Sitting on a hay bale next to a fire pit, staring at smoldering branches and trying (somewhat fruitlessly) to keep the flying embers from singeing my skirt, I listened to Bron Tieman, leader of the band Crooked Cowboy and the Freshwater Indians, tell me how he broke free of a decadelong life as a hermitic touring backup musician after encountering Spindrift, a local spaghetti-Western concept outfit. He explained, outside his converted goat-barn home, that he had finally heard something in that band that he thought was exceptional — his posse had arrived.
Spindrift front man Kirpatrick Thomas had met up with Tieman while sharing a bill at the Echo. Tieman’s burgeoning band, which can have anywhere from six to 12 musicians on a given night, is the fleshing out of the music Tieman says he has been writing and stowing away since hearing Ennio Morricone’s score to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for the first time, at 5 years of age — it played as the musical accompaniment to one of his sister’s cheerleader routines. Crooked Cowboy and Spindrift stage experimental, epic, cinematically inspired music more akin to the textured, symphonic layers of Portishead than the chaps and 10-gallon hat–wearing Riders in the Sky, even though their roots lie with the mysteries and folklore of the West. (As a point, Tieman tells his band not to stop playing during sets, so that the audience can be transported without interruption to another world that lies somewhere between the deserts of Spain and the Mir space station.)
Together, Tieman — who looks as though he should have tumbleweeds rolling at his feet while he walks — and Thomas are at the hotbed of the New West psychedelic-cowboy vibe now pulsating through many Highland Park and Echo Park songbirds. And for the past six months, they’ve been rooming together in Tieman’s historic home, which sits at the base of the Mount Washington hotel currently occupied by the Self-Realization Fellowship. Crooked Cowboy bandmates Neil Schuh and Tyler Thacker (also of the art-rock party bands Totally Radd!! and the Hot Tramps) are among the Highland Park–based musicians constantly flowing in and out of the barn, which is chock-full of pianos, organs, drums and recording equipment, to develop ideas or just to sprawl out on a blanket and nurse a cold beer.
This kinship is the fortunate expansion of the talent I first encountered when I saw Spindrift in the fall of 2003, when my beautiful keyboardist friend, Cameron Murray, lyrically beckoned, “Come out to the desert with me. I’m playing with a cowboy band.” She needed someone to chat with on the drive out, so I agreed to the trip, expecting to sit through a sorta blues, kinda garage rock, somewhat annoying yet tolerable band. But in the cramped, darkened quarters of Highway 62’s Beatnik Café, what I heard was completely unexpected. The way the myriad instruments and stable props are woven together to create Spindrift’s sound masterfully manages to steer the music clear of being cheesy, even while the musicians scream, “Tie them up, whoa!” Instead of feeling like you’re on the set of Maverick, you feel like you’ve been granted access to the distant memories of a two-bit-saloon harlot as she watches her nameless lover ride off into the sunset. In other words, it makes you feel like you’ve just been made love to by a handsome stranger, a genius visceral experience. Kirpatrick Thomas, a Delaware native who blew in from the East Coast as a solitary stranger in 2000, had wrangled a few musicians together, some borrowed from desert dwellers Gram Rabbit, some just taking five from touring with the Warlocks, dressed them in potato-bag ponchos and sombreros wrapped with Christmas lights, and amazed the crowd at the desolate desert café with the performance of his concept album The Legend of God’s Gun, which Thomas described as a soundtrack, even though at the time there was no movie to go with it. The 2003 prototype version of the album (it has since been remastered) that I commandeered from an intoxicated Thomas later during that evening in the desert, liner notes stained with red wine, plays as a Morricone-drenched homage to the West and all that this coast entails: surfer music, psychedelics, movies and cowboys.
After treading water for a few years in the overwhelmingly saturated L.A. music scene, Spindrift have recently been receiving some of the attention they deserve, getting coverage in local media, and credit for their part in the resurrection of the phenomenal love affair with the Wild West currently sweeping Southern California hipsters. Even the high-altitude honky-tonk Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace seems to be getting its fair share of acts like Jonathan Richman, the Watson Twins and Dengue Fever, but when Spindrift play at Pappy & Harriet’s (still mainly a country & western and local-act venue), they seem to be much more in their natural habitat.
And just this past week, director Mike Bruce, of Razor Tree Films, finally completed the heavily anticipated The Legend of God’s Gun — the missing silver-screen accompaniment to Thomas’ 2003 soundtrack of the same title. The film, which Bruce describes as a “rock & roll spaghetti Western, filmed in Southern California, as opposed to Italy, and has no Italian actors in it and sparsely any actors at that,” stars Thomas as El Sobero, the main bad guy, who faces off against a gunslinging preacher in the debaucherous town of Playa Diablo. And on the airwaves, king-of-cool trend galvanizer Steve Jones has been playing tracks off Spindrift’s album Songs From the Ancient Age on Indie 103.1 — Jones seems to have a particular affinity for “Red Reflection,” a synthesized melodic duet between Thomas and guest vocalist Kristin King that would be appropriate as background music ?if Grace Slick and Clint Eastwood happened to get ?into a sword fight.
Spindrift plays Wed., Aug. 1, at the Echo. ?Bring your maracas and wear your petticoats. ?Just watch out for the coyotes.
For more upcoming Spindrift and Crooked ?Cowboy gigs, and for more information on ?screenings of The Legend of God’s Gun, visit myspace.com/thewest, myspace.com/?willeep and myspace.com/?razortreefilms.