Indievotion publishes the third interview of a series of in depth talkings with musicians and/or bands that we deeply cherish and that we envisage as groundbreaking acts away from mainstream numbness. This interview courtesy of Laurie Ruroden from the Winston Salem (North Carolina) based dark psychedelic gaze trio, Spirit System scheduled early this year constitutes a real narrative of the adventures in the musical world both by Laurie and their musical mates, that such as many other bands worldwide are doing wonders in a DIY regular basis.
Spirit System debut album "Nightfalling" is due release March 1st with an album release party scheduled for March 4th at Snug Harbour (Charlotte, NC), in the meanwhile we are very proud to be working on their debut album review which will be published March 4th on our blog. One final and grateful word to Laurie Ruroden (and Eric Gilstrap) for prompt and generous cooperation without which this amazing interview wouldn’t have been possible. Good reading!
1. In which way did your cultural and musical background contribute to forming a band?
I think a big part of my desire to be a musician was being surrounded by incredible touring and local bands in my formative years. I moved to Winston Salem with my family during my sophmore year of High School, and completely submerged myself into the music scene. It was raw and refreshing to my thirsty ears. Although I didn't pick up the bass until a few years later when I moved to Charlotte, I feel like it was the vivacity of the punk/industrial/hardcore scene in Winston that shaped my mind.
2. Before Spirit System was formed you were part of Tokyo Machine, Elevator Action, and Telltale. Tell us about this period and how it helped you to be an even better musician?
Well this period was over several years, between 2000 and 2010 to be exact. So let me summarize: Tokyo Machine was the first band that I joined and also where I first learned how to play bass. I had initially joined forces with Ryan Pace and Shannon Small with the notion I was to be their lead vocalist (in the vein of Everything But the Girl). After our first meeting/audition, I proved I was not yet comfortable in my own skin, so they were both quick to ask me if I would like to try my hand at bass. Of course I jumped at the chance! I immediately felt an innate bond with the instrument, and was not only able to play but also sing back up vocals straight away. Within 2 months I was already playing my first show with them at Fat City (Charlotte). Although my presence in the band was shortlived, it was a great introduction into the music world. It was also during this period that I met Eric. I could go into detail and ramble on about intimate particulars, but I will keep it brief and say our chemistry was instantaneous, and on multiple levels. Elevator Action came about pretty organically. It was suggested that we contact Gary Guthrie about playing drums with us. After the first rehearsal, we knew he was a great fit. Before we knew it we had half an album's worth of material, moved into together and were playing one of many house shows we threw at the infamous Jackson Avenue. Our sound could be best described anxious, post-punky garage rock. It was trashy and sexy, and we could always get a crowd moving. Within a year of being together we signed on with MoRisen Records, which allowed us the opportunity to record with the amazing John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile) for two albums (It's Just Addiction & Society,Secret), tour up and down the east coast, share the stage with many incredible bands and play several showcases at CMJ and SXSW, etc. But eventually it all came to a head and we went our separate ways. In early 2007 Eric and I decided to move to Brooklyn and briefly kept EA going by finding a few replacement drummers, until we finally decided to lay it to rest. Within the first 2 months of living in NY, Eric and I met Lauren Andino. She was brilliant, sick and twisted, so I immediately took a liking to her...and she played the fucking drums! After a few months of toying with the idea of starting a gothy shoegaze-esque band, the three of us decided to form Telltale in early 2008. We had played a few shows as a trio, then later on added our good friend Stephan Cherkashin to help fill out the wall of fuzzed-out sound. During this time we got to play with some incredible bands ranging from Ringo Deathstarr, Soundpool, Adam Franklin, The Vandelles, Foreign Resort, The Skydrops, to name a few. The only album by Telltale is the 2010 release, Altahmam. It was shortly after it's release, and our final tour together, that we called it quits.
3. You and Eric Gilstrap are long time partners/collaborators. After Telltale split up back in 2010, there was or appears to have been a musical hiatus that lasted until late 2012/early 2013. What had you been doing musically during this period?
It was actually a very quiet time for me musically. During this period I was debating on the idea of leaving Brooklyn, since I wasn't motivated to play music after Telltale and was just struggling to make ends meet in a city I adore. It was heartbreaking to even think about leaving my friends, who were like family to me...and even harder to think about saying goodbye to Eric. In January 2012 I moved back to North Carolina, Winston Salem to be exact. I hadn't lived in this city since high school and there were a lot of changes made to the downtown, so everything was shrouded with a haunting familiarity. After a while I found steady work, a cute little cottage to live in and Eric eventually moved down from Brooklyn (after being apart for nearly 7 months) to start our next creative endeavor together.
4. You and Eric spent quite a few years back and forth between North Carolina and Brooklyn (NY) and back again to North Carolina, where you are actually based now. Apart from the inherent stress of relocating, how would you describe both music scenes and how that influenced your music?
There's no shortage of great bands that hail from North Carolina, so we have been lucky enough to play with a mixture of diverse talent over the last few years, as well as some incredible touring bands such as A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Wildhoney and Lightfoils. Besides that, North Carolina has some fantastic venues in the region in which we are well recieved, namely Snug Harbor, The Garage, Reanimator Records, Krankies,The Luna Lounge and The Milestone. Not to mention the annual festivals like Phuzz Phest, Hopscotch, Moog Fest and Cringe-Con, which hold a broad spectrum of talent and concert-goers. The innovative vitality in Winston Salem and Charlotte alone is absolutely inspiring. There is something reassuring about being a part of a collective where you know nearly everyone, and you are able to experience how hard the artists around here work to create such a lively and driven scene. To compare NC to New York would be absurd, and to match it's energy would be even more silly. But it did open Eric and I up to a lot of opportunities and lifelong relationships with many bands and brilliant individuals. Whenever Eric and I go back to Brooklyn it feels like we never left, which makes it hard for us to leave.
