By Jess Goulart
Photos courtesy of Missing Piece Group.
You know that friend who, when you’re together, you realize you’ve been riffing off each other’s sentences for 15 minutes? No one has any idea what the pair of you are talking about, but that’s okay because you just get each other.
That sums up both the personal and musical relationship of Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen, the founding members of the Austin, TX-based rock group Sweet Spirit. Though the band formed only about a year ago, the local buzz around their first self-titled EP was loud enough to land them an opening slot on Spoon’s summer tour.
Sweet Spirit recently released a single in collaboration with Spoon frontman Britt Daniels, plus their full-length album debut is imminent. Amidst all this, Ellis and Cashen sat down with BTR to discuss the rapid evolution of their music, their desire to elevate rock to the structural prowess of yesteryear, and explain what can only be described as one of the coolest writing techniques in the history of composition.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): You two have been making music together for a long time. How did you meet?
Andrew Cashen (AC): We’ve known each other since we were 14, grew up in the same town, even went to the same high school for a little bit, then split, but always hung around with each other.
Sabrina Ellis (SE): We had the same group of friends in high school and–
AC: We used to go skinny dipping together!
BTR: Used to?! Don’t you mean still?
SE: [Laughs] It’s been awhile, since maybe December of last year…
BTR: Sounds chilly! So you guys are going on tour with Spoon soon, how are you feeling about that?
AC: Mainly anxious. Right now we’re on tour with six people in our band in a 13 passenger van. We all get a bench seat. For Spoon, we’re taking nine people–we have a horn section and background vocalists who are also coming, and it is not going to be comfortable. But it amps up the live shows and makes it explosive so it’s worth it.
BTR: There’s rumors you got some special t-shirts made up for this trip that say “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck.” Is that true?
SE: [Laughs] Yeah they sell them in New York in Little Italy. They’re these black t-shirts with white letters that say “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck” and it’s like a New York sentiment.
AC: We’re going out to the west coast so why not?!
SE: It’s like, does anyone ever really wear those? But, if nine of us came in wearing those that would make an impact, people would remember us. So now we have to actually get those shirts…
BTR: Right, it’s out there now! Apart from the t-shirts, you guys have mentioned in interviews that you’ve been focusing on getting organized for this tour, which Britt Daniels has been helping you with, can you expand on that?
AC: Yeah, it’s the boring part of being in a band. Starting out as a musician, I just thought “Okay, all I really need to do is write good music and put on a good live show and shit will just fall into my lap–”
SE: But there’s so much more to that. You have to actually give a fuck. You do music for fun, and you don’t expect things like being on tour for most of the year to just happen, but it goes hand in hand with being organized. You have to answer the phone whenever people call and actually listen to your voice mails, and delete them when you have 17, and call people back. You have to actually answer any email you get, even if it’s a lot of saying no to things. You get more and more things that you have to say no to–
AC: And the whole time you’re going like, “Am I an asshole? No, I’m not an asshole.”
SE: The more communicative you are, the more available you are to people, the more they care, and Britt taught us that. After that, we started functioning as an actual band.
BTR: You guys have an upcoming album. Do you feel like there was a huge evolution between the album and the Sweet Spirit EP you dropped last year?
SE: There was a huge evolution because our band [has] only been together for a year and a couple months. Our EP was recorded six months into being a band, and was recorded in seven hours. It was a very spur of the moment, impulsive thing.
The LP we recorded for eight days in November and eight days in January. As these recordings are happening we’re still a new band, we’re evolving. Andrew started to listen to a lot of old pop ‘70s music and got a lot of specific production ideas when it came to the LP. We had a lot of time to work on it and you can sort of hear us aging and getting to know each other.
BTR: What inspired the single with Britt Daniels?
AC: Well we talked about working with Britt for a long time, we even talked about starting a band, but I’m in three bands already so my schedule is really crazy and hectic. Whenever we have free time, though, Britt always asks if we want to jam.
One day I actually had some free time and he came over to my house, and he had a riff and I had a riff, and we just went back and forth, and that one just came together real quick. Within five or 10 minutes of us jamming, but it sounded very pretty. It was acoustic, it sounded very country, and Britt knows how to use a drum machine and I don’t, so I was like “Dude we should make this like ‘80s spark-esque pop, and put a bunch of synthesizers to it.” And that’s how that one came about!
BTR: What are some of the influences on the upcoming LP?
SE: As far as the writing goes it’s very diverse, and as far as the production goes, Andrew said something really nice about it the other night.
We were in Cleveland and we were having a lot to drink, and Andrew started talking about how he wanted to bring back a high level of musicianship into rock and roll music, and bring back this sound of having a big band, and studying music and professionally doing music, and practicing a lot and working very hard on structuring the song and making this over the top almost classic rock sound.
BTR: A new rock movement?
SE: Well he was comparing that to the grunge and garage music, and how when the garage movement first came about people were really annoyed with the sound of cleanness and doing everything that you can musically in a song and composing. But now we’ve kind been in this grunge and garage and heavy, hard, lo-fi recording phase for maybe 15 years. There’s nothing wrong with it, but maybe we have a chance right now to inspire the next generation to really want to learn and study music and to go back and listen to bands like ELO and Queen and people who knew their shit. So those bands have been a huge influence on our recording and approach–late ‘70s glam and big rock and roll.
BTR: What’s your writing process like?
SE: There’s definitely this unspeakable bridge between us and creatively that really helps. Andrew always comes up with the technical part, like a riff, a structure, and a melody. We’ve been doing it so much that we actually needed to challenge ourselves, so we made a project of it. We built ourselves boxes to write in.
AC: Yeah they’re made out of wood, but they’re soundproof. I’ve got two in my living room and they have windows that face each other–
SE: It’s really nice when it’s raining and we take them outside.
AC: Yeah, so me and Sabrina stare at each other–we can’t hear each other–but we go into our separate boxes and start writing together, and we pretty much have to go off physical cues.
SE: Yeah I do a lot of dancing, and sometimes I have these sort of stage fights with myself while we’re writing, like in Fight Club. I’ll have to look at his hands and try to remember what the chords look like, but I’ll sometimes forget and be singing in a different key, and then he’ll pretty much know what I’m saying after a few hours of it, and he’ll start writing it down.
BTR: That is the coolest most creative technique ever.
AC: BTR should do interviews like that!