With busking beginnings, Spirit Family Reunion looks forward to its third album
When washboard player Stephen Weinheimer answers the phone, he and his bandmates are on their way to Schubas Tavern in Chicago—a gig they are thrilled about. Weinheimer assures me it’s a perfect time to talk, despite my suspicions that he may actually be the one behind the wheel—the first shred of evidence that the New York City-based sextet Spirit Family Reunion is totally excited about what they are doing, and where they are going next.
Having emerged playing street corners and subway stations, Spirit Family Reunion has come a long way since those early days, releasing their first self-titled, full-length album just last year.
“We’d been a band for a while, but we’d only released an EP, so there was a lot of energy and excitement and jubilation,” Weinheimer says of the album, which firmly plants its flag in American roots music. “Sorrow I’ve Known” is classic front porch folk, and the Americana track “Under the Highway” ambles along pleasantly, with Nick Panken’s easygoing guitar leading the way, under Maggie Carson’s banjo flourishes. But songs like “The Night Replaced the Day” are where the band shines brightest, as they fill this winning bluegrass number with upbeat melodies and vocals, and groovy banjo and guitar solos throughout. It sounds like a party and feels like one too. But to hear Weinheimer tell it, even tracks like this one don’t quite capture the band’s live energy.
“It was a little surprising when we look back on it, because we don’t really have the energy in that recording that we do in our live shows,” he says. “But we’re currently working on a new record that will hopefully pull that off a lot better.”
As Weinheimer talks about the untitled album—which is tentatively due out next year—his excitement becomes increasingly palpable, so much that it starts to feel as though you are talking to a kid in a candy store. The result is infectious; I find myself wanting to hear more as he talks about it. And then he drops little nuggets like this one, which should help make concertgoers pay even more attention to the setlist at the band’s next show: “We’ve already played most of the songs live at shows,” Weinheimer reveals. “We’re pretty much playing every song that’s going to be on the album, so we hope people like it.”
Weinheimer punctuates this statement with a laugh and continues with more specifics about the album, and how he is energized by the growth and evolution that are going to be apparent on the next album.
“We’re definitely not turning into a heavy metal band or anything,” he says, “but we have a song called ‘Does Not Bother Me,’ for example, which is definitely way more funky and old-time rock and roll than most of our songs have ever been.”
Perhaps what makes the music so enthralling for Weinheimer and the rest of the band is how natural their process is, a fact which allows them to be able to meander into the realms of funk and rock if they wish. Weinheimer mentions that on multiple occasions that they have a tendency to cut right to the chase. If it’s a sad song, they run with it; if it’s romantic, they see where it goes. There is no over thinking when it comes to their songs, and that’s why they seem to resonate with fans so much. A song like “I am Following the Sound” is a perfect example.
“Sometimes you go through life and drag things out as much as you want, but then other times things just click and you go with your gut,” he says. “I think that’s kind of where the song comes from. Everything doesn’t have to be so analytical. Sometimes you can just jump off the cliff into the water, you know?”
With an approach like that, it’s hard not to get excited about what the band might have up their sleeves for this next record.
Spirit Family Reunion will perform at 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2, Don Quixote’s, 6275 Highway 9, Felton. Tickets are $10/advance, $12/door. For more information, call 603-2294.