In part two of our Q&A with Dylan Balliett and Pete Wilmoth of Spirit Night, we get more background on who and what influenced What We Will Be, and what the future may hold...
WVRS: Dylan, the song “Green Street,” that’s in reference to the actual street in Morgantown, right, with the DIY venue? Talk about how the college town influenced the songs. Would there be a Spirit Night if you hadn’t been there? Why did you name the whole thing Spirit Night?
DB: Yep. I had that riff kicking around for years but didn't have any words. I decided one night that I really wanted to make a song, so I went over to Green Street, where we all hung out all the time, and sat in the basement with David Bello and just wrote out the words as we recorded it. We got really drunk and our friends came over and joined in on the recording process. I don't remember who exactly was involved, but I know Pat Manzi and David Bello both had a big part in it. Anthony [Fabbricatore], Tyler [Grady], and Kyle [Vass] were there, too. I named it "Green Street" because it was written there, but also because I think that song and that house both kind of captured our youthful craziness symbolically. It seemed when it was done to be a song about the things we had done in that house, so I thought the title was appropriate.
I'd like to think I'd have made music anywhere I went, but I guess I couldn't have made this exact album without Morgantown. I might never have been sad enough somewhere else to write these songs. Haha. They're definitely all about specific people I met in Morgantown, so for me it's always going to be an album about the time I spent there.
"Spirit Night" is a phrase I saw on a sign outside of Chick Fil-A advertising what I assume to have been a pep rally type event for a local sports team. I think the words are very beautiful together on their own, but I like that they also signify something that to me is kind of ugly, or at the very least tacky -- a sporting event at a fast food chain restaurant. But it got me thinking about the idea of "spirit" and how these events are almost spiritual or religious in a way, a gathering of people to ritualistically chant in worship of something that they love. And this is not me snobbishly judging them at all; I think it's awesome. So I thought about the ways I let my own spirit show, and it's always through music and art, and I do it with my friends in that same group gathering sort of way.
So many people contributed to this project that I see it as a kind of collectivist thing like that. I think it's spiritual in this very down to earth, American way, but it's represented by this phrase that sounds more creepy or otherworldly, "Spirit Night." I also think the term "night" plays into it similarly. I think about the ways night is represented in literature or in horror movies and then I think about all the drunken nights that influenced this record and how when my friends and I were drinking, this "spirit" would kind of come out of us from deep within. You know, werewolf shit.
WVRS: Looks like members of Librarians played an important role in getting this out; would you count them as a kind of local influence? Did working with Klug, and from his past work with Librarians, make it easier for you to arrive at a final sound you were comfortable with? Some of the atmospherics sound like it could be Librarians. Wrong or right?
DB: I don't necessarily think this album sounds like Librarians, but they had to have had an influence on my music somewhere along the line. I've probably seen them 30 times in the past six years or so, and I lived with Ryan for a little while and could hear their practices and stuff. Seeing them as a younger person, I think they made me want to be in a good local band because their shows were so fun. We've played in other bands together as well. I think I'm generally influenced more by my friends than anything else, so yeah, I'd say watching what those guys do has had an effect on my music. And this album wouldn't be anything without Dave Klug's work, so thanks to him as well.
PW: I don't know that I really hear the parallels to Librarians, honestly, although I'm certainly cool with that association. Klug's contributions to this record are immense. The difference between what we sent him after tracking and what came back to us is staggering. I would recommend him to any upstart bands in the area.
WVRS: What about shows? Did I miss something or are there Spirit Night shows?
DB: Yeah, we live about three hours apart right now so it's not exactly feasible to do shows just yet. However, I'm sure we'd both like to, and I'm hoping when I start traveling to Morgantown to work on this next album, we'll end up doing a show or two. Maybe more!
PW: No, there haven't been any shows. In fact, we just kind of surprised everyone with the record when we were done with it - it was fun. Dylan and I have talked about doing some shows, though. (see below)
WVRS: The CDs, you’ve got some pressed, how many do you have and do you envision running out?
DB: Our friend Jordan Hudkins helped me print a bunch of promo copies that I'll be sending out to review sites/radio stations/etc. It's actually an extremely small run just for that purpose. I really just want to focus on the digital release for now, though I wouldn't be opposed to releasing it on some other formats in the future.
WVRS: The atmospherics and layers on the songs, you can pull those off live, right? Mainly acoustic based, do you (Dylan) plan on being able to just play these solo? Will/would there be a bigger lineup if there’s a Spirit Night “full-band” show?
DB: I'm totally opposed to doing the songs solo. Haha. I guess It's kind of a weird thing, but I just don't think they work without all of the elements going on. They're so based on shifting dynamics that I think most of what makes those songs what they are would be lost with just one guitar and one voice. However, I do have a lineup in mind that kind of excites me and I totally think we could pull the songs off. It would be more guys than just me and Pete, but probably not any bigger than a regular rock band.
PW: I think we could manage some approximation of the record, yeah, although obviously, many of the songs are really sonically dense. I think we can go one of two routes with it. One where it's mostly Dylan singing and playing a guitar and me backing him up with percussion, vocals - maybe a little keyboard and guitar, too. I've listened to the record with that in mind enough that I think we could get most of the crucial parts between the two of us, although it would take some multi-limbed, multi-instrumental, Marinelli-like ambidexterity on my part.
The other option is to really try to do the whole record with a bunch of our friends. Obviously, this would be a blast, and it'd be cool to split up the percussion parts and give myself something easy to do, so I can sing the whole time.
I think when/if we do a show, it'll probably be somewhere in the middle: friends will join us here and there, with only a couple songs necessitating a crowded stage, but other songs will be mostly me and Dylan.
