(photo: Garret Van Brunt)

Michael Bingham’s eyes drift restlessly, his attention half-focused on finding our waitress. This particular taqueria is generous with complimentary chips and salsa. The lead vocalist of San Francisco punk band Spiritual Cramp embodies both calmness and urgency in his body language. In embracing this duality, he often drifts into the realm of hyper self-awareness.

“This band is for people who are as bad off as I am,” Bingham explains. “It surprises people, ya know? They’ll say  ‘What? I thought you were so cool!’ and I’m like ‘No no no! I’m super fucked up, just like you are!’ And maybe that’ll give someone hope. The people who have at some point wanted to take that exit — I want to be the person up on the stage who is talking about them.”

Stewart Kuhlo (photo: Garret Van Brunt)

As I sat next to guitarist Stewart Kuhlo, it often felt like the two of us were cross-examining Bingham. The way he engages with other people and his environment is that of person on the stage. Both impetuous and calculated, reflecting the gray between insecurity and confidence.

The roots of the band reach back to when Bingham worked at a grocery store on Franklin Street and noticed the pins on Kuhlo’s jacket. The two connected through their similar music tastes and Bingham excitedly suggested they should start a band.

Kulho went out and bought a guitar the next day.

(photo: Garret Van Brunt)

With Michael Fenton composing the music and Bingham on lyrical duty, the crew was rounded out with guitarist Jacob Breeze, drummer Blaine Patrick, and Max Wickham on the tambourine/good vibes. With all the pieces in place, the six-piece self-released their demo tape, Wild ’87, earlier this year, leading up to their debut EP, Mass Hysteria, on React! Records.”

“I’m sick of hearing the same narratives of the disappearing art scene in San Francisco. That story is beat.”

Shedding artistic pretense is a driving motivation behind Spiritual Cramp. “This is just what I started saying. That song ‘All My Friends are Alright’ is about looking at other people who are doing incredible and interesting things, thinking ‘There’s no way you’re as fucked up as I am. No way. You look so normal, your life looks so perfect.’

“I want to bridge that gap.”

(photo: Joe Calixto)

Bingham emphasizes that Spiritual Cramp isn’t simply a platform for his emotional turmoil. The band represents a community of artists, friends, and family — a collective voice that is deeply rooted within San Francisco.

“Spiritual Cramp is way more than the five of us. It’s a group effort — a real community. We could not exist the way we do without all of these bands and all of these people. We truly feel like we’re forging a new community of artists here.” Even though it’s the end of November, there is a warm breeze blowing through the Bay. Looking out into the clear San Francisco night from our patio table, Kuhlo reflects on the state of things. “I’m sick of hearing the same narratives of the disappearing art scene in San Francisco. That story is beat. We’re right here. We are out here, along with so many different bands and artists.”

Bingham excitedly chimes in: “The She’s just released a new record. Plush is about to drop an LP, Primal Rite is about to drop an LP.  All my homies are dropping LPs! If that’s what you think about San Francisco, you’re not paying attention. So many bands are out here. They’re making it work. the Story so Far, World Smasher, Fearing, Violent Change, there’s too many to name. It’s always better when the team comes up together. Terry Malts, Fatigue, are you kidding? I love all ya’ll! You all make good music.”

(photo: Jonathon Velazquez)

“Mike is the most realistic optimist I’ve ever met in my entire life,” explains Kuhlo. “He is able to reconcile the contradiction that life is incredibly fucked up, but it’s still worth living.”

The waitress doesn’t even have time to set down the second basket of chips before Bingham scoops out a generous helping of salsa.

“It’s that yogi shit man. It’s all about right now…right this very second. You’ve just got to taste the flavor of the salsa.”

Check out Spiritual Cramp at the Story So Far’s third annual holiday show, and catch them on tour with American Nightmare in 2018.

The Story So Far, Stick Up Kid, Heartsounds, Spiritual Cramp
The UC Theatre
December 22, 2017
7:30pm, $25

Spiritual Cramp Tour Dates:

02/16 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer

02/17 – New York, NY – Market Hotel

02/18 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall

02/21 – Montreal, Quebec, Canda – Fafounes

02/22 – Toronto, Ontario, Canada – Velvet

02/23 – Pittsburgh, PA – Rex Theatre

02/24 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick

02/25 – Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge

03/9 – San Diego, CA – Irenic

03/10 – Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex

03/11 – Berkeley, CA – 924 Gilman Street