Making your mark as a band with a song entitled Landmine should tell you a lot about Spooled Up’s determination. They have taken their love of 90’s alternative rock and turned up their amp to full in the hope that someone is listening. And you know what, it’s safe to say many of us are listening, including a small army of local fans in Baltimore’s robust music scene. What has undoubtedly helped Spooled Up ignite interest in Baltimore is their debut EP Strange World. In short, Strange World is an intense listening experience, and at the end of it I’m left to wonder what drives this energetic quartet.
Recently I spoke to Spooled Up to see what makes them tick. For the record, Spooled Up is Luke Spicknall on guitar and vocals, Naomi Davidoff on guitar and vocals, Flynn DiGuardia on drums and Kaitlyn Baker on bass. Here is some of what we talked about.
For those unfamiliar with the Baltimore, what’s it like playing the city’s local dives and the sense of history that comes with knowing that famous rock musicians like Frank Zappa, Ric Ocasek of The Cars, David Byrne of The Talking Heads and Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz were all once part of the Baltimore music scene?
Luke: Baltimore is a great incubator city for artists of all kinds. A big part of that is its size – it’s big enough that there is plenty going on, yet small enough that you don’t feel lost in the kind of over-saturation that you might experience in a New York or L.A. While I respect the artists you listed who have some roots in Baltimore, none of them really feel OF Baltimore or relevant to the city now – with maybe the exception of Zappa. I think a lot of those bigger artists who may be ‘from here’ in some sense achieved their fame after no long really being associated with the city. That’s where the ‘incubator’ idea comes in. When I think about the history we are participating in I tend to look back on groups like Ponytail and Videohippos and all the acts I grew up watching in packed warehouse spaces back in the 2000’s, or this history that is being created as we speak with artists like DDM and Butch Dawson.
Flynn: One of the great things about Baltimore is there is something for everyone musically speaking–since moving here I’ve seen some of the best punk shows, crazy noise shows, and great rap performances to name a few.
With your anthemic track Landmine, I hear an overwhelming influence of 90s rock, fuzz rock and even punk rock. What is it about the power and angst of these genres that attracts you to it?
Naomi: For me, all of the genres you listed are pretty sentimental, so it comes kind of naturally when we are songwriting. As far as the power and angst – I think everyone can agree that singing loud, playing loud, is all just straight-up fun. On a personal level, writing songs is about externalizing internal thoughts or feelings. You always hear the saying, write about what you know. Having space to freely express yourself is important in any type of artistic platform, and for a sonic medium, that power happens to parallel pretty directly to an emotional release. If that means loud fuzz, feedback and dreamy chorus, let it be. Our songs are written to be played at max capacity.
Luke, what is your favourite go-to guitar? What do you love about its sound?
I play a Fender Cyclone. It is actually a bit of crutch for me. It’s this perfect hybrid of the offset body style of a Jaguar or Jazzmaster and (this is the kicker) the Stratocaster style bridge/vibrato system. That Strat vibrato arm is the only kind I’ve found that moves with my hand the way I need it to. You’ll hear me using that vibrato quite a bit both when strumming and soloing to bend the notes higher and lower. When I was learning how to play guitar I was listening to ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ by Dinosaur Jr. a lot. The way J Mascis would solo while shaking the vibrato arm (particularly on their cover of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’) would add this wild extra dimension to the sound that made a big impact on me. It made me want to learn how to harness that same kind of tonal palette blended with the hooky melody configuration that he was working from. It’s actually really difficult for me to play an electric guitar that doesn’t have a vibrato arm. I feel like a boring guitarist without it. That’s the crutch
Can you tell us a little bit about the creative and recording process of Spooled Up’s Strange World EP? Do you all maintain a close collaborative effort during songwriting?
Naomi: The songs are written first by either Luke or Naomi, and then we both meet up and work on the overall composition with guitars. Then we start sorting out vocals and backups together. Once we have a solid foundation we bring it to Flynn and Kaitlyn to work out the dynamics and backbone.
We had a great experience working with Sean Mercer of Magpie Cage Recording studio and Mat Leffler-Schulman at Mobtown Studios to capture our sound in the EP.
Luke: Naomi or I will often bring a fully conceived song idea to practice. By the time everyone hears it and contributes new ideas and parts and perspectives, the finished song will often end up very different from the initial idea. And the song always better because of it.
Naomi, can you tell us something about how vocal duties are shared in the band?
You can tell if Luke or I wrote the core of the song dependent on who is singing lead vocals. We try to incorporate backups whenever possible to tie the dynamic together across songs and emphasize meaning. Singing is a really personal and visceral process to me, so as a rule of thumb I try not to sing other songwriter’s lyrics unless it’s something like backups.
Can you share something about the dynamics or friendships in the band that is surprising?
Naomi: We are all pretty tight-knit and longtime friends. Flynn and Luke have been roommates for a long time, and Flynn & Kaitlyn have known each other for about 10 years. Same with Naomi and Luke. If you’ve ever played music in a band, you will know that it can be hard to find a group of people where everyone can understand each other and get along and find common creative ground. We are pretty fortunate with that aspect of the group and it definitely helps our individual music styles mesh together.
Luke: It is actually really important that we are all able to make each other laugh pretty easily. The chuckle to drama ratio is in good balance. We all take the artistic aspect fairly seriously, but the main objective is for this project to bring something fun and positive into our worlds. I think that allows us to respect each other while keeping egos pretty grounded.
I’m a big fan of bass players, who often aren’t given enough credit for the hard work they do. Kaitlyn, have you always played the bass? Who are the bass players that inspire you to play?
Kaitlyn: I started playing bass about 8 years ago. I played piano before that and took a guitar class in high school but something about bass clicked with me and it became my main instrument. My biggest influences for bass are Peter Helmis from Algernon Cadwallader for his sometimes simplistic, all times catchy bass parts, and Nathan Latona from Tera Melos for his way of writing parts that are unique, melodic, and at times set apart from the guitar and drums.
Flynn what are your earliest memories of playing music? Can you tell me a little bit about your style of drumming?
One of my earliest memories is listening to the ‘Jock Jams’ cassette that I had around ’95 or ’96. It was a compilation of popular 90’s dance and club music– ‘Whoop (there it is)’, ‘Strike It Up’, ‘The Power’–stuff like that. This is one of the earliest memories I have of noticing music. My M.O. at this time was ‘Jock Jams’ at a 10 out of the boombox and either running around the apartment OR jumping on the bed until I got caught. Something about the energy and kinetic nature of those songs made me little bull-in-the-china-shop, still so many great songs and earworms on this comp (recently peeped). Countless musical phases and bands later, I guess this is what I’m goin for right now?
Finally, where can the Baltimore faithful catch you next?
Naomi: We are playing at Romantic States’ album release show with James & the Giant Peach and No Hair on October 19 at Rituals, and then with Pile and The Wayward on December 14 at Metro Gallery. See you there!