An Interview with Spafford’s Brian Moss

Spafford has been a band on the rise in the last few years. Born in Prescott, AZ in 2009, the four-piece jam band has gained a head of steam entering 2019, with a growing following and increasing buzz surrounding their upcoming winter tour. After making their Washington, DC debut last January at Union Stage, Spafford will be returning to the District on Saturday, February 9th, this time with a headlining gig at 9:30 Club. We caught up with Spafford's guitarist and singer, Brian Moss, to talk about the evolution of the band, their first studio release in six years, and how the band has honed their craft to become one of the best jam bands around.

Don't miss Spafford's 9:30 Club debut this Saturday! Tickets can still be purchased here.


DC Music Review (DCMR): Hey, Brian. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us ahead of Spafford’s 9:30 Club debut this weekend! We’re really excited to have the band coming back to DC.

Brian Moss (BM): Awesome! Yeah, thanks for having me.

DCMR: You guys just got back from Jam Cruise. What was that like?

BM: I’m still rocking! Me and my wife feel like we’re waving back and forth, you know? It was awesome and Jam Cruise was the coolest thing.

Brian Moss of Spafford performing in 2018 at Union Stage in Washington DC

Brian Moss of Spafford

DCMR: I’m sure it’ll be a rough adjustment going from the tropics to the Midwest and Northeast.

BM: Yeah, I just packed my boots! I took my shorts and sandals out and put my boots and sweatpants in. It’ll be a hell of a lot colder than Phoenix.

DCMR: For those who aren't familiar with your band, can you give a quick history of Spafford, how you guys got together, and what the past few years have been like for all of you.

Brian Moss of Spafford performing in 2018 at Union Stage in Washington DC

Brian Moss of Spafford

BM: I guess we've just been connected by a fortunate series of events throughout the years. For this combination of of the group now with with me, [bassist] Jordan [Fairless], [keyboardist] Red [Johnson] and [drummer] Cam [Laforest] who joined two years ago, the band has been a whole lot of touring, seeing the country, and playing music for more of a wide variety of people than just, you know, the Southwest, which was kind of primarily where we stayed before that. So the last few years, we've really been branching out and doing a lot more of the country and we never thought that we would be out that far, so it's really cool to see all that and play music in all these historic venues, eat food at all these historic places, and travel. I really can’t put words to it. Sometimes you know this is the coolest job in the world.

DCMR: You mentioned that you’re from Arizona and Spafford is one of very few bands in the jam scene that comes from out west. How has that impacted the way that you put your tours together and and what you've done to develop a fan base.

BM: Well, I guess, for us, we never really thought touring was anything other than going out for an extended period of time. You know, I mean we did what we could while we were more local and there was a point when three different band members lived in three different cities in Arizona, which were about an hour and a half away from each other, so it was pretty crazy to keep the band moving through that time and we would just go out on short on weekends. So it's crazy now to be going out for, you know, two months at a time. But, you know, it's awesome.

DCMR: What do you think distinguishes Spafford from a lot of the other bands that are either jam bands or improvisational rock right now?

Brian Moss of Spafford performing in 2018 at Union Stage in Washington DC
Brian Moss of Spafford performing in 2018 at Union Stage in Washington DC

BM: I mean, I don't know what makes us stand out from anybody else but at least I can explain what we're trying to do up there. We use improvisation as a vehicle to really just take risks and just kind of see what's going to happen. We're not afraid to fall flat on our face because that's that's just a part of music. We're not we're not worried about that.

DCMR: What have you guys done to really hone those skills?

BM: For us there's really not much other than using your ear. You have to use your ear. I mean, we've had practices, where we turn off the lights for however long and just play. That way it wasn't about the visual cues. It wasn't about anything else. You just have to use your ears. So we try and spread that as best as we can to every show.

DCMR: So when Cam joined the band in 2017, what was it like having to incorporate a new instrumental voice into your jamming and your stage presence?

