Though he’s still scrubbing the sand from his boots after a spring tour, Kirpatrick Thomas of Spindrift, the L.A. spaghetti western band that blew us away at this year’s Psych Fest, is about to embark on another August run, all while putting the polish on a new record with a radically different, old-timey sound. We caught up with KP mid-tour to swill whiskey as he shared tales of touching fajitas with the godfathers of psych-rock, mused on the mystique of the cowboy, and beat down a drunken path to a better America.
I saw you perform for the first time at Psych Fest this year, and it blew my fucking mind. But this wasn’t your first time – you’ve been appearing at Psych Fest for years. How did this year compare?
It’s getting really huge. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like next year. It looks like things are really taking off, that there’s actually a movement going on and there’s a full catalog of bands they can choose from for that genre. I think some fall more into that genre than others. We’re sort of a crossover from that – half psychedelic rock, half Western, and a little bit of some blues, R&B, and poetry…folk music thrown in there. Country music.
And, you know, it’s in Austin…you can’t go wrong. This is where it all started, with the 13th Floor Elevators. We were in Kerrrville, Texas a few days before the Fest, and that’s where a lot of those guys live now, where they grew up, and where they started the band. We were out there, playing a backyard party, and the guys were like, “Hey, let’s call up the 13th Floor Elevators, tell them to come over, check y’all out.” Alright, let’s have some fajitas! That was definitely the most interesting time I ever spent in Texas – just a regular old house out in the country…
Speaking of country, I picked up the bootleg of your latest record, Cowboy Songs & Campfire Ballads, at the show…
That’s our crossover record. We had a special secret bootleg for this tour – a special surprise. The final version, you know, will look nice on vinyl, maybe have a few edits, some re-mastering, so it’ll be a little more proper when it comes out. We haven’t decided who to release it with yet, but it’ll come out sometime this fall.
It’s very different from your other material, much more of a country-western vibe, compared to your gut-punching psych-western medley. Less fuzz, more mellow…
It’s good to listen to when you’re out on the range, under the stars, or just driving down the highway or some country road. You know, we’re still figuring out how to incorporate that into our current sound, it’s so different. So we’ll really see what goes on with that, cause, you know…psychedelic country-western music…there’s not that much out there. You’ve got Gram Parsons…a bunch of really obscure stuff like Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan. I always thought they had this kind of quirky strangeness about them. The guys from way back in the day, like Loren Greene who did “Bonanza” and all that. That stuff, even though it’s meant to be straight-up cowboy gunfighter storytelling, it comes across as really innovative and strange and…you know…just plain cowboy cool. And that’s what I really dig. I’m not really a cowboy…not really an equestrian. Not very good at gambling either. I’m just obsessed with the western myth and the stories and the isolation of the desert and how that translates into sound and cinema.
So even though this sounds very different from your Morricone-meets-distortion soundtrack music, it all ties back to a love of that western lore?
We actually took songs, real songs, from cowboys and…well, some of them were cowboys, some of them weren’t, like Johnny Cash, you know, it’s arguable. Was he a cowboy? He’s more an American singing American music, and to me that’s important: to at least give a nod to that sort of history that America has behind it. I think it’s important thing, as a singer and songwriter, to remember these songs. Not many people are doing it these days, and the songs are becoming obscure. People like Johnny Bond and Tex Ritter, Johnny Western, the Sons of the Pioneers. We do remember them from back in the day, but for the most part, kids these days don’t even know who…uh…Paul McCartney is. Someone’s got to carry the torch or else they’ll be lost.
America really has its own unique musical background. I mean, we invented rock and roll. You always gotta remember that. And a lot of people are bummed about where America’s headed today, but you know…change it. Don’t cry. Don’t get paranoid. Don’t live your life like that, you know? I’m not a politician, but I do see something I believe in and something that has a message to it, and uh…those songs are really fun to play when you’re drunk.
[Laughs] When it all comes down to it, everything aside, that’s really what matters.
[Laughs] Everything aside…we’d be driving down the road, and what’re you gonna listen to? We’d usually put on the most easygoing, lo-fi country-western old stuff that you can hear. It’s just genuine and real, you know? I figured, hey, if this is what we like listening to, we should just play it, and that’s sort of always been our idea. If we envision some kind of music we could be playing and having the most fun with it, then that’s what we should be playing, cause we’re definitely not in this for money, we’re not in this for any commercial sense whatsoever. So you know, might as have as much fun as possible.
