New Spell, by Robert Alleyne

“I was pretty heartbroken...and it's not because it was unexpected, but it's more because it just feels like this man just gave the middle finger to the entire world,” says Leanne Kelly. I'm meeting with Kelly and Jacob Frautschi, of New Spell, a few days after the US withdraws from the Paris Agreement. The emotions are still raw.

New Spell is an electro-indie band based in San Francisco. Their music has an earthy, organic tone to it. A song of theirs, Rain, has been swirling in my head ever since the news broke. Written before the election of the 45th President, the song is an ode to the environment. It is a song that swells and contracts, like waves in a tidal pool.

The song was not intentionally written about the environment, explains Kelly. “The song just kind of came together,” she says. “The lyrics started to take on this environmental lens, so I just went with it.” The record, the band tells me, has taken on a mystical power following its release. “It rained that whole weekend, and the first few times we played it live; it, like, was raining,” says Kelly.

We discuss their initial reactions to the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and Frautschi responds with an empathetic sincerity. “The vast majority of this country would like to see us play a bigger role,” he says. “It just makes sense, economically even, for jobs and the future of the country.”

We talk further about how corporations have promised to pick up some of the slack, and Frautschi takes a positive view of things overall. Kelly offers a more poetic response, fitting with her songwriting talents. “We're all on this blue planet, this marble floating through space, all of us together,” says Kelly, picking up the mantle from Frautschi. “It just doesn't make sense to me, why and how we can ignore...the very real facts that things are changing and it's because of us,” she affirms. “I actually was playing a show with my other group, Agouti, down at Winters Tavern in Pacifica, which is right next to the ocean. I just walked to the ocean, and watched the waves come in and crash and like splash over the railing. It was just a moment of appreciation for the immense power of nature and the immense beauty,” she shares.

New Spell, by Robert Alleyne

“I'd say the closest thing to losing our groove was losing our bass player,” jokes Frautschi in an endearing fashion. New Spell originally began life as a threesome, before their bassist Chris Michaelides decided to realign his work-life balance. All three remain good friends, but it forced the Kelly and Frautschi to reassess what they were doing musically. “It sent us in a new direction,” says Frautschi. “It never felt like we had lost anything, more like we had gained an opportunity,” he recalls. With Michaelides departed, the pair transitioned from being a guitar-based band into one with a more prominently electronic sound. In earlier years, they had often flirted with electronic sounds — it can can be heard on the last two tracks of their 2014 EP Songs We Wrote for Thee. Those songs together almost serve as a sonic premonition to where their sound was heading.

Michaelides had often encouraged them to take a more electronic approach to their music, so it was a natural transition for them. “We kind of picked up a new band member in the computer,” says Frautschi, only half-jokingly. He switched to an electronic drum kit, and Kelly managed to fight off initial trepidation to become comfortable “in the world of Ableton.”

“I'm starting to get the hang of it,” she shares with only a hint of trepidation.

The new sound has created an organic and patient way of making music, one which enables them to grow into the musicians they desire to be. Their philosophy on releasing music is to “not to put stuff out before it was ready...to give each song its full time to breathe,” says Kelly. It is not just the songs they give breathing room, but also themselves, in order to grow as musicians. “We've noticed that from starting a recording project to releasing [it], we learn so much, we grow so much, we develop our skills so much that by the end of each project, we've completely shifted our idea of what it means to make music,” she says.

This philosophy has lead their latest release, In Time, being split across three EPs. It is a reflective approach to making because, while all three chapters will share the same name, they hope listeners will be able to hear how Frautschi and Kelly shape and develop as musicians. “Part one is kind of like all of the songs talk about things in the past, kind of like looking back. And part two, I think is a little bit more rooted in like the present, and part [three] has a little bit more of a looking into the future,” shares Kelly of the plans for the series of EPs.

New Spell, by Robert Alleyne

“The reason I moved from LA is I feel like up here, in the Bay Area, there's a lot of opportunity to be a little bit more weird, to be a little bit more outside of the mainstream music box,” explains Kelly when I ask about making music in the Bay Area, and why they chose to settle here. For all the stories of bands leaving San Francisco, Oakland, and the surrounding areas for SoCal, it's empowering to hear a story of musicians heading in the opposite direction and choosing to stay.

“I find that people [in the Bay Area] are much more into being legitimate [and] true to themselves, [they are] open to other ideas,” offers Jake on the same topic. He also made the move up from Los Angeles, a place he found to be more commercial, where competition became overwhelming. “I think it's just a better culture up here, and that plays out in the music too.” Following the interview, the band shares with me how “the music community up here is also really supportive. People go to one another's shows, collaborate constantly, and help when things get tough.” They lost their friend Ben Runnels during the Ghost Ship fire and wrote of how the community came together to support one another during the toughest of moments.

The freedom to create, be themselves, and be surrounded by a supportive community is allowing New Spell to be the musicians they want to be. “Music has been such a profound force in my life,” shares Leanne when I ask the band about what success looks like. “And if the music that we make has the ability to do that to other people, to be a force for good in other people's lives, then that would be success to me. And to that end, I feel really successful already.”

New Spell, INVSN
Bottom of the Hill
September 24, 2017
8:30pm, $15

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