BM: It was totally crazy. We put him in the band and then his first show was in two weeks. So we had a spot where a friend bought a house out here and and let us use it before he even moved in. Thanks, Damian. He let us live there and set up practice. So we caught Cam up to speed over two weeks and played our first show together at Summer Camp and then right after that it was basically Monday through Friday at the rehearsal room here in Phoenix and whatever show was on that weekend we would fly out and do those weekends. And we didn't take off the entire summer and we really destroyed ourselves. We went so hard! Then basically we needed like a really good fun day, so instead of going to rehearsal one day, we were like, “We're not going to do it. We're going to go to the water park.” So in, like, 125 degrees weather we went to this waterpark ate chili cheese dogs and chili cheese fries and we really let loose. Then we came back the next day into the rehearsal room and we wound up recording one of our studio albums, Abaculus, which was an hour long improvisational jam and we released it as just an hour long track. So that was basically just the next day after we went to the water park and we really were able to just kind of release again. It was a really cool experience.

DCMR: That's great. It sounds like you were focusing on not just developing your relationships musically, but also ensuring that you're kind of building friendship outside of the band.

BM: Yeah, we spend  years with each other, sleeping in the same room, sharing the same food, and doing all this. I mean we're brothers, you know? Having those other experiences allow us to write better music or, you know, speak better tongue when it comes to improvisation. I mean, that's like what we're starting to do right now. It's like saying “I've been to Nashville before.” Sure, I've been to Nashville, but like I really haven't been to Nashville because I saw the inside of the venue in Nashville. But this last time I really got to experience Nashville and eat Nashville Hot Chicken and go to the local music store and see downtown with all the music. So you take all that from what happens in the day and get to release it at the show that night, and I feel like that's the best way to do it. You know, it's just like taking all this local energy and then spew it out musically.

Brian Moss and Jordan Fairless of Spafford performing in 2018 at Union Stage in Washington DC
Brian Moss and Jordan Fairless of Spafford performing in 2018 at Union Stage in Washington DC

DCMR: As soon as you mentioned Nashville I was gonna ask about hot chicken because that's definitely something you need to have in order to say you've actually been there.

BM: I'm in! I love it! It is really hot, but I’m into it.

DCMR: So I've been following the band for a few years now and it's been amazing to see how in 2018 you guys really took off. You’ve been getting better time slots at festivals, you put out a new album, For Amusement Only, and gained a wider following. What are some of the highlights of 2018 for you and the rest of the band that motivate you with a good head of steam going into 2019?

BM: Yeah, I mean coming off of big tours like that is all the steam we need. And right before the tour we were doing big festivals like Bonnaroo, LOCKN’, Levitate and High Sierra. I mean there were so many festivals that we had the honor to play and then we had a chance to come home for a little bit and broke for for a Christmas break to absorb some family time and stuff like that, and we came back and had two of the best New Year’s shows that we've ever played. That really thrust us in saying, “Wow. This year, 2019, is gonna be awesome. And now we’re just back from Jam Cruise so we're really locked and loaded for this tour and ready to to go out there.

DCMR: Whose idea was it to add “Whipping Post” to the setlist during your New Year's run? You guys crushed that cover.

BM: Oh, thank you! Red talked about it. I mean, I wouldn't disagree with him. We're big Allman Brothers fans so we said “Red, if you can sing it,” so when he came back and said he was good for it, so were we, because I wasn't going to try and sing it! (laughs)

DCMR: Let’s talk about the album, For Amusement Only. This was the first album you’ve put out in about six years, so you obviously have a lot of material from touring all that time, but what was the approach in the studio? Did you go in with a vision of what you wanted to put out there?

BM: You know, we are a jam band at heart, so we were really backed up with studio time, I guess is really what it represents. So every time we think about going into the studio,  we're like, "Man, we'd really like to have studio versions of these songs that we've been playing for a while because we've never had the opportunity to do it." As the band formed, it's just something that didn’t happen with touring and all that. And we’ve been doing that for years, so we haven't had the chance to go into the studio. They’re expensive too! So when we cut this we wanted to put some of those old tracks on there, and then we want to throw out some new tracks as well. We wanted to throw out some short ones. We wanted to throw out some jammers. Then there were a couple tracks that we wanted to have sound really organic and did absolutely no overdubs over it and let the jam be just the four instruments. So there were a lot of different things that we did to try and incorporate. And that's kind of what Spafford is. It’s a mishmash of all of  that.

