and it was hurtling through space and it had a little treasure box on the inside of it.  It was about twenty-thousand years ago that this alien just threw it into space and the box traveled all around the universe until finally in 2010, Jordan and I were playing an open-mic and all of sudden this meteorite just flew from the sky landed right next to the stage we were playing. It cracked open and there was this treasure box inside that said “open me”. Then I opened the treasure box and there was this little tiny sloth creature inside the treasure box that said, “you should name your band ‘Spafford’”.

Red: We have had some really good versions of that story, and that’s the best one.

I mean I’ve heard that it’s the middle name of your LD.

Spafford: That’s just a coincidence.

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Can you delve into any future plans and studio work “Spaffnerds” and the like can look forward to? Anymore spontaneous Cabin Jams to look forward to?

Red: We just did the AVL sessions recently in Asheville.

Brian: That was reminiscent to us of the Cabin Jams. We just set up in an old church and jammed in there for a while.

Cameron: It was an hour jam, just all improv.

Red: We just did one in Columbia that ended up being a lot of fun.

Brian: Initially we just decided we were gonna go out and jam because it was a newer market for us, and there weren’t a ton of pre-sales. It was like alright let’s go out and give a small crowd a good show; go out there and make some stuff up.  We ended up almost filling the place. People seemed to enjoy it so we just kept on going.

[Check out their “AVL Echo Sessions” improv jam below:]

 

How do you feel about the term “Spaffnerd”?

Red: We’re glad that they have an identity.

Brian: I mean, we didn’t come up with it, they did. We hope what we’re doing is still enought to fuel what they need, you know. But we don’t really integrate ourselves with them. They’re their own entity.

Red: They’re everywhere, and they’re crazy. I love ‘em. They created an entire website, and all these forums; and they’re on there talking about what they like, talking about what they don’t like. They have plenty of opinions.

Which most die-hard music fans do.

Red/Brian: I like the Spaffnerds, they’re good people for the most part.

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Ultimately your songs entail seamless transitions and driving jams that take the listener through a musical journey. Spafford’s motto is “We Jam”, so how much of a live set is composed vs. improv jams?

Brian: I mean, the sets are constructed based on the opportunity that each song can present on that day. So we might say, let’s have fun with this one, milk this one, take this one for a spin. Other ones we’ll be like hey let’s play a certain version of this one.

Red: And we have a plan, we have a set list. And you know if we’re mid-set and we play a song and have to opportunity to just go into if something really cool is happening, just let it happen. We’re not going to stifle a jam.

Brian: We’ll just knock off a few songs and what was happening before we’ll let it go and let it take off. If it feels good, do it.

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Biggie or Tupac?

Unanimous: Tupac.

Stones or Beatles?

Unanimous: Stones [minus no answer from Brian].

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Overall, what made me fall in love with this band is the tangible chemistry the four musicians have with each other, and how tastefully they each express their talents, thus resulting in a cohesive jam. Their songs are like mountains and valleys, in the best way possible. A melodic, respectful build, driving groove, finally resulting with that euphoric release and drop we all know and love.

Fortunately enough, for new fans and “Spaffnerds”, the band just announced a month-long, For Amusement Only Tour beginning in January 2018. Tickets go on sale November 10th at 10 am EST.

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Read: [Review] Hulaween 2017: Suwannee’s Best One Yet?

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