The members of Salt Lake City-based rock band Spirit Machines – vocalist Pepper Rose, guitarist Dave Crespo, bassist Sergio Marticorena, and drummer Mike Collins – are pleasantly surprised with the sales success of their debut album Feel Again, as well as with getting unexpected recognition for their mashup of two classic songs by two major influences.
Spirit Machines front woman Rose was raised by a professional Gospel bassist father. But citing everyone from the White Stripes to Black Sabbath as influences, her vocals and often-abstract lyrics about love and pain fall somewhere between Exene Cervenka and Patti Smith, though she’s decades younger than they are. And Feel Again will probably be the only album this year to feature a breakup song, “Bad Connection,” that has lines about shaving the cat (And our cat/You’re angry that/We shaved off all its fur).
Rose explained how the band got together, and their songwriting process, during a pre-rehearsal phone call with American Songwriter.
“I’m a SLC native but I moved to Boston for graduate school at MIT,” she said. “There was a lot of music there so I was inspired to really drill down and learn the guitar and start writing songs. After I came home to SLC I was at an open mic and met Dave who, coincidentally, had randomly moved here from Boston. We had both had some close encounters associated with the Boston Marathon bombing nightmare, so we kind of bonded over that.”
In terms of writing, “Dave usually comes to me with a guitar riff and we work out the structure together,” she said, “and I write the melody and lyrics, then we go to the band and they write their parts. Mike is actually a classical pianist first, so I think that helps him on drums when the songs get a bit more complicated structurally. Sergio brings his own thing too with the bass.”
“We recorded a few of the songs for the new album using a click at a SLC studio and felt like the songs lost a lot of energy,” she continued. “Dave’s pretty entrenched in the music scene in Boston, so we took the band there to record at Chillhouse, a studio he knew could capture our live sound with minimal sessions. It was a pretty crazy idea because we barely fit everything into three 12-hour sessions, but now with Covid-19, I’m especially glad we did what we did to get the album out.”
Rose said the band has sold a surprising number of actual CD product through its website and other outlets. “An interesting part of our story is that we are selling a lot of physical CDs. The music world is weird right now for so many reasons, but I’ve been surprised by the CD sales. I’m glad that we had the marketing savvy to tap into that group of people who still want them.”
What is getting the band the most press, though, isn’t the new album. It’s the band’s mashup of a couple of their favorites, Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and Tool’s “Sober,” which they have titled “Zober,” the Z being an homage to Zeppelin’s so-called “Zoso” album. It’s not included on Feel Again or being offered yet on any of the streaming services because of licensing issues, but Rose said that the video for “Zober” has now been seen more than half a million times across all platforms. Viewer reaction on YouTube is split between enthusiasm and disdain, which Rose is just fine with. “Dave and I had conceived of the idea together, but it was my idea to push it forward before making a video for ‘Watch It Burn’ from our album,” Rose said. “I figured people would hate it so much it would be the perfect click bait. That turned out to be only half true!”
And Rose was also surprised when Tool’s own guitarist/video director, Adam Jones, acknowledged the band’s “Zober” mashup on his Instagram feed, calling it a “very tasty tribute of Led Zeppelin and Tool.”
“It’s really a perfect storm,” Rose said, “that the industry would be at such a standstill that Adam Jones would be bored enough to watch and like our video.”