Less is more
Sacramento alt-rock band Der Spazm loses a member and gains a new perspective
There’s an old expression: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
It’s an adage that the three current members of Sacramento indie noise-pop band Der Spazm came to understand intimately after its rhythm guitarist quit suddenly in the middle of a tour.
Her departure led to an epiphany of sorts for the rest of the band. After the new-found trio played a couple shows, it realized that having fewer instruments actually gave it more options.
“There was so much going on [before], but now there’s room for a guitar part to breathe more because there’s not another guitar part,” says guitarist Dillon Christensen.
“If you have only three people, it’s kind of freeing,” he continues. “I think you can hear everyone now. … There’s one element for each thing. You got one bass, one guitar and the drum.”
As a four-piece, the band fine-tuned a raw rock sound that incorporated noise and feedback in the vein of Sonic Youth. Underneath it, however, existed subtly complex pop songwriting that often got buried beneath the sound of the two guitars.
“One person had to be the lead [on guitar], and one had to be the rhythm. Our songs kind of got stuck in that,” says bassist Ashley Maiden. “With one guitar, you can do both. It’s forced us to think more about what we’re doing as we’re doing it.”
Maiden’s bass parts have always been an interesting component of Der Spazm’s music, with some chords and notes played in the higher register. Those parts weren’t really audible, however, when they competed with two guitars for airspace.
“Ashley’s bass has always held things together,” Christensen says. “[Now] they can really shine through a lot more.”
As a three-piece, the band’s songs still retain a raw noise-pop sound, but it’s also grown to encapsulate more mood changes and variations.
“Now we can make some parts darker and some heavier and others more laid back. We actually think about dynamically and stylistically what we want to happen more,” says Christensen.
The band still had shows left on its tour when the rhythm guitarist quit—plus a hometown show. Canceling the gigs wasn’t an option, so the remaining members quickly combed through their song catalog and selected those that seemed easiest to pick up as a trio.
“Luckily, we had enough songs that we were able to play, or we would have been screwed,” says drummer Andy Fisher.
The band has booked more shows, slowly tweaking material and writing new songs, keeping in mind the changed dynamic.
And as it shifted from a feedback-driven sound to a place of concentrating on songwriting, the band says it was pleased with the new direction. It was never married to the idea of being a noise band.
“The noise is fun, especially in a live setting—you can’t really look at any of the bands we’ve been compared to without acknowledging that there is definitely some noise there,” Christensen says.
“It just feels natural to put your guitar up against the amp and see what kind of crazy sounds you can get out of it,” he says. “But [now], we are aware that sometimes noise is more fun to the people making it than to the people hearing it.”