Breaking Through The Noise: An Interview Series
An Interview with Jordan Fairless
by Miles Hurley
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From the video channel of Spaff Nerd
Live Music News and Review is proud to commence its “Breaking Through The Noise” series, a feature in which we will be interviewing a handful of some of the best up and coming bands touring the jam scene today. Stay tuned in the coming next couple of months as this unfolds, to check in and learn some cool things about some of the most exciting artists breaking through the noise today.
Our first of four interviews is with Spafford, the Arizona-born groove rock band that has been taking multiple music scenes across the country by storm. Just this past weekend, the quartet made their first appearance at Summer Camp Music Fest, where they threw down multiple sets. They then booked it down to Arizona immediately to play WindRider Festival the very next day.
As this summer unfolds with a season of live music like no other, you can expect Spafford to be shining bright in midst of it all. Their tour will see them playing sets at huge events like Electric Forest, North Coast Music Festival, Peach Fest, and more, and they will also be one of the many awesome acts grooving up New York City during Phish’s Baker’s Dozen run, when they play an after-show at B.B Kings on August 5th.
LMNR sat down with the band’s bassist, Jordan Fairless, for a very fun, quick chat, that came right in the midst of some rehearsals for their Summer Camp debut….
Jordan Fairless: We just got back from our first big, national tour, and everyone kind of took some time off, and so we’re just polishing everything up before we enter the festival season. So, we’re working on some new stuff, tightening up some old stuff. Just trying to get loose, and get ready for the weekend.
LMNR: Right, this will be your debut at none other than Summer Camp Music Festival. You guys must be pretty stoked.
Yeah, we’re super excited. This is a heck of a way to start the festival season, and then we fly out the next morning to New Mexico to close it out there, so it’s gonna be a pretty exciting weekend.
LMNR: I see that your entire tour list (minus the Post-Phish gig), is festival gigs. Was that a band decision?
I think it just made sense, for the band and the fans, to mostly do festivals during the summer, that’s where everyone wants to be anyways, so might as well do the festivals for the summer and save the touring for the spring and fall, and winter time. I love music festivals, so it works out for me (laughs).
LMNR: That makes sense of course. I think also that since you’ve made such a huge coming up over the last couple of years, it’s a great opportunity to be playing in front of a lot of people of this scene that definitely want to see you guys.
Absolutely, and that’s what we’ve been working towards, to get onto the festival circuit. We’ve been working really hard to spread the word, with our recent tour. It’s the first time we went back across the country, two times. It was three and a half months, it was the first time doing that. And know we’re entering our first real festival season, so it’s nice to have a solid amount.
LMNR: Right. So, at the beginning of the year, Spafford played over on this side of the country for the first time. How new of an experience was that for you guys, either as a band, or individually?
Since we all have kind of mixed origins, in where we came from before Arizona, we had some familiarity. The guitar player, Brian Moss, is from New Jersey so the north east was not really unfamiliar for him. Our keyboard player from the midwest, Chicago area, and I grew up in Tennessee, but I went all up and down. So for us, it was familiar, but, musically, besides Brian, I don’t think…I mean I’ve never played a show there. I watched my dad graduate college from Princeton, that’s about it…
So it was exciting. Because we’ve know we wanted to get to the north east for a long time, because it’s a really good group of music lovers. That’s what we want, is people who love music. We were just so openly received there, it was amazing. And it was nice to go back, we did our first run there with Umphrey’s, did some of our own dates, and then to come back into that territory and do our own thing, it was a very rewarding experience.
LMNR: I was at one of the American Beauty shows, and I was definitely one of those people at that time that was like, “Oh, Spafford, who?” But then you get to American Beauty, and the crowd was packed, and it was a raging night.
Yeah, that was a really good way to ring in 2017. Because we’ve taken the momentum from those two nights, they were just incredible energy, music, everything. And we all got to go watch Phish as a band, and just taking that energy and rolling into this year has been a really positive thing. We like New York.
LMNR: So, mentioning Umphrey’s…Can you give me a before and after, maybe, of what you were expecting or hoping for going into touring with them, and what you got out of it afterwards?
Definitely! I have to proceed this with a story. I went to High Sierra Music Festival, in 2015 and that’s where I saw Umphrey’s McGee for the first time, after listening to them and checking them out. Brendan, their guitar player, did a little breakdown, and did the speech of, “If any of you guys are in a band, on the rise, and you don’t think you’re gonna make it, just look at me!” And a year and half later, we were on the road with them. So, going into it I was terrified, like ‘Oh, man, I look up to these guys so much, what’s this going to be like?’ And then the very first day, we’re just sitting outside talking, just so excited, and then we hear “Hey, what’s up guys?” And we turn around, and it’s Brendan, from Umphrey’s, just standing there, and we’re like, “Uh, hey, hi..”
But then that was about as awkward as it got. They were all so nice, and they just took us, and our crew, under their wing, and showed us what it really takes if you want to be in this for the long term. We started as a band that kind of had their stuff together, but by the time we were done with them, we had this huge checklist of, you know, how to run the band, how to run the business, how to keep family life going, all these things. Any time we could ask them questions, we did. The number one thing we took from it was just a lesson in longevity.
LMNR: That’s a great whole other side of things to learn about, that I wouldn’t even have considered.
Yeah. It was a lot of driving, a lot of work. We didn’t have as much time for action outside of the shows, because you have these eight hour drives to get to the next spot, but…number one lesson: take the music seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously. That was a big thing that we learned from them.
