Written by Sam Prager
Spaceface has been around since 2011 and the Memphis bred act has taken its carnival-styled performance on the road with them for almost as long.
The band performs catchy dream-like tunes, layered with an orchestra of synths and pads. A strong rhythm section guides the band’s ’70s-inspired song writing, accompanied by an arrangement of cascading celestial-styled guitar playing.
Dual vocalists Jake Ingalls and Eric Martin, who also serve as the band’s guitarists, lead the outfit. Singing in a constant harmony that creates a voice that is uniquely Spaceface’s.
Leading the rhythm section is Matt Strong on bass. Filling the gaps are keyboardists, Daniel ‘Big Red’ Quinlan and Peter Armstrong.
I’m sitting with four out of the band’s five members at their practice space inside Young Avenue Sound in Cooper-Young. With me are Ingalls, Martin, Quinlan and Armstrong, who have just wrapped up a Sunday practice session.
THE SUN KIDS
In 2017 Spaceface released its debut full-length, Sun Kids, a 10-song album full of modern psychedelic jams. With three primary songwriters, maintaining a cohesive sound can be difficult. However, according to Ingalls and Martin, it is what makes Spaceface.
Ingalls, who is also a member of the famed Flaming Lips, describes songwriting as chasing a feeling. That’s the point, he explains, feeling good, and why not?
"Eric will make a sound on guitar and it’ll be so ridiculous it’ll make me laugh. It’ll end up being the loudest guitar in the mix. That’s when I say ‘That’s it, lets chase that idea.’ I think that’s what the whole band is asking, ‘Does this make me feel good, let’s chase it.’ That’s what drives me. I’ll just think of a weird thought or phrase and want to go after it. For instance we have a phrase called Classic Style, which for us means you’re being a dip shit. So, I’ve been working on a song called “Classic Style.” Which is about following your ‘nonchalants’ and fumbling up your way through life. I think it’s going to be good,” Ingalls laughs. “It helps to have a theme for me.”
“Spaceface feels like a family. I feel like we’re family. You don’t have to be so stifled to let something happen that you don’t like or worried about presenting something you personally like but others may not. I feel like a lot of ideas come that way and what’s ultimately created is something that’s not totally your idea,” Martin says. “Like what Jake just mentioned. When you have an idea that you’re trying to write out and you need somebody to just present something that takes it into a different direction. You know, the missing element you didn’t know you needed.”
“There is this moment that happens when we all get together and we have these independent riffs that we’re all familiar with of each other’s and have heard a million times. We will be dickin’ around and we’ll each have this moment where we’re retrying our riffs out again, just hoping someone says, ‘What is that, play it again?’” Ingalls adds.
Anyone who has seen Spaceface knows the quintet doesn’t just play, they perform. The group carries with them a sideshow attraction of lighted monoliths, lasers, fog machines and more. Lighting up the stage more than bands of much larger means.
“The show,” is something that was born out of the band’s own insecurities says Ingalls, who never wants to have a dull performance, let alone a dull moment.
“We try to do everything we can. We reach out to local artists. We rent bouncy houses. We set up an installation out of our old light show. We try to make it an interactive experience. I think it’s important to try to do as much as you can,” says Ingalls. “It’s really born out of our own insecurities. You go and see a band and they’re just a couple dudes up there playing. You go to a show to have a good time, but you get bored. You think, ‘Man I really like this band, and I’m bored. Are people going to be bored at our show? I sure hope not. I really, really hope that never happens.’ So we do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t. And I mean people are going to like what they’re going to like. You can only try to make it better, but the point is to try.”
THE SIGNATURE OF SOUTHERN MUSIC
Being a southern musician isn’t limited to just a genre. It’s an attitude and presence of hospitality, a trait that many southern musicians of all genres carry with them.
“When you go up to Brooklyn there is a really dense scene. You see something, and you’re like, ‘That must be what it’s like to play music here.’ There’s some guy hovering over a drum pad, doing like house music,” Martin explains.
“They’re playing like dance music, but like… not excited about it? They seem like they’re not allowed to be excited about it,” interrupts Ingalls. “That’s what I think is different about southern musicians, especially the likes of Aretha Franklin, Al Green and other Memphis soul artists. You watch them perform and it’s a big deal to get the crowd involved. It’s part of the show to exude excitement and be enthusiastic.”
They add that this energy is conveyed in most Memphis musicians, whether they’re rappers, DJs, rock bands or blues musicians.
