Playing to a Dead Room
Spindrift rocking the remains of Piedmont, Wyoming, a legendary ghost town with a population of zero.
Usually bands go on tour to bring their music to "The People." "The People" generally reside in densely populated urban centers, so most musicians tend to route tours through cities, towns, and incorporated communities. Not so with Spindrift.
If you haven't heard of these guys, they're a psych band that picked up in 1992 with a penchant for Ennio Morricone's old Western soundtracks. The band, fronted by Kirpatrick Thomas, just finished up a tour of American ghost towns, traveling with their own PA system and generator. According to Mirriam-Webster's, a ghost town is "a once-flourishing town wholly or nearly deserted usually as a result of some natural disaster." Most of these towns have a population of zero, backwater burgs that the railroad missed, or once-thriving hamlets that never survived a factory fire.
This tour has to go down as the worst return-on-investment in touring history. Thomas has booked a tour that takes him and his band through abandoned towns with names like Deadwood, Ojai, South Pass, Bodie, and Pioneertown. There was no guarentee of an audience at the end of each day's driving.
Last month, when Spindrift announced the tour, I thought I should hop on the phone with Thomas immediately to figure out what the hell he was thinking.
Noisey: So I'm going to level with you--this doesn't make sense to me. You're going on a tour of ghost towns?
Kirpatrick Thomas: Yep. We're playing places that people do not go to. Places that are abandoned.
Why are you doing this? It's clearly for some other reason than audiences or money.
Well, our next album is a bit of an homage to the myths of the American West. We're gravitating towards more factual material and early folk influences. Basically, in this day and age, when we've done a bunch of bigger US tours, we wanted to get back into something that had a little more meaning, something that would be good for Spindrift, and good for me.
Wow, OK. So what is a ghost town exactly?
I'll clarify. Some people refer to ghost towns as extinct spots with humans living there. That's known as a "living ghost town." We're going to some living ghost towns, which are generally tourist destinations. That's like Tombstone, where to OK Corral is. But we're also going to places where straight up nobody lives. Abandoned towns in state parks, or places that are completely out of the way, where people rarely ever go.
Wikipedia told me that a ghost town is “an abandoned village, town, or city which contains substantial visible remains,” and that “a town becomes a ghost town when the economic activity that supported it fails or if there is natural or human disaster, like a flood, government action, lawlessness, war, or nuclear disaster.”
Well, there are different types of ghost towns. We tried to route the tour through a few different types. We’re looking at an abandoned rail station in Albuquerque, which became depressed after the decline of the railroad and the introduction of the Model-T Ford. That’s obviously a place where economically it kind of depressed, but it’s still within a major city. Places that have unique stories are of interest. We’re going to try to hit a couple reservations along the way as well.
Way, way out there.
Is there a particular town that you're extremely excited for?
Bodie, California, definitely. That's one of the most well-kept ghost towns in America. It's in a state of permanent arrested decay. It was one of the worst towns in The United States during the gold rush mining era of the 1880s. But you know, we’re also looking forward to being in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Northern California. The tour is only three weeks, but there are so many ghost towns out there, it very easily could have been six months long.
Are you traveling with your own PA system?
Yeah. We’ll be self sufficient.
Yeah, generator. We’re going to need something for some lighting to capture some of the sort of night time performances that we are going to do.
Are you playing inside or outside?
Most of the shows will be outside, and I think a lot of the shows will probably actually be something where we’re driving along the road and discover something completely new and think “We gotta go do this.” So a lot of it is going to be improv. We're also shooting a documentary of our trip. We're thinking of something like the Blair Witch Project, but I’m kind of hoping it doesn’t end up like that. It seems kind of spooky in its essence, the fact that your dealing with ghosts and abandoned places out in the middle of nowhere. Who knows what kind of weirdos could be around.
You could end up in Deliverance real quick I guess. Are you planning on arming yourselves?
Well, we plan on being as respectable as possible and we don’t we don’t plan to overstep any boundaries or the historic aspects of anything, so no. But I guess we're going to arm ourselves with guitars!
Do you believe in ghosts?
Yeah, of course! They’re everywhere! I think that the dead attendees on this tour will outnumber the living. If you add the ghosts to each night's attendance, this tour will probably be the biggest tour of all time.
Spindrift is currently putting the finishing touches on Spindrift: Ghost Of The West, their new album due out in 2013. The record will be packaged with footage shot on this tour.