The Spindles' urgent subtleties
By Karl Byrn
Words can be tricky, especially in rock 'n' roll. Along with lyrical twists, signifiers like band names, stage names, genres and titles often merit a closer look. Words can confirm or confound our impressions of music, but they can also point to the essence of the art.
Consider Sonoma County's indie rock band the Spindles. Calling them "indie rock" isn't quite right, and more specific indie-rock descriptors like "alt-country," "slowcore" or "nouveau folk" aren't accurate either. Does one perhaps call them "avant-ambient pop balladeers"? The band prefer a description they once heard from a booking agent: "a Northern California acoustic sensibility with a simmering undercurrent of power-pop energy."
Coalmine likes that description. Coalmine Spindle, that is. Coalmine is his real name, or at least the name he uses in the real world. He's the bandleader and songwriter for a family of musical Spindles: Syd Spindle on drums, Spalding Spindle (Jamie Voss of Cropduster) on bass, Sergeant Spindle (Henry Nagle of One Horse Town) on pedal steel guitar, Stella Spindle on accordion and Sari Spindle on backup vocals. The name game might seem like a gimmick, but it opens mysteries and pinpoints clues to the band's identity more effectively than any indie-rock category names. A spindle might imply something fragile or childlike, but the Spindles are sturdy and serious. A coalmine might be a dark and suffocating place, but Coalmine is colorful and open.
The Spindles' identity is clear and cohesive on their soon-to-be released debut, The Enclosed I.P.O. (Creepy-Sleepy Records), recorded at their West County studio. Their initial public offering features a whimsical blend of somber ballads and sprightly pop-rock shuffles, sometimes delicately splashed with pedal steel and accordion, sometimes left stark. Coalmine's songs are full of loneliness and desire, and the band support them with careful musical nuances. Though the sound is subtle, the Spindles' favorite word for their style is "urgent"; not urgent in a hyper pop-punk way, but urgent in a demanding-to-be-heard way. Coalmine says the urgency is emotional, and adds, "We're really trying to put across what we're singing."
As a writer, Coalmine, who holds a degree in psychology from Sonoma State University, is certainly aware of the power of words. His lyrics sometimes make reference to reading and writing, one line confessing that "my vagrancy and my humility / I've lifted from something I read." He sings softly but sharpens his lines by clutching syllables, sometimes stretching them for more emotion; as he sings on one line, "My voice is hoarse, / But my throat is free."
"The songs are important to me. I'm trying to say something," Coalmine says, commenting that he gets irritated when clubgoers chatter during the songs. He can't go more than two weeks without writing songs, and since recording The Enclosed I.P.O., he's already penned enough material for a follow-up.
The Spindles and their subtleties indeed hold more than meets the eye. If Coalmine is the serious artist focused on the integrity of his work, drummer Syd Spindle is his foil as the rock 'n' roll jokester. The two started the Spindles as a guitar/drum duo after they had some success in San Francisco with the band Sterno Sound. Syd enjoys wisecracks, joking that it's all about the babes, calling the band "rock 'n' roll soldiers" even though "we're the roll in rock 'n' roll." Where Coalmine's tastes tend toward such songwriter rock as Elliott Smith, the Smiths and Bright Eyes, Syd is all about Detroit proto-punks the Stooges and the MC5.
Syd is a serious artist, too, a painter, even though he's colorblind. When describing Sergeant's pedal steel sound, Syd says the guitarist "has the palette of colors of an impressionist." Coalmine finds inspiration in the emotions of Syd's paintings. He points out a small sunset scene, in which Syd has sunlight sweeping over rooftops. The piece makes him imagine an old Italian villa, with rows of terra cotta tiled roofs. But he also sees something more there. Perhaps somewhere in those rows of quaint houses may live the woman who has caused all the loneliness in his songs. And he hopes she's living a beautiful life. It's a great lesson of the Spindles music that meanings can be hidden between the lines and that with words and art, you should always dig deeper.
The Spindles play the Stumptown Brewery on Sunday, June 5. 15045 River Road, Guerneville. 4pm. Free. 707.869.0705.
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From the June 1-7, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.