Church of rock
Separate Spines create rare experience at St. Paul’s record release show.
It had been a year and a half since local experimental-pop quartet Separate Spines played a gig. On their return, they came armed with a new album, Cut Up The Rainbow, their second release. When fans last saw them—at the Red Museum last July 17—the band had six members. Now there were five, and some had traded instruments.
The audience didn’t know what to expect at the November 18 record release show. The venue, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on J Street, was confusing.
“People were tripped out by it,” says Buddy Hale, who plays drums and electronics and sings. “A lot of people were like, are we going to have to pray? Is it going to be religious in any way?”
It was a standard show—the band played Cut Up The Rainbow from start to finish. The venue seemed to shock people out of their comfort zone.
Synth player Rachel Freund says the church might have opened people’s ears a bit: “I think in some way, being at the church made people a little uncomfortable … And therefore they were more receptive.”
The band members noticed that some of the people who expressed an unsettled feeling later told them that they’d always wanted to go inside it, since it is such a majestic building.
“We like to create moments for people,” Hale says. “I really want to do things musically that people will remember, that people will be moved by.”
At previous shows, these moments have ranged from improvisation sessions to “accidentally” spraying the club with baking powder, to destroying a Japanese lamp like a cat pouncing on a ball of yarn.
The group has a lot of “dumb ideas” they spitball to help create these moments, some of which have yet to make the stage. One that Hale is excited about—the rest of the band less so—is to get tazed in the throat while singing on stage.
“It’s all about the sound that would be produced,” Hale says. “I probably would scream in a way that I couldn’t do if I was trying to. That’s part of creating a moment. It’s my David Blaine moment.”
The offbeat ideas and experimentation comes across in the music. The group stretches the outer limits of indie rock, avant-garde art-rock and catchy pop. Thematically, many of the songs are about “The disconnection between reality and yourself,” says keyboardist/vocalist Zach Hake. Aside from live drums, the synth-based rock, with its dissonant effects and trippy looping, sounds like it could be the emotive record robots will one day make when they achieve consciousness.
It’s a more dynamic and accessible record than their previous release, and it took a long time to make. After that Red Museum show, the band had big plans for making the best album of all time and got stuck in “demo-itis,” as Hale calls it. He recorded demo after demo, revising versions and writing new songs. Everyone in the band liked these songs—they still do—but for some reason, none were good enough for this “perfect” album the group envisioned.
“There were too many songs to choose from,” says lead vocalist & FX generator Sydney Jones.
Finally, they scrapped everything and started over. The material that became Cut Up The Rainbow came out fast.
“It was fresh and exciting. It was way more collaborative,” Hale says. “It was a dark period for a year. Then boom, it just all happened. We recorded really fast. We set up our CD release show really quick.”
They are really happy with the album and how it was received by the folks at the church. But they say what they care most about was the experience.
After they finished their set, people didn’t want to leave the space, the same building that some were reluctant to enter.
“People were just hanging out for a pretty long time, soaking in the environment,” Hale says. “It was a huge, gorgeous building that was turned into something completely different.”