Garage-Rock Duo Spaceships Broke Up. Then They Made Their Best Album

Photo by Thaddeus Ruzicka

[Editor's note: L.A. Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears here every Wednesday. Follow him on twitter and also check out his archives.]

If you want to understand the garage-rock duo Spaceships, it’s best to start with the question: What have you been up to since the release of your 2013 debut?

“We broke up. We became alcoholics, and then we got sober,” deadpans drummer Kevin LaRose, not imbibing at a Chinatown bar before their recent show at the Melody Lounge.

“That’s not what we’re actually saying,” counters Jessie Waite, Spaceships’ guitarist and primary vocalist.

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“We don’t drink.”

“I’m not drinking tonight.”

“Or any other night.”

“I smoke weed, though. We broke up and we were friends and lived together and played shows.”

“I don’t know what happened, honestly. We were drunk.”

Most of the time, a romantic breakup spells a band’s demise. But it’s impossible to imagine Spaceships playing with other people. They finish each other’s sentences with the kind of telepathic connection usually found in identical twins.

In their live show, they swap droll, ironic banter and interlock dulcet melodies, propulsive drums and serrated guitars. It’s the kind of connection you have only when you’ve spent the last dozen years inseparable from someone, together since freshman year of college.

“Breaking up the band was never an option. That was like the divorce and the baby,” Waite quips, wearing a Godfather sweatshirt and short hair with a single braid twisted into it. “Spaceships is our divorce baby.”

As divorces go, this is fairy-tale. Released last month, their sophomore LP, Little Buddha, heralds a significant evolution from the hybrid of punk and garage-pop found on their debut. It blends common influences (Velvet Underground, Pavement, Guided by Voices) into something off-kilter and sarcastic, polished but distorted, raw but well-written.

“They’re mostly about not dating anyone and trying to figure out how to take care of myself and not be miserable,” Waite says of the new batch of songs.

“I was either trying to rewrite ‘Sweet Jane’ or dealing with heavy emotions,” LaRose says, wearing a Jar Jar Binks shirt. “I have Crohn’s disease, and we decided to release this while I was in the hospital getting my intestines cut out.”

It’s the eternal minuet of laughing to keep from crying. Rather than whine, they’d offer arch jokes and write thrash-psychedelic drones such as “Random Hats.”

Neither downplays the time it took to find détente. Shortly after the break-up, Spaceships embarked on a national tour, on which they were kicked out of several bars for fighting. There were also a few “Fuck it, I’m out” temporary quits worthy of Arrested Development.

Released by Mock Records, Little Buddha combines songs written before and after the romantic dissolution. But things never got to the acrimonious Fleetwood Mac edge.

“I never really wrote songs to be, like, ‘Fuck you, Kevin,’” Waite says. LaRose nods. “It was more like, let’s sing about how we hate working, or this dude that was shitty. We didn’t take it out on each other. Although sometimes we’d be, like, ‘Who’s that song about?’”

There’s something heartening about their indomitability. They legitimately overcame substance abuse, depression, severe gastrointestinal disease and a breakup to make their best music yet. They had every reason to implode, and they did — yet managed to recover.

“I just want to keep doing this,” Waite says, then corrects herself. “We just want to keep doing this. Sometime we’ll make jokes, like, what happens if he moves or I move? But we’ll just go to the same city. We feel safe with each other.”

“It’s a dirty, emotional thing,” LaRose says, laughing.

“We’re very sensitive,” Waite finishes. “We’ve tried to let other people in, but we can’t.”

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