[Exclusive] Spirit Award frontman Daniel Lyon details upcoming album 'Muted Crowd' and the band's recent fascination with cults
The Seattle-based psychedelic-rock trio is all set to release their sophomore album 'Muted Crowd' on October 19. Frontman/multi-instrumentalist Daniel Lyon takes us through the new record in this exclusive interview.
After dropping their impressive debut studio album 'Neverending' last year, Seattle-based trio Spirit Award continues their psychedelic-rock exploration on their sophomore record 'Muted Crowd,' due out on Friday, October 19 via Union Zero records.
Produced by Trevor Spencer (Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes), 'Muted Crowd' highlights the band’s signature style of expansive and enveloping soundscapes, offering an almost therapeutic quality, while touching upon some dark themes such as hopelessness, the ever-expanding sprawl of cities like Seattle and curiously enough, the lure of cults. The latter is exemplified by Spirit Award's lead single from the new album 'Supreme Truth' which is inspired by the Japanese death cult Aum Shinrikyo lead by Shoko Asahara, who recruited the Japanese elite to join his cult and carry out Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995.
The timing of the single couldn't be more apt. Earlier in July, after exhausting all appeals 13 of the cult's members, including Asahara were executed by Japan and hanged to death for their crimes.
The name of the cult, 'Aum Shinrikyo' is usually rendered in English as "Aum Supreme Truth," derived from the Sanskrit syllable 'Aum,' used to represent the universe, followed by the Japanese 'Shinrikyo' (roughly meaning "Teaching of Truth"). That's where the single gets its apt name from. Frontman and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Lyon discussed the single, along with many other interesting details about the forthcoming album in a telephonic interview with Meaww.
"The three of us - Terrance [Ankeny] and Chris [Moore] the other members - we kind of talked about it. We've listened to some podcasts and read some stuff about cults over the last couple of years," Daniel explains. "I find it fascinating. I grew up in a pretty religious Evangelical Christian house. It's just interesting drawing some correlations between religions and cults. And something that seemingly has good intentions but... few of them have good intentions I guess... It's purely selfish and I don't know how leaders can claim [otherwise]. But a couple of them, the cults that I've read about - they want peace and harmony and all that, but then outside of greed, it's just human that people take advantage of other people."
'Supreme Truth' is also accompanied by a fitting music video (which you can watch below) that shows us several slo-mo scenes from a cult-like society, with members clad in spotless white all apparently blissful and unaware. Soundtracked by the eerie melody of the song and Dan's ethereal vocals, one can't help but feel an unsettling, impending sense of doom behind the otherwise superficially happy clip.
"We had talked about what the music video would be for this, and we kind of just got to the point where we're like 'Let's just make it about a cult.' Like what literally the song is about...and kinda just show that" Daniel explained in his drone-like manner, much like his dreamy, reverb-heavy vocals on Spirit Award's deep. "I think we wanted to stay away from a generic depiction of what would be a cult. You know...what the end result of some of these cults are...people getting killed or murdered or whatever it is. But, kind of just hinting at the fact that all these people are insanely happy but maybe there's a hint of some darkness underneath which will eventually lead to the collapse of everything."
'Supreme Truth' was followed by two more peeks at the new album. Last month saw the release of 'Dark Knight of the Soul,' the band's take on modern materialism underlined by their signature stereo guitarwork, fuzzy vocal refrains and driving drum and bass rhythms. Earlier this month, the drum and bass-driven groove 'Wasting Time' premiered via Pop Matters.
If one were to listen to Spirit Award's tracks with no prior introduction to the band, it would hard to believe that the carefully constructed layers of sonic sprawls arise from just three people. It makes for a very interesting dynamic, especially when the trio plays live. They often switch-up roles between members during live gigs and showed internet audiences a glimpse of that dynamic during their fabulous KEXP performance. During their performance of 'Neverending' album-cut 'Las Vegas,' Daniel sets a looping riff on his guitar, sets it down and joins Terrance on a second drum kit.
"Since we started the band, the goal has been to try to do as much as we can as a three piece...you know filling out the sound" Dan explained the dynamic of the group. "And we've thought about adding another person. Every time we try...we just really enjoy the thing that we have going together. We don't feel like at times, we're lacking much. There's maybe a couple of things on the record that we can't quite do live, but we try to mostly do everything we can to make sure that nothing is missing."
He adds: "With the new record, we wanted to be more free with it. Terrance has been primarily our drummer. He's been wanting to do more in the band and not just drums. And I think we all kinda wanted to have that switch-up. It's kinda nice to get into different mindsets while writing, and while playing it's a nice break to move away from your comfort zone."
"Terrance wrote all the guitar parts and the bass for 'Supreme Truth,'" Dan reveals. "He'd mentioned that it would be cool if we wrote it about this Japanese death cult and I recorded some vocals at home." Daniel then took over and laid down the lyrics working on Terrance's rough ideas.
