By ROB DUGUAY
Jam bands usually have a distinct melding of musical elements that establish some sort of groove into their sound. With this process, the rhythms are tight like a glove while the guitars and keys create the progressions that extend the songs. Spafford are one of these bands and they’ve been pulling off this approach for over a decade. They’ll be resonating their funky, jazzy music at The Met located within the Hope Artiste Village on 1005 Main Street in Pawtucket on September 23. Providence partystarters Jabbawaukee will be kicking the night off at 9pm.
I had a talk with guitarist & vocalist Brian Moss ahead of the show about the band having roots from a certain open mic night, going from the East Coast to the West Coast, having a wide amount of influences and a bunch of new music that’ll be out in the near future.
Rob Duguay: Spafford has roots in an open mic night that took place at a spot called Coyote Joe’s in Prescott, Arizona that you and bassist Jordan Fairless used to play at. What was it about the collaborative atmosphere there that fueled the idea for the both of you to start the band?
Brian Moss: That’s a great question, you’re really bringing me back in time. Jordan and I when we first started playing music together, I was on acoustic guitar and he was on the djembe. We were hitting this open mic at Coyote Joe’s, I believe it was every Wednesday or every Thursday at that time and it was hosted by Don Cheek who was a huge figure in the area. He’s a great musician and I actually played in his band, Don Cheek & The Cheektones, as his guitar player for a couple years while Spafford was still getting off the ground. He had a huge impact on the community around there and Prescott around that time circa 2009 and 2010 was a really cool place.
The local community was very vibrant and very into music with a lot of heads around there, so to speak. Also nestled in Prescott is Prescott College, which is coincidentally where I met my wife so Coyote Joe’s was that place everybody would go to and it was a great mingling of all these different groups of people. There were college kids, there was the older local community, there was a big sober community so everybody showed up to these open mics to set this kind of atmosphere for it. There were these wood burning stoves they had which were planted everywhere, it was the only outdoor patio in Prescott so you could smoke cigarettes and around that time everybody was smoking cigarettes. That was the place to go and it was cool, it was really something special and at that time we knew we were part of something special.
Jordan and I just signed up for open mics a couple times and we got a great response from the crowd so Don Cheek started putting us as the headliner every week that we were doing it. Even funny enough, we fast forward to a private VIP show we had in 2018 at Globe Hall in Denver and I actually invited Don out there. He played with us the night before at the Ogden Theater, we played one of his songs and he came up on stage as a special guest. The next night was this VIP small event and we had Don do this mock open mic as if it was what it was like back in the day at Coyote Joe’s so he did the introduction and all that stuff that he would normally do. It was very cool and very fun.
RD: It sounds like it was a really cool place to see musicians play. You’re originally New Jersey, so what made you want to move out to Arizona during your 20s? Was it because you went to Prescott College or was it something else?
BM: Originally I moved to Phoenix, then I moved to Scottsdale for a little bit and within a month or two I found my way to Tempe and started going to Scottsdale Community College there to study music. I made a whole bunch of friends and I was in bands pretty quick once I moved out there. I think I was in my one band I held onto for a while within the first three or four months that I moved to Tempe. I just needed to get out of New Jersey at the time, I was 18 years old and a lot of my friends were going off to college. When I was in high school I never really applied to many colleges, I didn’t necessarily have the grades or the GPA to think that was what I wanted to do. Once everybody left, I felt a great desire to leave as well and do something because all my friends were all over the place so I did and I went further than anybody I went to high school with all the way to Arizona.
RD: It’s been mentioned that Spafford’s sound is the improvisational product of the different backgrounds and influences among the members of the band. What would you say are the bands and musicians you guys have bonded over through hashing out ideas, listening to music together and playing together?
BM: It’s funny, a lot of us grew up with ‘90s rock & roll kind of behind us and I think each one of us kind of brings a different genre and a different era of music to the table. Now it’s with this core mentality of if we’re going to do a song then we’re going to improvise over it. That’s what I think is really special about the band and what makes it fun. Before we started playing together I’d never heard of the Scissor Sisters and to find out that particular band was produced by Elton John, to learn those things and play these songs and stuff like that is what has come out of it. It’s really cool that we’ve been able to kind of not just come from one musical background but we come from four different ones and that’s what makes the band.
RD: That’s awesome. You guys have a fanbase that goes by the name “Spaffnerds” who travel to see you perform while maintaining an online community about your shows. Did anyone from the band come up with the name for this group of fans or did they come up with it on their own?
BM: I do believe, and I will quote this, the first person that ever said “Spaffnerd” was actually my wife. Right around that time, I believe maybe somebody else uttered something like that so it was a name they gave themselves for the most part. They’ve formed several different communities of this in online fashion, there’s a Spaffnerds group on Facebook and you can also log on to spaffnerds.com. These people that formed these groups are really special to us, a friend of ours who started the Facebook group thought we needed one at the time and soon afterwards another friend of ours started the website. The website is a way for fans to track our setlists, track the shows they’ve been at and all that stuff.
There’s great search bars and stuff like that where you can type in which town we’ve played in, which city we’ve played in, which show, which song was played here and there and all different stats that are collected. God bless the Spaffnerds, we wouldn’t be here without that group.
RD: It’s cool that you have this community behind you guys, that’s great. I know you guys have a ton of live recordings online, but it’s been a few years since Spafford released their most recent studio album Chapel Jam back in 2019. Can we expect a new studio album in the near future? What are your plans for the coming months?
BM: Chapel Jam was just part of a live jam that was a big improvisational experience. Since then we have released a couple of things on Spotify but most recently we released a live compilation on that platform and iTunes which is called Hindsight. That’s a compilation of songs we’ve played in 2020 and most were not even in front of people because we were off the road at that point due to the pandemic. We’re still working on releasing a slew of new material with studio albums, live albums and all sorts of other stuff, we just started hopping on the road again and we’ll let these things come out as they need to.