“I think that the excitement and enthusiasm comes from a certain attitude of hospitality that Memphis breeds. It’s genuine. I try to give that impression to people we meet when we are out of town,” Martin says. “A lot of the time they seem almost put off it by it and think it’s strange that I’m being nice to them.”
“They’re like ‘We don’t talk to the bands that we play with,” Ingalls describes. “It always takes me aback. We’re here to have a good time. We want you to have a good time. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens, and afterwards if we can sleep on your floor we will probably cook you breakfast.”
NASHVILLE VS. MEMPHIS
The sibling rivalry between Memphis and Nashville is obvious. They’re the two largest cities by far in Tennessee, and both compete for music city titles.
In recent decades Nashville has certainly seen more commercial success from its music community. It is the Country Music Capital of the World after all. Memphis also might be unique in loving to hate Nashville.
According to The Tennessean, populations in Nashville raised by 1.8% in 2017. However, Memphis’ population, according to The Commercial Appeal, saw only a .01% increase.
“There is just so much going on. When there is so much success from one spot it’s bound to happen. It’s like Hollywood in the 1930s. ‘That’s where I’m going to make it. I’mma go out to Hollywood,” Armstrong says in a rustic southern accent. “I feel like it’s that mentality. People see themselves making it there, so they go.”
“It’s kind of the same thing in Austin, Texas. It’s the people who move into the condo next to a venue because they thinks it’s so cool. Then a month later they complain about the noise,” Ingalls interjects. “That’s what ruins stuff. That’s the problem.”
“I’ll say playing in Nashville isn’t like playing anywhere else. Let’s say you’re playing in a room that fits about 100 people. They’ll have a lighting crew, two sound technicians and so on,” Quinlan explains. “On one level it’s cool that they are so professional, but on a small stage in a small venue on a Tuesday night it’s pretty annoying. It’s intimidating being a smaller act coming through. The room might be almost empty but they’ve got this full lighting rig.”
“One of the problems of having staffs like that is the cost, it means the band doesn’t get paid because they have to pay the lighting guys and sound technicians instead,” Martin says.
“It’s not even like that in LA,” Quinlan adds.
“It’s unavoidable in these heavy metropolitan areas. There are more ‘fashionable’ people. Your audience doesn’t care about what’s happening on the stage, they just want to be seen at the show. In Memphis you’re not going to go to a show just to be seen,” Martin says. “You’re going to go see your friends or to see the band. At the same time though it hinders our scene in Memphis because people here don’t go out just to go out, they really have to have a reason to get out of their houses. That why the music scene thrives in Nashville.”
The lack of a commercially successful music scene doesn’t stop the passion of Memphis musicians though. It pushes Memphians to make the most of what they do have. That is the soul of Memphis; perseverance.
This results in generational communities in the city, often starting in high school. Former band mates become engineers, venue owners, journalists and promoters. Leading to life-long relationships, both personal and professional.
“One thing that has impacted me a lot in Memphis is getting the most out of whatever you have. People in Memphis may only have a broken keyboard and a friend’s old amp, but they’ll find a way to use that as far as it can go,” Quinlan says. “Or if you only have Eric’s old Ford Explorer you will tour with it until it breaks down for the last time.”
“Because we’re in Memphis and the music industry for small acts doesn’t really exist at all anymore. You have to be independent and do almost everything yourselves. That’s why people in Spaceface have to wear so many different hats,” Martin says.
Martin deals with the band’s automotive and travel related issues. Quinlan and Ingalls manage the booking and set design. Strong serves as the bands financial officer. Armstrong is in charge of the band’s merchandise, even printing most of the shirts and posters himself.
However, there are more helping hands. Martin cites recording engineer Calvin Lauber as one of them.
“Calvin Lauber has engineered our stuff for years, and since we know Calvin we’ve gotten a practice space at Young Avenue Sound. You have to make these friendly connections in Memphis as opposed to professional one,” Martin explains. “Luckily people have room to grow here. Those friendly connections will grow into professional connections and lead to more connections.”
As far as the future of Spaceface, the group is currently working with Lauber on a new album, which should be released sometime in the near future. This is the first time Spaceface has written an album in the studio, something the group’s songwriters are excited for.
“Right now we’re in the position to be writing an album in the studio as opposed to writing in a practice room. When you write in a practice room, you practice it, play it live, and ultimately you record according to what you’ve been playing on stage for two years. You don’t really have the opportunity to hash out a lot of ideas. But this way, writing in the studio, you can build the songs from the ground up,” Martin explains. “I like pressing record and playing something I’ve never played before.”