We also discussed the story behind the title of the new record 'Muted Crowd.' "We kind of pulled the name from the last song on the record. The line is 'the crowd doesn't mute.' It just kind of stuck with us. I think there are a lot of us that feel right now like we still have a voice individually and there are so many things about the world we wish we could change. But it's really sad that we can't and that we get angry about certain things. We don't feel like there's anything we can do. Just the thought that together we are all in that mindset of trying to get people together...Just saying 'hey, I'm with you'... I don't know what to do with it besides just trying to start the conversation. Trying to get people active about voting and climate change and just local issues. Seattle, for instance, has a huge issue with homelessness," Dan said as we took a moment to acknowledge local legends Pearl Jam's recent efforts to raise money for the homeless in the city.
"Seattle has gone through a lot of changes and grown really fast just like a lot of other bigger cities. The response to that is 'What do we do with that? How do we preserve what has been Seattle or any other city for years?' It's a large response to everything that's going on. The song itself that the album takes its name from comes from the frustration and the sadness with gun violence and not knowing what to do when our voices are not being heard about trying to do something to stop this."
Daniel briefly took me through the recording process and working with producer Trevor Spencer, who has worked with the likes of Father John Misty and Fleet Foxes. "Most of the recording happened at Trevor's studio in Washington," he said. "Basically, this old horse-barn that he converted into a studio. It was fun. We tracked everything live there, and then we did some other stuff on our own. We recorded some guitars and some other little overnotes and flourishes at our rehearsal space and my house. But the bulk of it was done in Trevor's studio and mixed there."
'Muted Crowd' has a pretty urgent feel to it, arriving just a year after Spirit Award's debut LP 'Neverending,' but the soundscapes etched out in the album (at least judging by the pre-release singles) are far from hurried, with the band taking its time to flesh out each intricate layer meticulously. While the same can be said of the band's debut effort, it arrived after two grueling years of effort while the band members went through a few rough patches in life. I asked Daniel about the difference in the recording process and the sound of the two albums.
"I think 'Neverending' did take a lot of time for us to get through it, mostly because we had a lot of life-problems come up," Dan revealed. "Working through all that was hard. That record for me was pretty cathartic because I was going through a divorce. Part of that record was just me coming to terms with that, and it was kind of a therapeutic record I guess."
"With the new record... after it took us so long to get the other one out, we were like 'Hey we need to do this. We need to go all in! We need to spend pretty much all the time we have finishing this new record and get back in the studio. It really helped push us. We basically hunkered down and finished writing some of the songs we'd already been working on for a little while. We all kind of collectively ran back and forth between twenty or so songs until we narrowed it down to something that felt cohesive and kind of had a vibe to it."
Detailing the sound of the new album, Daniel said: "It's a little more poppy. There's a little more electronic elements on it, a little more synth. I would say it's kind of a blend between some of the more psychedelic-rock stuff and some dancey stuff."
"What puts the 'psychedelic' in your brand of psychedelic-rock?" I asked.
"It's a pretty over-used term. When I say 'psychedelic,' it's more to do with the sound. Lots of delays, reverb, and weird effects...I think it's the feeling of what it would be like to be on psychedelics. I guess a trance is the best way I can describe it. While making the music sometimes you feel like you're high...kind of this hair-tingly feeling. To me, that's what the whole psychedelic-rock thing means," Daniel said, making it clear that the sounds that are so typical to the genre do not necessarily need to be born out of a psychedelic fuel.
Spirit Award is also hitting the road in support of the album, kicking off things with an album launch gig on Thursday, October 18 at Neumos in Seattle. The band then visits several venues along the West Coast including Portland, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Albuquerque, before wrapping things up on Nov 10 at the Off Beat Music Festival in Reno, Nevada.
"I think during that time, the weather's gonna start getting a little more gloomy in Seattle. So it's always nice to pop down and get some Oakland sun," Daniel said when I asked him what he's looking forward to while on the road. "There's a San Francisco gig that should be a lot of fun. For the end of our tour, we'll be at Reno for Offbeat. We went there last year and by the end of it, people were just crazy... it was packed in there and it was just a really good time."
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Our record release/fall tour is coming up soon! Mark it on your calendar. It's a date. OCTOBER 18-SEATTLE, WA 23-PORTLAND, OR 24-EUGENE, OR 25-SANFRANCISCO, CA 26-LOS ANGELES, CA 27-PHOENIX, AZ 28-TUCSON, AZ 30-ALBUQUERQUE, NM 31-DENVER, CO NOVEMBER 1-FT. COLLINS, CO 2-MISSOULA, MT 3-SPOKANE, WA 8-SAN FRANCISCO, CA 9-RENO, NV 10-RENO, NV
Spirit Award's sophomore album 'Muted Crowd' is due out on Friday, October 19 via Union Zero records. To stay up to date with the band's developments, a full schedule of tour dates, tickets and more, visit their official website.