Tales of boomtowns, brothels and banditos inspired psych-rock band Spindrift’s new album, Ghost of the West. But unlike the spooky, grindhouse Spaghetti Western version of the West painted by the Los Angeles quartet’s 2002 album, The Legend of God’s Gun, these songs—based in dusty, but no less fascinating, fact—tell the true tales of the West, as “this giant mythological but real thing that’s surrounding all of us,” says vocalist/guitarist Kirpatrick Thomas.
In the 1870s, Frisco, Utah, was the classic godforsaken, sin-ridden “Wild West” town. Built around the rich Horn Silver Mine, it was complete with corseted bar maids, rowdy gambling halls and so many murdered bodies stacking up that a wagon had to regularly make the rounds to cart them away. There was even a shoot-first, don’t-take-no-guff sheriff who was called in to clean up the town. But after a cave-in blocked off the most abundant portion of the mine, people started to up and move away. By 1920, Frisco was a ghost town.
Fast-forward to the present, when, as part of the band’s 2012 five-week self-guided tour of performing at more than 20 abandoned towns and other significant sites in the West, Spindrift did a show in Frisco, “playing to the ghosts,” Thomas says. The plan to do such an unconventional “tour” came about when the band members noticed their sound was “regressing more back toward the realness of the old West, and the idea that there’s this lost history out there,” he says. “So, we started doing more historical, folk-driven, Hollywood golden-era cowboy songs instead of the Spaghetti Western style, and we … decided, ‘Hey, why don’t we take these songs to the actual places where they were birthed?’ ”
Other stops on the tour included “living” ghost town Tombstone, Ariz., as well as Bryce Canyon and the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was an often-strange journey: In Belmont, Nev., inside the old courthouse, the band found carvings left behind by Charles Manson and his family. Each performance was recorded live, with some audio used as mixing material on the album, or standing alone as complete tracks.
A film crew also documented the shows and the band’s explorations; the footage will be used to create a surreal “elongated music video”-style film, Thomas says, directed by Burke Roberts, to be released in 2014. “The shots we got are just incredible … huge landscapes and big sky,” he says. “Kind of creepy as well … there’s something to be said about the haunting beauty that you come across in places like that.”
Though Spindrift’s sound captures the West, Thomas founded the band on the East Coast. After experimenting with various styles and deciding he wanted to break into scoring films, Thomas discovered composer Ennio Morricone, who wrote the soundtracks for many of Sergio Leone’s Italian-Western classics, including The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. The soundtrack for the latter played in Thomas’ car stereo as he drove across the country to move to Los Angeles, inspiring a new Spaghetti Western direction for Spindrift.
“The whole expanse started to open to me, and the possibilities of what I could do musically really opened up as well,” he says.
On Ghost of the West, released Oct. 22, that Spaghetti Western influence is toned down, but the album is still undeniably Spindrift, with Thomas’ baritone vocals and huge, reverb-y guitar chords. It features new takes on classics such as “When I Was a Cowboy” and “Buffalo Dream,” as well as originals like the Spanish-tinged track “The Matador & the Fuzz,” all inspired by Thomas’ “love affair with the West and discovering and searching for all the different stories and places you could go [and] history you could uncover.”
w/ The Femme Medea
1199 Beck St.
Saturday, Oct. 26, 8 p.m.
$10 in advance, $15 day of show