So you’re driving in a car one day, and the idea just hits you…
I’ll tell you how this all came about. We would finish shows out in the desert, and once we were finished, we’d go outside, pack up the van, and we’d get out our acoustic guitars and just continue to play outside for the rest of the audience. Or we’d go and sit by a campfire in somebody’s backyard or somewhere out in the desert and, you know, have some beers and play some of these songs that we relished, that we enjoyed. And [former band member] Dave Koenig’s playing harmonica and guitar, I’m playing guitar and we’re singing harmonies, and we just kept doing this. And eventually we decided to start doing that as a show, but not as Spindrift, as a separate project: Boy Scout Jamboree.
Ultimately, it made sense to release it as a Spindrift project and not something else because of the reputation we already have. I just want as many people to hear it as possible, and I don’t want Spindrift to have any kinds of limits to it. We have a previous history of playing all types of music, and who knows where we’re going to be going from here. The idea of limiting yourself is not appealing to me, especially when you’re doing your own thing.
So how did you make these songs your own? Was it difficult to record, considering that there’s more vocals, new instrument?
It was definitely a difficult record to make for me, as a singer. I really tried a lot of different things with the vocals, going in different directions, take after take. We could have just recorded it by a real campfire, but this is more of an orchestrated album. We could have done this super lo-fi with the band by a campfire somewhere, and yet I wanted huge vocals. I wanted big, echo-y guitars in there, along with some of the acoustic stuff. You know, there were some debates that it should be really lo-fi, but the albums that I like, that I listen to, they’re more studio records done by Nashville session guys that played the hell out of every instrument.
So that was another issue too – showcasing some of the more subdued talent that you might hear from some of those other recordings. “Navajo Trail” kind of has this Frankie Lane-ish lounge style to it — it’s like Western lounge. So I had to do this kind of swing in there with the vocals. And then a song by Marty Robbins, “Hanging Me Tonight,” when you listen to it, it has a Western cowboy ballad style, but thought the chord progression was really good for 50s teen idol style, so we did it like that. We took the songs and made them our own. And there are originals on the new album too.
Last year, you released Classic Soundtracks Vol. 1, a compilation of a bunch of your soundtrack work from over the years, along with some new tracks. Is Vol. 2 in the works? Any film projects going on now?
We have scored a few different movies recently, so we have some new material. One movie’s called Dust Up, and we did the whole score for that. We actually went into the studio and tracked to the film. That should be out…maybe next year? Treasure of the Black Jaguar, that’s a Mike Bruce film, we did some scoring on that. Some stuff with director Burt Roberts. Hopefully we’ll be scoring his feature, The Legend of the Widower Coby Wallace. Different projects pop up. We just got a bunch of songs in a movie called El Gringo. It’s got Christian Slater in it; it’s by a Mexican director with a spaghetti western-ish style to it.
We’ve also been pitching Tarantino for his next spaghetti western. At Psych Fest, I sang a song with Federale that’s meant to be the Django theme song. Those guys had me in the studio when I was on tour, and they said they were trying to find some lyrics for this song, asked me to sing. I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it! I’m really sick from being on tour for so long but let’s do it!’ And we did the theme song – I sang lead on it – and it’s amazing.
Did it make it into the final cut?
Did it make it into his next film? I don’t know. They’ve been pitching it to him, but…he’s a hard guy to get a hold of.
That’s not surprising.
Yeah, these directors keep really tight wraps on their projects. They don’t want to leak anything out. I don’t think they want to be so inundated with all these submissions and things…maybe cause it screws up their creative flow. You know, if you’re painting a picture and people keep walking in and saying, “Hey, put this in there! Put that in there!” After awhile you just want to scream, “SHUT UP!!!!”
Spindrift's West Coast Tour
27 – The Hood – Palm Desert, CA
28 – A Psychotropic Summer @Think Tank Gallery – Los Angeles, CA
04 – La Folk Fest- Los Angeles, CA 08/16 – Alex's Bar – Long Beach, CA
17 – The Crepe Place- Santa Cruz, CA 08/18 – San Frandelic Fest- San Francisco, CA
19 – Haven Underground- Nevada City, CA 08/21 – The Wayside Bar – Mt-Shasta , CA
22 – The Comet – Seattle, WA
23- Star Theater – Portland, OR
24 – Origami – Chico, CA
25 -Audies Olympic – Fresnor, CA
08 – Echo's West @ Echoplex- Los Angeles, CA