Warm, generous in mirth, ensconced in simple riffery … Rebecca Gates, the once fanzine editor, record store clerk and college radio gun from Portland, Oregon, is certainly ‘chuffed’ about the peculiar rise of her now-jetsetting outfit, The Spinanes.
“Chuffed? Yeah, chuffed is a great word for what has happened!”
Playing their debut gig at the 1993 International Pop Underground Convention in Olympia, Washington, the foundation of the Northwest indie-rock empire, their debut album Manos would subsequently go to number one on the US college radio charts, pipping both Nirvana and Mudhoney to the annuls of SubPop history. From indie journo/junky, surprise success and onwards to bankable artist, Rebecca Gates deals with her sudden reversal of focus with the release of album number two, Strand.
“(tee-hee!) We never set out to be rock stars at all, I just wrote some songs and when SubPop asked us if we were interested in putting out an album we just shrugged and muttered ‘sure, we’ll just put out an album’.”
“We were touring before the album came out, as it was exploding all over, but we were just seeing the inside of the van playing shows and having a good time. Then we got home and the locals thrust us on TV and we were at number one. It was extremely funny (laughs). We had never even considered it.
“Even now, to meet people I had admired for years and whose music I had played as a radio announcer, for them to come up to me and say ‘oh, I love your record’, it is really odd.”
The Spinanes can almost claim ‘odd’ as a personal buzz-word. As bands steadily shrink from five, to four, to the now very hip three-piece, consider for a moment The Spinanes’ successful two-piece. Drummer Scott Plouf and singer/guitarist Gates, with nary a bass player in sight, make up the band in a world fed on a staple diet of booming, driving rhythm sections. Rebecca Gates proudly snubs her nose at those extra four strings, sort of …
“Actually we were never anti-bass, I love the bass guitar. We weren’t even trying to be different, it’s just how we evolved,” says Gates, a bubbling conversationalist whose steadfast history of backing independant music reflects her ease in the international interview scenario.
“It was always just the two of us. We thought, well, we’ll find more people to play with after the Pop Underground show. But everyone liked it and we never got around to adding anyone else to the band. But, I must admit, we have been touring as a four piece lately, Strand has a lot of stuff we can’t convey live.”
On the tour trail with The Spinanes is Frente and SPDFGH, a combination of somewhat diverse directions. It seems though that Rebecca Gates is somewhat closer to several Australian icons than one would imagine.
“Yeah, a friend of mine was on tour with Frente in the ‘States doing guitar checks, so I met them all. And SPDFGH, I haven’t seen, but when I was touring with Ben Lee (Noise Addict) he gave me an old SPDFGH demo. I like it a lot.”
Ah, Ben Lee, he of the teenage songwriters and ‘heavy friends’ guild. So, he drafted Rebecca Gates too?
“Actually, I was visiting some friends in Chicago while Ben was recording Grandpa Would (Lee’s solo album, Australia’s best-yet example of industry guest smoochery). I popped into the studio to say ‘hi’ because I know the people who run it, so I met Ben, and Brad Wood (mixer of Strand and producer of Veruca Salt, amongst numerous others) asked if I wanted to sing back-up on one of his songs.
“Then when Grand Royal brought Ben out on tour and they needed to put a band together they asked me to play guitar and do back-ups on the tour. That was a great way to spend a few days, real fun.”
But ultimately The Spinanes make fine muse – muted guitar chords and cool tapping, overlaid with the mature vox of Ms Gates. The first single from Strand, Lines and Lines, has one of their loping trademark riffs, not too heavy, not too light.
“What I’ve learnt is that my aesthetic is to be not too busy, mine is basic instrumentation which relates to depth and texture.
“I think I sing about joy but people usually consider me pretty melancholy. I think I twist things around a little, I sing about joyful things in a longing way and thus people generally expect us to be moody. I guess they expect us to get up there and and be really shambly, kinda shoegazer poppie or something, but we are pretty forceful.”