In 2001 Spindrift was a psychedelic-pop band spinning its wheels in Newark, Delaware. Band leader Kirpatrick Thomas rented the 1968 Sergio Leone classic Western, Once Upon A Time In The West, which struck a chord with Thomas -- particularly its soundtrack.
"It was the fuzz guitar that [composer] Ennio Morricone puts in when Henry Fonda's character Frank shoots the little kid," Thomas says, talking with us before an edition of "Campfire Jubilee," the country-and-western/Americana night he puts on at the Bigfoot Lodge in Los Feliz. "It was a trip to have this circa '68 psychedelic evil guitar stuff in this period piece. The Doors had been my biggest influence up to that point, but when I saw that movie and heard that score, I wanted to cross the two together."
Thomas' desire to emulate such Westerns inspired him to move his band cross-country to Los Angeles. (Spindrift plays The Echo tomorrow.) Visits to landmark Western film locations such as Monument Valley had a huge impact on shaping the band's new sound.
"The whole concept of what our music was becoming played out in my head as the horizons opened up and we saw more and more of the Western skies," Thomas says. "Once we were out here, I rented a little room in Echo Park and I wrote more material than I had my entire life up to that point."
Thomas's vision of blending psychedelic fuzz-rock with homages to classic Western soundtracks has played out superbly on albums such as 2009's The Legend of God's Gun. But for the group's newest effort Ghost of the West -- out today -- Thomas wanted to explore what the Old West era was really like. Spindrift took their tour van through desert ghost towns to channel inspiration and soak in what those living in that time period had to endure.
"Our previous albums were more about the Spaghetti Western mythologized version of the Old West," Thomas says. "We wanted to get down to the real nitty-gritty of what the Old West was all about."
The group covers country-and-western standards from bygone eras such as "When I Was A Cowboy." It's original tracks like "The Matador and The Fuzz," however, that recall the spirit and diversity of old Western film scores that Thomas loves so much.
"There were so many elements [to those soundtracks]," Thomas says. "You had Spanish flamenco elements, European classical influences, and Native American influences all mixed in with this surf-rock and surreal experimental music that was going on in the '60s."
Thomas describes a couple of surreal incidents that occurred during the band's visits to old mining towns during the recording of Ghost of the West, some of which will be documented in a film of the same name in 2014. One of them involves a mysterious black disk and a giant elk.
"We were driving down some weird road outside Ely, Nevada," Thomas says. "It was a strange drive. We saw this black disk hover in front of our van and fly away. We were trying to figure out what it was. The next thing you know, a giant elk ran smack into our van."
This sense of surreal comes through in the band's music. Amidst the old-timey country-and-western sounds, homages to Morricone, and psychedelic surf-rock, Spindrift also weaves in layers of dreamy atmospherics.
Thomas is more well-versed in the ways of the Old West than when he first left Delaware in 2001, but he will be the first to admit he still is not a true cowboy.
"I can't ride horses," Thomas says. "I'm not good at poker, and I don't smoke cigars. But I can drink whiskey from a bottle!"
Spindrift performs at The Echo tomorrow, Wednesday, October 23rd
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