DCMR: Spafford is making a jump on this tour from 500 person clubs like your last visit to DC at Union Stage last January, and now you're gearing up to headline the 9:30 Club, which is more than double that capacity. How does this tour feel different for you and the band, knowing that you're going to be playing bigger rooms and bigger crowds?

BM: They don't really feel any different for us. It’s the same preparation. I mean, the fact that more people are coming out is amazing, but it doesn't deter us from going out there and doing exactly what we know how to do, which is jam. If there’s two people in the room or, you know, 15,000 hopefully one day, I hope that we never lose the feel of what we're doing, which is trying to transfer what we do in that rehearsal room. When we’re just sitting and it’s low volume by ourselves, that's some of the best music that we ever create and that's what we always try to replicate out there on stage.

DCMR: Yeah, like trying to take that approach you were mentioning before of turning off the lights and being able to just focus on what each other are putting out there.

BM: Our best music that anybody would ever hear was if they tapped into that room where nobody was watching and it was just us four and the lights were off. And if we can get in that space on stage, then we know that we're delivering what we can do, because that's pure  and that's something that we've realized. We try to harness that and it is tough. It's tough. It's really tough to bring it on stage. There's a lot of factors that pull away from that and it doesn't happen all the time.

DCMR: I think the the energy of the crowd at 9:30 Club will will help you bring it because there was a lot of a lot of buzz after your show here last year, which was your debut in the District and you gained a lot of fans that I know are excited to have you back at 9:30 Club, which is kind of our home for the heady, heady jams

BM: Definitely. Really the fans’ energy will bring that out of us. And you know, the bigger the better. So bring it on! And the louder the better, too! It really does allow us to kind of be in our space. And that's how that synergy works. That's how that goes back and forth between us and the fans. 

DCMR: What are you listening to on the road? What bands or artists are really influencing you as a guitarist and singer?

BM: Let's see. I mean, it always changes. I guess right now I've loaded up a lot of Alan Parsons Project. I’ve always got Wes Montgomery, that kind of helps me go to sleep at night. Pat Metheny. I always listen to Jerry Garcia Band as well. As a group we can listen to anything, you know? Everybody's got their flair from hip-hop to, you know, whatever. So it can get pretty rowdy if somebody is handling the stereo inside the bus.

DCMR: And I hear you have you have Nerf gun fights on the bus. What’s the story there?

BM: (laugh) Yeah, dude! At times there can be just a wild outbreak of Nerf guns and there are just Nerf darts everywhere. It's hilarious.

DCMR: How’d that get started?

BM: The crew! I mean, the crew’s got to stay busy somehow and they can get bored really easily when when you're sitting at a store like a Walmart in the middle of nowhere. So, you know, they decided to just go get Nerf guns and then shoot us with them.

DCMR: So what have you guys heard about 9:30 Club and what are you expecting for this DC crowd on Saturday night?

BM: I grew up in New Jersey, so I've known about 9:30 for a long time. The Disco Biscuits were one of my favorite bands growing up and they played there all the time. So I'm super pumped to head out there and and grace one of the great stages on the East Coast. So, yeah, I’m really pumped about it.

DCMR: Well, that about wraps it up, man. I really appreciate your taking the time to talk and you know we can't wait for the show on Saturday night.

BM: Well, DC brought it the last time, so if it’s twice as many people or whatnot, let's see what you got!

DCMR: Challenge accepted!


Performance Details

Performance Details

Performance

Details


Saturday, Feb 9, 2019

Doors: 8:00 PM


9:30 Club (https://www.930.com/)

815 V Street NW

Washington, DC 20001 (Google Maps Link)




About the author
Seth Gordon-Lipkin

Seth Gordon-Lipkin

Seth caught the bug of live music after seeing Elton John play the MCI Center at the age of 10 and has been frequenting DC"s concert venues since moving to our nation's capital in 2006. A dedicated fan of the jam band scene, Seth has logged countless miles attending upwards of 70 Phish shows, dozens of Umphrey's McGee shows, and trips to LOCKN' and Peach festivals. Also an activist, you're likely to spot Seth registering voters with Headcount at DC's local music venues.