It took moving to California and hanging out with a couple Oakland bands to truly understand the word swagger, but I can now inform you New York Ciy-based Spirit Animal is dripping with swag. They have to be to pull off sounding like a mix of The Talking Heads, White Denim, and Muse (in a good way). They are typically billed as psychedelic-funk-rock, and I'm not going to disagree. Spirit Animal is fighting for our right to party. Steve Cooper gave me the dish from The City That Never Sleeps on the band's spirit animal, the Honesty Revolution, and of course a few little ditties about their illustrious live show. But first, Spirit Animal has a new EP out, This is a Test, which you can download for free from their website.
Most of the time the nuances of a live performance don't make it onto a recording. It's hard to capture an energy that feeds off of chance. This is a Test makes the listener forget all that. There's so much on this EP, both musically and lyrically, you're find a new surprise with every listen. Just when I think I've got a song figured out, horns enter, then the hand claps, and is that a tambourine shaking over the guitar? All of that aside, when I began to mentally strip away all of the carefully calculated effects I landed on the vocals and the core instruments. The lyrics are quick on the uptake and backed by melodies rooted in classic rock 'n' roll and funk.
Speaking of the show, I asked Cooper why everyone has a serious FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to seeing Spirit Animal live and in person. Between knowing chuckles he let on that "there will be leg kicks, seemingly accidental synchronized dancing, opportunities for crowd participation, which in a way turns into something that feels like a duty." I've also been told there's a lot of sweat emanating from the stage, but I'm not sure that gives us anything but an indication of how hard these guys work to bring us a little rock 'n' roll. "I think that the 'roll' is that whole fun, party aspect. The 'rock' is more of an attitude. They are both equally valuable philosophies."
With timely lyrics in songs like "Age of Advice," "WTF," and even "Crocodile Skins," I get the sense that Spirit Animal is calling for something beyond the party. I asked Cooper if they considered their music part of a revolution of sorts. To which he responded, "The honesty revolution. The idea behind a lot of the songs is about being direct and not kidding yourself. Realizing what's going on around you. It's not political, in terms of a revolution, in that way it's not against a particular evil." The core of it all goes back to rock 'n' roll for Cooper, however, "It's about dancing. You have to do it in front of people, which is a brutally honest thing to do. It can be a challenging moment for both the audience and us. If we can't get the person next to you to dance, you're not going to dance. So it's like that with the lyrics, it's honest, and about making a broader point." Note to self: get the guy and gal next to me to dance no matter what it takes.
This is a Test is a real EP in that it will be followed by a full-length album from the band this summer. The EP is a space for the band to spread their musical wings. Each song is different from the one before, not in a disjointed way, but rather to provide a sampling of the divergent paths the full length could take. There's no doubt in my mind we'll be pleasantly surprised by Spirit Animal this summer. Cooper took it in stride when I asked him what the band's spirit animal was, "Humpback Whammal -- part whale and part camel. It might be changing, we're having an executive board meeting about it. Whammal ram is now on the table." I hope they have had that meeting by the time they get to San Francisco on Friday because I'm dying to know if the animal has evolved.