5. Is there any particular meaning for the band’s name or is it merely a name with non-metaphysical significance?
Not really. We jotted down some notes and started piecing together words we thought sounded cool. All we needed was a bottle of red wine (or 3) and 2 frivolous minds...and voila.
6. As far as we know you are not a full-time musician. In which way does this interfere with your creative processes, rehearsal/recording logistics and touring?
I put in nearly as much time with rehearsals and the behind-the-scenes business aspect of the band as I do my bread winning job of bartending. I have been very lucky to work for people who have an understanding and appreciation for the arts, and I feel I do a good enough job that when I need any time off it is usually given to me. So there really isn't too much interference other than the lack of sleep at times. THAT I could always use more of.
7. Objectively which bands and/or musicians did particularly influence you and how do they relate to the music you make?
Slowdive, Pixies, and Lush certainly come to mind, for the layered vocals, guitar/bass techniques. Obviously, some of the influence of eighties darkwwave bands like jamc, the cure, chameleons, is there too. In recent years, i've been more influenced by bands like the vandelles, dead leaf echo, ringo deathstarr etc...let's get fuzzy!
8. Considering that each band member individually has specific music influences, how would you define Spirit System’s sound and what is the band’s musical genre comfort zone, if you think that there is one, and why?
I've been describing it to people as psych wave. It feels like we are landing somewhere between the darker reverb drenched hallways of "disintegration" and "directions to see a ghost" featuring hazy male/female vocal delivery of 90s gaze. so yeah, psychwave, gothgaze, hahaha, i guess thats our comfort zone.
9. Spirit System’s started as a duo and reshaped to a trio just like in Elevator Action and with the very same drummer (Gary Guthrie). How do you explain it in terms of empathy, sound redefinition, working process and band stability?
Well, we've always had a great musical rapport with each other. However, it took working with others before settling on being a trio. As far as redefining sound, it wasn't painstaking as Eric has always been a gazer at heart and constantly experimenting with electctronics and guitar efx. I think we wanted to do something that wasn't based on a party atmosphere, like when we were younger. It was a natural, although, slow progression that led us all to this particular sound.
10. Spirit System did a cover version of New Order’s seminal song “Dreams Never End” from their post-Joy Division trauma period. The final product is pretty good. The “nostalgic poppiness” of the original was diluted and exchanged for a thick foggy wall of sound allowing the song to expand. Tell us about this process and if there are any future covers on the making?
We wanted to basically deconstruct the original and put our on twist on the song. Eric felt like the lyrics deserved a lonely nightmarish treatment juxtaposed with droney, swirling background guitars. Carlos Bocanegra, the producer on that track, suggested i should layer a chorus of 4ad- esque vocals in the background. We are very pleased with the experiment in general and very grateful to work with Carlos and TBTCI (the blog that celebrates itself).
11. How would you describe Spirit System songwriting and the creative process as well as what is the lyrics main substrate? Do they come to mind naturally, they are revised over a period of time before going to the studio or finished during the recording process itself?
Eric is the wizard behind all of the songs. He will spend several hours in our rehearsal space (which is now in our basement) either working on one song or coming up with ideas for several. He has enough songs in his memory vault to make a multitude of albums! Whenever we have free time together, I will join him in the basement to add my basslines over what he has written. Sometimes it takes a little bit, but usually by the end of the day we have a mainframe for a new song. He also tends to keep his lyric writing process secretive. I see him constantly scribbling and editing in journals, so something must be happeing in there. haha
12. “Together in the Merciful Dark” EP (2013) was the first release you and Eric made almost 3 years after Telltale’s breakup/indefinite hiatus and it seems to have worked out as a draft or a map for future creative days. Was this so?
Oh absolutely. Almost immediately after Eric moved down to Winston Salem, we started writing. We hadn't written anything together in over two years! This spark was created by a number of things, namely the death of a close friend and the rekindling of our relationship. There's definitely a haunting beauty behind those 3 tracks and it helped give us a platform for what is to be our first full length album, "Nightfalling".
13. Nightfalling due release is March 1st, 2016. This debut full length was initially announced in mid-2015, but instead the band released a second EP, Afterblume, in early summer of 2015, which consisted of the extras from the Nightfalling recording sessions. What went wrong or what contributed to such a delay?
We moved into a new house in the middle of the summer of 2015, which delayed our plans to release the album in the fall. We had also planned to release it on vinyl and were holding out a bit on some financial backing. So we decided to self release.
14. Elevator Action’s two albums were released through MoRisen and Telltale was not signed to any record label. How will it be with Nightfalling? What is your understanding of the music industry and in which way it affects independent/alternative bands from becoming fully professional?
Spirit System is self releasing, which is sort of common place for a lot of independent artists. As far as the music industry goes, I would love the support of a decent indie label, but the lack of being signed to one does not discourage me from continuing to write and release music, on top of playing shows and touring every chance we get. As long as I am alive, I will be creating and finding ways to get heard. To me, that is part of being professional.
15. Are there any plans concerning playing in Europe in a near future and touring the upcoming album or you’ll be touring it only in the US?
There are no plans as of yet, but we would LOVE the opportunity to tour in Europe. It's definitely in our sights and we will do everything we can to actualize this goal.
16. If you had to describe the past 16 years of your musical life experience, how would they be like?
Fortunate. I get to create with my best friend, and partner in nearly everything, on a regular basis. I also get to travel and share the stage with bands I love and respect. I have had some very exciting adventures over the last decade and a half, and that's just the beginning...