WVRS: The latest review from Obscure Sound mentions “clumsy interweaving of keys and guitar,” that said, the guitar isn’t entirely shred-tastic or complex; there’s a catchy, touching, laid back vibe (mostly laid back vibe), with the lush tones and drums overtop your mostly acoustic songs. Now, all that said (if you agree with that generalization) compared to the more in your face, amps to 10 type rock acts, why would/do you think this kind of vibe be so well received?
DB: Well, I don't think we sound too much like any one band, but I think we use time-tested elements from all kinds of popular music in our songs, and maybe that's why it's successful. Just because it reminds people of songs or musical styles they already like. And I guess I agree that there is kind of a laid-back vibe in a lot of songs, but we also throw in plenty of surprises to shake people out of that feeling of complacency, and maybe people like that our songs have those unexpected turns, or that the record has them (going from something so quiet like "What I Will Be" into a rocker like "Green Street" so late in the track listing, for example). I really can't say why people like it though. I'm just glad that they do.
PW: I feel like I can tell you why. I think the timbres on the record are great - again, another nod to Dave Klug here, as well as our friends in Morgantown (Brian Spragg, Ryan Hizer, and Trey Curtis) who actually know how to track stuff properly, unlike us. But for me, it's the melodies Dylan writes. I know you don't hear this too often from drummers, but melody is everything. Always and forever. Period. If you don't have a great melody, I'm usually not that interested as a listener. And as a percussionist, I'm always listening to the melody when I write my own parts - sort of "in service" of where the song is trying to go. Lucky for me, Dylan really knows how to craft a hook.
WVRS: Pete the drums on “Last Cigarette” (among other songs) how they fade in and build are killer. “Brains” has what sounds like xylophones or bells; between recording DIY and with Klug, how proud of you are you with how your contribution(s) in the percussion department sounded on the CD?
PW: Thanks, dude. I mean, I'm really pleased with everything. It was a new thing for me, because I haven't really done anything other than drum set in rock bands since high school, when I was doing orchestral and concert percussion. So it was a nice change of pace and a new challenge to just listen to the song a lot and say, "I don't think I'm going to put any kit on this song at all, but I know some staggered tambourine with reverb will sound really haunting right here."
And it was just fun to get back into written music. On the songs where there's a billion percussion tracks, I had to put Dylan's demos on loop, sit down at my desk with a bunch of staff paper, and figure out what would best serve the song and how each of my instruments should be interacting with one another.
WVRS: You guys have made a great CD, lauded by reviewers, together. Between Dylan’s songwriting and Pete’s contribution, what do you think makes this sound so infectious and effortless? Chemistry?
DB: I definitely think there is chemistry between me and Pete. Or maybe just a mutual appreciation of each other's style that makes it easy for us to agree on things. We definitely "click" immediately in a lot of cases, but other times we'll have to talk through something, or I'll have to do a good deal of explaining about what kind of mood I want for a certain song or part. Luckily, we're both comfortable enough with each other and confident enough in each other's abilities to do that talking, which I think is what matters most. So yeah, it's a mixture of chemistry and mutual understandings that make ultimately makes our music work.
PW: The one thing I know is that I really enjoy making music with Dylan. We've always been completely on the same wavelength at every step of the process, so it's just smooth sailing. And somehow, I think we both make each other better, despite how similar our tastes are.
WVRS: Each of you; what does it say that this kind of DIY effort, seemingly out of nowhere win so many fans? You obviously didn’t spend a lot of money in some studio. But just doing it, and people liking it, how proud are you to have accomplished that much, and do you think it could/should influence some other college student(s) peeing in gatorade bottles, wondering what they will be, to do the same?
DB: I'm extremely proud of it, and sure, I hope it encourages other people to do the same. I think everyone who enjoys music should attempt to record their own album at some point in their life.
PW: The praise has been really flattering, for sure. I'm just glad people are listening to the record. It's one of those luxuries of the Internet age; like, there are people in Spain listening to our record and talking about it on forums. How cool is that?
Of course I'd recommend that anyone who wants to make a record give it a shot. Even if after a couple years, you think you have little to show for it besides a couple boxes of CDs under your bed, at least you made some music, just for the sake of doing it. That's always a worthwhile endeavor, no matter what the end result is. Oh yeah - and it's fun!
WVRS: You’ve got nothing but stellar reviews for the CD, and praise from just the general public too, how neat is that? Has the praise kind of changed what you may have thought of as goals or what not for the duo? Is Spirit Night just a kind of project, or is it, for you Dylan, something you want to keep moving forward with?
DB: It's really hard to say what Spirit Night will be. I initially formed it as a separate entity from Russian Tombstones that would be just an alias for my own solo songs, so that if I ever moved or otherwise couldn't play with Pete anymore, I could still have all of my songs under one name. It was very much intended to be a "solo project" but I can't deny Pete's importance to the project and I foresee us working together on a lot of the future stuff under this name. Hopefully he will play on everything I do.
Mostly though, I'd say this is a vehicle for the songs I write and it will probably end up meaning different things at different times. We could get intense and start touring with a band under this name, or I could record a whole album of just guitar songs by myself under this name. It's really hard to say right now where we're going, but I do know you should expect another album with me and Pete and friends sometime in the next year or so.
PW: I definitely plan on making more music with Dylan. I know we both want to do another record together while we're both still in the same state. I'll be done with grad school in a year, and I don't really know where I'll end up. Dylan's immediate future is similarly up in the air, but I bet we make something work out. When you find someone you click with musically - well, that's not something you should let slip if you can help it.
Related: Part one of our Q&A w/Spirit Night