LMNR: Well, you got to play with your heroes, and you nailed it for sure, good sets, some sit-in fun…Being where you are now in this scene, are there any other bands or artists that would would like to, or think it’d be good to, collaborate or get together with?
Being from Arizona, we haven’t had a chance to meet East Coast fans, but we’ve gotten to assimilate with a lot of the West Coast guys that are doing what we’re doing. So..like the second half of our tour was done with a band called Mungion, and they’re just really good and young and talented, and inspired. And so interacting with younger bands, and being able to share, but then also getting to talk to the other guys like…I know Brian is pretty excited to get to link up with the Disco Biscuits.
But it’s more like, we just want to talk to these guys (laughs). And see what they’ve been doing, and ask about making it work. I just like any chance I get to talk to someone who’s been doing this for a long time, so they can give us a little bit of direction (laughs).
From the video channel of Spaff Nerd
LMNR: You finished this last tour at Last Exit. Some people were saying, and of course this is just their guess, that those might be your last shows there, as you’ll be too big for them. Would there be any truth to the statement?
Um, I don’t know. I mean, Last Exit has a special place in our heart, but they were sold out within three days of putting the ticket sales up. So, it’s time for a bigger stage. I can’t say never again, like I would never say we would never play there, because we love the Last Exit. But we do want to continue the evolution of this thing as it’s grown organically. If it’s time to move to a bigger stage, it’ll move to a bigger stage. If not’ we’re perfectly fine with the other stages (laughs). Obviously, the end goal is to move this thing to a bigger and bigger stage, until we can’t grow anymore.
MNR: I was joking with some people that Spafford is the first serious jamband with actually more than decent vocals. And all three of you guys take your turn singing…are you guys classically trained, did you learn to sing before playing, or vice versa?
It’s a little different for all of us, Red and I have backgrounds….my musical background, my mom’s a choir director, so I grew up singing in church choirs, and playing in her church band, since I was a kid. Red toured with boys choirs and stuff, and Brian’s just been playing and singing, and we’ve all taken the time to work on our voices, and we know that singing and lyrics are equally as important as the improv. Song with meaning, and good lyrics and vocals, can really drive it home. It’s always been a huge priority for us, even since the beginning. Brian and I, at open mics nights with a hand drum and an acoustic guitar, we had good harmonies and we could keep people dancing (laughs). That’s how the whole thing started.
LMNR: I did read that, that you played early on in a gospel setting. Does that stuff ever find it’s way still into what you’re doing now, or not so much?
Oh yeah, I think it’s inevitable that it would, because I grew up hearing these songs, that music, and the style of writing that’s behind that just rooted heavily. And classical songwriting has definitely had a huge influence on me as a musician. But then, we played in gospel bands, Brian and I, and studied all of that. And there’s some real…like, message aside, if that’s not your thing, the music itself is beautiful, and there’s some real good classical hymns and stuff…I would, you know, go home, go to church with the family, and once that organ kicks in and that piano comes on, and you hit those chords, it’s emotional, you know? And so I think that will always be there, and the way those basslines move, and the way that music all moves together is very powerful. So I think that will continue to have an impact upon my music and my life. There’s no way to ever take that out of me (laughs).
LMNR: I had someone, who’s a big Nigel Hall fan, showing me these videos of him playing gospel groups before all the other stuff he’d done. G
J: Yeah! There’s a lot of great musicians that got their start in church. Like that was one of my first bands, when I was eleven years old….
LMNR: Sound is a big thing with Spafford, and another thing I read was that you and Brian used to trade pedals back and forth, to experiment with sound in that way. Do you still do that?
(laughs) Um, every now and then, I would get a pedal and be like, “I don’t really like this thing,” “Oh, Can I play with it ? “Oh yeah, here!” For awhile on tour…actually, just recently, he got his octave pedal, and then was like, “I don’t really like the sound of that, Ok let me try that one,” so now it’s on my pedalboard (laughs). So, yeah definitely still happens. We’re like, gear enthusiasts. At the end of the day, we’re just huge nerds, that are good at playing music. So we love technology, computers, and effects pedals and stuff, and we’re always trying see what we can do to push that to the next level. So yeah, we are still trading pedals (laughs).
LMNR: Nice. As you guys have said, and as is clear from your music, improv and new ideas are the true meat and potatoes for you in terms of your live shows. Can you tell me about any musical ideas that either you personally or the band would love to try down the line?
J: I want to do an entire set of funked-out nursery rhymes.
LMNR: Really…I’d dig that for sure.
Yeah! I hope no one’s going to steal that if I put that out there (laughs). That would be awesome, you know? You can play ‘em for your kids, they can dance…that, our bust out some gospel stuff, that would be fun, keep everyone guessing. Now my brain’s going with a crazy list of ideas, perform with a choir (laughs)…it goes on and on. We’re constantly, we have a list of crazy ideas going.
LMNR: So the whole band has creative ideas then!
Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s a big part of it, like the music is fun, but there’s also the show, and everything else. Just always, what’s next, what’s next, you know? Don’t ever sit on what you just did, keep thinking about what’s next.
LMNR: To use that as a wrap up here: Is there anything you can allude to in terms of unexpected stuff to come with your festival gigs? Any surprises in the works, or just taking it as it comes?
There will definitely be some unexpected stuff, I can’t allude to what that means…but we’re always trying to keep it fresh for ourselves and for the fans, so we’ve definitely got a few tricks up our sleeves for the summer.
LMNR: Well thanks again for taking the time for this.
Thank you man! Enjoy your day, I’m going to get back into the rehearsal room…
by Miles Hurley
Keep an eye out here for more interviews in this series.
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