Spafford, a four-piece funk rock band from Phoenix, debuted at Lake Tahoe on March 10, opening for Umphrey’s McGee at the MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa.
Formed in 2009, Spafford is Brian Moss (guitar), Jordan Fairless (bass), Andrew Red Johnson (keys) and Nick Tkachyk (drums). It plays a combination of musical styles, extending songs in a singular fashion.
Moss spoke by telephone with Tahoe Onstage while the band was on its way to Tahoe. Outside the van’s windows, Moss said he could see lots of cactus. Soon the view would be of the largest snowpack Tahoe has had in decades. Moss recalled he and his bandmates had an unforgettable first-time experience in the Sierra Nevada. They were traveling from Mammoth Lakes to Guerneville, California.
“We broke down on Monitor Pass,” he said, laughing. “We will never take that road again. It single-handedly destroyed our last big rig that we’ve ever had. It destroyed our hopes and dreams for a little bit. But we are now back on the road and ready to face that part of the country again.”
Tahoe Onstage: What is the bedrock of your musical education? Who was it in the formative years of you developing an ear for music and then actually becoming someone that plays music?
Brian Moss: I’ve had private instruction as well as attending various community colleges to acquire most of my education. But most of my education came from playing. My first band, we were writing our own music when I was around 12 years old. We were playing original music right off the bat. For me, I was playing from 3:15 after school until my mom came home at 6 o’clock and then I’d chase all the people out of the house. … I was never really fond of playing other people’s music. I was using the guitar as a vessel to express myself.
Tahoe Onstage: Were there any unique challenges coming up in Arizona and Southwest as a jam band? I can’t think of any bands like you that are from the Southwest.
Brian Moss: There are a lot of great bands in the Southwest but, just like us, a lot of people haven’t heard of us. I think that’s the same for a lot of bands from around here. It’s only in due time that people will start realizing that the Southwest has fantastic music all across.
Tahoe Onstage: Spafford has a singular eclecticism that I don’t know if I have ever heard before. It’s tight and smooth. Phish said about themselves, we can play a lot of different styles, though all only OK. I don’t think you play any certain styles; it’s just get-up-and-go music and we’ll lay down some different sonic environments to hang out in. Can you speak to that?
Brian Moss: In the early years of Spafford, trying these different styles, we were interested in as much as we could grasp as far as genres are concerned, and each guy brought his own style to the table to make it what it is. As soon at that evolved and you start combining those styles together in more of a natural form, that starts to become that singular expression. It’s really about the grand scheme of the music and everybody filling in the space that their instruments are supposed to be filling, and that creates the sonic landscape for which we do over and over again.
Tahoe Onstage: You are hooked up with Umphrey’s McGee for this tour. Have you played with them before? What are you hoping to gain out of this experience?
Brain Moss: We went on a 12-show run with them starting on Jan. 18, in Richmond, Virginia. Our experience with them exceeded our expectations in what we would learn and how much there is to go with everything. It was a really exciting experience to be able to share all of that with them. It was really awesome of the Umphrey’s McGee guys to let us into their world and show us how they are doing things. So we’re ready to get back on the road with these guys and learn a bit more and get some good hangs with the guys. We try to get as much out of the experience as we can.
Tahoe Onstage: What is your goal for 2017?
Brian Moss: Write some new material and release a couple of albums, and we just want to have fun and play music and enjoy traveling to all these cities throughout the country. And that’s just what we’re going to do.
Related story:Umphrey’s McGee hurtles Tahoe fans into outer space.
ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.
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