Sounds of the Summer: Spafford
Spafford’s recent tour-closing, two-night-run at Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads was a career-affirming benchmark complete with a tried-and-true celebrity encounter. But the musical influence they found themselves rubbing elbows with wasn’t exactly who you’d think.
“We did not run into Phil, but we did get a chance to hang out with Jerry Harrison,” recalls guitarist Brian Moss. “We’re huge Talking Heads fans and it was really cool to be in his presence and see how humble he was. Who knows? Maybe, one day, we’ll get a call from him to collaborate. We’re just enjoying meeting everybody in these awesome places because not a lot of them live in Phoenix, I’ll tell you that.”
Indeed, Spafford is one of those rare acts on the jamband circuit that is firmly based in the American Southwest. Their origin story can be traced back to a garage in Prescott, Ariz., where Moss and bassist Jordan Fairless first jammed together in 2009. After a few lineup changes, they eventually tapped permanent keyboardist Andrew “Red” Johnson in 2011 and reenlisted former drummer Nick Tkachyk this past April.
“We have nothing but love and respect for our brother, Cam,” Moss said in a statement shortly after drummer Cameron LaForest’s unexpected exit from the band this spring. “The band has had an amazing journey together the past two years, and we wish him the very best in the future.” Moss later said that they are welcoming Tkachyk back into the fold with “open arms,” adding, “His departure in ‘17 was unexpected for us, but necessary for his personal growth.”
These days, as the quartet clocks in over 120 shows a year, they’ve found their groove—not to mention a passionate fanbase of “Spaffnerds.” But, according to Moss, there’s still plenty they want to accomplish.
“By no means do we think that we’re just coasting along here. We still have our nose to the grindstone and our mission of what we’re trying to achieve,” he explains of the band’s ever-expanding repertoire. “It’s been a long road, but it’s the road that we’ve chosen to be on and we’re having a blast doing it.”
With a wide swath of influences and keen improvisational cohesion, all four members of Spafford have ample room to stretch their wings onstage. At any given show, you could hear covers of Don Henley or Red Hot Chili Peppers, original ballads (“Beautiful Day”), party-rock jams (“Electric Taco Stand”) or show-stopping instrumentals (“The Reprise”). And Spafford pride themselves on being able to chameleon between mid-sized clubs, large festivals and historic venues like Red Rocks. They’ve played after-parties for Widespread Panic, Phish and Furthur shows, toured with Umphrey’s McGee and even performed at Madison Square Garden at halftime during a Knicks game. And as they set out on their summer tour or, as they prefer to call it, “summer vacation,” Spafford are primed to get their music into the ears of as many new fans as possible.
“This time, it’s ‘Let’s just go and do this thing. Give it all you got,’” Moss says. “We’re looking to unveil some of the new songs that we featured in the winter and bring them to the big stages.”
One of those newer songs is the instant fan-favorite “Dirtbath.” Featuring several composed sections and plenty of shreddy guitar peaks, “Dirtbath” had its live debut in February, and Moss believes it has “huge potential” onstage. Funny enough, this “new” tune dates back to some of the guitarist’s earliest days as a songwriter.
“I’ve had all these parts of ‘Dirtbath’ just swimming around in my head. One of the later sections was a piece that I wrote when I was about 19 years old, when I first moved to Arizona and I was going to Scottsdale Community College. Essentially, I was able to insert this section that I wrote when I was a kid. And it worked. It’s very surreal and flattering when other people explode the same way I did when I put it together. When we started playing this and everybody was showing how much they appreciated it, it was hard not to continue with it. It gave us a whole new gusto.”
One gig that Moss is particularly excited for this summer is Camp Bisco. From a fan’s perspective, he still points to the Disco Biscuits’ festival as a formative experience.
“I was 17 years old and went to Camp Bisco III. I don’t remember much else besides the Disco Biscuits and eating a lot of weird grilled cheese sandwiches,” he laughs. “To be going back 16 years later and playing is the coolest thing.”
This summer, the quartet will continue to gig their way across America, showcasing their newly reformed lineup, fighting off bad weather (a tussle with the Midwest’s polar vortex caused them to reschedule a pair of shows this winter) and demonstrating their deep well of sounds and skills.
“We’re just a big mix of everything that we’ve always enjoyed listening to growing up—four guys who meet and play music together,” Moss explains. “We like short songs and long songs. We like fat songs and skinny songs. We like all different shapes and sizes and colors. That just speaks to us as musicians, and our personalities and the community that’s surrounding us. Everybody just wants to let go and breathe musically.”
You can catch Spafford at Camp Bisco, Great South Bay, Summer Meltdown and elsewhere this summer.
This article originally appears in the June 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.